I’ve recently come to realize something about myself. When I am fully engaged in activating a process, I feel quite content for the most part. But the moment my mind wanders to just about any perceived measurement of progress, my heart rate speeds up, my breathing gets more shallow and a sense of self-judgement begins to kick in. This seems to apply for home, work and recreation.
I’ll come back to that.
I wrote recently about the challenge I find I have of balancing between planning and acting. And my creative mind loves to wander around in the abstract, dream, set goals and visualize. Ironically, it tends to do that most while I am going about the business of taking action. Doing things and being fully engaged seems to stimulate other inspiration. The trouble is, those ideas inevitably end up manifesting into a sea of Post-It notes and other “to-do” reminders. But when I stop planning my act and am engaged simply with acting upon my plan, I feel stress-free.
Another thing I’ve noticed is that I will often feel overwhelmed before I even begin, simply from the sheer volume of thoughts and ideas constantly passing through my awareness and accumulating at an impossible rate. Alternatively, once I pause my process to check sales numbers or revenue reports, or gauge response to a social media post, or even look at how many things I’ve done around the house versus the “to-do” list I had set out for myself earlier, I seem to instantly begin judging how I could be doing better.
And yet, intellectually, I know that the cure for this stress is to simply dig back in again. Choose one thing and take action. See it through to completion. Then choose another. And repeat. Simple, right? But how long do you allow yourself to enjoy the drive before you pull off the road, check the map and set a plan for where you’re going to stop next? I confess I sometimes wait until I run out of gas, or the engine seizes. And neither of those metaphorical ideas are healthy to either planning or acting.
And … why is there even a need to plan and act when you’ve experienced that real peace seems to be best achieved by getting quiet and still and feeling genuinely present and grateful?
It’s quite remarkable to me. I find thinking about doing a thing far more stressful than actually doing the thing, no matter what that thing is. I sometimes wonder whether any other people are similar to me in this regard, because I don’t see many of my colleagues wrestling with the same mechanism as what I’m trying to describe here.
At least I am aware of it now. That’s come from many years of exploring practices like mindfulness, meditation and, quite simply, self-love and acceptance. I will keep working on it. At a deeper level, I’ve known for a while that the moment I assign any expectation to something, I seem to end up disappointed. I wrote about it with a rock song lyric I call “Crushed,” which has been kicking around since 2008. It goes like this:
I recognize the notion and it’s hitting me hard again
Never would suffice to take it slowly
I’m laying down the hammer but I feel I’m the nail again
Rigid, driven, beaten down and lonely
We started innocently with intent to behave
But quickly, curiosity will tend to accelerate
By and by, anticipation makes you a slave
Cause we want
And we crave
Crushed by the weight of expectation
Determination hanging over me
I never intended to be
Simple fascination suffocating me
I never intended to be crushed
It’s too much
Result infatuation. I love that line. And I appreciate it more now that I feel more of an observer to that lyric than a protagonist. But there still, clearly, is much more work to be done on mindfulness and staying present.
If you have any similar experiences and thoughts, I’d love to hear them.