Hello, fellow Homo Sapiens!
Today I’d like to discuss one potential cause of that terrible feeling we all get from time to time.
You know, the one where absolutely everything is going wrong and we really don’t know why.
It nearly forces upon us the question: “Why is my world falling apart?!”
Now there are many reasons we could be feeling this way, from just pure overwhelm to a series of unfortunate events occurring in our lives.
Heck, maybe our world actually IS falling apart. (Dang global warming, you sure are efficient)
Sometimes, however, this feeling doesn’t really seem warranted. It’s as if it has appeared out of nowhere for no apparent reason, and spreads through us to bleed into all areas of our life, from work to chores and even our leisurely activities.
Nothing matters and our motivation dwindles to little or nothing. Activities that we used to enjoy just don’t seem as fulfilling anymore.
It could be that we have over-invested into a single project or endeavor that didn’t turn out quite like we hoped it would.
With the absence of that focal point our brains kind of freak out a little bit. They aren’t sure what to do without that main goal they were working so intently on.
I’d like to start today’s post with an anecdote about a friend who recently found himself in this exact situation, and couldn’t for the life of him figure out what had happened.
Kevin, the Tech Support that Could Also Kick Your Ass
One of my best friends, Kevin, works as a tech support for a small corporate company that is involved with many other larger companies. It isn’t the greatest job, but he’s good at it and it pays his bills, so he can’t really complain.
Kevin’s true passion, on the other hand, is MMA training. This guy spends so much time in the gym I regularly remind him that he may be overdoing a bit.
Honestly, I think it just fuels him to push even harder.
Kevin eats, sleeps, and breathes fitness, specifically his MMA training. When he gets caught up in life and can’t make it to the gym you can bet on the fact that he’s going on a run or doing yoga at home to make up for it.
As I mentioned, Kevin’s company is associated with many other businesses. Because of this, a lot of big changes have been happening there over the past couple months and as a result, Kevin’s workload has doubled, if not tripled, practically overnight.
Suddenly he found himself working long hours and late nights. Some days he would even be the last one in the office, finally leaving around 10-11PM.
This obviously left Kevin with very little time to do much of anything other than work, sleep, and eat. His fitness regimens where put to an immediate halt out of necessity. He had deadlines that needed to be met.
Then one day Kevin called me (we talk quite frequently) and just expecting the usual conversation, I answered happily and said: “Hey man! What’s up?”
“Hey” he responded.
I could hear it in his voice immediately, something was wrong.
He proceeded to tell me that he had consciously chosen to not get up and go to work today. He had awoken to his alarm like normal, but then some overwhelming force from within told him to turn off his alarm and go back to sleep. And he did.
This happened almost three days in a row. He didn’t understand it. He couldn’t detect any physical symptoms of illness and he knew he needed this job. He was in a real pickle and considered going to a doctor because he didn’t know what else to do.
I was just as puzzled. Although I’m not always the best when it comes to getting work done of my own accord, when others are expecting me to be somewhere I can always force myself through it.
Then I remembered something Tim Ferriss had mentioned in one of his podcasts. It was in regard to new small business owners and their tendency to become OBSESSED with their business.
If their business had a bad day there whole life was falling apart, and vice versa.
I noticed the similarity between this and Kevin’s obsession with fitness and MMA. I brought up that tidbit from Ferriss’ podcast to him and I could practically hear the light bulb appear over his head.
“Oh my God…” he said, “I think you just figured it out…”
Kevin’s inability to exercise threw his brain into a tizzy. Without his MMA goals to work towards, he lost all motivation for everything else.
His brain was so used to looking forward to going to the gym after work that taking it away caused some kind of withdrawal effect.
Suddenly, he had his answer and like just like excavating an ingrown toenail, his pain subsided almost immediately. Just becoming aware of the issue was a huge relief to him.
After reading that story, I think it’s pretty obvious why we would want to avoid this negative mental state.
However, what I’m going to recommend next isn’t necessarily conventional wisdom. We are taught that if we want something we can have it if we work tirelessly toward that goal.
This would seem to encourage putting all our focus into one project or endeavor. Society views the individual that works late into the night on a project as strong, noble, and dedicated.
That romantic image of a man in a dimly lit room working relentlessly toward his goals is something we can all conjure.
However, devoting all of our energy to one thing can result in this mental mess I just described. Finding ourselves drained of all motivation is definitely not the best way to go about accomplishing our dreams.
Today I want to discuss how we can be focused and determined on a goal, while not allowing it to rule our lives.
And the first step to that is becoming AWARE of when our brains are starting to become obsessed.
