Your Time is Not a Democracy. Stop Treating it Like One.
I’m guilty of it, and so are you.
Time and time again, I find myself getting ready to go somewhere, where quite frankly, I don’t want to be. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not anti-social, and I’m no recluse. But sometimes, I just love not doing a damn thing.
Leading up to those events, I’m anxiously checking my phone, crossing my fingers and hoping to get a text saying the plans are off.
Ultimately though, when that text doesn’t come in, I tap my pockets to make sure I’ve got my keys, phone and wallet, take a deep breath, and head out the door.
Why is that? Is it all just a case of FOMO, that pain-in-the-ass feeling that no matter what you’re doing, there’s something better going on? Or do we just not have the ability to focus and enjoy what we’re doing?
Ed Diener, author of Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth, thinks finding happiness and satisfaction boils down to being more deliberate with our attention:
The key component to effective savoring is focused attention. By taking the time and spending the effort to appreciate the positive, people are able to experience more well-being.
Makes sense, right? That cliché about living in the present checks out, but actually doing it is a different story.
And here’s the thing; FOMO sucks, but it makes sense. When you go to work in the morning, you want to be caught up with the big ‘thing’ that happened the night before, whatever that might be. The new iPhone. Archie’s latest drama. What some idiot tweeted. You never wanna be the one who’s out of the loop. I get it.
But does not paying attention to the latest thing mean we can’t develop meaningful relationships? Is allocating your attention to something you don’t really care about an unfortunate social necessity?
Paul Dolan, who teaches at the London School of Economics, explains the importance of attention in his book Happiness by Design: Change What You Do, Not How You Think:
Your happiness is determined by how you allocate your attention. If you are not as happy as you could be, then you must be misallocating your attention… So changing behavior and enhancing happiness is as much about withdrawing attention from the negative as it is about attending to the positive.
Obviously, our attention should be dedicated to what we love, and we should spend less time on what we don’t care about. We know this, yet we consistently decide to ignore it.
So what the hell can we do about it?
Be more selfish. I don’t mean neglecting your loved ones, ignoring the world around you, or back-stabbing at work. I’m talking about spending more time doing the things actually make you happy. Want to do more reading? Do it. Learn a new language? Bonne chance, mon ami. Binge Ozarks? Go for it. Do that thing, whatever it is, that you’re excited about.
Of course, there are two sides to this coin. It’s ok to do your own thing. It’s ok to do what you think is best.
But sometimes, despite your mom’s advice, it is best to jump off a cliff if your friends are doing it. Joining in on something you’re wary of can lead you to incredible shared experiences where you can grow as an individual.
So make that decision. Stand pat or take the leap. Just be happy with your choice.
It’s not about scorching the earth and clearing your social schedule. That’s a suicide mission. It’s worth it to be the master of your domain, but to echo fitness coach Jessi Kneeland, becoming the CEO of your own destiny can get fucking lonely. Be prepared.
Our attention is finite, and we only have one opportunity to do what excites us. While it’s amazing to share experiences with friends, family, and strangers, don’t let anybody dictate how you spend your time. It’s the most valuable thing you’ve got.
Disclaimer: I started writing this thing six damn months ago, and just got around to it now. I guess the timing just wasn’t right.