When desire takes over

You can judge me all you want, but I want to read this book. I know I should study, work out, run errands, talk to people, but right now I solely want to read this book.

I love making plans and doing things calmly, predictably, in a set manner. But sometimes desires kick in and knock me off my feet. Right now it’s the utmost desire to keep reading this one book. At other times it’s been to eat some delicious food or to have sex or to watch some superb film. Regardless of what the actual object of the desire is, the feeling is always the same: it’s a yearning deep in my chest and my gut that pulls at me and drags my mind away from anything that is not the object of the desire.

The feeling is kind of wonderful and kind of destructive. The excitement it brings cannot be matched by anything else. It makes me very energetic and passionate, so I feel I could lift up a mountain if I had to. But this feeling also destroys my ability to focus on anything else. I have to follow my desire, or else I will do whatever I am doing with only half of me. And, even if I do do what my yearning tells me to, I will be exhausted and spent after a while. Some years ago, I spent long, long hours watching amazing films. It was all I had wanted to do, so I indulged. After a few hours, I wasn’t feeling joyful but listless. I didn’t have any energy to do anything else, but I still couldn’t get my mind off of the characters in the film and the unanswered questions. It was impossible to do anything else, but it was also unfulfilling to follow my desire.

This is a horrible vicious circle to be caught in. I found that the best thing to do then was to get out, take a walk, breathe fresh air, and look around. So what was I to do with my yearning?

I think I’ve found a clue. Since last night I had wanted to read the book I am obsessed with now. I told myself no: there are other things I need to do, and besides the book is probably not that good anyway. I’ll wait until tomorrow, and by then I will have forgotten about it. Well, not exactly, today still every second thought I had was about that book. So I indulged in it. I read for about half an hour. Oh, how good it felt! Then I sat down and worked again. I was happy and also concentrated. Because I had read a little bit, I had acted upon my desire and had received the enjoyment. I hadn’t indulged into it for so long that I would lose touch with this world and find it impossible to come back (this is not necessarily a bad idea sometimes, but on many occasions it’s suboptimal).

I had enjoyed my favorite activity for a little bit, so it energized me and brought me joy. Then I felt ready to return to my world again and act in it. In a few hours, I will go back and read some more. Perhaps in this way I can follow my desire, that powerful, impulsive drive, and also fulfill other parts of my life that are more constant, monotonous, and calming. It’s like trying to make fire and water live together. I wonder if it’s possible.

Your Priorities

Choosing your priorities is the first thing you need to do before you take any actions. So do it now (or after you read this post).

Why is this so important?

One reason for this is that it allows you to clearly identify what’s important to you. Many of us tend to spend the majority of our time on our job, studying, housework, or something else. But is that the best distribution of our time? Do we spend a sufficient amount of time on the things that are most important to us? In order to make sure that we are, it is helpful to have a clear hierarchy of the projects we undertake.

Very practically, having a list of priorities can also resolve time conflicts. If, for instance, you are wondering if you should do some work or go swimming right now (and neither is particularly pressing), you can take a look at your priorities list. If doing work comes before swimming, then do work; if swimming comes before doing work, then go swimming. This gives you a simple answer to your dilemma. In some cases, you will feel unhappy with the outcome. To take up the same example, your list might tell you to do work, but you may strongly prefer to go swimming. If this happens often, then you know you need to re-order your priorities in order to be true to your preferences. So go ahead, put swimming before doing work!

How to determine your priorities?

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First write down the activities, events, things, and people in your life. You can start general with things like working, studying, doing sports, taking care of my pets, etc. Then order those around according to how important each is to you. Here is a sample list:

  1. Keeping close with my friends, family, significant other
  2. Taking care of my children
  3. Taking care of my pets
  4. Keeping myself healthy
  5. Working
  6. Studying
  7. Doing sports
  8. Meditating
  9. Doing housework
  10. Running errands

Once again, this is only a sample list. I don’t even agree with it. But it demonstrates the idea. You can get more specific as you identify more specific projects. For instance, related to “Doing sports,” there may be “Running,” “Strength training,” and “Walking.” These sub-projects are related to the main one, but each of them may have a different priority. You need to try this out in order to see how much specificity is helpful to you.

Try to act according to your list once you have it. Make sure to spend an amount of time that feels sufficient to you on your top priorities. You may still be spending more hours working than taking care of your children, but this may feel appropriate to you. It’s not about the absolute number of hours that you spend on an activity; it’s about what amount of time you find appropriate to fulfill your projects.

Sometimes conflicts will happen, and you will have to make a compromise. For instance, even if you prefer to spend the evening with your boyfriend and your boyfriend is more important to you than your classes, you may still have to write a paper for your class that night. That’s just how it is sometimes. But in that case note that you have made a compromise with your priorities and make sure to spend another evening with your boyfriend in order to fulfill that priority.

Personally for me, my priorities list serves as a reminder about what’s most important to me. When I get pulled away by energy- and time-consuming tasks that are actually not central to my values, I can regain my perspective by glancing at my priorities list. For example, I may be spending hours and hours on this one assignment, worrying about whether I will manage to finish it and whether it will be good enough. At some point, I remember my priorities list though. There it clearly says that classes and thus assignments are less important than my physical and mental health. This allows me to take a breath and go more easily on myself. In this way I regain my perspective of what is most valuable and what is less valuable.

Let me know what you think about this! Do you find a priorities list helpful? Do you have a variation of this that you’d like to share?

I’d like to thank Rebecca Fraser-Thill from workingself.org for sharing this idea with me. I have found it quite useful!

Ideas for a Good Life

Here I will discuss ideas for the good life you want to live. Some examples are:

  • How do you choose your priorities?
  • How do you spend time on things that matter?
  • How do you manage your time practically?
  • What tools can you use to help you with time management?
  • How do you keep your perspective while going about your life?
  • How can you be mindful of your life, yourself, others, and the world around you?

And many more to come…