3 ways to overcome life out of balance

Koyaanisqatsi is one of the great films of the ’80s. It uses video and a kick-ass Philip Glass score to explore life in turmoil (the eponymous title comes from the Hopi indian word for “life out of balance”). Koyaanisqatsi is a feeling common in grad school (and life) when all you seem to be doing is reacting, putting out fires, spinning your wheels. Needless to say, it can be disorienting. Here are three time-tested ways to fight life out of balance.

1. Plan daily, evaluate weekly. Daily To Do lists, drawn up weekly, serve two functions. Clearly, they increase the odds that you will do something useful that day. Always a plus, that is. But the weekly review, say on a Friday afternoon or a Saturday morning, with a hot cup of coffee and some Philip Glass on the radio, also gives you something just as important: a sense of having accomplished something. And, chances are, you have. It’s just easy to forget sometimes.

2. Begin with two. A happy life is about practicing good habits that promote your long-term goals. But good habits take time to establish. If you try to start too many at once (say, read two hours/day, exercise 30 minutes a day, call one member of your family a day, write one hour a day, eat an organic meal once a day) you will most likely meet only a fraction of those goals. Or, like a beginning juggler, you may wind up with all six balls bouncing in six different directions. Not good.

Try this. On your daily To Do list, write two things you really want to establish as productive habits. Put them in bold. Put them at the top of the list. And keep them there for two months. Every Monday through Friday, when you open up your To Do list, they will be there. Now, try to do those two things before you do anything else. At the end of most days, you know you will have accomplished two important things. And at the end of two months, you won’t be able to imagine life without them.

Then add the next habit…

3. Mental Health Days. At the beginning of each semester, I have an invisible day on my calender. (I also have an invisible wombat named “Sparky”, but that’s neither here nor there). This invisible day will only make itself known when the alarm goes off. It will be a day when my body arises from bed with great reluctance, when my motivation level is set to “-11″, and when the accrued days of happy toil have left me empty. Not physically sick. Just empty.

That is my mental health day.

On mental health days I call in sick and send the appropriate short emails. Then I relax and make myself a cup of coffee. I read a magazine. I watch some Oprah.

I allow myself one Mental Health Day a semester.

They have made all the difference.

And I will now see if any administrators read this blog.


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5 Responses to 3 ways to overcome life out of balance

  1. zeladoniac says:

    That would be a metaphorical Oprah, of course.

  2. Mike says:

    If Oprah ain’t a metaphor, kimchi ain’t pickled cabbage.

  3. [...] 3 ways to overcome life out of balance « Getting Things Done in Academia addthis_url = ‘http%3A%2F%2Fwww.mindfulink.com%2F2008%2F02%2F10%2Frecovering-from-a-fall-part-ii%2F'; addthis_title = ‘Recovering+From+a+Fall%2C+Part+II'; addthis_pub = ”; Filed Under Tags: lifehacks, Mindhacks  Related PostMe, Me, Me: Find Your Voice and Make it ShoutThe Virtue of StoppingMemorize This – 7 Ways to Memorize Anything! [...]

  4. Amanda says:

    A “mental health” day is incredibly important in academia. As a graduate student and as an academic you need to be pretty self-motivated to set goals, work steadily to achieve them, and then set the next lot of goals. And sometimes reaching your goals is incredibly hard work: physically and mentally. Right now I’m writing a grant application for our national grant scheme. I know up front that the success rate is very low and that I’ll have to really work hard to write my application perfectly, in a way that places my project as high on the ranking list as I can. Toiling away on this grant has been exhausting, but sometimes also exhilarating (I think grant writing is almost the hardest task in academia; I should know, I’ve written nine to our national scheme since I graduated with my PhD 12 years ago). But sometimes you just need time out. Last Thursday, after 2 weeks of a big writing push, I took myself off to the movies and watched some cheesy comedy. It was just what I needed to breathe. Academia (and a PhD) is a little like surfing. Some days the waves roll in thick and fast and you hop on and ride along. Other times you just need to pause in the middle of a set.

  5. [...] Recovering from two back-to-back very excellent visits to colleagues  (see mental health days). [...]

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