A: Deep breath. Experts told us the winter was going to be hard, and here we are.
Research suggests that choosing (and accomplishing) a highlight each day — one activity, goal or project that is most important to you – will boost your self-efficacy and help you keep on keepin’ on.
Feeling bored, anxious, irritable and having problems putting on a happy face these days? And, to top it all off, you feel bad complaining when so many people are sick, grieving and really suffering, right? The hard winter is here, which is creating an icky mix of acedia* and pandemic fatigue* (See links below if you need a refresher on these very-now feelings.)
Research suggests that just about all of us feel better when we make time for what matters, and get those meaningful things accomplished.
In their book MAKE TIME: How to Focus on What Matters Every Day, Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky suggest that every day should have a highlight – a clear “most important” thing to do that day. To-do lists can make us feel like robots, and goals can be too big to get done in a day, while a highlight is something that is doable, of your own choosing, and will help build up (rather than drain) your energy, because you are doing what really matters.
I need a highlight right now.
It might be more modest (think: make a cool new recipe, not see a Broadway show) but picking one thing that matters most to you, and getting it done, boosts self-efficacy, that wonderful belief in your ability to accomplish things. There’s a ton of research on self-efficacy (see reference below!). It boosts agency. Which boosts happiness.
What exactly do I do with my highlight?
Write your highlight on a sticky note each day. Stick it where you can see it (laptop, fridge, desk). And then block time to actually get it done. It’s your priority for the day so do your best to laser-focus on making it happen.
I need help coming up with a highlight.
The best kind of highlight is something that we like, that makes us feel good at the end of the day, and not one that falls into the hedonic stimuli category (like sugar, alcohol, drugs, shopping, gambling).
➡️ Draft 1,500 words of the next chapter of your novel
➡️ Create a Pinterest board for the bathroom refresh
➡️ Learn to play a new song on the guitar
Try making a list of possible highlights for the day and seeing which one jumps out at you as most meaningful. Think about prosocial behaviors (doing things for other people). Look back at your purpose statement (see reference below) to see what purpose-based commitments seem like a today thing.
Each week, try to make at least one day’s highlight something fun, physically energizing or silly.
List your highlight ideas in the comments if you feel moved to do so, and we’ll all benefit from your ideas!
Dr. Whelan and Those Nerdy Girls
*Anxious and bored? It’s Acedia
Self-Efficacy and Why Believing in Yourself Matters
Make Time: How to Focus on What Matters Every Day
Step-by-step purpose statement exercise