Last week I stumbled upon a seven-year-old Medium post by a certain Buster Benson, titled Live Like a Hydra. In the post Buster makes my great points towards the embrace of anti-fragility as a life strategy (worth the read!). Yet what sort of got stuck in the back of my head was his notion of ‘modes’.
He introduces these as:
Everything in the universe goes through cycles. Cycles of high energy and low energy. Cycles of change and stability. Cycles of focus and distraction. We’re no different, but most of the time we are trying to force fit ourselves into a mode that we aren’t in, and that causes trouble.
Buster explains that he has seven different modes that he can switch between, given the circumstances at any moment, and how it helps him stay healthy. And that really resonated with me. I, too, try to give more attention to what it is that I need in a given moment, rather than adapt to whatever other people want from me.
So I made a list of the different modes I switch between in my life. Like Buster, I counted seven, but not all of them the same as his.
Here are my seven modes:
We all recognise that there are moments when life hits you hard — think about an unusually high tax bill; your love breaking up with you; or a Corona epidemic. Same goes for me, and honestly, they can really get me down… in particular when I’m already dealing with other stuff in my life. That when I go into Recovery Mode. This mode is about giving myself time to build myself up again — slowly, patiently, without beating myself up. I focus on the basics: Enough sleep, eat healthy, watch a bit of tv. I also allow myself to workout less. Basically everything that doesn’t immediately energise me is put on hold until I am ready to deal with life again.
I’m not sure about you, but my life often feels overwhelmingly full. It’s like every pocket of time has been claimed by some kind of activity. With my attention being hijacked by others so much, I’ve really started to appreciate those moments when I have some time for myself: when I’m folding laundry, for instance. I‘ve found that in this seemingly goalless activity, I am given room to think and to let things come. This is Slow Mode. With the pressure off, thoughts seem to flow more naturally and often wonderful new ideas are being born. And I now purposefully seek such Slow Mode moments — I found them in solitary post-lunchtime walks, in gardening, in bike rides, and in morning and afternoon train commutes.
I am a curious person. I love deepening my understanding of certain parts of life: human nature; the function of architecture; responsible forms of doing business; as well as how they all relate (they do!). This means that in order to stay healthy and happy, I need enough time to read, to explore thoughts, to synthesise. Again, not at every moment, but when I haven’t been in Learning Mode for a while, I feel undernourished.
When I’m lucky, Flow Mode follows Learning mode. It happens when the new things I’m learning about start to click with other things, and I get inspired. New ideas start to come into being, I write and restructure and it’s one of the best feelings in the world. I feel smart and powerful and I never want it to stop. Of course, Flow Mode may be completely different to you. Maybe it’s a runner’s high, or a programming challenge. But regardless: when you get to fully immerse yourself in something that you really has your heart, while also being good at it… Wow.
Beyond mere professional work, to me this covers any activity that requires a conscious effort. Cleaning the house. Working out. Maybe even parenting at moments (actually: many moments :). When I’m in Work Mode, I invest time and effort into something that I find important. This could be the achievement of a goal I have in my life, but also simply because I get paid for it so I can put food on the table. Whatever I do in Work Mode, the dedication is the same.
As much I as like alone time, I love socialising with friends and family. Sometimes this is just shallow contact (when I need a break from work, I usually see if I can find some colleagues to bother with my existence 🙂 and sometimes this is about deeper, meaningful connection. It’s the one Mode that I really miss in these Corona times; sharing a beer on Houseparty just isn’t the same. And that brings me to my last mode:
Thinking about these modes is really part of giving attention to myself and how I’m doing. It’s part of Self Mode. Self Mode can mean personal introspection, but it also encompasses things like personal coaching, therapy; even opening up to a friend. Many may not do this purposefully, but still it’s good to recognise that a Self Mode is very valid to exist.
Some of these modes you may recognise, but there are many others. I used to have a friend who would probably include something like a Release mode on her list. She frequently visits night-long raves, with all the usual paraphernalia. Knowing something of her background, I suspect these help her to release the psychological brakes that exist in her life. This makes Release mode a very legitimate strategy towards her staying sane and healthy.
So I appreciate each of my seven modes as much as the other ones. All of them have value, and constitute ‘being productive’. We all need self-care, we all need play, we all need to follow curiosity. And yes, we all need to work sometimes too. But when you’re in the right mode, every time is quality time.