If you’ve read my book, Too Busy to Be Happy, you’ll know that emotional real estate is central to my philosophy. I’ve experienced the burnout that comes with too much busyness, and without sacrificing any success, have found ways to reclaim my happiness by monitoring my emotional real estate.
I’ve always made sure to incorporate practices into my days and weeks that refuel my emotional real estate — let’s call it ERE from here on out. Those practices have become priorities and have saved me from staying “too busy to be happy” for long.
But then COVID-19 hit.
What I used to rely on to refuel (cocktails with my girlfriends, evening walks with a neighbour, attending and speaking at conferences) was no longer an option. I was stuck in a new reality that threw my old habits out the window and with it, the routine that had worked for me for so long. And guess what? I burned out — and I burned out fast.
Despite swapping cocktails with my girlfriends for a glass of wine over Zoom, and my nightly walk with my neighbour for a physically distanced walk down the street, I just wasn’t able to refuel my ERE.
In an effort to tip the scales, I re-committed with an accountability partner to making just three healthy decisions each day: a healthy meal choice, a choice to practice one act of self-care, and the choice to exercise.
But I was still feeling tired, and I was feeling burnt out. I couldn’t understand why my old approaches to resilience weren’t working the way they used to.
As lockdown went on, and I was forced to come to terms with what COVID-19 life would look like, I realized something very important: it’s not enough to just rejig your old tricks, and try to fit them into this new world. The world is not the same. Therefore, you have to completely recalibrate.
This “aha” moment came to me when I was cooking with my kids during the peak of the pandemic. Amidst all the other things that I had to balance while in lockdown, spending time with my kids was a type of effort, along with all the other work I was doing. I was trying to keep the house clean, keep them from plummeting to their death off a kitchen counter and making sure they didn’t accidentally learn to “twerk” in a moment of unsupervised YouTube time. (Let’s be honest, raising kids — especially a two-year-old and a four-year-old — is definitely work.)
But in that moment in the kitchen, while we were cooking together, I realized that this was no longer work for me, it was actually refuelling my ERE. It was then that I understood that we can’t just replace the activities that used to refuel us. We have to start from scratch with how we approach the whole system.
How you can recalibrate
1. Change your mindset
Tasks that used to be seen as “chores” or items on the to-do list may now refuel your ERE more than ever before. Think about things like raking leaves in the yard, decorating your home or even homeschooling your kids. Try to be grateful that you have a yard to care for, a home to decorate, or that you’re getting to spend extra time with your children.
2. Don’t try to replace your pre-pandemic routine with a virtual routine
It’s not a one-to-one replacement. When COVID-19 struck, we all jumped onto massive video chats with our friends and family to try to maintain some semblance of normalcy. But the truth is, what’s happened this year is not normal, and a video chat can’t replace the joy (or the fuel) you get from a real-life interaction with your family and friends. Find new activities that refuel you. I’ve found making it my “new job” to smile at people on trails or walking down the street. My daughter and I love to plant painted rocks with happy sayings around the parks and nature paths. It’s a new form of connection with others that I somehow find fulfilling at this moment in time given the circumstances — and therein lies the trick!
3. Buy some happiness
What used to bring you joy and comfort may not be possible (or safe) under these new public health measures, but that doesn’t mean joy and comfort are cancelled. I know helping people is something that fuels my ERE, so I decided to use the dollars I’ve saved over the past few months to support local businesses that I want to survive the pandemic. (Not to mention, it’s proven that generosity is great for your mental health.) I found a soap company near my house and ordered a few bundles for my family and friends. One Saturday, I drove around dropping the bundles on doorsteps (I felt just like Santa!), and the kind gesture refuelled my ERE more than I could have expected.