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How Do You Fill a Time/Habit/Food/Emotional Vacuum?

Just for a moment, think back to a year ago when the world first went into lockdown because of the coronavirus. Millions of people suddenly had nothing but time on their hands. The universe created a vacuum, and everyone was left to fill it for better or for worse. Some started baking bread and cleaning their houses. Others started drinking more and watching more tv. Many found volunteer opportunities. Some obsessively watched the news.

If you were among the people following the stay-at-home order, what did you do with the time?

This concept of a personal vacuum has been on my mind for the last few weeks because I started working with a functional medicine practitioner. The first step in the process is a three-week elimination diet. No alcohol, coffee, black tea, gluten, eggs, sugar, dairy, soy, get the idea.

My boyfriend decided to tag along with me as we had already committed to giving up alcohol for 30 days after Valentine’s Day. There were two specific rituals that we anticipated mourning the loss of: our evening cocktails while we watch tv and our weekly take-out from Thai House on Friday nights. As the last two weekends came and went, my heart ached for spring rolls and chicken tenders and sweet and sour pork and Mee Krob Lad Nar and crab ragoons.... How would we fill the void?

All this got me thinking about how vacuums are an inherent part of change. You’re either making space for the new you want to manifest or filling a vacuum left by a loss.

If you a starting something new, then you are trying to create a vacuum for whatever you’ve decided to add to your life. The challenge is deciding what you are willing to let go of to create space. It’s possible you want to start exercising four times a week, but you have so many things crowding your schedule, you don’t have enough free time throughout the week to make room for working out.

If you are giving up something or you have lost something in your life, the vacuum becomes this gaping hole that longs to be filled. If you are not careful, you might fill it with something that doesn’t serve you in the long run. For instance, you might give up smoking and replace those cravings with snacks. Sure, your lungs are happier, but you are now at risk for other health problems.

I think both can be solved by understanding your values. Financial stability, mental health, self-care, social connection, community service....the list goes on. I encourage clients to focus on values before goals because values are life-long. A goal has a finish line and once you cross it, you might be left with, you guessed it, a vacuum that wants to be filled.

If you are not sure which of your values to focus on, make a list of goals and then figure out the value that relates to that goal. Once you know what your top values are they will act as guidelines for creating and filling vacuums.

Run a marathon = Physical activity

Save $5000 = Financial responsibility

Schedule time with friends = Friendship/Social connection

Meditate everyday = Mindfulness

Using values to create a vacuum:

If you are struggling to decide what to eliminating from your life to make room, ask yourself what existing habits and activities don’t support the values you have listed. Those are things that you can let go of. You can also look for things that aren’t taking away from your values but aren’t helping either. Consider letting go of some of these “value-neutral” items.

Using values to fill a vacuum.

When you are filling a vacuum left by a habit or activity you gave up, use your values to determine what to fill the space with. For example, let’s say you decide to stop watching television during the week to improve your sleep. It’s helpful to be proactive by planning what you will do with the extra two or three hours available each night. If you aren’t paying attention, you could find yourself spending that time staring at your phone. You’ve swapped one screen for another. Remind yourself why you wanted to give up television. Use your value list to brainstorm how you can use that time to support your mission of sleeping better.

So, what did my boyfriend and I do to fill our vacuum? Since we would be abstaining from our evening cocktails, Andrew wisely recommended we think of a few things to fill that time with. We started a puzzle and found a new podcast to listen to. I bought some herbal teas to replace our libations.

In end, we haven’t been spending much time on the puzzle or drinking tea. Instead, we just decided to go to bed about an hour earlier than usual. Without the alcohol to keep me up watching tv, I am getting an extra hour of sleep and reducing my screen time before bed.


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