What to do (not when to do it) — more on Rule #7: Take one night for you

This week the Tranquility by Tuesday Challenge is focusing on Rule #7: Take one night for you. By taking a few hours a week to do something that is not work and is not caring for family, you can make life feel more sustainable and joyful.

Ideally, this night involves a commitment to something — so it actually happens! It’s one thing to say “I’d like to take more bubble baths.” Your bath tub isn’t going anywhere, so if somebody else wants you to do something else, you probably will. Whereas if your string quartet practices at 7 p.m. on Tuesdays, if you are not there, they are a string trio. So you’ll go, even if you’re tired or busy, and you will reap the benefits of this active self-care.

Anyway, some folks wonder about the logistics. But a reasonable number of people, upon hearing this rule, say “I don’t know what I’d do with my night off.” The question is what to do, not when to do it. If you’re out of practice with doing things that are just for you, it can be tough to consider what this might be, and different communities have different options available.

So here are some ways to think about this.

First, you can get in the habit of taking a night off before you know what your potentially longer-term commitment might be. When we moved to Pennsylvania in 2011 I did not immediately find a choir to join. So, during the periods of time when my husband was traveling heavily, I would hire a sitter one night a week, go read in the library and take myself out for sushi. If your co-parent is more reliably around in the evening, you can go ahead and each take a night for now, and just treat it like an “artist’s date” (a la Julia Cameron). What do you feel like doing? Anything can work (coffee shop, park, library, gallery, bowling…). Start paying attention, because there might be things that you are particularly drawn to. If you always find yourself in art museums and galleries, for instance, maybe you’d like to take an art class.

If you happen to be a member of a gym, an easy option is to try a class you might find appealing. You don’t need to commit to this long term or set this up far ahead of time, but you might be surprised at how fun some might be. Feel free to try a few out because this certainly could become something you would enjoy for a while. Or you might hear about something from the other active members of your class that’s happening somewhere else (aerial acrobatics? a tap dancing class…?) Feel free to sign up for something for a few weeks to try it out.

You might also start thinking back to the extra curricular activities you did as a kid, and particularly those you did in high school and college when you might have had more say over your time. What did you really enjoy doing?

It can be hard to recreate the magic (I suspect one reason I didn’t join a choir for so long after moving to PA is I wanted a certain kind of choir — my all 20- and 30-something choir in NYC had a spectacular blend). But maybe you can embark on some experimentation, and start getting closer to what you loved. If you played the flute in an amazing ensemble, maybe you can pick your flute back up (you can rent one if you don’t still own yours — trust me, I’m renting a great many band instruments in this house right now…). You can play for a bit, and possibly take lessons (doable virtually, it turns out, if you don’t have a teacher nearby). Then — as you’re more plugged into this scene — you can start figuring out ensemble opportunities near you.

Your first attempt might not work. You play for a year with a community ensemble that isn’t exactly your cup of tea. But maybe you really like a handful of your fellow musicians, and you decide to form a small wind ensemble together and begin playing at local events. This could be quite promising.

You might also think about activities that are adjacent to ones you enjoyed. If you are over the age of 35, certain sports might not work so well with your current body. But you might still be able to do something fun and competitive that involves similar skills along with the social element. Softball or kickball or ultimate frisbee all seem to draw adults.

You can also just keep an open mind. Ask your friends what they do. Maybe someone is taking a pottery class that has an amazing teacher. That’s never been your thing, but it sounds cool, so you try it and it could certainly become something you like to do for a while. Maybe a friend leads a volunteer project doing something entirely different from your normal work and it sounds appealing so you try that. You get to know your fellow volunteers and wind up committing to something through that organization. Who knows?

Sometimes fun takes work to figure out. But I think this is work worth doing. When you have a night for you, you look forward to it week after week and when you do something similar week after week, you get to know people and you often improve at whatever skills you’re using. This sense of progress is a key part of satisfaction. And I’m all about enjoying life.

Have you tried different “night for you” activities?

In other news: We’re spending nine weeks working through the nine rules I cover in Tranquility by Tuesday, my most recent book. If you haven’t picked up a copy, would you please do so? Let me know if you do so I can thank you! And if you enjoyed the book, please tell a friend about it!

Here’s one of my TBT In Real Life videos about a busy woman who began taking some time for her own interests — going to musical matinees!

