One of the most difficult challenges in a situation as unusual as this is keeping your head together. I’ve had some challenging days and weeks in the last couple of months, and I know I’m not alone in that.
DJs are in a particularly difficult set of circumstances at the moment, but there are ways I have found that help me stay in the right frame of mind. I still have ups and downs, but the framework I have gives me something to fall back on when I start slipping, and I can tweak it as I go along.
The key aspects for me are 1. ) Habits and 2.) Journals
I try to start my day with a habits routine that sets me up well. I use a great app called HabitBull to track a whole bunch of activities – I’m a huge advocate for the power of habit in changing the quality of your outcomes. Once you do something regularly enough, it becomes basically automatic, and you’re doing a positive thing without even having to think about it. My key things first thing in the morning – out of bed at alarm, make bed, 25 press ups (to wake body up), meditate, journal, Duolingo classes (usually do these last 2 over breakfast). Then I will head out for my morning run.
The great thing about a habits tracker (where you tick a box each time you complete the habit) is that it keeps you honest – if you aren’t tracking, its easy to go a week or so without doing something, and before you know it, the habit has completely slipped. When you get 2 or 3 days without a tick in the box on your app, you know that you need to do it today! If you are anything like me, your competitive urge will motivate you to keep a good run going, and to maintain a certain percentage of habits completed (I feel like 80%+ is decent going, at the moment I’m at 83%). Don’t beat yourself up if you have a bad day, just use it as motivation to do all your habits the next day.
You’ll find that the simple satisfaction of a full set at the end of the day is very good for your self-regard. And by setting up the right habits, you can get your day started with a bunch of simple things that are good for your wellbeing. For the competitive amongst you, you can set up with Habit Share and compete against a friend – thanks to this, I haven’t eaten any candy in all of 2020, amongst other things. The competitive element has massively helped me here!
This is something I struggled to do regularly at first, but now is an integral part of my daily routine. I actually go a bit overboard, maybe – I probably don’t need to use all these methods!
I use an app called 5 Minute Journal – this is super simple, and means that even if I don’t have time to use paper journals, I’ve given the day some thought here.
Then I use a journal planner called Best Self – though there are many similar journals. The way this one works is that you have up to 3 x 13 week overall goals. You map out why you want to do these, what this will achieve, and most importantly, how you will achieve them. Then there are 13 separate weekly planners, and finally, a diary where you can plan our your days down to the hour, with space for your daily aims and accomplishments etc. I find this incredibly useful in keeping me focused on a specific goals – I tend towards getting easily distracted by whatever comes along, and losing focus, and being able to refer back to this journal keeps me on track. On the day, and in general. Seriously – my brain is extremely scattershot at times, to the point where my girlfriend suspects I have ADHD! But this book allows me to regroup and get back to what matters, rather than following whatever distracting thing came along!
I plan my day in the morning, and review it at the end of the day, list my wins etc. It is fundamentally about productivity, through better planning – I’ve found it much easier to stay focused and get things done since using these.
Finally, I just use a normal notepad to journal my general thoughts, feelings, plans, observations – this one is much more about staying on top of my mental and emotional health. Again, I use this morning and night. In the morning I write down the date, time I got up, and score my mood out of 10. Then I talk a bit about my plans for the day, how I’m feeling. At night, I reflect on the day just gone, the important things that happened, congratulate myself when I deserve, examine the times I let myself down, etc, etc. This kind of journaling is a bit more about exploring why I want to do things, why I feel certain ways about how things went, what it all means. With this, it is very important to be completely honest with yourself – in many ways, if you use this right, its a bit like a form of therapy. You get to explore your thoughts and feelings about things. Having a way to express them privately, and explore what you really think about the circumstances we are in, is a very useful tool to have in your kit. I hang on to these journals (Best Selfs I chuck after I’ve used them) – they are a fascinating window into where my head was at different points in my life, and its interesting to be able to refer back to how I felt about specific moments. Often its not at all the same as how my memory remembers things – the brain is strange like that!
Another thing – give yourself some breaks!
For the first month or so of this crisis, I forgot to give myself any days off. Normally, with gigs, I would treat Monday/Tuesday as my weekend, and have a bit of “me time” then. With the lockdown, I was trying to work a Mon-Fri office day, but then streaming at the weekends as well, which meant lots of prep in the days. I was getting really stressed and up tight, then there was a moment when I realised I had been putting myself under more work pressure than I ever was in normal times. I was saying yes to every opportunity to do a mix or an interview or whatever, which was making it harder for me to do any of these things properly, and impacting my ability to do my own projects right
Once I recognised this, I made it a goal in my Best Self planner to do absolutely nothing on certain days other than my morning habits – I just hit the sofa and watch movies all day long! And on your work days, schedule in gaps here and there to go for a coffee, a walk, play a game on the console, etc etc. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy! And I’ve had to make some tough choices about which projects I have the time and energy to do – its better to do one or two things well, then 5 or 6 badly! On this topic, I highly recommend this book on Essentialism – the disciplined pursuit of less.
What I’ve written is just a loose outline of what I’ve found that works pretty well for me. Others might not like, or need, that amount of routine. I find that without it, I get nothing done, at all, and that makes me feel terrible, which drains me of motivation, so even less gets done.
When I start slipping, I know that if I religiously tick off all my HabitBull habits (which in total is maybe an hour or two of my day, maximum) then I will feel a LOT better about myself, which I find makes everything else flow. It sometimes takes me a few days to get myself back together, especially at the moment, with so much uncertainty about the future. And that is fine – this situation is not easy, for anyone!
One great thing about journaling and habit lists is that they serve as a really simple early warning system – if I get lazy with my habits or journaling, its a good sign that something is up. Stopping doing these things tells me something is wrong – and starting doing them again goes a way towards pushing me back to a better state of mind. Meditation is a big help here (I use the Waking Up app) – it trains you to be able to note and observe your experiences and feelings as you have them, rather than getting caught up in them. So you eventually become better at seeing when you are going in bad mental directions, which gives you a chance to correct course.
Be kind to yourself, as you would be kind to a friend going through a tough time. If I’m struggling to get back into the groove, a useful trick I find is to make a to-do list, and have a bunch of really easy wins at the beginning, just to get the ball rolling, and work up to the harder, longer tasks. The main thing is just to feel like I achieved what I set out to, and allow a positive mindset to build up.
But don’t beat yourself up if you struggle to get anything much done. This is a really stressful time for everyone in the DJ community, and getting through it in one piece is a win. Anything else above and beyond that is a bonus. Don’t measure yourself based on what you think others are doing.
It has been a common thing to say “we’re all in the same boat” – the truth is that we aren’t, we’re all in the same storm, in very different boats. And in a storm, you will get some crazy ups and downs – the crucial thing is to not get carried away when you are up high and can see the horizon, and not take it too hard when the lows come along and you feel like you can’t see a way out. This will pass, and we will party together again.
In the meantime, do what you can to stay well, try to build your skills, and keep on developing your music library over at Heavy Hits pool!
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