“The world went and got itself in a big damn hurry.”
I love this line from Brooks’ letter in The Shawshank Redemption. For those of you haven’t seen the film (there’s a special place in hell reserved for you), this is an elderly man’s reaction to the free world after spending the majority of his life behind bars.
While my audience may consist of a few criminals, I imagine most of you haven’t spent time in prison. Yet I feel we all can relate to Brooks’ observation. Shit happens quickly. And it’s accelerating. At an exponential rate. Technology is changing the world by the hour and people, products, and ideas are zipping all over the globe at speeds my feeble little mind can’t comprehend.
To keep up with the people, things, and information that surround us, we feel the need to increase the rate at which we live our own lives. Because we’ve grown accustomed to doing things faster, we feel pressure (both internally and externally) to take on more to fill in the space. This behavior seems reasonable, if not necessary at times. But I would argue that doing the opposite will yield a higher quality of life.
The most productive people I know never seem to be in a hurry. They take their time with whatever they’re doing, but they get the most done. They realize that being busy is not the same as being productive, nor is their any guarantee that being busy will lead to being productive. Being busy, while encouraged by social norms, is a state we should look to replace with its foe: being focused.
In a world in which our time, attention, and energy is pulled in dozens of different directions, this is easier said than done. So what are we to do?
Beyond anything else, we must identify what brings us value. Once we do that, we can start eliminating anything that is occupying the aforementioned time, attention, and energy and is not positively contributing to our values. Again, this is easier said than done. This takes sacrifice. It takes going against the grain of society. It may require completely overhauling our lifestyle. But we needn’t worry because it does not require adding anything to our lives. It requires simplifying our lives. It requires doing less. And we all have the ability to do less.
The reason why most people don’t go take these steps to construct a well-curated life is because its fucking terrifying. Think about the areas where you spend most of your time. At your job? Out at bars or restaurants? Watching Netflix? Playing Pokémon Go? Hanging out with your significant other? Finding out that one or all of these thing isn’t reflective of our values is life-altering. While removing these things is simple, simple tasks aren’t always easy. Walking away from a job or bad relationship takes a lot of guts. Doing away with Pokémon and Netflix takes even more. But as you eliminate these things that have glutinously consumed weeks or years of your life, you’ll notice how you’re better able to focus on what’s meaningful. You’ll love the additional time, attention, and energy you’re able to pour into what actually matters.
Fighting fire (the speed at which things are going on around us) with fire (increasing the speed and quantity of the things in our life) is only going to spread the blaze (increase our stress). If we want to control or extinguish the blaze, we need to pour water on it (dedicate our time to fewer activities). Or smother it if the blaze is fueled by grease. That’s imagery, baby!
The common belief is that by eliminating certain activities or people in our life, we’re going to miss something incredible. We all suffer from the fear of missing out. I would argue that this fear is misdirected. We don’t decrease our chance of “missing out” by filling our time with a bunch of bull shit; rather we are guaranteed to miss out if we fail to dedicate the vast majority of our time to what we find meaningful.
With that, I’d like to denounce the term “FOMO” as it commonly used, and introduce “FOFMLWBS” – an acronym that is much smoother on the tongue and contains infinite percent more curse words.
Fear of filling my life with bull shit.