It’s a beautiful day today, no particular pressure at work and a clear chunk of time set aside for writing. But somehow, I just can’t get started. Whilst the body is willing, some days the brain just doesn’t want to play. This is the feeling I usually associate with Spring Cleaning the house: I want to do it, I can visualise the result when it’s done, but somehow, I can’t be bothered actually picking up a duster. It’s apathy and listlessness rolled into one. This means one of two things. I either need to give myself a good kick up the backside, or it’s time to give up and do something else.
Motivation is important, fear of failure can drive us forward: to strive, to try harder, to race for the finish, all these aphorisms are valuable, but sometimes, just now and then, it’s ok to give up.
You see, life isn’t a race, it’s a journey, and you can’t run fast all the time. Not just because you’ll be exhausted, but because you’ll miss the view.
The thing about learning is that is consists of long periods of building knowledge and practicing skills, followed by what may be short periods of success. If you just focus on the bits of success, you might fail to take away anything from the the rest of the experience. And if you measure your success in terms of pure productivity by volume, you might fail to take account of quality along the way.
And that’s why today, it’s ok for me to give up. No work on the book, a short blog post and time to do something else. Because, of course, of you create space and time in your life, something interesting usually comes along to fill it anyway, so it’s rarely wasted.
Your post reminds me of the “prescription” that Steven Covey shared:
A Prescription for You
I heard a story once that illustrates this idea. A certain young man went to his doctor, complaining of a great deal of boredom in his life, a feeling of restlessness, almost as if he’d been anesthetized. In essence he said, “I’m going through the motions, but I really don’t care. Everything is so routine and so mechanical that there’s nothing exciting in life anymore.”
After examining him, the doctor wrote him out a clean bill of health physically. However, he could sense, more than he could physically diagnose, a problem deep within the man, a problem within his spiritual dimension. “I’d like to give you some prescriptions and ask you to follow them for a day,” the doctor told his patient. “First, where is your favorite place?” “I don’t know,” the patient responded quickly. “As a child, where was it? What did you really like doing?” “I loved the beach.” The doctor then said, “Take these three prescriptions and go to the beach.
One you will take at nine o’clock, one at noon, and the last one at three. You must agree that you’ll follow the prescription and not read the next one until the proper time. Fair enough?” “I’ve never heard of anything like this before,” the patient replied skeptically. “Well, I think it will really help you.” So the restless young man took the prescriptions and went out to the beach. He was there by nine o’clock, accompanied by no one, as instructed.
There was no radio, no phone, no company. He was alone with the beach and his prescription, which he read immediately. It contained two words: “Listen carefully.” “I can’t believe this,” he exclaimed. “Three hours of this!” Within one minute he was bored. Having heard the seagulls circling above and the surf hitting against some nearby rocks, he wondered what he could do for three hours. “But I committed myself,” he said. “I’ll stay with it. After all, it’s only for one day.” He began to think deeply on the idea of listening carefully. He started to listen with his ears, and soon he could hear sounds he’d never identified before. He could hear two surfs. He could different kinds of birds. He could hear the sand crabs. He could hear whisperings under whisperings. Soon a whole new and fascinating world opened up to him. It calmed his entire system; he became meditative, relaxed, peaceful.
Almost euphoric when noon came, he was genuinely disappointed that he had to pull out the second prescription, but he stayed true to his commitment. Three words this time: “Try reaching back.” Baffled at first by the cryptic message, the man then began to reflect on his childhood as he played on the beach. One experience after another floated through his mind. He remembered clam bakes with his family. He remembered watching his brother, who was killed in World War II, running up the beach, joyfully exulting that school was out. A deep feeling of nostalgia enveloped him, stirring up many positive feelings and memories. He was deeply engrossed in his memories when three o’clock came. Again he was loath to read the next prescription because of the warmth and enjoyment he was feeling.
But still he pulled out the last prescription: “Examine your motives.” This was the hardest; it was the heart of the matter, and he knew it instantly. He began looking inside introspectively. He went through every facet of his life—all types of situations with all kinds of people. He made a very painful discovery: selfishness was his dominant trend. Never transcending himself, never identifying with a larger purpose, a worthier cause, he was always asking, “What’s in it for me?” He had discovered the root of his ennui, his boredom, his lackluster life, his mechanical, ritualistic attitudes toward everything. When six o’clock came, he had been thoroughly peaceful, he had remembered, and he had looked deeply within himself. By following the three prescriptions, he had made some resolves about the course of his life from that moment on, and he had begun to change.
Covey, Stephen R. (2009-12-02). Principle-Centered Leadership (Stephen R Covey Set) (p. 115). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.
Hey Michael, that’s a good, thought provoking, quote. Taking this time for introspection is valuable. Indeed, parts of that story resonate with the precepts of cognitive behavioural therapy which is used widely to help people with depression work through where they are and where they could be. Recognising that you can sit on the beach and ‘experience’ the sea in different ways is one way of doing this: you do this ’emotionally’, you can hear the noises, break them down, experience the smells, imagine you are sailing in a boat.
Or you can experience it ‘logically’, counting the frequency of the waves, imagining the volume of water, counting the seagulls and boats. Finding time to explore these notions, to reflect, to understand that both logical and emotional responses are valid, but both different and both important to help us retain perspective.