Updated: Nov 9, 2021
I went to London with my sister recently, (well not that recently, it’s taken me a while to get this blog together!). It was brilliant. It was great to spend time with my big sis, to have a break, take time to do something other than mum and work and home and juggling all the logistics.
While we were there, we:
Did touristy things – Climbed the O2, went on a boat on the Thames
Went for a posh lunch
Met a friend for drinks in a swanky high end bar overlooking the London skyline
Hung out in the hotel spa with another friend and went out for another lunch
But I also:
Just sat around in the hotel room marvelling at the silence
Read a book
Had an afternoon nap
Listened to the radio
What do you notice about these two lists?
The first list is what I shared photos of on social media and is what I would talk about if someone asked how my break had been. But, both are what made the break brilliant.
What’s that about? Why is it that in my head, and it think perhaps in other peoples, some things are more newsworthy, more shareable or more recognised as worthwhile?
Whilst we were in London, I also had a conversation with an old friend (as in I’ve known her for a lot of years not as in OAP status) about mindfulness, yoga, running and watching TV and the judgements she, I and other people make about which of these is most acceptable.
The combination of that conversation and the lists above got me thinking about individual and societal value judgements about the things we do with our time.
It seems that some occupations are seen as more ‘worthy’, more ‘valuable’ than others. Why is that? Why is it that activities that I would argue are inherent for us to maintain health and well being are seen as lesser or a waste of time?
Well, here are some thoughts from me, mostly personal observations, by no means evidenced but definitely informed by my occupational perspective.
Since the lockdown it feels like we live in a world full of messages from social media, and the mainstream media in general, filled with a focus on self-improvement, making sure we actively ‘look after’ our emotional wellbeing, mindfulness, using our time well, exercise for health, craft for wellbeing, garden for health and wellbeing etc. etc. etc.
All of this adds up, I think, to a strong message about how we all ‘ought’ to be using our time to be ‘doing more, doing better’. I’m not saying that’s necessarily a bad thing to try and motivate people to do more stuff, but I do think it creates a lot of expectation and pressure.
Expectation that not only can we all ‘fix’ ourselves but that we all should be working towards that with any time we have available. Pressure to be ‘doing the right thing’, the ‘most effective’, ‘most improving’ thing in all aspects of our lives. Again, this isn’t necessarily wrong, I just don’t believe it’s always what we need to be doing.
I think there’s little space left for ‘mindlessness’ and not much respect given to just giving in to tiredness or stress or whatever it is that’s going on for you. Sometimes it’s important to know that you don’t have the energy for a run and just need a sit down. Sometimes it matters that you don’t want to do that improving hobby but just want to do something that feels right for you in that moment. Somewhere along the line I think we’ve lost the value of ‘doing less’. Of being able to switch off, to not think, to not focus on goals and progress and being a better person (whatever that means).
I think it’s ok to say “No” to the pressure for self-improvement, say “Not now” to doing what’s seen as ‘most worthwhile’. It’s ok to embrace mindlessness when you need to. When this is, and what this entails for you, will be as individual as everything else in your life.
There’s skill in recognising where you’re up to and what you need. And there’s a freedom in accepting that and allowing yourself the activity (or lack of activity) in that moment to meet that need. I think we all need to build the skills of recognition but perhaps more so, need to build skills of acceptance. Acceptance that it’s ok to not be working towards a goal in every activity we do.
I’m not saying we need to be mindless all the time or that it would be satisfying and good for us if we were, I’m just suggesting that it’s not a bad thing to allow ourselves to do things on automatic some of the time. No thinking for a bit, just ‘power down’ for an hour or so every now and then.
How you do that will be individual to you; for my London friend, sometimes it’s running, sometimes it’s crashing down in front of the telly. For me it’s sometimes Facebook scrolling but more often than not it’s watching trashy TV that requires very little attention, thought or emotional investment (hello Neighbours, my old friend).
My argument is that these ‘non-active activities’ are of value; they are as important to my functioning and health as reading an interesting book or going to the Pilates class I enjoy. They just have a different purpose. They predictably and reliably let me switch off. And yet they are not the things I lead with if I talk about my day. And I think it’s because societal and individual value judgements about how ‘worthwhile’ these activities are makes me feel that they aren’t important.Trashy TV does not lead to self-improvement and Facebook scrolling is the opposite of mindfulness.
But you know what?
Sometimes it’s what I need.
We all have a finite amount of energy in a day, yes this alters depending on the demands on us, our time, our resources, but in one way or another, there is an end to our energy. How we replenish that energy will also vary day by day. Sometimes it is about self-improvement or learning or focused, goal orientated activity. At other times it’s about allowing ourselves rest and respite in whatever form works for us.
My thinking is; notice where your energy is and accept the best activity for that moment regardless of its apparent ‘value’.
Know what works for different levels of energy, different emotional states, different levels of physical fatigue. Accept that you need variation in your activities as much as you need variation in your diet.
Once you know how to recognise what you need, you can find the right active, non-active, mindful or mindless activity to help you replenish and restore in that moment, in response to that need.
They may not be the most social media friendly activities, but they are important, they do matter.
Not all trashy telly is worthless, in fact, in my life, it’s actually pretty vital.
One last thing before I go, this blog is also available at my new website
Shore-Up is a not-for-profit organisation founded on the principals of occupational therapy; primarily that we are all individuals and so all need individualised activity to best support our health and wellbeing. We’ll be providing Workplace Wellbeing Workshops and Webinars, the Shore-Up Social Club for those with and without mental health difficulties and we’re working towards offering structured occupational therapy group work for those with complex mental health needs living in Leeds.
Shore-Up Social Club will be running a virtual pay-as-you-feel session on Thursday 2nd December at 8pm via Zoom.
Here’s a chance to bring your own mindful or mindless activity to a virtual space dedicated to focussing on doing something that works for you in the company of other people doing what works for them. You can bring your own project or activity or when you register, we’ll send you some ideas of things that might work for you that you’re welcome to try out.
We’re also planning a real life Shore-Up Social Club session in Leeds in the not too distant future.
Or if you would like to donate to Shore-Up you can do by clicking this button:
Thanks for reading