Recently, I’ve found I am lost in my own head more days than I am not. Any advice on how to come back down to earth? A little more about me: I am a college-aged girl who has the tendency to over-stress and over-analyse. I’m currently studying abroad, and although I’m enjoying myself I am also more lonely than ever.
I find that I’m so in my own head, constantly creating lists, plans, goals, not giving myself ANY time to relax. I work pretty much twelve hours a day, and even when it’s nothing pressing or hugely urgent, I just don’t know how to switch off and always add more to my to-do list.
I feel a bit stuck in life because I’m not fully taking in or absorbing the good things that are happening for me. I’ve even kind of stopped my passion even though I know I’m good at it and I know it’s what I should be doing with my life because I simply have no time. I fill my days with lists and plans, and then feel frustrated with myself when I go to bed and my to-do list still has five things on it… because it was always impossible.
I always give myself too much to do and my brain never stops which essentially makes me so unproductive because I’m jumping from project to project, task to task, without actually doing anything that’s really important or giving the things I am doing my all. I’m not doing well in my job because I just can’t focus and I’m letting things really slip.
I guess my overall question for you is how to be better at being content? Is this even possible? Also if you want to throw a little self confidence advice in the mix, I’m all ears! – Emma
For a long time I felt like my life wasn’t moving in the right direction. I assumed what many of us do – that I could somehow engineer myself into the ideal version of me with just a little elbow grease. I wanted to feel like I had a handle on what was happening in my life and where it was headed. So I would create plans, rubrics, and multi-step processes that I assumed would land me inside my perfect life.
Year after year it didn’t seem like I was getting anywhere. Why wasn’t I making any progress? Why, if I could clearly outline what I wanted to achieve, was I not able to produce any movement? I came to eventually realise that, in actuality, I was pursuing other people’s desires for me. And I couldn’t move forward because, ultimately, I wasn’t meant to. When we lose our own inner voice to other people’s desires we feel disoriented. And we don’t seem to be making any progress because deep down the things we’re telling ourselves we want are often in conflict with our true desires and our souls authentic needs.
Without active self-reflection, we fall victim to absorbing other people’s desires as our own. We tirelessly pursue academic achievement, assuming those aims are ours, when they are in fact rooted in our parent’s expectations. We nurture talents that, while satisfying, are more honestly fueled by the desire to stand out from our peers. We are told we are good at something, so to stick with it; that we have the build for swimming, the voice for radio, the grades for an Ivy League, the connections for a job in Finance; that we should get our masters; that we should move to a new city; that we should stay in that well-paying job we hate.
How much of what we’re telling ourselves we should do originated in our own hearts? How much of what is on your lists are things that grew from your soul? How much of what you think you want… do you actually want? Because as we’re busy trying to mould ourselves like clay into a version of ourselves we think we should be, we’re losing who it is that we actually are.
For a long time I felt like I should publish more editorial pieces. I felt like I had a window of opportunity that if I didn’t capitalise on would vanish. And for a year I had this goal in the back of my mind to start publishing more. And for a year it didn’t happen. It wasn’t until I realised that what I truly needed, what my soul needed, was to work on my craft. It was then that I was finally unblocked. Before I could obtain the goal of publishing more pieces I needed to work on nurturing the artist who had long been neglected.
When you say you are stuck in your own head, creating impossible to-do lists, it sounds like you are distracting yourself from a fear or desire that’s buried deep down. There is something blocking you, something that isn’t getting the attention it requires, and it’s holding you back. To me, you sound anxious about the future because you aren’t clear on what it is you want; and so you’re implementing tactics to give yourself a sense of control. This is understandable, given that you’re currently still in college. With graduation looming, it can feel overwhelming to imagine a world in which there is no syllabus to guide your next move. There’s a saying, and I’m paraphrasing, “…living in the past is what causes depression and living in the future is what causes anxiety.” You are attempting to live in the future. Which is not only impossible, but ultimately a total waste.
