Many people have felt out of sorts since the pandemic – whether it’s the cancellations, disappointments or endless restriction, and being challenged by something none of us could control.
As a result, right now, we might not be as focused on longer-term lifetime ambitions as we were two years ago – and instead feel more determined to seize the day and live for the moment.
“We were suddenly challenged with a situation we couldn’t control,” observes behavioural psychologist Jo Hemming. “We couldn’t control our responses to it – and a curveball like the pandemic makes people think about life.
“They go for that dopamine hit, the instant gratification and immediate burst of pleasure,” she adds. “Perhaps they’re fearful the long-term goals don’t matter as much.”
Creating a balance
“It’s a good thing we’re doing the things that please us,” says Hemming. “It’s the balance between having the everyday pleasures in life, the rewards, and balancing that with your longer-term goals.
“But if your longer-term goals are weighing you down, if they’re really restrictive, then you’ve got to go the other way – the small bursts of pleasure you can afford to do, and give you that dopamine hit.”
We’re not saying ditch all your sensible long-term aims. But perhaps the pandemic has reminded us that there’s a lot to enjoy and be grateful for right now too.
So how can you let go a little and live more for today?
1. Break down longer-term goals into smaller ones
Hemming says to think about things you want to do this year, not just 10 or 20 years in the future. “So you’re getting a sense of stepping out of your comfort zone, especially if you’re used to holding on to everything and saving.
“Use what’s happened to us in the last couple of years to understand why we need to cherish the moment. With our families, those who’ve lost people or been seriously ill, it’s in our mindset that we can’t take everything for granted.”
2. Don’t feel guilty about self-care
“Self-care is very important,” stresses Hemming. “I think people confuse self-care for self-indulgence, especially when they’re saving and have long-term goals.
“It’s those little bursts of pleasure, doing something for yourself which actually contributes to your wellbeing. And if your wellbeing is in a good place, then your perspective on life generally improves and you feel less guilty about either spending money, doing that thing or taking time out.”
These aren’t necessarily things that involve a financial spend. “They’re actually time,” says Hemming. “Taking time out for yourself to do something that pleases you – and not to feel bad about it.”
3. Work out a short-term pleasure plan
Where to start? Hemming says to “work out what pleases you. What gives you that dopamine hit. What are the things you’ve missed that you haven’t done, for whatever reason?”
Just reflecting back on what you were doing in a different time – perhaps when you were younger, pre-pandemic or didn’t have so many money worries – can be helpful.
4. Destress by keeping it to ‘two worries’ a day
If you’re stressed out by life, whether it’s the pressures of daily woes or an onslaught of not great news, Hemming suggests trying to limit yourself to a couple of ‘worry windows’ a day.
“So that’s taking your news in at certain times – so rather than listening to rolling news all day or constantly watching news on TV, decide you’re going to have two worry windows a day,” she explains.
That might mean watching breakfast TV or listening to a radio show in the morning, and then watching some news in the evening. “So you’re informed and you’re up to date, but you’re not bombarded. You’re not onslaught-ed by bad news, which we absorb like a sponge – and it makes us stressed out,” Hemming explains. “It’s something that just busies our brain. It invades our momentary pauses in life, which we need.”
5. Get out and maximise your opportunities
Because we’ve been under restrictions and spending a great deal of time at home, we’ve had to readjust our comfort zones – and maybe you’ve forgotten how to embrace life.
“Our confidence has narrowed to kind of our own four walls, or what we can do online,” says Hemming. “So it’s getting out there. Doing something in real time, because now we can.
“Don’t forget there’s a life beyond restrictions and it’s open. We should be maximising our opportunities of doing something outside of our homes, from surfing to riding a horse.”
She says people want to do adventurous, slightly dangerous things. “You know – monitored danger, if you like, because we need to get it back. We’ve got a lot of adrenaline and that’s not a bad thing if it’s moderated and we have bursts of it. But if it’s constant, it causes stress.