The act of doing more leads to a simple problem. The more you do the less there is to do. If you do all the little things, the work of life, then what you find after a while is that your world becomes a little more organized, a little cleaner, and a little less chaotic. If your toolbox is tidy and organized then the next time you need to fix something you will be able to find exactly what you need in less time than you did before. So it’s not just that you have less to do but the remaining things you will do could become more efficient and less time consuming.
The act of doing will become a little more difficult over time once you’ve knocked out the low hanging fruit. That’s the bad news. The good news is that you can become a little more creative in your pursuits. You can take on projects that require a bit more time. You can learn new skills with trial and error. You can try new hobbies. You can simply walk.
When you first set out to make a list of all the things you can/will do it can be overwhelming. You may even have some anxiety about it. There will come a time, however, when you’ve done so much you become bored and perhaps even a little unmotivated. These are the times when sliding back into a world of thinking is the easiest. Boredom leads to thinking and thinking is not the goal here. Do the dishes, take out the trash, wash a load of laundry, sharpen a box of pencils.
When you’re done doing for now you have a choice; more thinking or more doing. What’s it gonna be?
It’s just that simple. You think too much. You think about thinking, you ruminate, you worry, you obsess, and then you repeat. In it’s lightest form this just results in mild anxiety. For some of us, however, this cycle leads to painful bouts with depression and more serious mental health issues.
You’ve probably found this site because you were thinking. You were asking yourself questions. You were seeking answers. You clicked one link and then another. You typed a question into a Google search box. When it didn’t give you the answers you were looking for you rephrased the question and then submitted it again. You’ve done this over and over and over until you are ridiculously tired of searching. You are now wondering when the searching will stop and the living will start.
Well, I am here to tell you that thinking your way out of a problem you thought your way into is not really the best solution. The best solution is just to DO. Do something, do anything. It’s best to start with smaller things but what you do is really irrelevant. Just the act of doing, of getting out of your head, is more than enough to sweep away your mental demons.
It is my belief, though I am not always capable of following my own advice, that your self help woes can be mostly cured by just doing and doing and more doing. You don’t have to stop thinking (we need to do that after all). You just have to slow down the thinking about thinking and change that to thinking about doing.
Now. I want you to stop reading, turn off your screen, take a few deep breaths, look around the room, bend your knees, stretch your arms, and then come back and read whenever you’ve done that.
Doing is just that easy.
In the past I’ve always thought that unique is the only thing of value. Anytime I’ve ever decided to start a website or business I’ve always spent countless hours thinking of just the right domain name, slogan, unique selling proposition, etc. As you can see all of that is thinking. It’s all paralysis by analysis. I spent so much time thinking and not enough time executing that by the time I got to the doing I was burned out. I’ve thought my way out of a hundred great ideas.
Many years ago I wrote down my values. One of those values was “think less, do more.” That’s not an original phrase. You can find literally 1000s of articles and sites dedicated to taking action. Hell, even big consumer brands encourage action. Nike says JUST DO IT, Home Depot says MORE SAVING, MORE DOING. There are an infinite number of variations on the theme;
- think less, feel more
- stop thinking, take action
- think less, be more
The basic ideas on this site are not unique, nor are many of the thoughts I share. I didn’t obsess over the name or the domain name and how I was going to market anything. I just decided one morning to create this and I just did it. I’d like to think my voice is unique and that some of my insights on the matter will be unique but even if they aren’t that will be okay. Why? Because I am DOING this as much for me as for you. Writing is doing.
You can’t wait until everything is perfect or until you’ve thought of everything. In the words of marketing guru Seth Godin:
You ship. You ship your best work, when it’s ready. Not after it’s ready, not when it’s too late to make a difference, and yes, of course, not when it’s sloppy or unformed.
But you ship. You’re on the hook, you made this, it’s ready. Ship. Without excuses.
This article from the NY Mag Science of Us summarizes a nice selection of scientific research concerning what our brain likes to default to when it’s host is not engaged in doing something.
From Is the Default Mode of the Brain to Suffer?
When you don’t give its human anything to do, brain areas related to processing emotions, recalling memory, and thinking about what’s to come become quietly active. These self-referential streams of thought are so pervasive that in a formative paper Marcus Raichle, a Washington University neurologist who helped found the field, declared it to be the “the default mode of brain function,” and the constellation of brain areas that carry it out are the default mode network, or DMN. Because when given nothing else to do, the brain defaults to thinking about the person it’s embedded in.
If you’ve ever experienced excessive rumination about the past or future or found yourself spiraling down a hole of thought for some other reason, odds are it’s because your mind is not engaged with doing anything else. It’s default mode of operation is to start thinking of all the ways it needs to plan and protect you and control your future by analyzing your past experience.
You will not find an electric can opener in my home. It’s not because I have a particular hatred of electric can openers. It’s because that small gesture is a constant reminder that doing the work of life is not a bad thing.
I am not against technology or improvements in productivity or modern advancements. I do believe, however, that the trajectory of most innovation in the world is towards more thinking and less doing. While in and of itself this is not a bad thing, it is a dangerous thing.
The basic goal of almost all advancement in convenience is to save us time. The question is really what are we going to do with more time? Are we going to use it to do more or think more? Sometimes I feel as if every new development is taking away the doing and allowing more time for thinking. Convenience has become the enemy of doing.
I have to remind myself everyday that mindfully doing the small everyday tasks of life are more beneficial to my mental health than taking the convenience route and getting them over with so I can think more about everything else.
I first heard the term work of life while watching the Hatfields & McCoys on the History Channel in 2012. Kevin Costner (‘Devil’ Anse Hatfield) made reference to the work of life in talking about getting back to basics of everyday living during the war between the feuding families. At the time I didn’t pay much attention to the phrase but it’s kind of stuck in my mind.
What exactly is the work of life? If you Google the phrase you won’t find much in the way of discussion about it. I simply take it to mean all of the daily tasks and chores we must perform in order to simply survive. Things like cooking, cleaning, maintaining our homes, etc. Of course, the types of things included in the work of life in the 1800s is dramatically different than the work of life in the 2000s.
The reason this is relevant to my philosophy of life is pretty simple. Modern day conveniences are slowly removing the need to do the work of life. In times past the work of life was difficult and time consuming but at the end of the day we felt peace and fulfillment over a job well done. With each passing year improvements in technology and advancements in convenience are creating a world where we have to do less and think more. That may sound great on the surface but is it really?