Nickel and Dimed

At the beginning of every new year, I always run into people who are hoping to devote more time to something extra that they consider good for them, i.e., exercise, journaling, meditation, cooking, yoga, or “me” time. Sometimes I’m right there with them. But I think we soon discover that the more we pack into the extra moments of our day, it becomes hard to find the time for stuff we have to do like work and eat and sleep and parent.

Yes, it’s come to a point when our free time is so micro-managed, we have to divide up the bits and pieces that we do have like we would portion out a single stick of gum among siblings. We even have cell phone apps for doling out our free time for something more “constructive”—10-min. meditation, 7-min. NYT workout, 5-min. kegel exercises—and before you know it, you’ve carved up your precious free time into tiny chunks, which now feel like even more “must-do”s.

On most days, especially those days when I need to be on campus to teach, I’m especially crunched for time, but it doesn’t mean I should flake out on my workout, right? (“Right!” says every single you-can-do-it magazine article and blog post appearing during the month of January.) What to do? I set my alarm a little extra early to squeeze in a short workout. Of course, just because I set my alarm, doesn’t mean I actually get up and go through with the plan. On the occasions when I do, I go through a 12-minute series of push-ups, sit-ups, squats, lunges, planks, jumping jacks, and some running in place. I do feel good that I did something, but in the back of my mind I’m thinking, since when does 12 minutes of exercise actually amount to anything? (Besides allowing me to feel a small swell of pride for my discipline for the day?) Well, that sense of smugness comes at a price. By 3 o’clock in the afternoon, I’m ready for a nap. Tired, you say? How about ten minutes of mindfulness? And then fifteen minutes in front of the energy light? Oy, what did I get myself into? I have to help Virginia with her homework, take her to gymnastics, cook dinner, and oh yeah, first I need to drive over an hour to get home from work.

What do I learn from this? That if I have a free 10 minutes to do whatever I want, when my attention is not needed for anything important, then my 10 minutes might be better spent hitting the snooze button in the morning rather than getting in a mini-workout. Or maybe the best way to relax after a long day is pigging out on salted cashews and catching the end of an episode of Real Housewives of New York. Mindlessness over mindfulness, I think—that’s the ticket.

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