Manual Labor has Made Me a Happier Person and Better Surfer

Stepping Back from my Blog

I haven’t been doing much personal writing for my blog lately, for two main reasons. For one, I’ve been doing a lot of writing for some projects I’m working on over at Beach Bum Poet LLC, new websites, a website re-design, and an ecommerce site I’m super excited to get completed soon. (Keep up with me on my business gram @beachbumpoetllc if you want to learn more!)

ANYWAY, writing for those projects has left me a bit lacking in creative energy. The second reason I haven’t been writing as much is because on the days I’m not working at my computer I’ve been working with my boyfriend!

I dedicate 1-2 days a week to working up on a property we’re developing in Kunia, which is a major fixer-upper, or I’m working in the shop with Devin, getting my hands covered in grease. Yes, grease.

Needing an Outlet from the Screen

I chose to quit my restaurant job after several months because it wasn’t serving me very well. You’d think I’d have learned my lesson from my last several jobs, but I had had an idea that this would be different. I was craving a physical counter-point to all the screen time…a way to unplug and interact with people. Unfortunately, bussing was not that.

So, I quit, and I knew that I couldn’t go back to 5, 6, or even 7 days a week of on-screen work. Getting burnt out on the computer had been the major impetus for getting a restaurant job, but I realized that still wasn’t what I was looking for.

Going to the gym wasn’t enough of an unplug, either. I’d end up on the treadmill staring at Instagram, or playing Word-scapes, or planning the rest of my day on my notes app.

A Pleasant Surprise

Then Devin said my car needed some work done, so I went to the shop with him to take off some tires and learn about how the vehicle I’ve been driving for the last 3 years actually works.

And can I just tell you—it was glorious.

I absolutely love working with Devin at his shop. I love sanding, buffing, wrenching, taking stuff apart and putting it back together. There’s something incredibly satisfying about taking a tire of your car with a massive power tool.

I’ve always been someone who likes to know how stuff works, so I ask Devin endless questions—“why does this do this? how does this work? why does this go here?”—and he patiently answers them.

Spending Time Together

Not only do I get to spend time learning about my boyfriend’s profession, but I get to learn a new craft and skill that makes my brain work along completely different neural networks.

Some Kind of Science

Problem-solving for web design is different for problem solving on a car, and both provide different types of unique yet equally affirming feelings of satisfaction.

I had no idea I would feel so powerful and confident learning about this trade, but I have to say it’s really been a blast.

What I’ve also noticed is that it’s incredibly supportive of my brain and mental health. With websites and web design and blog-posts, it’s all quite ephemeral. You put a blog post out there, get a site up, and it’s there, but it’s virtual. They’ve got uses, but they don’t have the same levels of usefulness—it’s different.

We took the tires off my 4Runner, disconnected the calipers and break lines, drilling out the rotors. Because my car is 4-wheel drive, there were all these little bolts that needed to be unbolted so we could get to the rotors.

We changed the brake pads and rotors, then re-assembled everything in reverse order. Then, I got in my car and could feel the difference my work had accomplished.

plus, who doesn’t love an excuse to wear matching boots with their SO?

Manual Labor and Mental Wellness

When my mental health is especially precarious, I now know I have this new fabulous option to add to my repertoire of coping skills.

When I’m feeling down and blue and getting in my head, staring at a blank screen, I know it’s time to switch gears.

Working with my hands gives me a sense of effectiveness that balances me out, gets me re-centered, gives me eyes a rest, and lets me hang out with Devin in a super fun way.

I’m not sure there’s anything more satisfying than the ka-thunk of a rusty bolt coming loose with a pry-bar, except maybe the chuk-chuk-chuk of tightening the bolt back down into place.

My whole life I’ve struggled with feeling incapable, with self-doubt and insecurities. Surfing isn’t always pleasant, and self-doubt creeps in in the silence between myself and a screen. Even in college, the white noise in my head would often grow strongest while I tried to read through chapters of assigned reading.

“What am I even doing? This is so boring and dumb!” What a waste of energy, ugh!”

I don’t have those thoughts doing manual labor. One of the best ways I’ve learned to cope with an overactive brain is to keep it occupied. I use exercise, reading, talking to people, writing, watching T.V., surfing, playing with my dog—specific activities to stay focused.

Manual labor is just another coping tool I can add to that list that also gets some pretty cool results at the end of the day.

Which brings me to another reason I wanted to write about this new hobby/ activity/ coping tool of mine.

Busy Hands, Empty Mind

Working with my hands, I’ve found, has been one of the single best mindfulness practices I’ve ever found. You have to be mindful with these tasks, knowing where things go and what to do next, but you can also let your brain empty out.