You should know what you’re feeling is so, totally, 2019. Your ceaseless desire to ‘succeed’ (with no real specifications around what that statement actually means) is a true mark our times. As Anne Helen Peterson recently illustrated in “How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation,” we are all feeling a constant, ceaseless pressure to be and do so many things, all at once, all the time. But there is a way out.
Journaling is a fantastic tool for quieting the mind, centering our energy, and guiding us gently inwards. I have journaled since I was in fourth grade and it has given me a strong sense of self, focus, strength, and clarity. Through journaling you strengthen your inner voice. Your inner voice vocalises your authentic desires. She is hard to hear because she’s underneath everyone else’s noise echoing around in your brain. It’ll take time and practice to hear her, but ultimately she’s the only voice you’ll ever need to listen to, and she’ll never steer you wrong.
There are other practices you can implement to live more presently. You’ve likely heard the buzz-word ‘mindfulness’. If not, look it up. When we practice mindfulness we bring our awareness to the current moment and the task at hand. If you’re washing dishes, for example, simply watch your hands wash the dishes. Try not to let your mind wander to the various things left undone on your to-do list. Just… wash… dishes. If you are in conversation with someone, actively listen to what they are saying without thinking about what you’re going to say next. If you are on your way to class or work, observe the people around you instead of listening to music, reading, or planning your next move. Go for a walk and leave your phone at home. Download Headspace and take a crack at meditation. Practicing mindfulness helps train your brain to absorb more of what is happening in the moment.
Sidenote: I’m going to assume that you don’t have a diagnosable anxiety or attention disorder – if you haven’t been evaluated for either, consult a psychologist, just to be sure. No shade or shame if so, but sometimes we have underlying mental health issues that require professional attention before we can really dive into the rest of our lives.
If you are going to make goals and plans, at least give yourself a chance at success. I like to approach my goals like this:
- Evaluate your past year. What sorts of things were you hoping to achieve? How did you do with those goals? Didn’t get as much done as you had hoped? No worries! Make a note of that.
- Think about your year ahead. What is the big idea – what is the big goal? What is it that you really want? Write your goal in one sentence. For example, raise my writing profile or increase my financial health. It may take a few days of journaling to hone in on this.
- Now break the year into quarters (Q1 is January – March, Q2 is April – June, Q3 is July – September, Q4 is October to December) and consider three to five things within each quarter that you can work on that ultimately feed into that larger goal. After each quarter, evaluate your progress.
- Now break each quarter into its monthly components. Consider three to five things within each month that you can work on that feed into that quarter’s goals. After each month, evaluate your progress.
Sometimes you can break a month into weeks, but I wouldn’t advise that for you. I think you need to loosen the constraints on yourself and approach your goals more holistically rather than bogging yourself down with daily and weekly goals. Try this big picture approach, and be sure to give yourself credit where it’s due. If you get off target, be gentle on yourself. Maybe that’s a time to re-evaluate your approach and switch up your tactics.
With every decision we face, down in our bellies, we know what it is we truly want. We always know. Some part of us always knows. Our job is to start to listen to and understand that part of ourselves. As you start to fine tune your inner voice, and live with authenticity and clarity, you will notice you will naturally attract others. You mention loneliness, and I know the feeling (especially when traveling). When we are at odds with ourselves it can feel clumsy and impossible to build connections with others. But connections with others are what ultimately sustain us.
There are a few books I think will be incredibly valuable to you right now: The Alchemist, to help appreciate that our most worthy journey is uncovering what it is that we truly want; 50 Ways to Get a Job, mainly the first two sections, for exercises that’ll help you start to narrow down your field of interest based on who you are as a person; The Defining Decade, for help developing perspective on love, work, and self; and The Power of Now to introduce yourself to the practice of mindfulness and meditation.
You will figure this out. You have a wonderful guide within you who won’t let you fall too far. Trust her. She’s got your back.