Doing everything but what you really want

A principle of many diets is that we should go ahead and eat a moderate amount of what we really crave. Otherwise we will eat our way through a lot of other food we didn’t really want, trying to satisfy a hunger that won’t quiet until we have the thing we actually crave.

However useful that food principle is, it can be a powerful level for finding out how to shift how we spend out time so it better reflects how we want to experience our lives.

Do you buy books that you don’t have time to read, when you’re really buying the fantasy that if you own the book you will actually have a long stretch of time in which to read it? Even being aware that this is what I’m doing, I find myself here again and again.

Is your reading time spent in less than satisfying ways? Do you over-consume news, blogs in the escape topic of your choice, social media posts, or other short forms that leave you feeling mentally jagged and undernourished? I can relate. The same amount of time might have given us the satisfaction of a chapter or two in a good book, an enlightening but lengthy professional article I actually want to read, or something else intentional and memorable and long enough to lose ourselves in. When we spend time in the stories and information sources that strengthen or refresh us, we stop being just content consumers and go back to being readers. Do you ever miss being a reader?

What else do we do instead of what would really satisfy or move us forward?

We space out in front of a screen, randomly and perhaps fretfully clicking, scanning, viewing things, hoping to stumble into an experience of engaged or rewarding relaxation.

We may think we’re playing, shopping, reading or connecting, relaxing, winding down, staying informed, but how often is that true in an intentional, useful and really rewarding way?

Often we are too tired or distracted to figure out what we really want or need. Or we are keeping ourselves from starting the actually rewarding activity we really crave (sleep? reading? creative work? conversation? time in nature? exercise?).

What we would really find rewarding might well be found on a screen, but do we do the work of figuring out what that is and focusing there, or do we just place ourselves in front of the tv, tablet, phone or game station and hope we will magically stumble across what we really need at the moment.

Like mindless or displaced eating, shopping or even working, the hope and expectation of the magical appearance of genuine satisfaction if we will just place ourselves in a promising environment is one of our crazier and more wasteful forms of self-delusion. The abdication of awareness and choice is generally unsatisfying in any context, but do we really want to spend much of our unstructured time asleep at the wheel of choice?

Do we think we just don’t have the time for what we crave–a long nap or long novel, perhaps, or quality time with our creative project or our loved ones–so we refuse to take smaller bites? We’re taking small bites of something, why not let it be something we have chosen with some care, discernment and self-awareness?

Do we feel we haven’t earned what we really want–perhaps because we feel we haven’t accomplished enough yet, or we have wasted time, or we are behind on so many commitments? Because we don’t deserve the luxury of time with what we really want, we don’t give it to ourselves. But then do we go unconscious about what we do instead, either in unsatisfying busy-ness or fake relaxation, so in the end nothing is gained–neither our shoulds or our desires?

Certainly one person’s misplaced activity or downtime is another person’s genuine delight or refreshment, but the quick or reflexive fix for our time needs tends to be no fix at all.

We can be like fractious toddlers, seemingly unable to provide for ourselves what we really need, or even unable to know what that is. That leaves us whining or thrashing miserably, presumably at the mercy of the outside forces that block us from having what we really need.

We often kill our own happiness, creativity and flow this way. These not-really-what-I-wanted choices are a perfect place to begin practicing awareness and choice and to turn the time around in our favor.

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