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Selective Apathy Frees You to Care More

Selective Apathy Frees You to Care More

Apathy by Libby.

    Photo courtesy of Libby

    What do you think of this phrase: “The Joy of Apathy”? It sounds like such a clashing contradiction: how can joy, which is associated with happiness and passion, be found in the opposite stoicism of apathy? While joy and apathy certainly aren’t the same, they often work together and are complementary, as we’ll see.

    Every one of us has a capacity to care and be happy. That’s good, and is a fundamental part of what enables us, as humans, to build sustaining communities and civilizations. At the same time, caring too much is hurtful, or even harmful — unhealthy obsession, caring’s dark side, can creep out and make one focused on trying to win at all costs, even if the end result is failure. Take a gambler, who’s undeniably passionate about pulling the one-armed bandit or takes a chance on innumerable other games, but whose high-rollin’ elation soon descends into depressing depths when they can’t beat the house. Or witness the hype-laden rush of the dot-com-bomb era, from which Pets.com ex-CEO Julie Wainwright candidly wrote about what she learned.

    Passion and joy focused in the wrong directions don’t do you good; as part of your emotional faculties, tempering them with apathy — even if that may sound completely counterintuitive and wrong at first — is key to living a better life.

    Care, but not that much

    Herb Cohen is one of the world’s finest negotiators. From bargains at electronics stores to convincing terrorists to let their hostages go, his wealth of experience has a central theme which comes up often: care, but not that much.

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    Showing you’re interested in, say, a store item will pique a clerk to sell it to you. But go overboard and, in effect, communicate (via body language and obvious desperation) that you must have it at any price, and you will give the upper hand to the other party.

    My Dad was a pretty darn good negotiator too, and whenever someone enthusiastically offered him what they considered to be a massive deal, my Pa would scoff,

    “Huh! Is that so?”

    and stare at them. So intensely that their retinas might’ve been seared out before dunking dollars off the price tag. It was one of his best tricks, which helped me get my first Macintosh computer at a fine price, among many other goodies in my youth.

    Be cool. Let apathy be the frosting on your “caring cake”. In the blackjack-centric movie 21, Kevin Spacey plays a professor with a secret life of teaching card counters. He repeatedly reminds his students to not let their feelings get in the way to win — so in the absence of those feelings, even though it’s unsaid (as it often is), there’s apathy.

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    The same principles apply in relationships: coming on too strongly to someone you have affection for is smothering. Pretending you’re not interested (it’s hard, I know!) may have the opposite effect. I’m not just talking about romantic partnerships, but contacting someone you admire and want the attention of (Tim Ferriss describes this as a Mentor-type process) — we’re all people.

    What’s really worth caring about?

    You have a finite amount of time and energy, just like you do with other resources, such as money. Even if you’re super-generous, you don’t donate to every charity, just a select few you especially care about and can relate with. It gives you a good feeling to give. And the rest? Frankly, you don’t care. They effectively don’t exist unless you give not just $$$, but your attention.

    While that may be viewed as bad for those other charities, don’t worry, because human diversity is infinite, and chances are someone else cares about them. (Or if not, perhaps the charities should do a better job marketing themselves.)

    You aren’t interested in everything. You don’t visit every website — you bookmark favorites (and I hope one of them is Lifehack ;) ).

    Think of your ability to care and be joyful about the stuff in your life as measured as slices of a total pie. You may find this uncomfortably mechanical, but with a big picture — or pie-cture — you can look at criteria such as:

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    • How much time you spend on something
    • How much you talk to friends & family about it
    • Your commitment to active, communal participation (Joss Whedon fans and cosplay zealots are fantastic examples)
    • And perhaps most importantly: what are you getting out of it?

    Throw away your “old clothes”

    Out of everything you care about, what definitely isn’t worth caring about, as passionate (in a bad way) as it makes you feel? If you find that tough, take a hard look at what long-term benefits you’re getting from it — the followup, the results, the takeaways.

