Take a minute and think about the day ahead of you. You likely have work for around six to eight hours, followed by a variety of errands, housework, and other obligations to fulfill before you wind down for about an hour before bed, just to wake up the next day and do it all over again.
Didn’t we used to want to grow up because we thought we’d be able to do whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted to? That we’d all be happily doing what we love for a living? How naive were we?
But, I digress. My point is that, in today’s busy world, we rarely, if ever, have real time to ourselves. In fact, many of us live under the misconception that having free time is a bad thing — as if having time in which we’re not working and making money means we’re “doing it wrong.”
As a society, we’ve been conditioned to think that putting our own wants (and even our needs) on the back-burner is a noble endeavour. In reality, we’re shortchanging ourselves by sacrificing time that we’ll never get back for extrinsic rewards such as money or a pat on the back.
When we volunteer to give away our free time, we end up giving much more than time away. We give away potential opportunities, as we’re so focused on doing a job we might not even enjoy that we can’t spend time practicing a hobby or activity that actually interests us.
This makes it tougher to actually enjoy the time we do have, as we’re so exhausted by the end of the day that we end up just zoning out in front of the TV, if not completely passing out in front of it. Most importantly, we risk becoming a cog in a much larger wheel, as we get so caught up in our daily routine that it becomes impossible to break the cycle.
Before any of this happens, you need to take control of your own life. Ironically, this involves loosening up your tightly scheduled routine and spending more time creating your own meaning, rather than following societal norms.
The benefits of doing so, such as the following, are invaluable– particularly as beginner steps towards doing something you love for a living. As numerous wise men and women have said: your future depends on what you do now.
1) Becoming an ACTIVE Participant in Life
As I mentioned before, once you get caught up in the rat race, you won’t even realize when your time stops being your own until it’s much too late. Yes, humans were made to work, but once we allow our lives to define us, we’ve lost all other definitions of what it means to be human.
The misconception children have that adults can do whatever they want is a little misguided, but it’s not completely wrong, either. If you’ve ever caught yourself saying “I have to go to work, then I have to go grocery shopping, then I have to make dinner,” you’re failing to realize just how autonomous you are as a human being.
I’m not saying you should neglect your occupational or familial duties. But you should never feel like you “have” to do these things; you should actively want to do nearly everything you do in life. The key word in that piece of advice is “actively.”
The truth is, we are free to spend a lot of our time however we want. The reason many of us start to feel as if we’re just going through the motions is because we’ve stopped being active participants in our own lives. This stems from our lives becoming too routine.
When this starts to happen, and once you notice it, you need to break the cycle as soon as possible. Use whatever free time you can find (even if that means taking a day off) to do something that makes you feel as if you’re truly living. Actively search for a new hobby, look for a new job, do something. You might not have all the time in the world to do whatever you feel like doing, but you should at least use the time you do have to your advantage.
2) Getting Into a Good Flow
When was the last time you felt completely engaged in an activity to the point that you completely forgot about all other earthly obligations, and you became completely focused on the task at hand? My guess is it’s been quite a while.
Because we lead such busy lives, we hardly ever get the opportunity to focus on a single task without being interrupted by our phones, emails, or alarms reminding us of our other responsibilities. These constant interruptions make it impossible to achieve what psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi refers to as “flow”: the feeling of being completely immersed in a specific task, during which you begin to operate at maximum efficiency.
While experiencing flow, you stop worrying about extraneous constraints such as time, and focus solely on attaining a certain goal. As stated, however, if you’re constantly checking the clock to make sure you’re “on schedule,” this flow-state simply cannot be achieved.
On the other hand, once you stop thinking of time as a constraint, it’ll become much easier to not only achieve flow, but also to achieve your goals. In order for this to happen, you need to reframe your objectives. Don’t tell yourself you’ll practice piano for 30 minutes; say you’ll practice until you can play a specific piece flawlessly. Don’t say you’ll go to the gym for an hour after work; say you’ll go and do x sets of y reps at z stations. By setting goals related to your actions rather than a set time, you’ll be better able to focus, and will end up getting much more out of the experience.
3) Recuperating Efficiently
As I’ve mentioned, many of us are so exhausted by the end of the day that we just want to sit back and watch some TV before going to bed. Putting effort into any other venture will end up feeling like another obligation to add to the pile.
But again, if we feel like we have to do something, we’re less likely to want to do it. Think back to when you were a kid and your parents signed you up for Little League or guitar lessons. While you may have loved playing baseball or music at recess or during your free time, once it became a chore it was no longer as fun, and ended up draining all your energy. It’s no different as adults.
However, if you find something you enjoy doing, even if it does take effort to accomplish, becoming engaged in such an activity can leave you feeling paradoxically rested and refreshed. By setting your own goals for a chosen hobby, you put all the power into your own hands. There’s no “boss” to tell you what to do or how to do it, and no one there to stress you out if you fall short of your goals. By channelling your energy into a creative endeavor of your own choosing, you make the most of the time you have to yourself, as well as your potential as a human being.