Another way to look at our days
Mis à jour : 3 juil. 2019
I would categorize human activities into three buckets: Logistics, distractions and meaningful tasks.
In “logistics”, I put everything that we have to do to live decent lives. Earn wages. Commute. Eat. Sleep. Clean. Etc.
Meaningful work is what we desire doing to give a sense of meaning to our lives. It can take many forms. Being there for family. A good talk with friends. Helping fragile ones. Producing art. Sharing knowledge. What we do because of our values rather than primal human beings.
The third bucket is everything else. It obviously includes watching tv, checking facebook, and gossiping about colleagues. But I would extend distractions as to include everything that isn’t strictly speaking logistics or value-driven activities. Getting pissed because your neighbor makes too much noise. Worrying about your country’s election results.
The increasing danger of distractions
Along with technological improvements, the time spent on required logistics is steadily diminishing. We do not need to clean our clothes by hand and work 60-hour week as our ancestors had to. Uber helps us multitask even while we order a taxi, while Amazon help spend less than 10 seconds on getting critical objects delivered at home, where it took a whole day in our past.
Yet as society has decreased the time we need to spend on logistics, it has drastically increased the opportunities for distractions. In fact, I would argue that internet as a whole is a gigantic, unending reservoir of distractions. Since most websites maximize “time spend on site”, websites slowly evolve to get more and more of our times. This one piece of news that is designed to get you upset. This piece of news that sounds just juicy enough. All those click bait articles. You will never believe what this guy just wrote.
An interesting experiment is to open your internet browser, go through the links you clicked one week ago, and see all the ways in which how you get distracted.
How to distinguish between distractions and meaning
It can be a challenging - and intellectually interesting - effort to try and draw the line between distraction and meaning. Is getting lunch with colleagues a distraction? What about reading newspapers? Or planning the next week with a colleague? What about taking a travel trip?
As a general rule, I would argue that distractions are reactive and instinctive, while meaning is found in activities that are done with intent. This is why meditation helps - it help you see all the instances where one becomes reactive and helps channel your energy somewhere else. It’s no coincidence that so many high-performers have a meditation routine. Still, it can be a quandary at times. There are a few activities one can do to check things out. I’ll share two of my favorite.
One of them is to try to write, every day after waking up, “Having a meaningful life to me means …”. Complete the blank at least 5 times. 10 is plenty. Repeat every morning for a week and you’ll have a sense of what constitues meaningful activities for you.
Another one is to try to identify what are the tasks that you really wish you would do over the next 6 months of your life. What are the goals you have? Typically, the goals we wish the most are the ones we tend to avoid the most easily. It’s a concept called Resistance. Most of what you will do just before doing this will be - almost by definition - a distraction.
The existential challenge
We obviously can’t live without distraction of any sort. We all need some form of relief from the grind of everyday life. Meaningful work is hard, and logistics can be exhausting.
But I would argue that being a humanist is believing in the potential of every human being of realizing him or herself. And that to realize themselves, human beings need to get their head away from their facebook feed, TV shows and daily grinds and invest into something bigger, and better. That’s where the juice is.