“Cages are cages whether constructed of steel and concrete or from the fabric of the mind.” — Gerry Spence
Most people continue routine activities in their lives long after they have lost their value. You have also likely taken on commitments and obligations that, had you been deciding today, you would not have accepted. It’s great to find your true self, but you need time to live it.
It’s time for you to take an inventory of the activities that fill your time and evaluate them. Don’t accept them by default any longer. If you want to be free to pursue positive decisions you have to free up your time by breaking out of the prison of the routine.
“Once enslaved, few want to burst out from under the leaking roof of the slave hut to freedom… Better that we rage until we are palsied, point and squall and wail at fate, shake our fists at God, blame the politicians, blame anybody, everything, because to become free demands that we take responsibility for our bondage.” — Gerry Spence
Track Your Activities
One of the best ways to inventory your activities is simply to list all of them for say a week. You can pre-fill in what you know you do regularly (work 50 hours for example), but also track your activities throughout the week. Put them all down, no matter how minor, automatic, or routine. It’s important you figure out how you are spending your time. There are 168 hours in a week so you need to account for that much time.
Label Your Activities
I learned this label exercise from Harry Browne and I think it is great although I’ve changed the labels up a bit. Next to each activity you are going to apply up to four different labels. They represent four different perspectives from which you can analyze your activities.
Some of your long lasting activities may need to be broken down further. For example, your job may consume many hours a week but there may be some activities within that job that you want to label separately. If so, break down your job into sub-activities.
Being honest is absolutely critical. Don’t label something a certain way because you think you should feel a certain way about it. Don’t label it the way it ought to be. Nobody will see this but you. If you don’t enjoy chauffeuring your kids around 4 hours a week, then don’t label it as something good just because you think you have some parental obligation to enjoy child rearing activities. Don’t lie to yourself. The truth will set you free. Don’t be afraid. The labels you apply don’t hold you to some action later. Use this as a discovery activity, a way to get to know yourself and your activities better. If you don’t enjoy going to the opera with your partner, then don’t label it as good because it makes her or him happy.
Finally, when you are applying these labels, apply them as if you aren’t using some technique such as being present to enhance your experience. For example maybe you are really into being in the moment and you get simple satisfaction out of doing laundry. You need to step back from that a bit and look at it from a perspective that allows you to ask whether you really enjoy doing laundry. I suspect it is a very rare person who, if they could snap their fingers and have the laundry magically all done and folded, would not choose some other positive activity to utilize the time available. If you would choose to spend your time doing laundry then all power to you, but don’t label it as good just because you have some way of making it not so bad.
When you are done, you will end up with activities that have multiple labels and that’s the point. You are trying to get a look at your activities from as many perspectives as possible.
Good / Not-Good / Indifferent
You are going to apply the labels of “good”, “not-good”, and “indifferent” depending upon how the activity makes you feel and whether or not it is contributing to your happiness and well-being. For this label concentrate on how your activities make you feel. Whether you are forced to do them or chose to do them will be evaluated by other labels.
Label activities as “good” if they make you feel good or happy. Label them as “not-good” if they make you feel bored, stressed, uncomfortable, miserable, time-wasted, or any other negative feeling. Label them as “indifferent” if they are some survival activity such as sleeping, brushing your teeth, eating, etc. that must be done and there is no point in evaluating it.
Now look over your list and ask yourself why are you doing any of the activities labeled “not-good”? If you think you have to do it, then really dig in and question it deeply. Be hard on yourself. Figure out a way to pay a price and get out of the activity if at all possible. If it’s a compromise with a spouse or family member, I would just stop it. Pay someone to do it if it needs to be done. Get an older child to do it and pay them. Collaborate and rotate the duty (carpools for example) if possible. The point is work hard at figuring out a way to stop.
“You may be intelligent enough to see a practical solution. Have you the nerve to follow it? If not, you might as well be stupid.” – David Seabury
If you absolutely have to keep doing it then figure out a better way to do it that takes less time. Don’t just accept it as if you have no choice. If you have nothing else then just just be present and enjoy it more, but only do this as a last resort. Your first choice should be to stop the activity.
For your “indifferent” activities make sure they are really necessary. If they are just time fillers, then eliminate them. If they really are necessary to survive, then get in the moment and be present.
Positive / Negative
This is the Positive vs. Negative Decisions article I wrote a few days ago. If the activity is something you choose to do to increase your happiness, then it is a positive activity. If it is something you do to avoid pain or unhappiness then it is a negative activity. See the linked article for more detail.
Once again look over your list for everything that is labeled “negative”. Everything I said above around the “not-good” activities apply to negative activities. Work hard at figuring out ways to eliminate as many negatives as possible. Get creative. If we spent as much time figuring out creative ways to reduce negative activities as we do complaining about them we might not have many left. To be honest, for many of them you could probably just choose to stop doing them. You are likely just afraid to stop. Try it. I think you will like it.
Active / Passive
If you initiated the activity for whatever reason, then label it “active”. If someone else initiated it, then label it “passive”. If you do it just because someone else wants you to do it, then it is passive. If you listen to boring conversation then you are being passive.
This labeling exercise will give you a good idea how much of your time is reactive as opposed to you actively choosing what you want and need to do. I hope by now it is obvious what you should do. If you are spending a lot of time at passive activities, then you are not leading the life you want to lead. You are reacting to what other people want. Eliminate as much passive activity as you possibly can. Apply the same difficult challenge to yourself as you did with previous labels.
Enjoy / Mistake / Productive
Apply the label “enjoy” to anything that gives you immediate happiness. Apply the label “mistake” to anything you started doing with the hope of a future payoff, but which is now just continuing to cost you after realizing it was a mistake. Apply the label “productive short-term” to any activity you are doing to bring very short-term happiness or pleasure. Working to have spending money is an example. Apply the label “productive long-term” to longer term projects that you are hoping will pay off in the much longer future – say a period of one year or more. Finally apply the label “productive never” to activities which were once promising but have just petered out and become irrelevant. For example you continue to contribute articles once in a while to a blog that has died, but you know it is never going to amount to much.
Obviously you need to do whatever you can to eliminate the activities labeled “mistake” and “productive never”. Aside from those however, you need to seriously consider long-term projects. It’s ok to have them but the world changes so much and so fast, don’t give your present away in the hope of a future that may never come. You can work on long-term initiatives until you die. There will always be something. Give those “productive long-term” activities a serious second look.
“Don’t be too anxious to justify your activities as being necessary to long-term goals. The future has an annoying habit of forgetting its appointments – or arriving too late for them.
I’ve always found it hard to understand why so many people live so much for the future – especially when the present is such a lovely place.” — Harry Browne
Finally give those “enjoy” activities a thorough review as well. It’s great if you have some of these activities; the more the better. But make sure you really really enjoy them and even if you do, whether there might be something even better out there waiting for you. Think about whether you can replace some of your enjoyable activities with something you would like even better!
There is really no limit to what you can do with this. You can break down your job or your income generating activities with this technique. You can come up with your own labels that represent a new perspective.
How many hours in your day, your week, or your month are you genuinely happy? This technique can tell you a great deal about your life. Don’t just gut feel it. Gut feel may give you an indication, but every single minute of your life is precious. Analyze them in a little more detail and make sure you are living every one of them to the max!
“For all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: “It might have been!” – John Greenleaf Whittier
What do you think? Leave a comment below.
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