I don’t have to worry about whether I’ll succeed at starting my own business when I’m sanding a wall in Kunia, or whether I’m good enough at surfing when I’m rolling a tire out of the way. I don’t think about eating too much or too little when there is work to be done.

I’m in my body feeling my muscles work and my mind ease into the flow of the task at hand. The only task I need to be focusing on.

Working on a computer from home has been incredibly challenging. Again, that’s why I thought a restaurant job would be helpful. You show up, do your work, head out, go to bed. But it was a mega-stressful environment full of my main triggers. Those triggers were alcohol/ free food/ other stressed out people/ a loud environment, and a bunch of other things.

We jam out to music while I wash my car. I dance around while mudding drywall in Kunia. I don’t think about my anxiety, my fears, or any other weird and random thoughts my brain throws at me when it gets too quiet up in my noggin. There’s a fluidity and simplicity to painting, sanding, mechanic work, and manual labor that I’m pretty much obsessed with.

All Those Distractions at Home

Because when you work on a computer at home, there are endless distractions. I notice the dirt and dog fur on our deck that needs to be swept. Or the load of laundry that needs doing. Then there is everything on the computer, from pop-up add vortexes to Netflix to funny cat memes to SEO research rabbit holes that I dive down much too deep into.

I have dishes to do, a dog to walk, errands to run, clothes to fold, groceries to buy, food to prep, mirrors to wipe. My brain loves to get wild on tasks and chores, then shut down and go straight into T.V. mode.

I noticed a lot of days after I worked on the computer, I would try to go to sleep and feel all wired and jazzed up. All that blue light was stimulating me even as I tried to doze off. My brain needs re-sets, breaks, and dynamism to stay fresh and not trail off into Hulu-zombiedom.

Doing Mindful Manual Labor has dramatically improved my ability to work at home. It’s given me set times to work, because I know the next day will be spent at the shop or up in Kunia.

It’s even made me more conscious of my body as I work and feel my muscles and arms and legs.

Getting More and More into NOW

Weirdly enough, I think it’s even helped my surfing.

When Devin surfs, he focuses on surfing. When he works on cars, he works on cars. It’s an enviable skill of his that he can compartmentalize tasks so neatly. I imagine it’s because he has this natural adherence to the present moment, to focusing on the specific task at hand until it’s completed, that he can so deeply enjoy what he does.

Whether it’s fixing a car or catching a sick wave, he’s right there in it.

And I’ve noticed myself being more and more absorbed into the moment of what I’m doing since I started helping him at the shop and on the property. Even as I’m writing this I’m noticing a kind of laser focus that used to require lots of caffeine and metaphorical blinders to achieve.

What all of this had made me realize is that we all need kinds of releases from our minds. We all need mindful outlets where we can immerse ourselves into the rhythm of the exact moment we are inhabiting. And I’ve found out it’s harder than ever to do so for many of us.

Our Ever-Shorter Attention Spans

Ever since I got another Instagram last winter, my attention span has shortened. I’ve noticed my ability to simply stare out the window watching the clouds has diminished.

I hope we can all find forms of mindfulness that disconnect us from screens and reconnect us to the now. I’m certainly going to keep looking for more (gardening in Kunia is next on the list, as well as painting art and playing my ukulele again).

What are Your “Unusual” Mindfulness Practices?

Do you have any practices or skills you use to get more mindful? Do you unplug for certain periods of time, or even use technology to help you meditate/ relax/ unplug?

I’d love to hear how you get more mindful in your own life!

Happy Mindful Monday Beach Bums!

XOXO, Beach Bum Poet

Header image credit: @oceanlove_photo

2 thoughts on “Manual Labor has Made Me a Happier Person and Better Surfer”

  1. I relate to this so much. I have a loose schedule to my week that helps with this. Monday’s I run errands, Tuesday’s I stay home, rest part of the day and do all my chores the rest of the day. I really need this day devoted to cleaning floors, bathrooms, laundry, straightening up etc because while the chores get done my mind processes all the loose ends, Weds I work, Thursday I have meetings, Friday’s are the catch all for whatever didn’t get done yet. Having a loose schedule and manual work (house cleaning usually, I have 4 kids so it takes awhile!) gives me the processing and down time I need to make life feel manageable and find more mental clarity and peace.

    Gardening is the very best kind of manual labor to get grounded and also get those feel good accomplishment endorphins. You are going to love it! Now that Spring is near I can’t wait to work gardening back into my weekly schedule!

    1. I totally agree Liv- a good deep clean of the house also gets me into a great headspace!

      Totally right about the gardening, I’m looking forward to adding that to my list as well in the near future 🌿🌱

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