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Take A Moment And Read This Because You Might Be Too Busy Doing Nothing In Your Life

Take A Moment And Read This Because You Might Be Too Busy Doing Nothing In Your Life

Life can be busy. It seems like the older we get, the greater our responsibilities become. Our jobs, families, friends, and even our electronics and social media, are always vying for our attention. Sometimes it feels like we’re sprinting through life trying to keep up with everything.

Being busy isn’t a difficult status to attain. Whenever there’s a chunk of time, there are things that can fill it. The problem is, sometimes we focus on things that don’t actually add value to our lives. Many of us are busy, but we’re not productive.

It’s time to assess whether what you’re doing aligns with your mission

There have been times when I’ve completed a full workday without doing anything of value. Sure, I attended to a barrage of emails and performed menial tasks, but I didn’t tackle anything that put me on the path to advancement. It’s so easy to get stuck in a holding pattern.

Whenever this happens, I like to have some resources on hand to break the monotony and get back to doing purposeful work. One of my go-to reads is Benjamin Hardy’s If You’re Too Busy For These 5 Things: Your Life Is More Off-Course Than You Think.

If you’re too busy, you may need a course-correction

Even the most organized and driven people need to course-correct once in a while, and Hardy breaks down that thought process for his readers.

He starts by acknowledging that people today are too busy focusing on things that don’t matter in the long run. If we don’t stop to evaluate what we’re doing, we can fall into bad habits and stray from the path we’ve set up for ourselves.

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Then, using a series of questions, Hardy explains the areas of our lives that usually get us into trouble. These include organization, environmental energy, financial energy, relational energy, health energy, spiritual energy, and time. The areas he focuses on have to do with our internal and external worlds. Hardy creates an invitation for you to reflect on yourself.

Finally, he sets out solutions to our most common pitfalls. The first thing we have to do is hit the pause button, and organize our lives. If you’ve ever been so busy that it seems like life is just piling up around you, you know the importance of this. Your chaotic inner world leads to external disorganization, which feeds more internal chaos. He argues that you have to stop and regroup when this happens.

Then, he recommends planning and investing in your future. He means this both in terms of financial health, personal health, and relationships, but also in terms of how you spend your time. If you don’t make a conscious effort to define who you are and why you do what you do, you won’t be able to make the most out of life. Vision setting is an important part of this. He states:

“Your vision should be based on your why, not so much your what.”

He further explains that what you do might change, but your why should remain constant.

He concludes by explaining the importance of tracking your work and moving toward your goals every day. When you don’t hold yourself accountable by keeping track of different metrics, it will be difficult to see when you are off course.

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Observe metrics on your relationships, finances, and self-improvement. By keeping track of these areas, you’ll be able to accomplish more, and you’ll be more committed to the end result.

Moving toward your goals takes thought and effort every day. It’s easy to talk about what you want, but it’s another thing entirely to do the work. A famous children’s poem by Shel Silverstein concludes with this:

“But All Those Woulda-Coulda-Shouldas/ All Ran Away and Hid/ From One Little Did.”

There’s power in doing the work. Hardy reminds us that “the work” in this case is not busywork. To make progress bit by bit, you have to do the things that relate to your ultimate vision. He recommends doing these things early in the morning, before your energy is depleted by the day.

Why I keep coming back to this article

Re-reading this article is like a yoga instructor reminding you to come back to your breath. It’s the coach telling you to keep moving forward. It’s like saying a mantra over and over in your head in order to manifest a goal. It reminds us that under all the layers of social media, personal and professional labels, and menial tasks, there is a human being dreaming boldly. We have to stick to our core values and fundamentals or we risk getting lost in the shuffle.

The most successful people don’t wind up that way by sheer luck. Building a meaningful life–a life you love–requires planning. You have to monitor your progress and fine tune your methods to get where you want to go. You’ll have to think about how your personal circumstances, experiences, and priorities affect your what and your why.

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Distractions are inevitable. We’re human beings subject to wants and frustrations. We take on responsibilities we don’t need to sometimes. We start labeling everything in our lives as equally important. It’s normal for this to happen, but we have to be able to step back and do some self-study to get back on course.

Takeaways from the article that you can use right now

All this talk does us no good unless we can commit to clearing the clutter from our lives to focus on what matters.

1. Write down your goals and think about your circumstances. Thinking about your goals is great, but when you write them down, it forces you to define exactly what you want.[1]Your written goals can remind you of your purpose when life gets complicated.

Making your goals more concrete can also help you think about circumstances in your life that could affect your outcomes. You’ll be able to anticipate bumps in the road instead of stumbling.

2. Trim the fat. Once you know what you want, you can remove things that don’t fall in line with your why. Think about it like this: The more time you spend on unrelated tasks, the less time you have to do the things that matter to you.

3. Get organized. Setting goals is only one part of the equation. If you want to achieve your goals, you’ll need to break them down into small, actionable steps. When you do this, you can also determine what metrics you will use to establish whether or not you’re making progress. By making a plan and monitoring how well you’re sticking to it, you’ll have a greater chance to succeed than when you fly by the seat of your pants.

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4. Don’t be afraid to make changes. Remember that your plan and methods may have to change depending on what’s happening in your life. Perhaps you have encountered a new challenge, or you realized that your original actionable steps are not reasonable. Adjust your plan so that you don’t lose motivation. Like Hardy explained, what you’re doing can always change, but why you’re doing it should not.

Stay focused on your vision

The static of modern life can muddle our efforts and intentions until we find ourselves working without real purpose. It can happen without warning, and before you know it, you’re unhappy, unhealthy, and questioning your value.

I’ve been there before, and sometimes I just need a reminder to get back on track. If You’re Too Busy For These 5 Things: Your Life Is More Off-Course Than You Think helps me ground myself in my vision, and I hope it will do the same for you.

Featured photo credit: Finda via finda.photo

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Anna Chui

Anna is a communication expert and a life enthusiast. She's the editor of Lifehack and loves to write about love, life, and passion.

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

More About Goals Setting

Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

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