I recently read a book called Off The Clock by Laura Vanderkam, the time guru whose TedTalk on how to find the time to do what’s meaningful for us has, to date, over nine million views. (Please take the time to watch it if you haven’t already.)
Time management is not a focal point of my work, but finding meaning is.
The two really can’t be separated when a person claims not to have the time to live with purpose.
So, I read the book and found that one thread within it seemed to be thoroughly weaving its way into my consciousness. As a result, I’m undergoing a deep exploration of where I’m falling into the pattern of schedule autopilot, when we become so attached to our routine we slip into a kind of life trance. When that happens our brains don’t register anything novel enough to actually feel like we’re living. This is the dangerous pattern that causes entire decades to seemingly disappear, making us feel that the last twenty years of our lives just went poof.
Existentially heavy, I know.
When I was in my late twenties I read a book called, “I Will Not Die an Unlived Life” by Dawna Markova. It completely blew my mind. As a teenager, after watching my mother die too early (in her forties), I found myself slipping into a near paralyzing fear of death. When I found Markova’s book I realized I wasn’t actually afraid of death. I was afraid of not living. I feared that on some level, I had become a traumatized, zombified version of myself, and was already some version of dead. That triggered an entire mind-bending spiritual odyssey, the subject of Stark Raving Zen.
So, Laura Vanderkam, whose karmic purpose seems to be assisting the rest of us with how we handle “time”, painted a supremely simple, yet powerful picture regarding the importance of novelty.
She then goes on to explain how to actually slow down our lives, manipulate time, and stop blinking away our years in mindless monotony.
She says there should be a commitment to designing our days differently, because that’s how our brain literally documents quality of life. It’s what builds memories. If everything is relatively the same, our brain shuts down and records very little of what it considers worthwhile for memory making.
According to Vanderkam, here’s how we change that…
We get to know three versions of our self, as related to time:
1.) The Anticipating Self — She’s wondering about, planning, and worrying about the future. She wants to do things, and dreams about her life’s potential.
2.) The Experiencing Self — She lives in the here and now. She gets tired, juggles the daily responsibilities, and regulates our actual experience.
3.) The Remembering Self — She thinks back over the past and determines if our memories have created a worthwhile, purposeful, meaningful life. She judges how we’re doing.
Here’s where Laura Vanderkam blew my mind a little bit.
According to her, creating more memories (essentially tricking our brains into the sense of creating more time) requires privileging the Anticipating and Remembering Selves above the Experiencing Self in ways that require serious self discipline.
The Anticipating Self knows that a rich life requires building valuable memories. But the Experiencing Self is tired, and is the one in control. She easily decides to say “No” to the Anticipating Self (who lives for future plans), because she’s the one actually expending the energy. Saying no leaves the Anticipating Self chronically disappointed, even betrayed, if she hears “No” too often. In turn, the Remembering Self becomes undernourished and resentful.
“We can anticipate for years. We can remember for decades. The challenge is that the present– the moment occupied by the experiencing self– has a disproportionate effect on our actions, given its fleeting nature.”
So, the takeaway is, it’s up to us to honestly evaluate the perfect quantity of memory-building we need, to understand how much novelty and socialization is perfect for us, then 1.) plan it, and 2.) do it.
As an introverted empath, with a Highly Sensitive energetic profile, I often feel guilty when I plan something and then decide not to do it because I’m tired. Laura Vanderkam helped me to realize the origin of the guilt. It’s because I know I have these three selves, and I know how disappointing it is to tell them “No” more often than is healthy for me.
I also have to make sure I’m staying true to myself and not over-planning events that I know my nervous system can’t keep up with. It’s important not to over-correct by saying “Yes” too often.
I’m striving for the most compassionate collaboration between all three (past, present, and future) selves.
For now, during our reality of COVID-19 social isolation, I’m taking small steps to build novelty.
I’m sitting on the patio more (as I write this newsletter), gardening differently, challenging my comfort zone more (this tends to organically happen when you publish a memoir), updating my website, scheduling more social conversations, walking my doggies at a different time of day, changing my newsletter platform (stay tuned), learning to leverage technology more effectively, cooking different things from new cookbooks, reading fiction, saying No to too much screen time of any kind (WAY less social media & television), and for the first time in my life, I’ve actually prioritized taking care of my feet (zero-tolerance for the rhino-strength heel callouses one tends to develop by wearing flip-flops in the desert)!
Without undergoing any monumental changes (unless you count the menopause I learned this week I’ve officially entered), I’ve managed to up-shift my sense of meaning and fulfillment by about tenfold.
As someone who believes in reincarnation, I have never resonated with the saying, “You only live once.” BUT…I do believe it’s our spirit’s imperative to make the most out of this life we happen to be living.
What do you think about this? Does anything feel resonant for you? Share with me in the comments, if so. As always, please know how much I truly cherish your insights!