How are you with downtime? Do you stare listlessly into space? Doom scroll on social media? Or just give up and get on with doing something, anything else other than nothing?
After a decade of learning the hard way, I’m much better these days at easing off on perpetually getting things done.
Yet that urge to progress and make things happen still hijacks me.
Like last month.
I’ve been distracting myself with DIY again (what’s your poison?). An endless succession of tasks that breed exponentially, the more you do. You’d think I learnt my lesson after a sapping three year basement renovation.
I tell myself I’m prepping my house for a lodger – which is true, and fair enough.
We have responsibilities and obligations, right?
Stuff must get done.
And when that’s the case – we’re the people for it
Deep down though, I’ve noticed people like us (when we reach a certain stage in life) intuitively begin to notice ‘something’s up’ when we’re overly-focused on being productive, and can’t (or won’t) slow down, sit still or stop.
We just have this sense that something’s not right, or off.
A malaise creeps in. Maybe new sensations concern you.
Perhaps you’ve noticed feelings of sadness, shame, anxiousness, emptiness or yearning? Maybe even loneliness or overwhelm, that linger. Sometimes there’s fatigue too.
You become aware of things lurking in the shadows, even when you’re busy.
I’ve also noticed that few of us ever dare remain inactive long enough (aside from sleep!) to find out what’s really going on with those undesirable feelings.
So – self-selected living experiment that I am, I did.
Here’s what happened…
What I’m about to share is hope
Because I survived and found riches there, which I offer here now.
Using a few tricks from my trusty coaching toolbox, I went into the melancholy, the aloneness, the frustration that every part of me wanted to avoid – by keeping moving.
I made a pact with myself, to gently decelerate and come to a stop.
At first old habits resisted – fidgeting and restless legs, My mind scanning the room for stuff to fix or improve. It wanted easy dopamine hits from food or my phone.
I welcomed it, and kept my word to stay put.
I thought of you, actually
Soon, in stopping, I noticed panic. Some part of me didn’t know what to do with itself. Again, I held the line, uncomfortable as it was.
Not long after, I breached my inner sanctum – the imperial guard of overburdened doers: worthlessness, loathing even. A subtle yet persistent feeling of hopelessness, abandonment – with sad aching panic.
This is why we keep going and why it’s so tricky to just stop and be: we must DO to stay safe, some part of us says. This part wants to protect us from feeling these painful emotions.
Later, things got really fruity
I do parts work – a kind of inner improvised dialogue with emotions and sensations in the body. You get curious about an urge or feeling to discover what it needs. The aim is to learn from and soothe it.
Inside, I met a youngster, alone and unsupported, flushed, stressed, trying its best to superhumanly get everything done.
Yet without its endless to-do list, a rot set in.
But I can’t let people down! What a waste of time! If I don’t get stuff done, who will?
Dark stuff. Yet golden insight nonetheless.
This youngster wondered where the adults were, to ease the burden of expectation. All it wanted was fun, playmates and connection – to enjoy life, to be in the here-and-now, and feel love and appreciation.
Like we all know we deserve.
Inside emotion is rich, useful raw data about what you really need
Like what drives all your relentless doing, yet cheats you out of fulfilment. And how you might find contentment, in addition to (yet perhaps beyond) getting things done ALL THE TIME.
It’s what inspired me to share this experience in hope of finding like-hearted souls – fellow travellers I can help with insight like this.
Wouldn’t you like to know what’s really up, why perpetual productivity isn’t quite as satisfying as it used to be? And why the old ways of coping don’t seem to work anymore.
There are countless ways to do what I describe above and overcome what you’re up against. Mindfulness, therapy, coaching, self-inquiry to name a handful.
Over on my podcast you’ll find a guided walkthrough of the technique I described above. I hope it helps you.