    You may like to indulge in food and consider yourself a confectionary guru. But gorging yourself on le chocolat, despite momentary feelings of pleasure, will bloat you in the long run. Care less about sweets, care more about a healthy lifestyle.

    Some people get a rise off of social drama on Internet forums and like to “munch the popcorn” while watching the trolling ensue or even making trouble themselves — instead of doing something that contributes more effectively and visibly to their well-being. For instance, using a forum to conduct research about job opportunities.

    Others passively watch TV news waiting for stories of interest, when they’d be better and quicker served by a sleek aggregator like popurls.

    You’ve probably observed that you don’t have enough time, but for the time you’ve been spending on various activities, should you really care about all of them? Or can you look closer and go “meh” to some, empowering yourself through the joy of apathy?

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    I understand it’s a mental challenge to drop the slop, like trying to get rid of old clothes and hesitating, “I might need them someday!”. But apathy is about not wasting energy, saving resources, and having more of a “reserve” to spend in the future. Just like emptying your closet of unworn antiques gives you space to store new ones, caring less about some things — or not giving a damn at all! — makes you able to care more about others.

    Be bored of badness

    When I was younger, I used to get angry. A lot. Sounds like the Incredible Hulk, but there was nothing smashing about it. You know what intriguingly ended up happening? I experienced a lot of incarnations of anger, depression, and other baggage, like variations on a theme by Beethoven, and eventually found myself bored… numb… not caring. It created a void wherein I thought to myself, during some of my more sullen moments,

    “OK… if this is my life… what do I care about, and why?”

    Words like “purpose”, “meaning”, and “reason” often get trotted out here. The simple truth that connects those three words is a sense of focus, of direction, of finding your way.

    And focus certainly doesn’t mean “everything”; like using apathy skillfully, even artfully, it means picking something specific to target. Remember, apathy is easier than it seems, because not caring doesn’t require energy. (Pardon the double negative.)

    Don’t count on theory. Often in life, you just won’t know without the experience. Having lived through something. You cared about it, know what that’s like, and now you can lose interest and move on. The concept of losing interest in unhealthy emotions may sound bizarre, but it makes perfect sense. Emotions are often connected to external experiences, and just like the 100th rerun of a comedy sitcom episode isn’t going to be as funny or surprising as the first time around, going through phases of emotions and exploring them, even if they’re unpleasant ones, will teach you a lot about who you are, what’s worth caring about, and why.

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    Last Updated on January 21, 2020

    The Best Way to Create a Vision for the Life You Want

    The Best Way to Create a Vision for the Life You Want

    Creating a vision for your life might seem like a frivolous, fantastical waste of time, but it’s not: creating a compelling vision of the life you want is actually one of the most effective strategies for achieving the life of your dreams. Perhaps the best way to look at the concept of a life vision is as a compass to help guide you to take the best actions and make the right choices that help propel you toward your best life.

    your vision of where or who you want to be is the greatest asset you have

      Why You Need a Vision

      Experts and life success stories support the idea that with a vision in mind, you are more likely to succeed far beyond what you could otherwise achieve without a clear vision. Think of crafting your life vision as mapping a path to your personal and professional dreams. Life satisfaction and personal happiness are within reach. The harsh reality is that if you don’t develop your own vision, you’ll allow other people and circumstances to direct the course of your life.

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      How to Create Your Life Vision

      Don’t expect a clear and well-defined vision overnight—envisioning your life and determining the course you will follow requires time, and reflection. You need to cultivate vision and perspective, and you also need to apply logic and planning for the practical application of your vision. Your best vision blossoms from your dreams, hopes, and aspirations. It will resonate with your values and ideals, and will generate energy and enthusiasm to help strengthen your commitment to explore the possibilities of your life.

      What Do You Want?

