Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Living in Day-Tight Compartments For Better Mental Health

       As I studied my heroes’ lives over the years, I realized that not one of them spent their lives worrying about their futures or regretting their pasts. Every single one of them planned their futures, learned from their pasts and then lived in the moment. They didn't simply write down a few ideas; they were all meticulous planners. Because of that, they were able to live in day-tight compartments. In other words, they were able to stay in the moment and not become overwhelmed. I decided since it worked for them, I was going to try it as well. I am forever grateful for the examples they set.

   Learning to live in day-tight compartments helped revolutionize my experience of life. Since learning how to do this, I have found I am significantly happier, more content, less anxious and experience fewer symptoms overall. As with anything worthwhile in life, it does require effort, but the rewards are incredible.

To be able to start living in day-tight compartments and receiving the benefits, I had to start doing three things. I had to begin analyzing my priorities, scheduling my week in advance and then sticking to that plan as closely as possible. That hasn't always been easy, but it isn't complicated. In fact, it is nothing if not straightforward. Most people can do those three things.

   The first thing I had to do was to begin analyzing what I wanted my priorities to be.  Knowing exactly what I want for my life and what I hope to become means I am no longer wandering through life aimlessly. Not having a clear direction in my life often led to confusion, anxiety and a feeling of being spread too thin. Knowing what I want to become and what I want to achieve allows me to focus on what is truly important in my life. If anyone would like to read/re-read the post on a simple way to analyze and set priorities click here.

   Knowing what my priorities are allows me to do the second thing that is required to live in day-tight compartments, which is to schedule my week in advance. There is magic in this step! Meticulously planning out my week allows me to relax and live in the moment. Before I began writing out my plan for the week, I would often find myself worrying about future events. By taking 1-1.5 hours on Sunday morning to write out exactly what I will be doing in the next seven days, I eliminate 90% of those worries. I can catch myself now if I begin worrying about what I am going to do later in the week. I simply remind myself that I'm not there yet, and I do have a plan for it. That allows me to relax and refocus on the task that I am currently undertaking. What a relief that is!

   By having my week planned, I am also able to avoid spending unwanted time looking back on past bad experiences. Unless I were spending time working through issues with a trained therapist, I want the time I use looking back to be used as a reference for what has and has not worked, as well as to measure how far I've come. I am not defined by my past, but by what I do about it. If I allow myself to look back too often, I can easily become overwhelmed, depressed and lose the preciousness of the present moment. If I catch myself looking back on past bad experiences outside the time to schedule my week, I can remind myself that this is not the time. I can look back on these things when the time is right--when I am making course corrections and planning what to do next. That frees me up to live in the moment. Denial never worked for me. The past comes up. However, knowing that I have a time in my week that I look back allows me to refocus on the present because I know that I will address it. I am not repressing anything or living in denial.

    Finally, planning my week in advance ensures that I incorporate exercise, healthy meals and wellness activities as often as possible. The likelihood of me doing all of those things without a plan is slim to none. I can't afford to lose focus. If I don't take care of myself, all bets are off. My overall well-being depends on me making time for self-care.

   I have written about how I schedule my week in the past. Click here if you would like to read/re-read that post. What I am going to add here is an example of what a hypothetical week of someone who uses this technique might look like. I use a detailed calendar like the first one pictured below. However, I put up the other one below it in the previous post in case anyone doesn't have access to one like I use. An unused copy can be printed off at the link provided above.

   Once I have planned my week, I can focus on the final step, sticking to the plan as much as possible. Of course, things come up. However, making myself follow through if at all possible is crucial to all of this working. If I know what my priorities are, schedule them into my week but then don't follow through, I would have been better off skipping the first two steps and saving myself the time. The relief comes from taking the actions, not in planning them. I have cried through workouts, painted wild pictures when I was too manic to take my time and listened to guided meditations when I was barely able to breathe due to overwhelming anxiety. Why? Because it's at moments like those when self-care is critical! I can't imagine any diabetic deciding to not take their insulin when their sugar levels get off. That's when they need it the most. The same principle applies here.

   An excellent tool to help me follow through is a to-do list. Each morning I write a quick list from my plan. It's simple, and it works. For instance, if the schedule above were mine, I would take thirty seconds on Sunday morning to write down what I needed to do on a small piece of paper (like the one pictured below), stuff it in my pocket and cross things off as I completed them. A simple list like this one makes my day more gratifying, and it keeps me on track.

   I should note that if the week shown above were mine, it would be much more detailed (I kept it generic for illustrative purposes). I wouldn't write art. I would write painting or coloring. I would have written in the type of exercise I would be doing each day. I would have written in where I would be volunteering. Also, I would have specific meals written in the appropriate time slots. Others may be in a situation where they can easily eat healthy meals and snacks without prior planning. I am not.

   During the time I use to plan my week, I use the sheet below to plan what I will be eating in the coming week. I have written a post about planning and preparing healthy meals before. Click here if you would like to read/re-read that post. The great thing about this sheet is it also allows me to prepare our grocery list. I typically go to the grocery store after I do my weekly planning, so I know exactly what I need to grab while I'm there.

   All of this may seem like a lot of work. In a way, it is. It's hard. Taking 1-1.5 hours each Sunday morning to plan my week is not an easy task. There are many other things that I would rather do. However, if I don't, I won't be doing much of anything else, because symptoms will surely not be far behind. Taking a little time to plan out my week, and forcing myself to follow through, is a small price to pay for better mental and physical health.

   I am aware of the movement that the backlash of modern living has created. The constant hustle and bustle have caused some to believe that not having a plan or "just being" is the best way to get through life. Perhaps that philosophy is the dubious luxury of average people without mental illnesses. I refuse to be average, and I have mental illnesses. Obviously then, that philosophy did not work for me. I do believe in a slower pace of life and taking care of myself. That is why I do all of this, because in the modern world if I don't, the likelihood of me being able to live at a slower pace and taking care of myself is slim to none.

   The funny thing is many people who ascribe to the "just be" philosophy of life are the same ones who revere The Dalai Lama or Pope Francis. They seem to be symbols of the "just be" movement. Please realize that, like all great people I have ever studied, these two men have their weeks meticulously planned. Both of them even have assistants to make sure they stay on track. They do not wander through life. They have a mission and a plan. I will too.

      In case anyone is like me, and likes to take the occasional adventure, fear not. I simply schedule them. I write on my calendar: ADVENTURE! These times are reserved especially for not having plans. Traveling out in the world is one of my favorite things to do. It is an invigorating experience every time. Planning out my life allows me to have those adventures. If I were spread too thin or overrun with symptoms, they would never be a part of my reality.
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   As always, I wish you wonderful mental health and great successes eating healthy meals. If you, or someone you love, is severely depressed or anxious, please click the link to the right and you will be directed to the International Association for Suicide Prevention. It is an excellent resource and is staffed by wonderful people.
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