There’s a great deal of chatter online at the moment about the mental health of everyone still in lockdown and stuck at home.
I can vouch for that, and I even know why.
The first two weeks of being stuck at home, I could not get my shit together for neither love nor money. I dithered. I organized notebooks. I researched (because crochet patterns are vital to a well-structured novel). Every second or third day, I’d get some actual work done on the book itself, then wonder what the fuck was going on when the very next day I would find myself clipping instructional videos on jewelry making and quilling.
Guess what my favourite form of procrastination is?
I would get mired in YouTube and Pinterest, chasing down rabbit holes collecting gardening tips I had somehow managed to convince myself were vital.
Or sorting my ebook collection.
Two things happened to pull me out of that deep, deep funk. If you’re currently sleeping for ten hours a day and dozing for most of the rest or binging on Netflix series that you never thought you’d even start watching, then you’re in a funk. If you’re spending your time organizing stuff, cleaning, or doing anything but write when you’re supposed to be writing, then you’re in a funk, too.
In which case, I should congratulate you on finding the wherewithal to actually read this article! It’s proof you’ve still got a small pilot light of determination in you. Hang on to that for a moment.
My pilot light was watching myself flounder and not write and wonder why I was reverting to bad productivity habits I thought I’d offloaded a long time ago. I wondered, and researched, and I also did something I don’t normally do: I confessed to the other members of my household, in search of perspective and a possible solution.
There were two solutions. One was a perspective shift and the other was far more practical.
One: The Perspective Shift
I spoke about this last week, in “This Is The New Normal”.
I had fallen into the trap of thinking that the lockdown, the self-isolation, was temporary. That I didn’t have to do anything normal, because I could deal with it “when things go back to normal”.
As last week’s post points out, though, even when we get back to “normal”, it very likely won’t look like the normal we had before March this year.
And no one knows how long this current state of emergency will last, how long we’ll have to stay at home, if there will be a secondary wave of the epidemic, if the virus will mutate and come at us from a completely different angle, how long it will take for the peak of this wave to come and go, or when the 2020 hockey season will resume (go Oilers!).
No one knows anything. Therefore, for all practical purposes, this, right now, must be treated as the norm.
That was the perspective shift I got when I spoke to others and admitted I just couldn’t seem to knuckle down and work.
And it was like seeing clouds part and the sun warm the earth. It was that much of a whack up the side of the head.
I simply had not recognized all the “temporary” and “afterwards” and “later” thoughts which were poisoning my motivation.
Catch your own thoughts at work
Next time you are scheduled to write, watch what goes through your mind as you prepare to write … or if you find yourself not writing, after all. Just watch. Catch the fleeting back thoughts that propel you into action.
Have you, too, also fallen into “it’s all temporary” thoughts, too?
Simply spotting the thought patterns is often enough to banish them and get you back to steady work. You should stay vigilant for a few days or weeks, anyway, to make sure they don’t sneak back into your subconscious reasoning.
Two: Watch what you put in your mouth.
This is more temporary-thinking, but an indirect and more practical type.
In my household of (currently) three adults, two thirds of the household were suddenly unemployed. So I shifted our diet to the cheapest subsistence eating possible. Lots of rice, beans, canned veggies and the cheapest cuts of meat…or no meat at all (as rice + beans provides a full profile protein).
Only, I personally follow a ketogenic diet and have for years, for health reasons—long before keto became super-popular. Rice (and potatoes and pasta) and beans (and lentils and peas, etc.) have been absent from my meals. I was eating a lot of fresh vegetables, and high-quality cuts of meat.
In many ways, the new diet was the complete polar opposite of the diet I was used to. But I figured that—for the short temporary term—I would take the potential hit to my health, in order to feed my family in a way that didn’t break our suddenly fragile bank account.
We also shifted from freshly roasted coffee beans for our daily caffeine hit to the cheapest of pre-ground, packed-six-months-ago store brand coffee.
The switch in coffee was demoralizing, but the depression it imparted took a few days to creep in. At first, I grimaced with every mouthful, but dutifully drank two cups of the god-awful coffee each day so I didn’t go into caffeine withdrawal (which would put me on my back for two days straight with migraines that are out of this world).
After a week or two of that, I actually started to slump mentally and physically when faced with the prospect of having to drink another cup of the sludge. It didn’t help at all to tell myself that if I gave it long enough, I’d adjust to the taste. I just hated that coffee and toyed with the idea of spending the cash to buy the good stuff.
As it turned out, I wasn’t alone. Both of the others in my house felt exactly the same way about the cheapshit coffee. So we ordered in a bulk bag of the freshly roasted beans.
The first cup of the good stuff was so good, I think I actually got high on the rush. And suddenly, mornings were not depressing and demoralizing, anymore.
That made me consider the other aspects of the new diet and consider if we were doing ourselves a disservice…especially in the long term. If this really was the new normal, shouldn’t we be eating as healthily as possible?
The beans + rice diet was certainly impacting me in a severe way. My body is not used to having to process slow carbs like beans and high carbs like rice and pasta. Most of my reactions were uncomfortable and chronic. But I was taking it on the chin in order to preserve the bank balance.
But then one of the other members of the house received the first payment of unemployment insurance/emergency funding, and that made a difference.
I went back to a modified keto diet—fresh veggies, yes, but just a few, rounded out with frozen and canned veggies. Good protein, yes, but also cheap cuts and lots of bone broth.
Then the Magic Happened
It takes a week to get back to full ketosis. I knew immediately when that had happened, because suddenly, I could write all frigging morning without breaking sweat. Sitting down to write wasn’t an issue.
My motivation to write returned with a vengeance. I haven’t missed a day of writing in the three weeks since I returned to ketosis. The difference is night and day.
Diet Makes a HUGE Difference!
Have you changed what you normally eat in response to the pandemic and lack of income?
If you have shifted your normal diet even a little – if you have stopped eating what you used to, or if you’ve started eating food you never used to – I guarantee that the change is impacting your creativity and your motivation.
I’ve known about the connection between diet and creativity for a very long time [here, here, here, and a tsunami of data here] but because I was in “this is temporary” mode, I conveniently forgot about how much impact it can have.
The two factors together–shitty diet + “this is temporary” thinking—were enough to send me into a bleak, deep hole of procrastination and dithering, for weeks.
My worklogs are a testament to how bad it was.
If you’re in a funk, and not writing as steadily or as well as you know you could or should, then examining your diet. If you’ve made changes recently, then perhaps going back to what you were eating before—even if that wasn’t the greatest diet in the world—will help you regather the will to work.
Once you have the old mindset back, you can decide if you want to transition to a healthier diet and reap the creative benefits.
Remember, This Is The New Normal
If you’re stuck at home for the foreseeable future, then writing each day and getting the books out there and earning revenue is one of the best favors you can do yourself, your loved ones who rely upon you, and your bank account.
Finding ways to increase your motivation and will power to write can only benefit you. Simple changes to diet make a massive difference.
Try it and see.