The Excitement Trap
We, as humans, are constantly striving to better ourselves and our position in the world. There is always something bigger to work towards on our path through life.
Often times we find ourselves enveloped in the excitement of a new prospect, skill, or hobby we’ve recently discovered.
Maybe it’s starting a new fitness goal. Maybe it’s a new project at work or a personal project at home.
Whatever it is we become addicted to it. We spend hours reading about it, without even noticing how much time has passed. Our mind’s eye is filled with grandiose images of our improved self after completing the project or goal.
Even while doing the other activities life demands our thoughts are constantly drifting toward that new and exciting venture. We may even begin to put off our other responsibilities in favor of this new undertaking.
That is where we must draw the line. Being excited about a new project is fine, and can be a great motivator. It is when that project starts to affect the other important areas of our lives that it can become troublesome.
If we find ourselves neglecting hygiene, sacrificing sleep, or delaying eating we might be getting carried away. These simple biological needs are often the first things we forgo when trying to make more time.
However, these are also probably the most detrimental activities to ignore. Depriving ourselves of these needs can affect our quality of work and lead to negative emotional states.
So that’s the first step. Be aware of when we are getting carried away and always make time to take care of our bodies and brains.
Intelligently Dividing Resources
Now that we know the warning signs to look out for, the next step is making sure to balance any new endeavors with the ones we are currently handling.
It is common for us to give up old, slightly stale projects the second a newer more exhilarating one presents itself. This can be ok, as long as the choice is made from a logical standpoint rather than from the grip of excitement and anticipation.
If we abandon every project the moment a new one arises, we will never truly accomplish anything.
To avoid this I recommend always having a few long-term goals in differing life categories. I say specifically only a few because it is also very easy to attempt to get involved in too many projects and failing at all of them, but there’s another post in the making for that topic.
Back to the categories. It can help greatly in productivity, and life in general, to lay out overarching categories for the different aspects of our lives. I call this practice “Life Chunking”, as it groups these different aspects into “chunks”. Think broad when doing this, and consider writing them out on a piece of paper. Here’s an example of some of the big categories in my life:
Your list will look different from mine, and it should. This is a highly personal exercise that maps out the areas of your life that you deem the most important.
I should also mention that although these categories are all on my radar, I try to only focus on 3-5 of those categories at a time. This number works for me to avoid overwhelm and will vary from person to person.
If you’re having trouble with this exercise, I’ll give you a few basic categories to focus on that should apply to most people:
- Passion Projects
After choosing 3-5 categories identify one or two endeavors, whether active or planned, for each of the categories. For me it would look something like this:
- Paleo/Ketogenic Diet
- Strength Training 2x per week
- Yoga 2x per week
- Solitary Mind Space
- Video Games
- Outdoor activities (Camping and Hiking)
We now have a powerful map of the major categories in our life and what activities we will spend time on to progress in those categories.
All we have to do now is take any new project or endeavor that we are interested in and weight it against our current endeavors by asking questions like:
- Can I make time for this project without taking away from my other important undertakings?
- Is there any current undertaking that I feel comfortable letting go of to make room for this new endeavor?
- Which of my current and considered endeavors will give me the biggest return on time invested?
Tackling new and exciting prospects logically in this way will ensure we don’t allow them to take precedence over our other responsibilities.
It keeps us balanced and in control. Even if one of our endeavors has a bad day, there’s a good chance ALL of them won’t go bad. These daily wins and losses allow us to stay level-headed and not have our entire existence hang on the results of a single project.
Our business may have had a bad day, but at least we crushed our workout and had a great meditation session.
I think you can see what I mean and feel I’ve begun to ramble a bit so let’s wrap this up.
Spreading our efforts throughout multiple projects or undertakings is an effective way of maintaining a level head and not ending up like my poor friend Kevin.
Unfortunately, productivity nuggets like these aren’t usually common knowledge, and that is a shame.
Over-investing in something can quickly lead to us asking ourselves: “Why is my world falling apart?”
To avoid this confusion and instability we must work in multiple areas of growth to remind us that even when some things go bad we are still moving forward.
However, it is a tricky balance, as trying to progress in TOO MANY areas at once can be just as detrimental as focusing all our efforts into one. That’s why I plan to write a follow-up post about that very topic!
Stay tuned dear readers, and learn to find the perfect work-life balance for you.
I hope you enjoyed today’s post and that it made you think about the different categories and projects of your life in a new light.
Leave a comment below and tell me the 3-5 things you’ll be focusing on from here on out!
Have a mindful day!