10 thoughts on “What to do (not when to do it) — more on Rule #7: Take one night for you

  1. Thank you for this post! I think maybe I am too narrow in my understanding of this rule. I am meeting a friend today at a set time and that is definitely a committment. I mean, not showing up is not really an option. 😉 I guess I kept thinking in terms of “it has to be a class or choir, the same people and activity every week”.

    1. @Maggie – it doesn’t have to be a class or a choir – I just know those are the sorts of things that allow people to feel like they’re making progress, seeing people, and that they have to be there (so it happens). Meeting friends can be great too – and maybe a regular get-together could become something people really prioritize over time.

  2. My comments echoes Maggie’s. I love the spirit of the this rule as a reminder to take time for ME outside work amd parent roles. But as a single mother with a complicated schedule it doesn’t make much sense to claim one night and stick with it every week unless I start taking a class and get a regular babysitter.

    This past weekend I went to a friend’s for tea in the morning. Another afternoon involved a walk with a different friend. Tonight my kid has a 2 hr rehearsal which means I can do something . So I’m accepting this challenge but I’m not going to hire a sitter so I can sit by myself somewhere! Needs to be one offs, at least for now…

    1. @Gwinne – sounds like a good plan! But I will just chime in here if any one else is a single parent and is looking for permission to hire a sitter to go sit by yourself somewhere…I’m happy to give it. Taking a night for yourself, even if you don’t have specific plans, really can make life feel more sustainable.

      1. Hi Gwinne, I also hate paying for sitters (they are around $20 an hour here, and when you have a sitter it is like managing an employee), but I’ve found some work arounds. Our Y has parents night out where the kids play for 3 hours and watch a movie for $10. Some rec departments will have them once a month, too. I used to use the Kid Watch at the Y and exercise for 30 min then write for 30 min at one of the little tables. He used to like IKEA kid watch before the pandemic, and I would get coffee at the cafe and read. We also used to do play dates with another family. But there is something in the “grand gesture” (cal Newport) of paying for care. I think it makes you use the time well and shows that this is something important.

        1. Hi! I don’t disagree and also used similar strategies pre-pandemic. BUT not a choice I want to make right now fir myself. If I have a concrete activity I’d like to do, I have no trouble hiring a sitter. I can carve out “me time” for the things that ACTUALLY matter to me if I take the opportunities when they arise by looking at my calendar each week. If that needs care, I get it.

  3. The “night off” was working for me when I used to commute to my job in the big city 50 miles away from the small town where we used to live. I used to stay in a city one night a week to ease out the commute, go shopping and exploring, and just take some rest. Nowadays I work from home, eat lunch at my kitchen every day, and cook home-made meals for supper (almost) every night! So i gave myself permission to go out for coffee every Saturday morning, either alone or with a friend, just to get out of the house and get some me-time 🙂 It has been working magic for my mood, and my husband is happy with it 🙂 He works outside of home and wants to stay in on the weekends, and i am the opposite!!!! He is happy that I go out for coffee and don’t drag him with me, meet my friends, do occasional shopping, etc. He is just happy to stay home and watch the kids. The kids do have swim lessons on Sat, and we take turns taking them. I choose to pay extra to fit those lessons into 9-11 am timeframe, so i can go for coffee or meet friends during “my time” from 11 am till about 1 pm.

  4. For this rule I think back to what I was doing when I worked full time and had two young children. Some of my fondest memories are from when I took time for myself to pursue an interest. Often it was an art class. I did poorly in art at school, but it was something I wanted to try as an adult. The class made it a weekly commitment but for a manageable time (6-10 weeks). I didn’t think about work or family while at the class (which meant I ended the evening refreshed even if I was very tired when I arrived), I really improved A LOT (which gave me a sense of accomplishment for learning a new skill) and I ended up with great memories of time well spent. I also made some new friends, which was a bonus!

    There’s something about doing a structured activity or being part of an organized group that takes this rule to the next level. In hindsight, I got huge benefits from pursuing an outside interest that engaged me fully. Short-term benefits (like I listed above) and the longer-term benefit of helping me build an identity beyond “parent” and “worker”.

  5. What does it say about me that I have 3 such “nights” every week? Two Zumba classes and a Flamenco dance class 🙂

    It is just a non-negotiable in my mind to ever miss those and everyone in my life knows about them – work, etc. My boss even says “are you on your way to Zumba?” 😉

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