Pulling the covers over me, I stretched the blanket to its limits to keep the biting winter air from touching my skin. My bed was just comfortable enough that I did not want to get up. It wasn’t the greatest, but it sure beat facing the world outside.
Where might the day take me? What would I face in the day ahead? Who knows?
What I did know was that I was safe where I was. As long as I stayed beneath the blankets, I was comfortable, and nothing could touch me.
But was I really living?
Yes, I was living. Just not the life I wanted to live. You see, it was in that moment I realized I was living in a prison. Up until then, I had convinced myself I was in control. I was convinced these comforts were of my choosing and were a reward for having my life in order. Somewhat in order anyway.
Never had I considered another option. Never had the idea dawned on me that these things could be keeping me small. Keeping me contained. Restraining me from being at my full capacity. I was living in a prison, a prison of comforts.
Flies and Honey
Who needs a barbed-wire fence to keep you trapped when a warm blanket and Netflix will do just fine? In fact, they will serve even better. When a fence is present, the prisoner cannot resist the urge to break free, to see the green grass and the blue skies outside. Yet when the wall is removed, and replaced with creature comforts, the urge to leave disappears. The cell becomes so desirable the prisoner begins to ask why anyone would ever want to leave. Funny how our brains work isn’t it?
Ever hear the phrase you trap more flies with honey? It’s a simple thing we all understand when it comes to winning over others. But have you thought of how you are applying it to yourself? Are you trapping yourself with a honey of your own?
Don’t get me wrong, we all need downtime to reset our batteries. This is not what I am talking about here. Although, much-needed mental-health days can easily turn into prisons if not kept in check. Recharging our batteries is essential to key performance. If we do not take the time to slow our pace, to chill for a bit, then we are likely to crash hard.
This is a lesson I have learned the hard way, several times. In full transparency, I am still working on this lesson. I tend to jump in with two feet, run as fast and far as I can until the air cannot fill my lungs and my legs are cramped. I am hunched over and out of commission for the foreseeable future. Not a good plan.
I’ve had to learn to slow my pace. To look for a chance to rest and recharge my energy. Now that I see this as a productive part of the process, I am more inclined to value setting aside the time for that much-needed self-care. But still, I have my moments where I don’t stick to this plan.
In those times, it becomes too easy to let the recovery from overwhelm turn into a cycle of comfort and thus a return to prison.
Also, we sometimes need to create a comfortable space to be at our most productive. Setting us up for success. There is nothing wrong with creating a setting to be at your best. I need to do this when I write. It almost always involves a warm drink at a café, classic music, and a seat in the back corner.
The difference comes not so much in what you are doing in your downtime, but how it leaves you feeling, and what you are doing between each of the downtimes. In other words, are you using this time to set yourself up to do amazing things? Or are you using this time to escape the fact that you are not doing the amazing things you really want to do?
Aware or not, you could be slowly building walls around you. Comfortable walls. Walls you have chosen. They’re meant to be more of a protective layer than prison walls. But before you know it your protective outer coating is keeping you in more than keeping harm out. My walls were great at making me feel comfortable and keeping me busy. Too busy to notice my feelings. Too busy to be uncomfortable. Too busy to be successful.
So how can you tell if your downtime is recharging you, or keeping you prisoner? To determine this, ask yourself a couple of key questions. The first is, how do you feel after your downtime? Then ask, what is your life like between downtimes?
Exploring the feelings your actions produce exposes whether they are adding value to your life, or dragging you down. Too often, we fail to make the connection between how we feel, and the very actions we are taking to produce those feelings. Even worse is the fact that when actions become habits, we lose the awareness of the fact that we are even taking action. We operate on autopilot which leaves us feeling like life is just happening without our having any control over what comes next. This is one of the most damaging lies you can believe.
During the Downtime
Let’s look at how you feel after your downtime. Do you feel isolated and drained, as if you do not want it to ever end? Or do you feel refreshed and relaxed? As you get to the end of a session, do you feel ready to face the next challenge?
If you find yourself leaning towards the feelings of isolation, of needing to escape, you are likely using your comforts as a prison. You may feel more chained to the bed than refreshed by its safe harbors. Imagine flopping into the covers with a feeling of defeat rather than crawling in gently to rest for a brief period of time. Don’t fret, we all have times like this. Being aware of how your actions are making you feel is the first step to making great changes in your life.
After you have your break, what do you do with your life? Are you moving mountains and building your dreams? Or are you just going through the motions until you can get to the next break?
Unfortunately, the majority of us fall into the latter. It is, after all the easier choice. It’s easier to just let things happen, to blame our circumstances, to not take the risk, to just exist. But do you want an easy life or a great life? The reason we are so impressed by those who do great things, is because we know it isn’t easy. We all too often lack the courage to take the hard road.
Putting it into Action
Do you want to change the way you live? If so, then you have to change the way you think. You have to challenge yourself, in the moment that you seek comfort, to ask yourself if it is an escape. To ask yourself if that very thing you use to soothe your feelings is in fact your master. When you can look at the donut, the remote control, the blanket, and say to them, “I would love to spend time with you, but that will hold me back from the things I really want.” When you can say that, you are starting to have a dialogue with yourself that will change the behaviors which have, until now, held you back.
This is the action. To have the conversation. To challenge your comfort every time you settle in. If you need to, rearrange things to reinforce your behavior Don’t make it easy for the prison door to close behind you. Move the snack cupboard, take the batteries out of the remote, put a blanket over the television. Anything you can do physically to add one more step to getting to your comforts.
This extra step then becomes the trigger to have the conversation. As you search for the batteries for the remote you ask, “But is this what I want to spend my time on right now?” As you open the old snack cupboard to find it empty, you say to yourself “That’s right, I broke free from that prison. Do I really want to do more time?” As you reach to take the blanket off the television, you think, “How much of my life am I willing to give you today?”
I have created my own prison and have escaped, done time again, and then worked my way out once more. I get it. The lure of comfort is tempting. But at what cost?
The goal here is to change your thinking, make you aware of the choices you have, the power you have so that you can change your life.
You have greatness in you, my friend. I cannot say how it will show itself, but I can guess what is holding it back. Let’s break out of prison together, by removing just one small brick at a time. Let’s tear down those walls. Let’s turn that prison yard into a playground which you can run freely in and out of when you need to have a little fun or break from the workload.
The power is in you to do it. Just as you can hold yourself back, you can break yourself free. I cannot wait to see the amazing things you are going to do.
Thank you for joining me on this journey as we discover the greatness you can unleash when you Own Your Awkward. I love hearing from my readers, please share your thoughts in the comments. And if you have a friend who may need to hear this, please send it their way.