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I am what some people would call an overachiever. I always have 10 different projects that I’m working on and my days are usually packed full with commitments.
On one hand, I get a lot of things done. I’m really good at prioritizing my time. I am great at checking off things on my to do list. And I’m rarely bored.
I’m also usually really tired and stressed.
The danger of this busy lifestyle was first brought to my attention a few years back when I picked up a copy of Arianna Huffington’s (of Huffington Post fame) book Thrive. She started exploring the negative side effects of overachievement after she broke her cheekbone falling down a flight of stairs because of her exhausted state. I remember reading the book and recognizing myself in its pages. I agreed with so many of her principles and was determined to put them into practice. But then, as time has passed, and without any real plan, I forgot or ignored most of them.
Until now. As I mentioned in a recent post, I am currently working my way The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Subtitled “A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity,” Cameron’s book is all about removing the blocks that hold back our creative impulses, whether they be art, music, writing, dance, or more. I picked up the book on a recommendation from a friend and have seriously been loving every moment of the 12-week process.
Well, almost every moment. One of the things that Cameron requires every week is an “artist date.” An artist date is, as she describes it:
“a block of time, perhaps two hours weekly, especially set aside and committed to nurturing your creative consciousness, your inner artist. In its most primary form, the artist date in an excursion, a play date that you preplan and defend against all interlopers.”
In short an artist date is a date with yourself. (In fact, one of the rules is that you can’t take anyone with you – which includes spouse, friends, or children.) It is taking an hour or two every week and spending quality time with yourself. The point is that as you spend this time with yourself – going to an art gallery, walking along the beach, watching an old movie – you learn how to listen better to your inner wants and needs.
I’ve been doing these artist dates for about a month now. They’ve ranged from visiting a few museums, to watching Bob Ross on Netflix, to wandering around Hobby Lobby. All of them have stemmed from the question “what sounds like fun today?” All of them have taught me the important of play as an adult. All have brought a feeling of refresh to my soul. And all of them have been extremely challenging to make happen.
Why challenging? Well, because there is a house to clean. And baby to take care of. And a husband to support. And, of course, a work project that needs my attention. There is always someone or something else to take care of which makes stealing away this time to do something, well, frivolous, seem like it should take a low place on my priority totem pole.
Except it’s not frivolous. As I’ve made the commitment each week to prioritize this moment of play, I have found that my stress levels have reduced, my ability to focus has increased, and my general sense of happiness has grown.
Because there’s a funny thing about play. Whether it is sitting and drawing with my daughter’s crayons (an activity that I have been surprised to find I thoroughly enjoy) or listening to some music that I’ve had on my list for forever or watching Bob Ross talk about happy little accidents, I have felt my soul lighten.
What does that mean? Well…I have noticed that:
- I feel better about myself (including all my problems)
- I have discovered a ruthless need to remove the things and activities in my life that are merely filling (or wasting) my time
- I have an increased desire to work on activities that bring me joy
- I am more present when playing with my daughter
- I have found myself starting to dream in big, wonderful, sometimes scary-yet-exhilarating ways
- I sleep much better at night
I even, occasionally, find that I am bored. But instead of that being a bad thing, an emotion that has me reaching for my phone or the tv remote, I take a moment to really assess the answer to the question: “What do I want to do right now? What will make me happy?” And I am endlessly surprised by the answers.
So I pass the challenge on to you. Block out an hour or two this week where you can be by yourself and ask yourself this question: What could I do right now that would make me happy?” Then, no matter what the answer is, go and do it. Try it for a few weeks and let me know how it goes!
Now, of course, I recognize that coming up with an idea of what to do can actually be the trickiest part. If you’re struggling with that part, here are just a few to get you started. And don’t be afraid if your impulses lead you in a different direction!
- Go to the aquarium
- Take a long country walk
- Eat at a new, ethnic, restaurant
- Try on perfumes at a department store
- Visit a florist and make yourself a bouquet of your favorite flowers
- Color in a coloring book
- Visit a craft shop
Want some more ideas? Sign up here to get my free full list of 33 ways to play today.
Don’t forget to share your experiences (or your play ideas!) in the comments section below.