I’ve always made a lot of room in my life for ‘me time’. I like time to myself to do what I want, and I don’t apologise for that. However, I haven’t always been very good at actually enjoying that time I have with myself. Have you ever found yourself looking forward to a morning by yourself, just for you, to do whatever you want… and when it finally comes, you find yourself slightly unsettled, like you’re not sure what to do next?
Overwhelmed with options
I felt like I’ve been in this position hundreds of times, where there are so many different things I feel like I could be doing in my free time. We’re creative individuals with busy lives and lots of interests. It’s hard to not think about the chores that need doing, or relationships we worry we’re neglecting. There are so many options - it’s almost too much to begin.
If you’re like me, maybe you’re worried you’ve forgotten how to tap into what you feel like doing. Sometimes asking a question like ‘what do I really want to do today?’ feels almost too bold and overwhelming.
And if you approach this question like there’s a definitive ‘correct answer’, you will be overwhelmed. Because of course, there isn’t one.
Why would free time make someone anxious?
I think the fallacy of ‘one answer to rule them all’ stems from a lifetime of obsessing over productivity.
Time is a resource, to be used wisely. And if you come into this with a scarcity mindset, it can create some major hangups about how we use it… or waste it.
Because the thought of having this precious resource in front of you seems overwhelming - you can’t handle the responsibility. You become worried you’re going to squander it or ruin it.
Unplanned free time used to really upset me - because I didn’t know what to do with myself.
I would find myself immediately lost. I distinctly remember hanging up the phone with someone after they had cancelled their plans - and I literally did not know what to do next. I didn’t just shrug ‘oh well’ and turn on the TV, and let the evening pass by. I didn’t do useful things like catching up on chores. I didn’t pick up that book I’d been wanting to read. I wanted to be purposeful - but I didn’t know how to be.
Even if my free time wasn’t unexpected, I still found it difficult to enjoy. All I saw was a problem: ‘I need to do something, or else this free time will be wasted’. I was approaching a wonderful opportunity from a seriously negative viewpoint! And while I was getting stressed out about it, my mind closed inwards and I saw less and less opportunity, and only more and more burden. With that mindset, it’s no wonder my brain couldn’t work out what I wanted to do.
Time to let yourself off the hook
So if nothing else, I’ve established that I may not be a natural at ‘free time’… But I have learned these lessons along the way, and I hope they may prove useful to anyone who finds themselves struggling with similar issues.
Don’t think about what you ‘should’ be doing. Let go of ‘should’. This isn’t necessarily easy. But if you can decide that for this moment at least, your objective is to simply allow yourself to enjoy your time, however this may look like for you.
Accept that there are no right or wrong answers. You can’t always predict what’s going to hold your interest. I have personally found that I enjoy most things, if I can approach it with a feeling of freedom and curiosity.
Don’t put certain expectations on what you will and won’t enjoy. Don’t put unnecessary pressure on a favourite hobby or past-time to ‘save the day’. Something that you usually love, you might not be feeling that day. That’s okay - remember, you’re coming to this with no expectations, and you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to.
Forget about what you want to do. Give yourself permission to ‘stay in this moment, for however long you want’. That’s it - just see what happens. You might be standing still. excellent. notice your breathing. admire the view. notice what your eyes are drawn to. see where your interest takes you. you might go for a walk. you might open a book you have a thought about. See previous points about no expectations and accept there are no right or wrong answers.
So last weekend I set one intention. I gave myself permission to ‘stay in this moment, for however long you want’. As it turned out, this was sitting in a camper van, reading a book for three hours, and then going for a walk in the rain.
I wouldn’t have planned to read a book for three hours, or necessarily go for a walk in the rain. But it was all just how it needed to be. Restorative and simple and easy. But I’d never have known if I’d tried to work it out before starting.
Sometimes, you can’t plan these things.