I am starting to feel like a to-do hoarder. A compulsive accumulator of tasks. I have always enjoyed being busy, and have been working on my notion of value and how I see my self-worth as a reflection of how productive I am or am not. There is great satisfaction in completing tasks, but having so many and multi-tasking between them has brought some anxiety to my waking hours. Sometimes it seems like my way of dealing with this anxiety is to add another task to the pile… one that really excites me, to make the doing fun. Awareness is the first step. Knowing this doesn’t automatically change it, but I can spot some tendencies and make more conscious choices.
I notice that when the anxiety hits, I am more inclined to pick up my phone in the middle of grading student assignments, or I remember to book a car rental in the middle of doing research for a client, or worse, looking at a real estate listing in the middle of writing. I notice how I am going to distractions for mental breaks, and I realize that these distractions only add more noise when what I need is quiet and stillness.
As far as food intake goes, I also notice that I am more inclined to walk to the fridge and the cupboards and stare at them looking for something to help soothe my racing mind. I remind myself that chocolate is not the answer. What I need is a breath… maybe 10, or as many as it takes to come back to myself, calm my nervous system, and feel whole regardless of how much I get done. Breath gives me time and space, and that pause gives me choice.
With our upcoming trip – we will be traveling for 6 months and don’t know where home will be when this trip is complete – there are many decisions to be made, and so the task hoarding isn’t all optional. Some things need to get done. We decided to sell our house, so much had to be done about that (and we succeeded!), we have to schedule care for our dear dog while we are gone (check), empty the house, sell each of our cars, and so on. I reflect on lessons from highly productive people who diminish decision-making wherever they can, like Zuckerberg and Jobs wearing the same type/color shirt every day of the week. I can’t see any place where I might be able to reduce the decision and to-do load. So I decide to reduce the worry load of each decision and to trust that the results will point us in the path of growth and well-being, allowing us to step more fully into the life we want and into a deeper understanding of how we can be of service.
This is a big move, and making choices that affect others feels particularly weighty. What feels liberating for me to let go of, might feel differently for our son, and for Nick. Doubt sneaks in at various moments, and that – not knowing – is the biggest challenge for me.
As I navigate between trust and doubt, I place my attention on the bowl that is right in my lap, inside my belly, actually, rather than looking ahead in the future. And with Nick’s help, I step into the unknown with joy, openness, intention, and presence.
Do you feel decision-overloaded? Do you feel like you have more doubt than trust in your life right now? Do you turn to distractions, like social media, food, or something else? If you would like to be guided to connect with your breath and come back to yourself, listen to Nick’s recording here.
Continue reading for Nick’s perspective on doing, being and distractions:
Facebook is not the answer. I pull away from the promise of feeling superficially connected to that accumulated community. I put the phone face down beside me and turn from that small screen to a bigger one, to compose this.
I feel just a little more connected to my body as I adjust my posture and take a deep belly breath. I take a moment, look out the window and watch some cars whoosh by in the morning traffic stream. Looking out the window is not exactly soothing; I close my eyes and I imagine ocean sounds. This works for a fraction of an imagined wave until some subwoofer annihilates the illusion, and it’s back to traffic. I open my eyes, and look across the street, just past the traffic and the phone lines, to a wilder world of scrub oaks and cacti and wild grasses.
For now, we live across from a beautiful big park, with 5000 acres to roam, with lakes and trails, and many technology-free zones to park one’s attention. I love that we live so close to this, and yet sometimes, the busy road that fills my consciousness keeps me walled off from the ease, openness, and natural embrace that’s right there.
I lean forward, elbows on table, and hold my head between my hands, thumbs beneath my ears. With my hands, I pull my head lightly, gently tractioning my neck as I lower my shoulders, release as much tension as I can on the exhale.
I listen for the ocean again, and then there is nothing, no traffic for a count of eight. Eyes still closed, I breathe into that spaciousness. I notice how tight my stomach is, and I breathe into the tightness. The next pulse of traffic rushes through, but I feel more grounded, more in my seat, more in my breath.
I am reminded of how much I need nothing. Nothing going on. Nothing to rush off to. For more on doing nothing, read here.
I am reminded of how much I am missing when I don’t wander through my own park, my own wilderness. It’s time for a quiet hike. I’ll leave the phone at home.
“We are hunter-gatherers who now gather likes.
We are surrounded by riches that deplete us.
We are pulled out of ourselves by choice.
Sometimes that is a choice that is made for us,
By habit or by some sticky design.”