The difference between an off-week and an “on” week

I have been having an off-week. I feel kind of yucky and dismal, which I’m sure is at least partly a consequence of the gloomy, windy, overcast weather. (Fall has really fallen this year — it got cold seemingly overnight!) I feel like I’ve done bad work all week, and wasted a lot of time in unproductive activity. I just feel generally cruddy and uninspired.

And yet, because I track these things, I can tell you that I have not actually been any less productive this week than usual. I’ve done as much work as I normally do, and some of it is stuff that I’ve been putting off for weeks. Erik and I have cooked all week long, so we’ve been eating healthy vegetarian meals at home, and I have already exercised twice as much this week as last week (even though we still have today and tomorrow yet to go). I’ve slept decently. And I’ve done a lot of reading and writing. Probably the only concrete thing I can point to as being “off” is that I skipped my drawing studio this week, and what is that in the long run?

Since I started trying to live a creative life full-time, I’ve discovered three main things about off-days, and more especially, off-weeks.

The first: it’s all in my head. It’s true that in the past, off-weeks used to mean I sat around and ate junk and played games all the time, but these days that’s not true. The only real difference between the off and on, these days, is that in an on-week, I work and exercise and play and it all feels joyful and lovely; in an off-week, I do the exact same thing, and it all makes me feel wretched.

A few months ago Glamour ran a series of photos of a young woman, wearing only her underwear, which she had taken of herself over a period of six months. She kept this photo journal to document her “fat days” and “skinny days.” Guess what? She looked exactly the same in each photo. The lesson, of course, is that it’s all in our self-perception. I may feel that my whole week was useless and unproductive, but an outside observer would only see the same routine as usual — without the smile!

The second: off -weeks and -days can actually be more productive. I’ve mentioned before how much yoga has helped me with this concept. I’ve noticed time and again that the days when I least feel like going to yoga are the days when I benefit most from the practice, and I’ve noticed just as frequently that my feeling weak or strong has absolutely nothing to do with whether I can do hard poses or not. It’s reasonable to suppose, in fact, that I actually work less hard when I’m feeling good. When I’m happy, I’m more likely to be self-indulgent or to go fun-seeking; when I feel bad, I tend to just put my head down and keep grimly on working. But I should point out again that this is a relatively new development. I used to just say “screw it all” when I felt bad; it took me a long time to realize that I should keep going even when that attitude starts seeping in.

The third, and this applies only to off-weeks and not the random off-day: off-weeks, always, are the precursors of better days to come. They are like growing pains, or what Julia Cameron might call the birth contractions of a new life. Whenever I go through an entire week (or sometimes two) feeling like everything I do just sucks, it always always means that in another week or two I will have grown into some amazing new version of myself. I’ll have a huge epiphany, or get a burst of energy or a wave of inspiration, which will fuel me through a tremendously productive and interesting period… until the next off-week comes along, and then the cycle repeats. The first few times I had these kinds of off-weeks, I worried myself into a funk, thinking they meant I could never make it on my own. But these days, I know they’re just part of the evolution of things. Come to think of it, maybe that knowledge is why I am now able to work through my off-weeks instead of just gaming and bingeing through them…

Yesterday I was in Kimber’s yoga class and she had us do bakasana, which I haven’t tried in a long time. I’ve never done it properly; while it’s not just about upper-body strength, it does require a fair amount of strength and balance, and I’ve never had that until now. I put a folded blanket in front of my mat (to cushion my head in case I fell over), placed my hands and my knees, hugged my legs in toward the midline, carefully lifted one foot and then the other, and… freaked out. Not because I couldn’t do it, but because, for the first time ever, I suspected that I could do it. My arms are stronger than they’ve ever been, and I’m getting stronger and more flexible overall. I had a level of control over the pose that I’d never achieved before, and it scared the hell out of me. I tried it again, but once again, when I got to the point of almost being able to do it, I just dropped my focus and came down.

It’s my belief that anytime we grow a little, anytime we become a slightly cooler and smarter and more amazing person than we already are, we have to readjust the way we see ourselves. It sounds really hokey, but going from “oh, I don’t have enough upper-body strength to do arm balances” to “I am a person who can do yoga arm balances” is actually a really big shift. I don’t see myself as the latter person, I see myself as the former, and it’s obvious from the way I backed away from the pose that I don’t feel ready yet to embrace the latter identity. This is the same fear that causes those awkward growing pains, those off-weeks. Growing is scary and we resist it, and resistance is painful, so we’re in for a rough time until we step into the changes with grace and acceptance. It’s so weird, but it’s true what they say: success is more frightening than failure. We are so much more used to failure; it’s so much easier to think, “oh, I’m just an average so-and-so, I’m not capable of greatness” than to think, “I am awesomely divine.” Success is so much scarier because big success always carries with it the risk of big failure, and we know this all too well… it’s easier to just relax into mediocrity than it is to aim high and take the risk of falling.

I am grateful for the off-weeks. They are a sign of growth and of positive change.