As I write this, a YouTube video plays in in the background. I glance at it while I type. How typical. Multitasking, dividing our attention between tasks, is the way we do things now.
But, YouTube videos aren’t the only distractions we face. There’s television, social media, any manner of places to go, a nearly limitless panoply of amusements.
Such a setting makes keeping track of ourselves even more important. If we don’t, our time evaporates and our efforts to achieve yield little fruit. To prevent this and to stay focused, we have to continually examine what we’re doing by asking certain questions.
Today’s post is the first in a series on these questions. In each post, I’ll examine one of these questions and how, by keeping it in mind, we can keep ourselves from frittering away our resources.
Question One: Does This Activity Push Me Forward?
Filling our time with activities that challenge us in some way yields a full life. Whether those activities push us to challenge our physical boundaries or our character, they will eventually return our investments.
Difficulty is wind in our sails, too much and we capsize, too little and we drift. Putting ourselves into positions with the right amount of challenge pushes us toward our destination.
This is obvious when we think about exercise. Pushing ourselves to counter the resistance by running one more mile or lifting for one more rep builds endurance, stamina, and strength. By doing a little more, we become more physically capable people.
The same is true of situations that challenge our characters. When we get out of bed and start work when we’d rather just lie still, we grow. When we cook dinner, take out the trash, or write a blog post when we just don’t feel like it, we take important steps toward becoming the kind of person not ruled by his feelings. Just like exercise pushes us forward on a physical level, mastering our feelings does the same on a spiritual level.
Any of these activities, when undertaken with determination, leaves us better than we were before, closer to the best version of ourselves. But, it’s tough. We get conditioned to ease. In a society like ours, much is done for you. Few have to chop wood or carry water. Almost nobody has to go without the basics. More often than not, “the basics” include an expanded cable package and high-speed Internet access.
Living in a society with a high standard of living and a low standard of behavior is a recipe for comfort addiction, and most people are junkies. They have little incentive to push themselves forward, to choose activities that make them better. They have all sorts of incentives to flop on the couch and binge-watch “The New Girl.” Of course, most people are going nowhere.
If you want to be a person going somewhere you have to ask yourself whether what you are doing at this very moment is moving you toward the person you want to be. If the answer is no, do something different.
Remember too that as much as our choices can push us to be physically and spiritually better, they can also push us forward by contributing to more concrete goals. The more our days are filled with activities we know have meaning beyond themselves and are part of a larger plan, the happier we’ll be.
If you can’t answer the question of whether what you are doing is moving you toward a specific goal, that’s probably because you don’t have goals. Get some. All of us have in our minds an ideal self, a picture of the person we’d like to be, and a vision of the life we want. Truth is, life is never going to be exactly as you imagine, but those images in your head offer you something to build toward. You must begin with the ideal, and figure out what must be done to move from here to there. Or, at least, closer to there.
When you have those steps down, you’ll be more able to judge the worth of what you’re doing at any given moment. The more you ask whether this activity pushes you forward, the more you will find the things you imagine cease to be mere thoughts and slowly flow into the real world, until at last they spring to vivid, concrete life, and you have, after so much question asking, the answer you had long hoped for.
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