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May 2011

Post image for Your Little Corner of Time

Look away from the screen for a moment. Take a half-minute off from your blog-reading and look at the people and objects around you right at this instant. Get a good feel for the moment’s scenery and emotional tone, and when you’re done, read on.

(Do it now.)


I have a question for you:

Where are you at this exact moment in your life?

Obviously you’re in front of a computer screen of some kind (maybe a smartphone), so give us a little bit more context than that.

Where are you right now, physically, and how did you get there?

When I ask “how did you get here” I’m not looking for something like, “I rode my bike.” I mean, what circumstances and incentives brought you to this exact place you’re sitting now? What were you looking for that brought you here?

And I don’t mean these as rhetorical questions either. Tell me in the comment section below. Where are you right now, what’s going on, and how do you feel about that? Use a fake name and email address if your current moment involves hiding from bounty hunters or smuggling knockoff Ray-Bans and you’re concerned about privacy.

There are a lot of places you could be. Time and space can serve up a gazillion unique little corners to find oneself in. Maybe you’re riding a creaky city bus, iPhone in hand, on your way to a job you just started Monday. Or you might be first one in the office this morning and the main overhead lights aren’t on yet, because you wanted to tackle something you know you should have done yesterday. Or you could be in your roommate’s room, ready to click the browser closed and pretend you weren’t using his laptop, because you know he gets home from the gym around now.

But you’re right here. Look away from the screen again for a second.

That’s yours, for now. Your lot. This little corner of time you’re in — is it the result of a direct decision on your part, or is it more a product of what you might call “happenstance”? Did you decide to be here or did it sort of settle out this way?

Are you waiting on something? Avoiding something? Excited for something?

What moment have you arrived at, in this, the Greatest Story Ever Told?

And one final follow-up question, if you feel like answering it:

Do you feel like you are where you’re supposed to be?

I know that’s a subjective question and there are a lot of ways to look at it, but it’s definitely answerable.

That’s all I want to know. Please tell me. The reason why will come in the next post.

Photo by striatic

Post image for You are another bull in the china shop

If I think about all the attention and time I’ve spent on deliberate self-improvement over the years, almost all of it surrounds the reining-in of some very basic human inclinations — like eating, overthinking, avoiding pain, clinging to altered states, chasing “enough” — in order to avoid its nasty side-effects.

I don’t think I am especially prone to any of these human pitfalls, but they’ve done a number on me — and the people around me, through me.

Eating, for example, does keeps us alive, but it can get out of control rather easily, even threaten our lives. Thinking is indispensable, but it easily reaches snowball-velocity, leaving us restless or sleepless. Avoiding pain is sensible too, but looking back at my life there’s probably nothing that’s caused me more pain than my preoccupation with avoiding pain.

We can handily dismiss these dysfunctions as the effects of modern society: over-stimulation, consumerism, something in the water, the kids today, or too much television, and often we do. But I find it hard to believe there was ever a time when human beings weren’t constantly running afoul of their own basic human traits.

As human beings we’re each in the pilot seat of an incredibly powerful (and incredibly dangerous!) vehicle. How do we manage our abilities and inclinations without letting them run us — or others — through the wringer?

The “human condition” is a relatively new phrase, but the concept is ancient. All people are subject to a host of powerful influences on their poor little minds, no matter what social setting they come from. There are too many to name and they can be hard to articulate, but prominent among them are the need for a purpose, the need for affection, the need for security, anxiety about death, persistent curiosity, restlessness, idealism, and the lust for ego gratification.

These forces drive people to do anything and everything humans do: volunteer for churches, bulldoze forests, enlist in the army, talk to oneself, read philosophy books, gamble, gossip about celebrities, hug friends and family, spend a year in an ashram, hunt animals to extinction, save for a boat, commit suicide, write blog posts, hoard socks and underwear, steal the neighbor’s WiFi, burn ants with a magnifying glass, collect coins, drill for oil, tend gardens, run for office, avoid eye contact on the sidewalk, attend Klan rallies, buy oceanfront property, raise large families, or head off into the Alaskan wilderness with a 22 rifle and a bag of rice. Read More

Post image for Progress is the Only Protection

Last week’s post on the roots of procrastination has evidently motivated a whole slew of procrastinators to focus at least long enough to comment or email me to say that they feel like the post was describing their own lives.

