We could all use some worthwhile distractions right about now, can’t we?
These are unusually difficult times. COVID–19, social and political unrest, financial instability, and weather-related disasters are causing us to feel a wide range of negative emotions. Not only are we burdened with new/more responsibilites, we’ve even had to revamp routines that were once on autopilot.
While it remains challenging, I’m guessing that if you are reading this, you’ve managed to find ways to cope and adjust in the past few months. And, you might be looking for a more positive distraction—something worthwhile.
CAUTIONARY NOTE: If you’re struggling or swamped, this is no time to take on a new project. Let yourself off the hook. Don’t read any further, please read about what not to do when bad things happen instead.
What are worthwhile distractions?
Watching my clients, I’ve observed that certain projects can make us feel great. But, going after what we find enjoyable isn’t the right route. Just because we don’t want more negativity in our lives, doesn’t mean we should persue what is simply fun or of leisure. Checking Facebook or instagram or watching TikTok or YouTube might give us momentary pleasure, but it doesn’t leave us feeling better; it often makes us feel worse.
Rather, the essential component is to engage in an activity that deepens a skill. This engages us in a way that forces us to shut out the rest of the world for a while. It gives us a sense of accomplishment after working on it—even when things are not going quite right as you do it and even when it is utterly frustrating. It becomes worthy of your time and energy because we feel ourselves being pushed forward.
Picking your project
If you’re ready to take on a worthwhile distraction, here are some selection criteria:
- Pick just one project. You already have so many responsibilities, no need to add on more. Remember you can stagger them, or do one after another.
- Pick a finite project. Set it up so that there is a natural ending—preferably one that is less than three months. If it is a longer project, then break it up into more manageable chunks.
- Pick a project that makes you lose track of time not just because you enjoy it but also because it demands your attention. Most likely this is something that engages your brain and requires concentration.
- Pick a project that is sufficiently challenging. By this I mean, something that isn’t too easy and isn’t too hard. Again, it should require your focus. Usually this involves learning or honing a skill that isn’t that easy to master.
- Pick something you can do often–at least twice or three times a week, but nearly every day is better.
- Pick something that is meaningful to you or meaningful to someone you love.
To give you a better idea of what I mean, here are ten examples of some worthwhile distractions:
- I will increase my ability to read technical documents for longer periods of time by the end of the month.
- I will draw/paint/sculpt a series that I can showcase in my home.
- I will teach myself how to code so that I can build/do (something very specfic).*
- I will watch a set of movies or read a set of books with the intention of writing a summary and critique.
- I will learn challenge myself with a more difficult knitting/sewing/crochet/needlepoint pattern/project and create a holiday gift for myself/a good friend/family member/relative/charity.
- I will learn how to play a song on the piano/ukulele so that I can play it for an event.
- I will teach myself how to generate customized mailing labels for my Holiday cards.
- I will learn how to write an op-ed.
- I will learn how to build a wall clock.
- I will gradually train to run up a long flight stairs so I’m not out of breath.
I’ve been teaching myself how to code with R. I was able to do some data analysis for a recent research report on flexibity in the time of COVID-19. Now, I’m tackling how to visualize data.
What might you do?