How our fixation on constant ‘doing’ is burning out our minds
There are many of us, myself included, who like to sit down with a piece of paper in the morning and write down all the things we’d like to get accomplished that day. We give ourselves a reasonable number of tasks, or so we think, definitely all doable in a single day. Yet if you’re anything like me, you get to the end of the day only having achieved half of what you set out to do, before bemoaning the fact that you have such little time to do everything you need to.
‘Why are there only 24 hours in a day?’ you may ask, feeling somehow as if the world is against you doing everything you really need to do! Yet time, as with many other things in life, is something we can’t fight. We can’t make more or less of it – there is just as much time as there is.
Something I’ve realised recently is that I tend to give myself far too much to do, with an unrealistic expectation of how long it will take to accomplish all of those things. There’s an attitude that comes with this; a kind of ‘hunker-down and hustle,’ gung-ho approach that sees things to do as obstacles that need to be obliterated, all in the name of having more free time. With this approach, the things that I set myself to do no longer appear to me as activities to partake in, and they certainly don’t present as opportunities to have fun or be enjoyed; rather, the only thing that matters is putting a tick in the box next to each activity at the end of the day.
Living life in this way is akin to a donkey constantly chasing after a carrot that is always slightly too far away to reach. We stop being able to enjoy tasks, to be present with them, instead living in some future-based mental utopia of what life will be like when we have no more tasks left to do. The huge irony, for me at least, is when I actually have no more tasks left to do I get bored and start looking for more!
A lot of this, it pains me to admit, points to an inability, or more an unwillingness, to simply be in the present moment. If we see the present moment as something undesirable, something unappealing to us for some reason or other, we seek to fill it up by distractions or endless ‘things to do.’
Yet there are consequences to this. As was mentioned in last week’s post about social media, giving ourselves endless distractions means that our minds never really have a chance to unwind, to simply be with what is. With such an attitude we’re definitely more prone to feelings of anxiety as our minds frantically search for a way out of the present and into ‘productivity’. We’ll likely feel less grounded, unsteadier both physically and mentally, and more than anything else, such an attitude towards life can be very tiring!
This attitude of ‘I must have something to do’ is actually prevalent across most of society, not merely in to-do lists. I remember two years ago when volunteering in Nepal, I’d often notice that when people had no specific task to be focusing on they would often just seemingly stare into space. ‘What are they looking at?‘ I remember thinking, as if it were the strangest thing in the world to just be looking at their environment with no specific goal or purpose in mind. In Britain, most people would get their phones out of their pockets immediately when faced with such a situation, almost like some robotic instinct that’s been instilled into us. Next time you’re at a restaurant or coffee shop, or just out in public, have a look and see if you can spot someone sitting alone who isn’t on their phone or some other device, or otherwise preoccupied with doing something that isn’t simply being in the present moment. Sadly, the only such people I see tend to be over 65.
When we’re able to just be in the present moment, not only can we fulfil the tasks we set ourselves more completely, but we may actually find that we enjoy doing them! When we just be with whatever there is to be with, life takes on a new richness that we never knew it had before. We become more observant, more in tune with the world rather than constantly trying to fight it by rushing around wishing for more time, or trying to distract ourselves from it with social media or other mindless things.
So, how can we start to be more present in life? There are so many ways! The first thing to do is stop trying to cram loads of things to do into a relatively short period of time. Look at your list, and prioritise what’s really important. Anything that isn’t important or doesn’t need to be done today can be given to another day, so long as it’s prudent and responsible to do so. Freeing up your to-do list will give you more freedom to take the mental weight off your shoulders and stop feeling like you have to rush around all the time.
If you’re a person that’s always in a rush in the morning or frequently late, I recommend getting up earlier. Not only is this a healthy habit anyway, but it will give you more mental space to intend your day powerfully and set yourself up for success. I also recommend reading The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. He goes into far more detail about the numerous benefits of present awareness and gives you simple tips on how to become more in tune with the now.
As always, we recommend meditation as a fantastic way to still your mind’s chatter and align yourself with the present. Regular meditation works particularly well in the morning, further allowing you to set yourself up for the day ahead of you with a clear headspace. The very essence of breathing meditation is to align yourself with the present. Getting out in nature is another fantastic way of getting present to the world around you. If you can, take a walk in the woods, or maybe go to the coast. Take the time to connect with the earth and feel the magic of the world we live in. Other hints and tips to be more mindful can be found on our mindfulness page.
Lastly, if you’re someone who is on your phone as soon as you’re by yourself or are bored, I challenge you to make a commitment to cut down on your screen time. Limit your time on social media (or take it off your phone altogether) and mindlessly ‘scrolling.’ Perhaps try limiting your screen time to no more than an hour a day and instead, simply be with the fact that you’re alone. You may find that it’s not so bad after all.
It might not seem like it, especially in our fast-paced world, but how we be is just as, if not more important than what we do. And by being more and doing less, what we do actually turns out to be of so much better quality, and our lives become that much more whole and fulfilled. I leave you with this nugget from Master Oogway from Kung Fu Panda:
“Yesterday is history; tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift – that’s why it’s called the present!“
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