If you’re sitting in a traffic jam someday, listening to NPR, and there’s a story about parking meters, a part of you is automatically going to say, “Darn right, we gotta do something about parking meters!”* But that impulse will be forgot faster than a roadside billboard when, say, the rainforests of Madagascar push parking meters aside and for a few minutes loom larger than a lemur’s eyes. Whatever you think about takes on an outsized importance in your mind.
And whatever you think about a lot takes on a hugely outsized importance.
Unless you’re out of a job, you probably spend at least half your waking hours thinking about work. So your job will inevitably seem more important than it is. You can’t force it not to feel that way. Especially because it is important, just not that important. Jobs are good at doing that!
No, instead you need to consciously force yourself to think regularly (and vividly) about other pieces of life that are more important than you remember — except for those few days it suddenly hits you — family, health, creativity, spiritual development, community involvement, nature. Whatever upon reflection is truly important to you.
For me, the awareness usually hits late at night at the end of a vacation, and it’s kind of a scary feeling. Like a mild version of the spirits that visited Scrooge. A wake-up call.
I momentarily resolve to make a change, but that fades even before the real wake-up call from the front desk. Obviously, I ought to make it a habit to keep these important needs regularly in front of my mind’s eye. Yes, but how?! What’s a good tactic?
Always avoidance. The worst form, the key form, of avoidance behavior is not figuring out, letting into awareness, what you really need to do. You won’t get into your discomfort zone, so you don’t know what you’re procrastinating on — don’t even know that you are procrastinating!
In school days, it seemed simple and obvious — you had a term paper hanging over your head or an exam on Monday still unstudied for on Friday. But as you grew up, you got that under control, and although nobody’s perfect, things generally get done on time now. So as life goes on you feel it’s not so bad a problem anymore, but, in fact, it’s worse. Because you’ve managed to even push out of consciousness the big items you’re avoiding, buried them somewhere in a shallow grave.
Digging them up again and putting them front and center in your plans is an essential part of self-realization. Managing your life well is not just making a list and putting it in order, but also making sure the most important things are on that list at all.
Otherwise life slips by, and you, more or less, wasted it.
* This key “parking meters” insight was pointed out to me many years ago by Michael Ost in his backyard on a beautiful day and it’s stuck with me ever since.