Disciplines for getting out of the stream
“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans” – John Lennon
But what if you’re not making plans. Or if all the plans you are making are more reactions to address short-term goals, needs or issues, rather than stepping back and looking at the general direction you’re headed?
I think this easily happens to most of us. When caught up in daily chores without the time to think - really think - it is very difficult to go meta and ask yourself about what it is that you really want. Add to this the plethora of interruptions and distractions we’re subjected to these days thanks to the attention economy and you get yourself a state of “constant drifting in a stream”. If you also have kids, replace “stream” with “torrent”.
From this, we can ask ourselves two questions:
- How to get back in control? (or at least some degree of control (aiming for total control is a recipe for unhappiness, at least if you believe the Stoics)
- How to stay in control?
I don’t know the definitive answer to this, as I am still looking for one (if you came here for answers you run the risk of leaving with more questions) but I have a few ideas.
First off, there’s a lot of value to get out of the autopilot mode we find ourselves often to be in. This is the discipline of habits. Atomic Habits covers this topic.
Hand in hand with reprogramming habits comes the discipline of noticing them. As far I understood, noticing things is - in part - what mindfulness is about. I don’t have any book to recommend here (although I am sure there are many good ones). The approach I plan on taking here is to use an app to coach me, at least in the beginning.
The last piece of the puzzle I have identified (so far) is the displicine of a planning system. There are many of these: Gettings Things Done, Bullet Journaling, etc. The common theme of these systems is that there is an element of retrospection / re-evaluation in them. I have yet to find a system I can master. For the past 12 years my system has been a never-ending daily task-list that I clean up at arbitrary intervals. I think there is room for improvement there.
Now what I am struggling with is the interconnectedness of these three disciplines, mainly the two first ones. In order to make room for thought we need better habits. But in order to undo bad habits we need to notice them via mindfulness. Without forgetting about the idea of making and sticking to a plan.
I think this is precisely the paradox that is fuelling the mindfulness economy.