I knew a lot of people would identify with it, but I didn’t realize quite how pervasive procrastination is in people. I thought I was particularly neurotic in this regard and it brings me a selfish sort of comfort to know that many of you are suffering in the same boat. Misery loves company — welcome aboard.

As promised, today I’m going to outline my plan for taking on the procrastination monster, with my 11th Raptitude experiment. I have a lot to say about this topic, so if you’re about to fret over how long it is in this high-speed age of 600-word blog posts, then take a break in the middle and get back to it later. Have a nap if you need to. I’m confident that in the long run reading it will give you an outstanding ROI for your time.

Ok, here goes. First things first:

Pitfalls to be aware of

As with all my experiments, the broader purpose is to learn more about how my mind and my habits operate in order to better know how to contend with them. In the two weeks since I decided it was time to tackle my procrastinatory tendencies, I’ve been studying the patterns and pitfalls in my behavior that continually lead me to procrastinate. Time will tell, but at least right now I have an idea of what I’m up against.

Here are what I suspect will be the greatest dangers:

Disorganization – Being disorganized leads to overwhelm and indecisiveness. So there are a few fundamental minimums for organization that will need to be met in order to lessen the threat of losing track of my commitments. Once you lose track of the finite list of responsibilities you’ve taken on, they appear to the mind as one big insurmountable entity. I don’t want to let it get to that point. The more organized I am, the better I can see the proverbial forest for the trees. Planning the next day is most important. If I do not have a plan I don’t know where to start, and if I don’t know where to start I don’t start. It’s that simple.

Perfectionism – If you read last week’s article, you know that an intolerance for errors and mistakes pretty much guarantees procrastination. No matter what rules or intentions I set for myself in this experiment, I cannot depend on being able to execute them perfectly. I must be able to botch one of my agreed duties now and then and not have the whole effort collapse. I must be forgiving, and carry a spirit of “No matter what happens I will not make a total loss out of this moment, this hour or this day.” Mistakes are fine. Writeoffs are not. Read More

Post image for Procrastination is Not Laziness

I was going to tackle my procrastination problem last weekend but I never got around to it.

By Sunday at 5:48 pm I realized I had blown it again. Throughout the week I feel like I barely have enough time to cook, eat, tidy up, write an article and do the odd errand. I lean towards the weekend, when I have two whole days to finally get some work done. To improve my blog, to catch up on my correspondence, to get some monkeys off my back like fixing things that need fixing, organizing things that need organizing, tackling things that need tackling.

But the weekends go by and I never catch up. I don’t use the time well. Time is not what I’m short on, even though that’s what I tell myself all week.

Sometimes I do sit down early in the day and pound something out, but then I give myself a well-deserved break and that’s usually the end of any productivity. I end up clicking around on the internet, then clean up, then cook something, then watch a bit of a documentary online, then try to work again, then get distracted. Then I decide to wait until after supper to do some work, then I start reading something after supper, then if I’m still home, it’s already after 9:00 so I decide I’ll get an early start the next day.

I avoid taking on the real important stuff. I create work of secondary importance so that I never really have to confront the really worthwhile things. When I get on a roll, I back off and stay backed off. I take breaks that turn into written-off days. I am addicted to hanging it up for the night, to letting myself off the hook.

The important stuff doesn’t get done, at least not before my procrastinatory tendencies have created an obvious, impending consequence of not doing it, like incurring a fine, really letting someone down, or getting fired.

So much of what I want to do isn’t terribly difficult and wouldn’t take a lot of time to get done. Looking at my projects list now I have items like: book an appointment for X, send in that change of address form, phone so-and-so about Y, write a short piece for Z. And many of them have been sitting there for weeks or months. I have the most bizarre aversion to tackling things. Read More

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