by Thomas Whitfield, M.A.
I can’t say “no” to an event and I never feel like I’m actually caught up with everything in my life. Part of this has to do with being a graduate student, but the truth is that if I weren’t in graduate school, it would just be something else.
To give you a broad overview of my general weekly schedule, I wake up at 6:30am and leave my apartment, then come home around 10pm. These days are filled with teaching a college class, going to the gym, and working two jobs. Wednesdays are the exception, I get home around 7pm and have time to do laundry (which I honestly really enjoy). My weekends are mostly reserved for seeing the person I’m dating and their kids, cleaning my apartment, working on my dissertation, and preparing for the following week. I’m not complaining, I love my life and I love everything that I’m working so hard towards. However, I’m not accomplishing everything I want to- everything I SHOULD be and I often feel guilty about it.
My plans for this last holiday weekend were to start working on projects that I’ve been planning but have not had time to begin executing- perfect timing with having Monday off. Intermittently I’ve been working on writing a book, writing scripts for an online sex education YouTube channel, and working on a sex, love, and relationship advice website. However, when I actually have time to work on these things (which is really not that much time), I often feel too exhausted and just want to sit and clear my mind. This past weekend I attuned to the thoughts I have around these projects and noticed a few interesting things.
“I SHOULD do these things!”
“If you don’t do them now, you NEVER will!”
“I SHOULDN’T need to take this break!”
“These projects will turn out awful!”
These are just a few of the negative statements attacking me, and likely adding to my further feeling of being exhausted. And, none of them are helpful. Rationally, is it that I “should” be doing these things? Well, no, but I WANT to, which is something very different. “Never”. Is it true that if I don’t do them NOW, that I NEVER will? I guess that’s possible, but what if I don’t? What if I don’t ever do them? MUST I do them to be happy? Logically, no, I guess I can be happy even if I don’t accomplish any of them. But to be fair, it doesn’t feel that way right now. Am I allowed to take a break? Of course, I would never advise someone else to never take a break, so I should be gentle with myself sometimes too. “These will turn out awful…” is perhaps the most frightening to me, and likely the one that keeps me from diving in head first.
REBT suggests I change these beliefs, to change my feelings, and thus my behavior. Perhaps “I SHOULD” turns into “I want to do these things, I don’t have to, there is no law saying I must, but I want to.” “These projects will turn out awful!” What’s the alternative, just not doing them at all, and that way guaranteeing failure? I could try “I prefer that these projects be perfect, but there is no reason they MUST be perfect.” The first new statement feels the easiest to me, the second will take some work.
I’m going to work on these for the next couple weeks and see what happens. I’ll keep you posted.