The Zombie Episode and Time

The other morning at 2 am my body was thrust upright, like a Zombie woken from a deathly sleep.

Arms flung forward, voice screeching like a Banshee… ‘38!

Needless to say I was momentarily dazed, distressed, somewhat stiff. What the heck was that all about!

My mind was awash with thoughts and visions all shuffling about like a stray deck of cards thrust into the air.

Once I calmed myself down and realised the Apocalypse was over, I began to order the cards and find some reasoning behind this Zombie-like episode.

I confessed to myself that it was no doubt a reaction to my all consuming thoughts of late. You know, those thoughts about all the things you still have yet to do with your life; the dreams yet unfulfilled.

And Time, ever pressing us on.

Hang on… wasn’t it only yesterday I was 28… living a different life, and still thinking about all the things I’d like to do and be?

How did 10 years effectively melt into my memory like that? And why does the thought of this scare the living daylights out of me?

Time’s Power

Time wields this power over us all, this is true. None of us are immune to its force. It’s an innate part of our lives and propels us forward in motion, regardless of our preparedness.

So why can’t I accept this? Why is there this driving urge to fight against time, to stem its flow?

The Zombie Apocalyptic episode was a reminder that I’m not winning any battles on this front.

The burning desires we have to do more with our life, in the time we have, constantly batter away at us.

That novel I’d really like to try writing, the on-line course I hope to complete, those days I need to find to simply ‘play’ with my kids, the shelved business idea I’d really like to explore, that trip abroad, the need to sort out once-and-for-all, those irrational fears that follow me around.

Like a drug, life always seems so ripe for the picking. There’s a virtual bounty of opportunities on offer out there, everyday and the sense of urgency to grab on to them, ever present.

If only Time would just damn well stop for a couple of days…. weeks… (ok a year at least), maybe I’d feel more at ease.

More in control.

Of course that’s what it’s really about. I am fearful of Time. It is so precious, constant and yet not.

We assume there is so much of it and yet, we can not possibly control how much we are entitled to.

I like to think that I am in control of my life, but deep down, it’s Time that is our measure of existence.

Our momentary existence at that.

“To realize that you’ve lived a certain number of hours and the hours ahead of you are not guaranteed as the ones you have lived. When I think of this I realize that everyday truly is an opportunity to improve, not in a cliché kind of way, but to learn to honestly appreciate what we are capable of achieving and how we are very responsible for the quality of our lives.” Paul Jun

It’s not just me

The Stoic Roman General, Marcus Aurelius must have experienced similar Zombie-like episodes.

He wrote in his now famous journal ‘Meditations’ to “Stop wandering about!… Get busy with life’s purpose, toss aside empty hopes, get active in your own rescue – if you care for yourself at all- and do it while you can”.

Zombie-like episode aside, I’m beginning to appreciate this obstacle that Time poses for me.

The dream to live a life that matters, that has purpose and meaning, is rooted within us all. This is good.

Maybe we just need to appreciate that Time is in control and that some of what we ‘wish’ or want for, is exactly that.

We can’t do it all and trying to only makes us miserable (or keeps us up at night). We have ultimately to limit ourselves to the present and be content in knowing we at least have control over that.

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Are We Ignorant of What’s Really Important?

WE all know what’s important in life, right?

If you had to write them down, we’d possibly see a list that looks a little like this:

  1. Spending time with Family and friends
  2. Looking after my health
  3. Having a steady income
  4. Doing things that make me happy ….etc

Yep, pretty clear cut, but I’ve been thinking about this list a lot lately.

Firstly

I wonder if what we feel is important, doesn’t necessarily correlate with what we actually DO to ensure these things are important in our lives?

We’re all probably guilty of working way too hard at times and struggled as a result to find quality time with our family and in the rush of daily life, cheap convenience food has been consumed to the detriment of our guts.

I’m guilty of this and then some.

So if we think we know what’s important, why is there no strong correlation between our what’s-really-important list and what we actually DO, to ensure these important priorities remain exactly that?

Secondly

As a knock on effect from this, it feels like there’s something universally missing from this list? Something that effectively influences all the items on it?

Maybe it’s understanding the way our mind works, knowing how and why we make the decisions we do? That’s got to be as important, if not priority number 1 on the list, right?

This is the idea proposed by social psychologists of late.

Understanding why we think the way we do and in turn why we DO the things we do, might just be the missing link in ensuring we have more of a correlation between our perceived priorities and our real world experiences.

Sounds heavy, but it isn’t. It’s really the old adage of “if we say we’re going to do something, we do it”, but of course this rarely happens.

Why?

Well, there are a whole range of factors we could throw into this debate for why we struggle to stick to our what’s-really-important list; a new deadline from the boss, that unexpected illness, an extreme weather event (all beyond our control) mean priorities can get shuffled about.

But Social Psychologists such as Richard Nisbett and Behavioural Economists like Dan Ariely believe the real reason we struggle is because often we are unaware of what IS actually important to us and we confuse our motivations with our actual actions.

“It’s amazing how ignorant we are of things that are really important to us.” Social psychologist Richard Nisbett.

In this interview, Nisbett simply makes the case for a better understanding of how our mind works, so that we might appreciate the forces at play when we do make decisions.

In attempting to hit the mark on that list of ours, we make decisions every moment of the day and our actions in turn then effect the outcome of our lives.

