Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

The average human lifespan is absurdly, terrifyingly, insultingly short. Here’s one way of putting things in perspective: the first modern humans appeared on the plains of Africa at least 200,000 years ago, and scientists estimate that life, in some form, will persist for another 1.5bn years or more, until the intensifying heat of the sun condemns the last organism to death. But you? Assuming you live to be 80, you’ll have had about 4,000 weeks.

When I first made that calculation, I felt queasy; but once I’d recovered, I started pestering my friends, asking them to guess – off the top of their heads, without doing any mental arithmetic – how many weeks they thought the average person could expect to live. One named a number in the six figures. Yet, as I felt obliged to inform her, a fairly modest six-figure number of weeks – 310,000 – is the approximate duration of all human civilisation since the ancient Sumerians of Mesopotamia. On almost any meaningful timescale, as the contemporary philosopher Thomas Nagel has written, “we will all be dead any minute”.

And so distraction truly matters – because your experience of being alive consists of nothing other than the sum of everything to which you pay attention. At the end of your life, looking back, whatever compelled your attention from moment to moment is simply what your life will have been. When you pay attention to something you don’t especially value, it’s not an exaggeration to say that you’re paying with your life…

—  Oliver Burkeman, from At best, we’re on Earth for around 4,000 weeks —  so why do we lose so much time to online to online distraction? (The Guardian, August 7, 2021)

Walking. With Billy Summers.

67° F. Cove Island Park.  Morning walk. 459 consecutive days. Like in a row.

Sun, all on its own, decides there’s no damn point getting up this early, is rising later, 5:55 a.m. per Dark Sky app.  And yet I’m struggling to make adjustments. So here we are. 3:38 a.m. Sciatica screaming the moment I stir with Jung’s fear of the journey to Hades having arrived. What if this Sciatica thing is with me the rest of the go? 

I ease out bed, try to shake that ugly thought from my head, and head for the scale.

Disgusting result.

Admit it, you’re looking for a full status report on the Refined Sugar Elimination Project. Not goin’ to get it. Nope.

I turn to the morning papers. Headline catches my attention. “Escaping the Efficiency Trap—and Finding Some Peace of MindThe more productive we are, the more pressure we feel. It’s time to break the busyness cycle.” “...the problem with trying to make time for everything that feels important is that you definitely never will. The reason isn’t that you haven’t yet discovered the right time management tricks or applied sufficient effort, or that you need to start getting up earlier, or that you’re generally useless. It’s that the underlying assumption is unwarranted: There’s no reason to believe you’ll ever feel “on top of things,” or make time for everything that matters, simply by getting more done. That’s because if you succeed in fitting more in, you’ll find the goal posts start to shift: More things will begin to seem important, meaningful or obligatory. Acquire a reputation for doing your work at amazing speed, and you’ll be given more of it. … The general principle in operation here is what we might call the “efficiency trap.” Rendering yourself more efficient—either by implementing various productivity techniques or by driving yourself harder—won’t generally result in the feeling of having “enough time,” because, all else being equal, the demands will increase to offset any benefits. Far from getting things done, you’ll be creating new things to do. For most of us, most of the time, it isn’t feasible to avoid the efficiency trap altogether. But the choice you can make is to stop believing you’ll ever solve the challenge of busyness by cramming more in, because that just makes matters worse. And once you stop investing in the idea that you might one day achieve peace of mind that way, it becomes easier to find peace of mind in the present, in the midst of overwhelming demands, because you’re no longer making your peace of mind dependent on dealing with all the demands. Once you stop believing that it might somehow be possible to avoid hard choices about time, it gets easier to make better ones….And so, like the dutiful and efficient worker I was, I’d put my energy into clearing the decks, cranking through the smaller stuff to get it out of the way—only to discover that doing so took the whole day, that the decks filled up again overnight anyway and that the moment for responding to the New Delhi email never arrived. One can waste years this way, systematically postponing precisely the things one cares about the most. What’s needed instead in such situations, I gradually came to understand, is a kind of anti-skill: not the counterproductive strategy of trying to make yourself more efficient but rather a willingness to resist such urges—to learn to stay with the anxiety of feeling overwhelmed, of not being on top of everything, without automatically responding by trying to fit more in..”

Burkeman goes on, and on. My eyes scan the words, one line, the next and the next. Heaviness sets in… a sinkin’ feeling. He’s in my head. You DK. This is You. [Read more…]

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

When stumped by a life choice, choose “enlargement” over happiness. I’m indebted to the Jungian therapist James Hollis for the insight that major personal decisions should be made not by asking, “Will this make me happy?”, but “Will this choice enlarge me or diminish me?”

Oliver BurkemanOliver Burkeman’s last column: the eight secrets to a (fairly) fulfilled life (The Guardian, Sept 4, 2020)


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