      The question sounds deceptively simple, but it’s often the most difficult to answer. Allowing yourself to explore your deepest desires can be very frightening. You may also not think you have the time to consider something as fanciful as what you want out of life, but it’s important to remind yourself that a life of fulfillment does not usually happen by chance, but by design.

      It’s helpful to ask some thought-provoking questions to help you discover the possibilities of what you want out of life. Consider every aspect of your life, personal and professional, tangible and intangible. Contemplate all the important areas, family and friends, career and success, health and quality of life, spiritual connection and personal growth, and don’t forget about fun and enjoyment.

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      Some tips to guide you:

      • Remember to ask why you want certain things
      • Think about what you want, not on what you don’t want.
      • Give yourself permission to dream.
      • Be creative. Consider ideas that you never thought possible.
      • Focus on your wishes, not what others expect of you.

      Some questions to start your exploration:

      • What really matters to you in life? Not what should matter, what does matter.
      • What would you like to have more of in your life?
      • Set aside money for a moment; what do you want in your career?
      • What are your secret passions and dreams?
      • What would bring more joy and happiness into your life?
      • What do you want your relationships to be like?
      • What qualities would you like to develop?
      • What are your values? What issues do you care about?
      • What are your talents? What’s special about you?
      • What would you most like to accomplish?
      • What would legacy would you like to leave behind?

      It may be helpful to write your thoughts down in a journal or creative vision board if you’re the creative type. Add your own questions, and ask others what they want out of life. Relax and make this exercise fun. You may want to set your answers aside for a while and come back to them later to see if any have changed or if you have anything to add.

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      What Would Your Best Life Look Like?

      Describe your ideal life in detail. Allow yourself to dream and imagine, and create a vivid picture. If you can’t visualize a picture, focus on how your best life would feel. If you find it difficult to envision your life 20 or 30 years from now, start with five years—even a few years into the future will give you a place to start. What you see may surprise you. Set aside preconceived notions. This is your chance to dream and fantasize.

      A few prompts to get you started:

      • What will you have accomplished already?
      • How will you feel about yourself?
      • What kind of people are in your life? How do you feel about them?
      • What does your ideal day look like?
      • Where are you? Where do you live? Think specifics, what city, state, or country, type of community, house or an apartment, style and atmosphere.
      • What would you be doing?
      • Are you with another person, a group of people, or are you by yourself?
      • How are you dressed?
      • What’s your state of mind? Happy or sad? Contented or frustrated?
      • What does your physical body look like? How do you feel about that?
      • Does your best life make you smile and make your heart sing? If it doesn’t, dig deeper, dream bigger.

      It’s important to focus on the result, or at least a way-point in your life. Don’t think about the process for getting there yet—that’s the next stepGive yourself permission to revisit this vision every day, even if only for a few minutes. Keep your vision alive and in the front of your mind.

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      Plan Backwards

      It may sound counter-intuitive to plan backwards rather than forwards, but when you’re planning your life from the end result, it’s often more useful to consider the last step and work your way back to the first. This is actually a valuable and practical strategy for making your vision a reality.

      • What’s the last thing that would’ve had to happen to achieve your best life?
      • What’s the most important choice you would’ve had to make?
      • What would you have needed to learn along the way?
      • What important actions would you have had to take?
      • What beliefs would you have needed to change?
      • What habits or behaviors would you have had to cultivate?
      • What type of support would you have had to enlist?
      • How long will it have taken you to realize your best life?
      • What steps or milestones would you have needed to reach along the way?

      Now it’s time to think about your first step, and the next step after that. Ponder the gap between where you are now and where you want to be in the future. It may seem impossible, but it’s quite achievable if you take it step-by-step.

      It’s important to revisit this vision from time to time. Don’t be surprised if your answers to the questions, your technicolor vision, and the resulting plans change. That can actually be a very good thing; as you change in unforeseeable ways, the best life you envision will change as well. For now, it’s important to use the process, create your vision, and take the first step towards making that vision a reality.

      Featured photo credit: Matt Noble via unsplash.com

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