There are days when all the things I want to be doing and the things I think I should be doing keep piling up until I don’t even know where to take my very next step. Worries can fill up my mind until it’s hard to focus on anything else.
Sometimes this leads me to dive into a task—any task—to feel like I’m accomplishing something, even if the task I choose is actually more of a distraction than a benefit. Other times I tell myself I’m too tired or stressed and that I should quit for now and try again tomorrow. Rarely do these approaches leave me feeling good about how I spent my day.
Of course, there are times when it’s most helpful to push ourselves and times when we do need to take a break. The problem is, we aren’t always very good at discerning what we need most. We often turn to what will give us relief in the moment instead of what will benefit the most in the long run. (And, yes, deep cleaning the refrigerator—one of my least favorite tasks—can feel like a relief if it let’s me avoid something that scares me while checking a task off my to-do list.)
Lately, I’ve been struggling to settle into my days. I have plenty of worries, both vague and very specific. I have things I want to try that I struggle to trust I’m capable of doing. I have decisions to make with no clear right answer. I have an abundance of seemingly worthy distractions.
As I dreaded going through another day of feeling unsettled, I remembered a couple of questions I learned years ago from Claire De Boer . I hadn’t specifically answered these questions in a long time, but they are just what I needed anchor myself where I am each day.
What do I need from this day?
It’s so easy to fall into what I think I should need or what would feel good and easy. But need is different from want and need is different from should.
There are things I know I regularly need in my life—exercise, time in nature, plenty of water, journaling, a creative outlet, human connection. Asking this question from Claire helps me go beyond the general to get really specific about what I need right now.
Many of us are very aware of what is on our to-do list without being clear about how we are doing. We shame ourselves for not getting more accomplished and fear we’re not good enough.
What if instead we asked ourselves what we really need? What are we hungry for? What is missing in our lives? What is getting in our way and what do we need in order to get unstuck ?
Once we have a better idea of what we need today, we can balance out our answer with Claire’s second question…
What does this day need from me?
This question can make it tempting to go looking for all the expectations people have of me—or that I assume they have of me. I can get anxious thinking about something being needed from me. Even a glimpse of all the need in the world can be overwhelming.
But that’s not what this question is asking. It’s more specific. More manageable. What does this day need from me?
Part of it does sometimes turn into a look at what is on my to-do list. What do I need to accomplish? But it’s more about prioritizing, paring down, and focusing in than about piling on.
Even more than what do I need to accomplish, this question is about who do I need to be . How do I need to show up for this day? It helps us check to make sure our answer to the first question isn’t rooted solely in want or in relief.
As I’ve answered these questions daily over the past week, I’ve seen more clearly what I need and what is needed from me. Sometimes my answers to the second question show me how to get to what I need in the first. Sometimes they prompt me to reexamine what I think I need.
I need to believe that I am loved. I need to believe I have worth that isn’t dependent on my performance. I need to make practical, tangible progress on the things I want to accomplish. I need to feel capable, productive, and free. I need self-forgiveness. I need help . I need a walk. I need a hug.
This day needs me to appreciate the beauty around me. It needs me to be welcoming and willing to be visible . It needs me to reset and try again when my day hasn’t started out well instead of giving up until tomorrow. This day needs me to ask for help. It needs courage from me. It also needs patience and compassion—with myself and others. This day needs me to focus when it’s time to work and to truly rest when it’s time to rest.
I’d love to hear from you…how often do you take the time to ask what you really need or what is really needed from you? How would you answer these two questions today? What do you think would happen if you asked them consistently?