I was sitting with a client the other day who’s having a hard time getting unstuck after a series of challenges in her life. She feels like she’s just going through the motions and spinning her wheels.
It’s extra difficult for her to feel that way because she’s been a workhorse her whole life. She’s the hero in her family, and everyone relies on her for emotional and material support.
Nowadays, all she wants to do is stay in bed.
When I asked her why not stay in bed if that’s what she feels like doing, she looked at me with dread.
“I hate to waste a day,” she said. “I need to be productive.” Never mind that her efforts to do that aren’t working.
I told her, “Don’t worry about wasting a day not doing anything productive. Worry about wasting your life doing productive things just to avoid wasting a day.”
After I went home that night, I thought about my own advice. How often do I unthinkingly gravitate towards being productive, rather than paying attention to my life?
How much am I really living when I’m focused on productivity as the highest good, and ignoring what I want and how I feel?
“What Do I Want?”
So last Sunday when Mike was out of town, I decided to do exactly what I felt like doing for the entire day. No chores, no obligations, nothing productive.
My plan was to live from minute to minute, presumably like animals do.
In the morning I felt like staying in bed and finishing the novel I was reading. If animals could read, I feel certain that’s what they’d do. So I did that.
It took the whole morning. It was GREAT. Finished my novel! (Oops. That might have been productive.)
I made myself a nice lunch, and after that, I asked myself what I wanted to do.
Turned out I wanted to go outside. It wasn’t a should, mind you; it was what I genuinely wanted to do. I was surprised, since I don’t consider myself someone who ever feels the need to go outside.
It was hard to figure out where I wanted to go. Normally I’d consider the distance I “should” walk, or think about a task I could accomplish if I took a certain route.
I decided to walk through a pretty, quiet neighborhood until I felt like turning back.
On my walk I noticed my pace; it was much slower than normal, especially up hills. I usually push myself forcefully up hills because hey, free workout!
But I wasn’t looking for a workout. Instead, I strolled comfortably.
The moment-to-moment attention to my desires and experience made me feel very much alive. This was really living. This was … different.
Later on at home I caught up on the video lectures for my Coursera course, but only because that’s what I felt like doing.
Later, I … accidentally … might have spontaneously had good ideas for some projects I want to start. And it’s possible that I took copious notes about them.
I didn’t mean to be productive (she said to the judge, wringing her hands). It just sort of happened.
The Truth About Lazing About
Rest is productive. Slowing down actually seems to speed up the visioning process.
Perhaps it’s a paradox. Maybe the more rested and centered you are, the more the organism-that-is-you wants to create, produce, act, do something to express itself.
So when you don’t feel like doing anything, and you’re worried about wasting a day, think about just living your life from moment to moment like an animal.
Ask yourself what you feel like doing, and honor your desire. Doze, read, eat, shower, don’t shower, stand up, sit down, stand on your head, etc. according to your preference.
Sooner or later your productive, expressive nature will kick in again.
It might take hours, days or weeks. But once you’re good and rested, you’ll be meaningfully productive.