As I was typing these lines into my computer, my mind started to wander around. I had a few more documents opened in front of me: the design of two different training programs that I was supposed to deliver that weekend, the PowerPoint slides of another workshop that I was supposed to conduct the next day, the blog post that I was about to write - this post, the book that I was reading, the speech that a friend had asked me to comment on, the TEDx talk whose draft I was supposed to finish so that I could rehearse it in time , the email that I was supposed to answer, the agenda and guidelines for meeting that I was supposed to plan… and to top it all off, my friend messaged me via Facebook Messenger, 'Hey, how are you doing? I feel like we haven't talked in years.' In fact, we hadn't met for only two months. 'I have busy,' I told her, 'I have quite a few training engagements at the moment.'
'Hey having lots to do is good.. being busy will make you happier. Only having nothing to do is truly scary,' she consoled me.
That statement alone is truly puzzling. Is that why we always keep a tight calendar? Is that why we always keep a to-do list but we’re never gonna complete it all? There’s a recent study by Timothy Wilson in 2014 about people's tendency to do and to think. The result was rather not surprising to me: many people would rather do something unpleasant, even harmful to themselves, than sit down alone doing nothing and just think.
So I decided to stop all of the above nightmares.. and go to sleep.
(A good full day after the above incident...)
To pick it up from yesterday, many people would rather do something unpleasant than do nothing and just think. And most of us don’t enjoy thinking. We prefer doing.
Like what my friend was saying: having a lot to do is a positive sign. Having nothing to do is truly scary. We are scared of our own thoughts.
Like the loud devil shouting to my ears: Stop!? You idiot! You can’t stop when everyone else is moving. You will lose out to them.
Like the biggest problem of the modern life: we keep on running on an endless race without an escape plan. We, the modern humans, easily suffer from the addiction to doing, or doaholism.
Are you a doaholic?
What are the signs of someone who’s addicted to doing? I’m sorry my friends, you may suffer from this addiction without knowing.
First, you fill your calendar with things to do, tasks to complete, up to the hours, even by the minutes. And within those calendar entries, you keep a to do list and constantly check it throughout the day.
Second, if you have some free time for yourself, let’s say, a whole Saturday afternoon with nothing to do, you will think that it’s a waste of time and certainly find something to fill in the blank. Maybe call up all of your friends to see who’s also free and meet up with them, maybe go to the gym and work out, maybe go to that nice coffee shop that you’ve always wanted to try out. Anything! As long as that free time is used effectively.
For a long time in my adult life, I had been exactly that person, who kept a calendar and filled in every hour with important tasks, important meetings, important events... The only thing that I didn’t put in my calendar would probably be my sleeping time, which, there was a point in time I still had to put it in to force myself to get enough hours of sleep. My to-do list was as long as the phone book and it was never cleared. Old tasks weren’t completed, new tasks already came in.
And the dangerous thing was: I enjoyed it. I felt that I was valuable doing so much and achieving so much. My friends and colleagues admired me, which skyrocketed my ego.
A lot of people I know are exactly the same: they fill their time with things to do, to make themselves feel valuable, and they enjoy it.
Why do we suffer from being doaholic?
Because the society supports it.
In schools and universities, students who are engaged more in extra-curricular activities are highly regarded as the elite. In my alta mater, we even had a point system. Those of us who joined clubs as organizing members would receive points from the clubs' activities - the higher the rank, the better the points. Then by the end of the year, those points would be used to determine who would get a room to stay in the campus in the coming year. My university was in the jungle and up the hills as we used to jokingly say. From the city center, it would take the train to the last station, take the least frequent bus to its last station, to get to it. Staying outside campus would be excruciating. So all of us fought for points - we filled out calendar with activities. There seemed to be a non-ending stream of tasks to do, then it's already exam time. All our studying had been ignored until now.. The system supported us having a lot to do, and time management was a hot topic. The ability to think was thus damaged.
Then those minions graduated, young adults went out to the wild to find jobs. What would the recruiters look at? Those activities again, for leadership experience, multitasking abilities, organizing skills. The recruiters would fast-read a resume in 30 seconds, to find words like: lead, achieve, develop, improve, create, complete, and so on. The interviewers would ask questions involving a lot of 'what have you done?', 'what would you do if?', 'how would you solve?' Even questions about personal qualities would require the interviewees to give a specific example of what they had done to prove that those qualities actually were valid. How about words such as: dream, envision, think, imagine, and so on? A big NO. Recruiters wouldn't care for that. And very rarely we could hear interview questions such as, 'what do you usually think about every day?', 'what do you dream about?', 'how do you imagine the future would be like?' Because our modern companies do not hire fresh graduates to think. They hire fresh graduates to do the jobs as told. The ability to think was now damaged even more.
Then the whole modern society is suffering the mental drug of instant gratification. We want everything to be faster - Internet must be lightning, phones must be more powerful, traveling must take shorter time, customer service must solve problems quickly, food must be fast. Everything could be answered by few finger movements on the keyboard and a click of a mouse, thanks to Google. We become good searchers rather than researchers. We become good doers rather than thinkers. We seek answers without asking questions. To satisfy all these instant needs, we do much more to get so little. The ability to think is now fully destroyed.
How do we cleanse ourselves from this addiction?
First, learn to rest, not to rush.
Stop! Don't push when there are just too many things to do. Nothing will ever get done if there are too many things to be done. On that day when I was crushed into a time-crunch, I stopped, and I went to bed. The next refreshing morning, I took time to think about the one thing that should be completed on that day. Everything was completed within a week. If I didn't stop and think, perhaps I would suffer from a panic attack.
Take frequent breaks. And during those breaks, think about what you're doing and evaluate if you're running into a trap of chasing after tasks again. If you are, perhaps it's time to postpone some of those tasks to the next day. When you get back to work, focus on just one or two things that definitely need to be completed today. The rest is not important.
Second, set being goals, not doing goals. Instead of setting your goals to earn 1 million dollars, set your goal to be worthy of 1 million dollars. Instead of setting your goals to help 1000 people, set your goals to be helpful every day. Instead of setting your goals to change people's lives, set your goals to be inspirational and motivational.
Third, it's good to just spend time doing nothing. Use those moments to spring-clean your mind, rearrange your mind, and upgrade your mind.
After all, this is an addiction, a habit. To break a habit, the end-result of the habit should be satisfied by some other healthy means, and a new (better) habit is formed to fight against it.
The end-result of being a doaholic is to validate that we're still valuable. Doaholic people may lack the support from the significant others to let them see their values. If we can put themselves among supportive friends and family, if we can see values in ourselves by means of self-reflection, the tendency to do just to prove a point will fade away.
And the new habit of spending time just to do nothing - just to sit with our thoughts - will help us to do just that.