I had to work over the weekend again to get on top of paperwork, so didn’t really get to spend quality time with my loved ones.

I need this new job because it means we’ll pay off our house sooner, but that 3 hour commute each day is a bugger.

I’ve committed to this social engagement even though it’s tedious and takes me away from some quiet downtime I’ve been needing lately.

This is me….. Often!

Irrationality

Dan Airely suggests we are predictably irrational when it comes to making decisions.

“All of those cases we care about, people have a wrong lay theory about how they themselves will behave and because of that, they can make a mistake.

The way we rationalise our decisions if often out of whack with our list of priorities.

I’m wondering now if I took the time to really sit with these decision, took the care to listen to the thoughts entering my head and the feelings entering my body, maybe at that precise point in time, I’d make better choices.

Ones that led me to find a better correlation between my what’s-important-in-life list and my actual life.

Food for thought perhaps?

 

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Live and Let Learn

WE go to school to get an education, sure…..but that’s just the beginning. It barely scratches the surface.

We don’t stop growing physically the second we leave school and neither does our mind.

So often we see an education or learning as something we stop doing past a certain age, but that drive to understand never really leaves us. In fact it only grows.

Those burning questions about all facets of our life continue. Those thoughts left to ruminate without much guidance, leave us maybe feeling inadequate or unsure of just how much we actually DO know.

I say this because quite frankly that’s me most of the time. There is so much to learn; about the world, the people in it and us?

We build routines and habits around our work, the daily grind, family matters and relationships, and we often indiscriminately leave ‘learning’ off the radar.

It’s easy to just let life ‘happen’ to us and follow familiar patterns, to simply keep the wheels turning, the money coming in and the family happy.

So how can we reconcile the everyday routines with our desire to understand and learn more? How can we be better Lifelong learners and WHY should we?

“During the last fifty years, constant scientific and technological innovation and change has had profound effects on how learning is understood. Learning can no longer be divided into a place and time to acquire knowledge (school) and a place and time to apply the knowledge acquired (the workplace). Instead, learning can be seen as something that takes place on an ongoing basis from our daily interactions with others and with the world around us. It can take the form of formal learning or informal learning, or self-directed learning”. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lifelong_learning

 

In a world of sometimes the excessive, the ‘too-much’, the overload, it’s definitely daunting to think about taking on anything more.

But that’s exactly why Lifelong learning is so essential; to find meaning in all the noise and to understand who we are amongst it all.

And it doesn’t have to necessarily mean MORE effort or an ‘add on’ to your already overloaded life.

The Barriers Removed

If there are two very real barriers to our learning, apart from work and family, it’s TIME and EFFORT. I need more time and ‘could I really be bothered?’

So in a somewhat humble effort to grapple with these barriers, I’ve come to a trial and error conclusion…. KISS (Keep it so simple).

I’m not out to change the world (although learning will make you want to do this), I’m working on chunking my time, energy and daily demands into doable bits. A chapter read here, an observation noted there, a conversation had, a journal entry written at the end of day. But it does require action.

So number 1. READ

Read anything and everything.

I have this fantastic friend who consumes books on every topic imaginable, fiction and non-fiction alike and is a busy working mum. The simple fact is she makes it her underlying priority amidst all the demands of family and work life.

My husband ingeniously ‘reads’ audio books in those moments of the evening when he’s pottering about the kitchen, clearing the dishes (I know…it’s brilliant!)or to escape the noise of the kids, with headphones on.

I’ve only in the last 2 years decided to read outside of my comfort zone (predominantly fiction) and am loving non-fiction, on line commentaries, blogs, etc.

And if you still needed to know why reading is sooooooo good for us, I love this quote from acclaimed author and advocate for Reading, Neil Gaiman

“It forces you to learn new words, to think new thoughts, to keep going. To discover that reading per se is pleasurable. Once you learn that, you’re on the road to reading everything. And reading is key …..[reading also builds]empathy. Empathy is a tool for building people into groups, for allowing us to function as more than self-obsessed individuals.You’re also finding out something as you read vitally important for making your way in the world. And it’s this: The world doesn’t have to be like this. Things can be different”

Number 2. Make TIME work for you

One of my great frustrations is that I can’t seem to find enough time in the day to cram in more of what I’d like to do…..READ. But I’ve made a few small changes of late that seem to be helping in this department

A) I’ve made a conscious effort to avoid watching the crap on tele (I’m not going to lie….this was surprisingly hard initially and sometimes I fall off the wagon), but it’s freed up so much time to read or reflect or write.

B) Live to see everyday experiences as learning opportunities. Just as we read books for knowledge, the somewhat common everyday conversations and events we witness or are a part of, provide us with nuggets of information and rich learning experiences.

“if we attend properly to our experiences and learn to consider ourselves plausible candidates for an intellectual life, it is….open to all of us to arrive at insights no less profound than those in the great ancient books”. Alain De Botton ‘Consolations of Philosophy’.

C) Finally, it’s OK to daydream. Looking out the window with a cup of tea in hand first thing in the morning has turned into my guilty pleasure. It usually only lasts 5 mins before the kids start shouting demands, but it works to clear my head, focus on my thoughts for that moment and learn to prime myself for the day ahead.

Of course, if you want more there are a plethora of on-line learning platforms such as EdX, Khan Academy, Udemy, Open Culture, (some even free!) which offer courses through reputable universities and colleges.

So get out there….. Live and let yourself learn.

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