Why giving up hope is good for your mental health.

“Hope sits on top of the keen awareness of the trials and tribulations of life. It doesn’t replace them.”

Esther Perel

Every January, I become obsessed with planners. I obsessively seek out the right planner format like my life depends on it. Time is of the essence! Tempus fugit!

Dated or undated? Paper or digital? (umm, what?) With or without habit trackers? (With!) With or without quotes? (No platitudes please.) Lined or dotted? Daily, weekly or monthly? Ornate or minimalist? Coloured or black and white? Should I make my own? Should I print out free spreads to keep in a 6-ring binder? (Ugh, binder? Ooh, but that leather cover.)

The start of a new year always holds so much hope for more; for better; for a fresh start, the possibility of something different; a do-over. The sky’s the limit!

And that is what makes me chase the perfect planner layout. All this sky makes me want to lay track so that my soul train flows. It makes me think I will get it perfectly this time. Because I desperately need healing this year. I need something to go well. I need it to work out. I need hope.

Because right now every train of thought leads to a problem I must solve. 

How to get into our apartment faster. 

How to appear in a better light.

How to set up my office so I am most productive.

How to watch less TV.

How to find MORE time to write.

How to get the fucking book done.

How to get other projects going.

How to decide what to quit.

How to feel on top of things.

How to secure our future.

How to make a difference.

How to make more money.

How to travel more.

How to maintain my sanity.

How to be less afraid.

How to fix my swollen eyes.

How to feel less hip pain.

How to get back in shape.

And of course, underneath it all, how to get my wife relief from her depression. 

Suddenly, all my social media feeds present me with planners of all shapes and sizes. The all-knowing yet clueless Almighty Algorithm presents me with All The Things. I dive headlong into each rabbit hole. But none of them quite fit the bill. So I swipe and keep scrolling to soothe my bullied psyche. 

In a moment of clarity, I realize I shop for planners because I hold out hope that if I see it all organised in a spread, the path ahead will become clear. I will feel on top of things – soaring even. Answers will come like flying  keys, unlocking doors to brave new worlds and all the how’s will have answers.

But I know better. Grasping for answers only makes them scatter out of reach like startled birds. There are no answers embedded in productivity tools. 

What I am looking to solve is a feeling. What I am looking to solve is how to live with uncertainty. What I’m looking for are guarantees that I will no longer be bullied by my determination to get it right; that I will no longer feel inadequate. I don’t want to feel helpless anymore. I don’t want to feel left behind anymore.

I don’t want to feel so bloody responsible for how it all turns out anymore. 

Surely, I figure, the right planner should fix that. The right planner, or the right program, or the right set of habits, the right practice… Surely, there’s an app for that?

So I scroll and scroll, coffee in hand, hunting for the right planner but really I am trying to stave off this sinking feeling that what I’m looking for cannot be found in the perfect layout. 

Eventually, I will grow frustrated and give up. I will stop grasping. I will give up hope for a smarter, fitter, richer, calmer – better – me. I will let go of any aspirations and allow the anxiety, the sadness, the frustration, the rage, and the disappointment to rain down. I will give up hope.

And it will hurt.

But life is not a problem to solve. Living is not a test or an assignment to ace. And I don’t need to be better. I don’t need to be any different than I am – no matter what Algorithm Almighty tries to sell me. I have no other job but to be here, now.

I hope someone designs a planner spread for that.

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