Challenge: 5 should-free days in August

In my newsletter out this week I challenged everyone, including myself, to set aside five days in August for living by instinct. Whether you're in the office or on vacation, that means reserving five (non-consecutive) days to remove the "should"s and judgment, and do what you feel like doing. No schedule, no itinerary for the whole day.

I know it seems counter-intuitive for a work day, but trust me: you get work done and you feel better. Less rushed, harried, trying to fulfill the needs of others while losing track of your own.

Sounds good, right? Well friends, easier said than done.

Yesterday was the first of my five days. I would not call it a success.

By the end, I was near tears frantically making homemade salsa and worrying about a report I hadn't finished.

The salsa was a choice I made by instinct. Cooking is a creative outlet for me, and it feels good when others enjoy what I make.  So, that was good.

Lesson 1: Oh! You mean I have to like it?

The problem was that while doing what I wanted to do, in the way that felt right at the time, I didn't let go of the stress I normally take on.

Basically I just took on more: my stuff and everything else. My desire to step away from my desk to collect my thoughts—good—and my workload (the report) that I knew was waiting for me when I got back - uh oh.

I forgot the most important aspect of these days: permission. Before clearing my calendar for the day, I needed a frank and loving conversation with myself.

"You deserve this free day, so let yourself have it."

Giving yourself permission to have what you want is necessary for actually getting it, and savoring it. Having a free day with guilt is a waste, and yesterday is proof.

Not a total waste, but I'll get to that in a minute.

#2: Damn those "should"s! They are tricky. 

When you hear yourself say or think, "I should...," it usually means there's a voice inside you that believes if you don't do this something bad will happen, or that you're a bad person. Neither is true.

We may all know that these aren't true, but "should"s don't just magically go away once you are aware of them. They find clever ways to stay around, hiding in places where you wouldn't normally guess they'd be.

Yesterday when I wasn't paying attention, my "instinct" started sounding a lot like a "should." My desire to go for a walk got railroaded right into the supermarket.

I'm pretty sure my instinct had gelato in mind, not "Don't you need a dozen eggs? You should get that now while you're out."

Permission works here too, and also diligence. Really hear what you say to yourself, perhaps even say it out loud. Then repeat.

For example, one of your five days might be at work. What draws your attention at one point could be answering an email that has been waiting for you to have time to focus. Great. Give it that focus for 10-20 minutes and check in again.

If writing one belated response has turned into writing everyone back, right now, a nasty "should" likely snuck its way into your subconscious.

To check, ask: "Is this really what I want to do?" Or, "What's drawing my attention now?" If you waiver or use "should" to answer...there you go.

#3: There is a reason there's five of these.

A should-free day lived by instinct is a good aim, and can take time. While I would not call yesterday a success, parts were successful:

  1. I did some things I wouldn't normally do and enjoyed them, because they were what I wanted. Like making homemade salsa (yummy!) and taking a walk.
  2. My anticipation, and nervousness, about the day is evidence that I really want it to work. Thus, the process is worthwhile. I promised we all would learn more than we'd realize from the experience. That's already true for me.

My next challenge day is Saturday, August 7. Wish me luck!

First thing I'm doing is writing it on the calendar. I can hear the "shoulds" starting since I'm traveling the next day, but I will be ready this time. Ready to hear what I want and give myself permission to do it.

Are you taking the August challenge with me? What is your experience so far?