If recently you’ve felt like you’ve been living the plot of the iconic 1993 movie Groundhog Day, you’re not alone. As the plot goes, Bill Murray relives the same day repeatedly until he can “perfect” his day and learn the life lessons he needs to be freed from the monotony. For those of us who have lived through the pandemic, this plot is all too familiar.
At this point, we’re drained, which means our creativity is zapped. This means every single 9 to 5 can feel like an uphill battle. For starters, take a deep breath and stop blaming yourself. This is perfectly normal, says Dr. Natalie Underdown, an executive coach and organizational psychologist for The Nu Company.
Monotony has an incredibly negative impact our psyche. To understand why, Dr. Underdown says it’s crucial to understand neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ability to adapt to changes in an individual’s environment by forming new neural connections over time. When we experience new and novel things, Dr. Underdown says our brains can shift, and the gray matter, which is responsible for processing information, increases. On the flip side, when we experience extreme monotony, gray matter decreases.
“Our brains can actually regress doing the same things over and over again,” she explains. “So just like we need to mix up our workouts to keep our muscles guessing, the brain is the most sophisticated muscle in our body, and it needs new stimuli too to continue growing and functioning at its peak state.”
Thankfully, there are ways to snap our minds out of this cycle, and find inspriation as we’re making our way through this homestretch of the pandemic.
Stop playing the comparison game
Your colleague who used to share the cubicle next to you took up baking during the pandemic and now she has a viral TikTok account where she shares her culinary successes. Your next-door neighbor took up yoga and is now a certified instructor, teaching classes as a lucrative side gig… And of course these people tell you all about it every time you see them. The point is: we know it’s tempting to compare yourself to others in your circle, but trying to measure up to another person will only make you feel discouraged, warns Dr. Kevin Gilliland, mental health expert and the executive director of Innovation 360.
And in addition to 86-in your attempts to keep up with The Joneses, try not to compare yourself to the person you were a year ago. Instead, Dr. Gilliland says to celebrate your progress, no matter how small. For example, did you walk a little bit more today than you did last week? Did you eat a little healthier today than you did yesterday? Did you go see someone in person that is important to you? Baby steps still matter, so go easy on yourself, and be generous about celebrating your successes.
Give meditation a chance
Whether you download an app like Headspace or Calm or just sit quietly for ten minutes, Dr. Underdown says meditation makes us more focused and patient, less reactive, and more thoughtful. “Especially mindfulness-based meditation, where we learn to observe our thoughts and experiences from a neutral perspective. Not only do we change our brain for the better, we can literally go on the biggest and most profound adventure ever.”
The key is to make it a ritual you stick to each day for it to be effective. Meditation is ideal as soon as you wake up to lift your spirits or right before bed to help you unwind. Give both a chance and see which ones feel the most natural to you.
Try a dopamine detox
This may sound scary at first, but it could be the ‘reset’ you need to jump back into your work and personal life with gusto. For 24 hours, try to avoid anything that’s stimulating, recommends Jenny Black, a licensed marriage and family therapist. This includes no screens, no books, no work, no music, no caffeine and no alcohol. Instead, spend the day drinking tea, walking, writing or just sitting still and relaxing. “
“As boring as this sounds, when all of our distractions and numbing agents are removed, we can see what we really feel about our life. We start to see that we have more resources than we thought we did,” she continues. “The discomfort of not being able to get things done is quite the hack to tapping into motivation and finding inspiration.”
Find ways to shake up your routine
Though you may not be able to hop on a flight for a much-needed tropical vacation or be able to snag a 3pm coffee with your favorite colleague quite yet, you should still try to shake up your routine. Because the pandemic still prevents us from turning to the ‘normal’ activities we used to use to find motivation, we have to push ourselves out of our comfort zone, says psychologist Dr. Yvonne Thomas.This means being proactive in exposing ourselves to hobbies that enhance our cognitive and emotional growth. She recommends learning a new language, cooking, baking, playing a musical instrument, crossword puzzles, listening to educational podcasts, and so on.
“Instead of giving in to complacency, you can find and fuel your inspiration and innovation by seeking out ways to have new and fulfilling experiences, even during this period of same-old, same-old,” she adds.
Try to focus on the moment
While this strategy is definitely easier said than done, living in the moment truly can offer us peace. Since we can’t change the pandemic or truly prepare for what the weeks and months ahead may look like, we must find ways to enjoy and savor the right-here and the right-now. As Dr. Gilliland explains, when we make today the best day possible and try to do the things that will help our overall psychological and physical health, we promote happiness. And we grow more confidence when we make small decisions that provide a little bit of control.
“We don’t need to overthink things right now; just focus on doing something,” he says. “If your goal is to be more physically active today, focus on the shoes you’re going to wear, where you’re going to walk, and so on. You don’t need to think about whether or not you feel like walking; just move.”
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