Are You A "Deadhead"?

Here's are the flowering plants after cutting the flowers off. I wish I'd had the epiphany earlier so you could see all the brown flowers they were covered with. A little TLC made them look SO much better. 

No. I don't mean a fan of the Grateful Dead.

I mean are you taking care of yourself?


Let me explain. I had an epiphany this morning while I was deadheading some plants in our cul-de-sac. All the flowers on the plants had died due to lack of attention while I was away on a trip two weeks ago. I'd made the mistake of leaving for five days without asking a neighbour to water in my absence. Five days of neglect is all is took for the plants to go from beautiful to ugly and brown.

This made me think about people. More specifically how we treat ourselves throughout the five work days and, indeed, throughout life. Time and attention is at a premium and spending time on ourselves, taking care of ourselves, is often what we cut back on. We short-change ourselves on sleep, exercise, learning, active recreation and relationships, and try to cram mega-doses of each once in a while to try to address the deficit. You and I both know that doesn't work, but why do we keep trying? Here are some examples of our bad behaviour that seems to have become the norm. Does any of this sound familiar?

Weekly Cramming

  • Skimping on nightly sleep during the week and trying to catch up on the weekend by sleeping in. We do this despite knowing that going to bed at the same time each night is better for us.
  • Working long hours Monday to Friday and turning into lumps on the couch each night and on weekends, too tired from the day or week to be motivated to do anything else. Heck, some of us even go in to work on Saturdays, hoping to get enough done to feel we can finally relax for 1.5 days. Wow!
  • Gorging on the weekend because we skipped numerous meals during the week.
  • Putting off the gym early in the week and trying to cram sessions later in the week to make up for the lost opportunities. Double workouts anyone?
  • Trying to get all our errands done (to do's) during the weekend that we didn't have time for during the week: groceries, laundry, house cleaning, washing the car, mowing the lawn, etc.

The cycle isn't limited to weekly cycles either. Nope. Here are some monthly and yearly examples:

Monthly Cramming

  • Paying bills once a month because we either keep forgetting to look at what's due on a regular basis or just putting it off until it gets critical.
  • Looking at spending at the end or beginning of the month, only to be horrified by patterns not identified earlier.

Yearly Cramming

  • Going on vacation once a year or maybe twice a year if you're lucky. And, given you only have a week or two, you have to cram as much as you can into the time to get the most bang for your buck. Travel is expensive after all. Right?
  • Paying taxes - yes, that wonderful time of year where we have to hunt for all the necessary paperwork that we didn't keep organized the rest of the year to make the task easier on ourselves.
  • Spring cleaning and decluttering - We have way more stuff than we used to and what used to be a day's worth of work for our forefathers is now weeks' worth of work that seems so overwhelming, we often don't get to it - another source of unnecessary obligation.
  • Investing - tax time is usually the time many of us wake up and realize we need to save some money to our long-term investment vehicles to take advantage of tax incentives.
  • Waiting until Black Friday or December to do our Christmas shopping, apparently because we like to fight through hoards of people trying to do the same.
  • Seeing family and friends over the holidays or at family reunions because that's the only opportunity we have to "make the time" to really connect.

Lifetime Cramming

  • Getting all our education up front because going back to school later in life is a waste of time. We already have a career, so why bother?
  • Getting all the partying done when we're young because we possibly have a good time once we're out of our twenties.
  • Working forty years or more and thinking we'll start living once we retire.
  • Spending twenty or more years raising children thinking we can take care of ourselves again once they're no longer dependents.
  • Thinking life will be better when [fill in the blank].

We may not show signs of distress like the plants I mentioned at the top of this post, but the distress is there nonetheless. Sure, you may have bags under your eyes, get irritable or get anxious more often but it's the long-term effects that are the most damaging (heart disease, hypertension, weight gain, depression, burn out).

We think we can work on an unnatural cycle like machines, but our bodies don't work that way. Our bodies, including our minds, work better when fed a constant stream of stimulus and accomplishments. We feel better when our cycles of activity are shorter than what I've mapped out above as being the norm.

So what can we do to take better care of ourselves? Introducing Life 2.0.

Funny thing is that "Life 2.0" is really a suggestion to get back to "Life 0.0".

It's more healthful to narrow the cycles of what we do to include the following on a daily basis:

  • Proper Sleep
  • Work
  • Play (incl. exercise)
  • Relating (neighbours, spouse, children, family, friends, colleagues, even strangers)
  • Learning (online, books, magazines, journals, Ted Talks, mentorship)
  • To Dos (so they don't pile up and become psychologically insurmountable)
  • Downtime

Including the following on a weekly basis:

  • Paying bills (though save yourself the headache and automate)
  • Relating outside your immediate family (friends, social network - no, not Facebook).
  • Planning ahead to get bits of monthly to do's done.
  • Getting rid of paperwork or other things that made it into the house that cause unnecessary clutter.
  • Volunteering by helping someone or an organization do something that makes you feel good. It doesn't have to be much but it sure adds up over time and feels so good.

And the following on a monthly basis:

  • Planning ahead and chipping away at longer term yearly items (holiday shopping, taxes, investments). This allows us to be opportunistic throughout the year.
  • Decluttering or deep cleaning one room.
  • Organizing or attending at least one function to interact with a larger group of people.
  • Taking a break. A real break. It can be a staycation or a "do nothing" weekend where your time is spent on your terms and away from the blue screens we surround ourselves with 24/7.
  • Thinking about your health and how you did this past month. Is there anything that needs to be addressed to make sure you're doing the best you can?

And on a yearly basis:

  • Do a life check regarding happiness, goals, state of health and make some decisions about what works and what you'll do to change what doesn't:
    • Relationships
    • Personal development / personal growth
    • Health (sleep, exercise, nutrition, mental state)
    • Downtime (relaxation, hobbies, activities)
    • FUN & excitement
    • Personal Finances
    • Career / Life plan
    • Other aspirations (Do you have a bucket list?)
  • A mini-retirement is also a great idea. Taking a sabbatical from work, such as Stefan Sagmeister does regularly to pursue something or interest to you that is not possible to accomplish with full-time work helps you enjoy time now as opposed to saving it all for your retirement years. This may not happen every year of course, but a sabbatical every 5-8 years can do wonders by taking you out of your usual life routine and provide the opportunity to think and/or experience a very different type of accomplishment.

We fight our natural cycles with society-wide procrastination. We go after the carrot of behaviour that's socially rewarded (long hours, constant connectivity, accumulating stuff) and ignore what, though it may seem boring, makes us truly happy. 

In the pursuit of happiness, slow and steady (and shorter cycles) ultimately wins the race. By shortening our cycles, we are healthier, less stressed (aka worried or anxious) and we can tolerate more of the unexpected that life brings about because our batteries are more likely to be fully charged in all the areas that matter. 

Who knew I could be reminded of all of the above by helping a few plants this morning?!

What about you? Are you a deadhead? A recovering one? How do you manage your life to maintain your health and sanity? If you think something above is missing, please share it in the comments below.