Why not to feel guilty about those missed lockdown goals

Headshot image of Lauren Gordon, Bupa UK Behaviour Change Adviser
Lead Behavioural Insights Advisor at Bupa UK
15 May 2020
Next review due May 2023

At first, the lockdown (and social media) gave us all ideas about what we could do with our time at home. Write that novel, learn a language, take an online course and tidy your house for instance. And that’s great if that appeals to you – go for it!

However, many of us have found our energy reserves depleted, our anxiety levels rising, and our ability to concentrate a challenge. Coping with the effects of the pandemic is a huge feat in itself. So, here are some ideas on how to reduce the pressure you might be feeling to achieve big new goals at this challenging time.

Take the pressure off

You’re not alone if you’re finding things a struggle. Crisis psychologists explain that it’s normal to feel demotivated and lost during a challenging period. This is because there is constant threat to us, which we can’t control.

Top tips

  • Release yourself from the idea you should be improving yourself and ‘achieving’ on top of already coping with a situation you’ve never been in before.
  • Try not to compare yourself to others.
  • Keep in mind that certain expectations we put on ourselves to achieve goals are based on life before lockdown.

Reframe your goals

It’s understandable if the goals you were working towards before lockdown have waned or stopped for now. But don’t beat yourself up – try to reframe the situation instead. Your goals will still be there for another time. Think of the priority goal as focusing on looking after yourself and your loved ones at this challenging time.

Recognise relaxation

At the weekend or after work in the evenings, we often think that everything we do must somehow add value. But what about the value of relaxation and doing something for the pure fun of it during your well-deserved time off? There’s joy to be found in doing something that has no gain beyond it being enjoyable. We can tend to think this is wasted time, but it really isn’t. Relaxing is doing something productive!

Try the niksen way

What’s more, it’s ok to do nothing at all. Giving your brain some downtime is good for you. For example, long before the current situation, the Netherlands were practising niksen, which is all about doing nothing in particular as a way to self-care. It’s all about balance.

Give yourself time to adjust

Prioritise your health

For many people, this is an emotional rollercoaster. You might be feeling bored, frustrated, low, anxious and fatigued, and these feelings may come and go and vary in their intensity. So it’s understandable why you might be finding it hard to concentrate or feel motivated. The important thing is to look after your mental and physical wellbeing as a priority.

Give yourself some head space

Let yourself come to terms with how you’re feeling – whether it’s grief for how you thought your life should have unfolded this year, anger, or a lack of control of the situation. The emotional strain of this time is likely to zap your energy, not to mention other demands like balancing work with round-the-clock childcare. Your brain is busy trying to figure out how to get through this time, so it’s important to give it the space to do so.

Recognise screen fatigue

You also might be dealing with a huge change to how you work. Lots of people are feeling a sense of ‘video-call exhaustion’, whether that’s spending all day on virtual meetings or talking frequently to friends and family. With so many factors contributing to your emotions, it’s no wonder if you can’t muster the energy to start that online course or learn a new skill.

Set small, meaningful goals

Setting goals can help you find purpose in your day and give you a sense of structure, but they don’t have to be big and all-encompassing. Having something to work towards can help to reduce the uncertainty you’re feeling.

Jay, who is self-employed and unable to work at the moment, explains: "Since I've been off work, I've been trying to do some home studying every day. But I have also made sure I leave time in my day for a hobby I enjoy, such as doing a jigsaw puzzle. I'm working on a 1,000-piece jigsaw right now, which is keeping me occupied! I find it calming and it takes me out of my own thoughts, and also helps distract me if I'm ever feeling anxious or stressed. Plus, it gives me a huge feeling of achievement when I actually complete one."

All goals are worthy

Goals can also be more about useful and meaningful activities – these are just as worthy. Cleaning, cooking, exercise, reading or calling a friend are all positive ways to look after yourself. If you feel ready to take on a bigger challenge, that’s great! Just remember to keep it manageable. There’s a science to setting goals which can help you.

Celebrate the small wins

Research shows that making progress and moving things forward are fundamental to feeling productive and happy. Right now, lots of aspects of life are on hold, which makes it hard to do this.

The value of small successes

But try and focus on the small successes during the day and see those as progress in coping with the pandemic. Doing what you can is more than enough. Congratulate yourself on the things you do get done, even if it’s something that feels trivial, like doing the dishes! It’s still a positive step towards creating a sense of normality.

Dopamine rewards

What’s more, ticking some things off your to-do list is rewarding, as small amounts of dopamine (the feel-good chemical) is released in your brain. Try doing something manageable in the morning, such as a household chore or sending a message to a friend or loved one. This may help to kick-start your motivation for the rest of the day by creating a sense of accomplishment from the get-go.

Practise kindness

One of the best things you can do for yourself right now is to be kind to yourself. This is a really challenging time and there are a lot of things to juggle and process as you adapt. And think about how you can extend kindness to other people too. We’re all in this together and a little bit of kindness goes a long way.

Reach out for help

If you’re feeling anxious, stressed or low, try to speak to someone you trust about how you’re feeling. If this isn’t possible and you don’t know where to turn, here are some places of support that can help you.

Headshot image of Lauren Gordon, Bupa UK Behaviour Change Adviser
Lauren Gordon
Lead Behavioural Insights Advisor at Bupa UK

    • Guidance for the public on the mental health and wellbeing aspects of coronavirus (COVID-19). Public Health England., updated 31 March 2020
    • The power of small wins. Harvard Business Review., published 2011
    • Makwana N. Disaster and its impact on mental health: a narrative review. J Family Med Prim Care 2019; 8(10):3090–5. doi: 10.4103/jfmpc.jfmpc_893_19
    • Westbrook A, Braver TS. Dopamine does double duty in motivating cognitive effort. Neuron 2016; 89(4):695-710. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2015.12.029
    • Badgaiyan RD. (2014). Imaging dopamine neurotransmission in live human brain. Prog Brain Res 2014; 211:165–182. doi:10.1016/B978-0-444-63425-2.00007-6

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