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This month I’ve been doing my best to better myself, as fall has always felt more like “New Year’s” to me than January 1. Each week I’ve been rolling out a new “fall resolution”: First I slightly improved my listening skills, and the past week has been an uphill battle against my bad habit of complaining a lot.

So for Week Three I decided to focus in on my free time. It occurred to me recently that my energy level is very dependent on how I spend my time after work. (Work has its own effects, but that’s a different post for a different day.) This realization struck me at the end of a particularly long stretch of Netflix binge watching, in which for several weeks my extra hours mostly consisted of watching 3-5 reruns of “Gilmore Girls” each day. I had been racing toward the finale, and when I got there I was surprised to feel unfulfilled–like, just-wasted-several-weeks-of-my-life unfulfilled.

Don’t get me wrong. I am one of the world’s biggest proponents of laziness, relaxation, Me Time, and the merits of a beautiful slothful day spent glued to the couch. But string a few weeks of those days together and I realized it wasn’t how I enjoyed spending all my time.

I look at it like this: It’s like when you come home from a week-long vacation where you ate every meal at a restaurant or a fast-food joint. As much as you say you wish you could get away with eating like that all the time, you strangely find yourself turned off by the idea of eating one more meal out, and all you want to eat is a gigantic salad. (I am not an avid consumer of healthy food, and yes, this has happened to me.)

After my aforementioned binge-watch extravaganza, I saw that you can crave healthier, more fulfilling activities in the same way you crave healthier, more fulfilling food.

So I decided to make two lists. The first is a list of things that make me feel productive and fulfilled:

  1. Getting creative: Playing music, writing in whatever way I can, even doodling or folding a fortune teller out of a piece of paper!
  2. Getting active: My exercises of choice are running, walking and yoga, but even playing around with the dogs gets my energy level up.
  3. Getting outside: Easily combined with number 2! I feel so much more positive on days when I can squeeze in a walk or spend time by Lake Michigan, just a few blocks from where I live.
  4. Getting a laugh: To me, laughter is one of the greatest things in life. I get so much joy out of joking around with friends, watching standup comedy, or simply checking out the latest viral videos.
  5. Exploring something new: Lately when I do turn to Netflix, I’m not mindlessly watching hours of one show while I play around on my phone. I’m turning on some “classic” and “must-see” movies that I’ve always wanted to watch. I’ve also been turning to the internet to read up on people or pieces of history I don’t know much about, and perusing bands on Spotify that I’ve been wanting to check out.
  6. Reading: I’m sure many avid readers will agree, reading just seems so much more fulfilling than watching something on TV. Maybe it’s activating your imagination and feeling like you’re doing more work for your entertainment. Whatever it is, it feels like time well spent.
  7. Getting enough sleep: This has become a tough one for me since I started working overnights. But I feel like pushing myself to get enough hours of sleep every “night” (day) is the most basic way to start with self-care.
  8. Doing nothing, actively: There’s a difference between mindlessly staring at a screen for hours and sitting in silence, listening to your thoughts. Whenever I’m consistently practicing meditation and mindfulness I feel much calmer and more at peace.
This meditative dog could teach me a thing or two about fulfillment.

This meditative dog could teach me a thing or two about fulfillment.

So after listing out the things that make me feel fulfilled, my second list is (you guessed it!) the things that drag me down:

  1. Spending hours in front of the TV: Half the time I have one or more other screens to distract me, anyway.
  2. Obsessively checking social media: I know it’s a big part of a lot of our jobs, but I’m not gaining anything from logging on 500 times a day, especially when it feels like I’m just reading about how everyone’s out having fun but me.
  3. Playing games on my phone: Candy Crush will be the death of me.
  4. Putting off my chores: Watching dishes and unfolded laundry pile up seems to cause me anxiety and make me feel bad about myself.
  5. Complaining: I know, I’m working on tackling this bad habit. But every time it rears its ugly head it just makes me feel worse about whatever it is I’m complaining about.

Now that I’ve made my two lists, this week’s resolution is simple: More of List One and less of List Two. More specifically, my goal is to do at least one thing from the first list every day (ideally several), and reduce the second list as much as I can.

Weigh in: How do you find fulfillment in your free time?