Or alternatively, "How I learned to stop worrying and love a TODO list?".
A problem that many people share is wanting to do something but being stuck – AKA getting shit done on your TODO list. One a typical day, the list might look something like this:
1) Clean your room
2) Write your essay
3) Start "X" personal goal
Fair enough. Most of us have some level of resistance to getting the mundane shit done. But maybe you're a writer, and you can't bring yourself to write. Or you're a Youtuber and you can't bring yourself to record videos. A musician who can't write music. A programmer who can't program. It's frustrating because these things should come easy – when you really want to do them – but they aren't. Sometimes I can't even take the first step – like writing an essay. It's why most of us procrastinate. Why do I reach so easily for distractions like the phone, Youtube, or Reddit? Is it an addiction? No, not exactly. It's a reaction to the anxiousness of feeling pressure to measure up to something. I have ended many of my days with heated self-talk of anger and frustration for not having done the things I wanted. No longer though – I found the answer in practicing the art of inaction. Before spilling the secrets, let's figure out what kind of personality you have.
See, young hero, there are two types of people around you. The first type is always overthinking the meaning of life and being prone to paralysis when it comes to actually getting stuff done. The other type is always doing one thing after the other with ease until one morning they have a rude awakening and realize, "Wait. What am I doing with my life?". I belong to the first group, so not getting stuff done is THE profound problem for me to solve. But maybe the answer is not to try to avoid inaction, but instead to learn to love it?
Back in college, I had a year-long phase Eastern spirituality phase where I sought to detach my thoughts from my identity, dissolve my ego, and completely let go of my attachments to my desires. If anything, this pursuit ended up making me better at managing my emotions and constant inner dialogue. I quit after a year because it felt like an unhealthy suppression of my desires and ambitions for life by being okay with "just being in the present". I felt restless about my life not having any excitement or meaning. This is not what I'm talking about when it comes to practicing the art of inaction. On the opposite spectrum of life perspectives, I know that Nike's "Just do it" doesn't work for my type of personality.
I get nothing from the Shia LaBeouf-acclaimed advice, "JUST DO IT!" – as much as I love that energy. In reality, it only exacerbates things – because it makes me feel like a piece of shit when I can't "Just do it" for my TODO list. My problem with this advice is that it makes you think that you should be able to just pull yourself together and shake it off. It's rarely that simple. Instead, consider this:
An anxiety to take action first requires you to master inaction.
Rather than push yourself forward to do something, pull back into your mind as your natural habit. Instead of getting scatter-brained bits of work done and ending up angry at yourself for the lack of quality and quantity, dive deep into your mind and ask yourself whether you are OK with yourself doing nothing. Keep asking if the answer is no until the answer is yes. The idea is to remove the pressure coming from the feeling of HAVING to do something. Would your life be so much worse off if you did nothing for the next 5 minutes?
If done right, a successful day looks like this: several brief moments of being COMPLETELY and utterly OK with doing absolutely. fucking. nothing. so that I finally have moments of getting shit done during my day. Specifically the shit I don't want to do ( so that I can do the shit I want to do ).
Being okay with doing nothing – that might sound non-intuitive. There could be many reasons why you won't be able to feel that way – that is totally fine. It's intuitive for me – it's difficult to explain how I do it. But figuring out how will serve you well if you are also a ruminator and perfectionist. Let me try to paint a picture of my internal experience that starts from beating myself up to finally taking action:
So usually when I want to take the first step towards action, it causes pressure, and that pressure mixed with my ruminating quickly becomes a stressful build up. For example, I start with analyzing "How do I start?" or "Why do I want it?". Which leads to "What will come next?". Eventually, I realize, "What am I procrastinating for?" and get lost in frustration and my inner self-critic. In this moment of peak frustration, I used to let it ride out for the full duration. But now I cut that shit immediately and treat myself like a best friend would. Walk in the shoes of your best friend and ask yourself, "Would I talk to X like this? Or would I say...". Sometimes tact and tone are everything.
Although I cut off the negative self-talk, this is not about emptying my mind of thoughts. I actually redirect my thoughts back to ruminating – except this time the question is "What if I don't do anything at all?".
Eventually, I realize that, theoretically, if I did nothing for the next hour, I would still be okay with myself. Even accept me. I feel like I wouldn't NEED to do it to meet the ideal version of Lloyd I wanted to be. Yes, there are real consequences from continuing to procrastinate – I'd come home tomorrow night to a messy room. Or worse, I'l wake up 5 years from now regretting my life. But I know I've hit gold when I know my self-worth is separate from meeting this future vision of my life. Trying to self-discipline yourself without gentleness is like the highly critical parent figure in your past. After I've wrestled with these thoughts, taking the first step to getting shit done feels so clear and easy now.
And that's really it – I've peeled back the layers far enough to realize that this is really about self-love. This article was a giant lie. My mind proved itself to be a mastermind of self-deceptive rationalization. What I thought was "the art of inaction" was really just a series of questions and beneficial rationalizations (the good kind) to help me get rid of the pressure from my standards. To know you are enough whether you meet your expectations or don't.
I don't expect anyone to find this piece life-changing. If it does, I'd be surprised but very happy for them. Because really I'm not saying anything different than to "love yourself". But I do have this to say – I know hearing that advice isn't going to do shit. Everyone must go through their own journey of discovering what it really means. Because it's got twists and turns unique to you – and yes, I believe each person has to earn it. It's rarely a simple, direct journey. And it could either be a majority internal battle or a majority external battle, but it will require you to fight on both fronts.
None of this is actionable advice – I just hope to share my journey of learning self-love as vulnerable as I can – to give hope to a way of winning your battles. After 25 years of seeking answers and running in circles, I think I've made progress to a threshold. And maybe now I can toss out my practice of "the art of inaction" since all the layers are gone and what's left is just self-love at the core. And I just might find myself getting more done.
Because the only thing that really matters is how you see yourself - Musiq Soulchild
Enjoy :) https://youtu.be/GS2Y_CkaXP0?t=296