All the Things

If you want one surefire way to boost your web traffic, then there’s nothing better than picking some very popular meme and making that your title. Of course, I’m not motivated by numbers (except when I’m feeling guilty, but that’s wednesday) but there really isn’t a better illustration for the practice that I’m suggesting this week than Hyperbole-and-a-Half.

Her particular comic is about the myth of constant, never-ending productivity. The never-ending to-do list (except for that last item, the box with “leave last box unchecked”) and the Getting Things Done You Slacker If Only You Were As Organized As We Are Here Buy This Moleskine It’ll Make You Famous culture.

Dichotomy to the Rescue!

The problem, as I see it, is that there is a big dichotomy in the Wants. There are basically two categories for All The things:

  1. All the things you actually want: chocolate cake, laying in bed, that pair of shoes, that iMax movie, that “better” relationship, that one-more-episode, that fine bottle of whiskey. The things that you see or think about that make you go “Yes. Want.
  2. All the things you want to want: a finished novel, a washboard stomach, an abundant mindset, a well-oiled smoothly-functioning budget, a simple but effective diet and exercise regimen.

Aye, there’s the rub: all the things we actually want, vs. wanting to be the kind of person who wants the things we want to want. As Cheri Huber (and many other Zen philosophers) have put it, the amount of your suffering is precisely the difference between the way things are and the way you want them to be. So how do you reconcile these two warring factions within you?

Damned if I know. Have you been reading this blog? Answers, we ain’t got. What I do have, though is some ideas of the two main tasks involved in the treaty negotiations between the factions:

  1. Take a look at the things you want that you don’t want to want. Pick one (only one: trying to fix more than one thing, much less all the things, is not going to work), and use behavior modification and habit replacement techniques (of which there are many on the internet) to slowly condition yourself to not want the bad thing, often by wantingsomething else (which, one hopes, is more healthy; replacing cigarettes with opium may be effective, but probably won’t be beneficial in the long run).LEVEL OF DIFFICULTY: Really hard. Takes a long time, prone to false starts, lapses, and it’s hard to be really sure  you don’t actually want the thing, or if you’ve just gotten good at convincing yourself you’re the kind of person who doesn’t want the thing.
  2. Take a look at the things you want to want.You can already tell this step is going to be easier, because there’s fewer incidences of the word “want”, right? Pick one (same rule applies as before; things do not like being changed, and trying to change them all is not gonna work) and forgive yourself for not wanting it.LEVEL OF DIFFICULTY: Surprisingly easy, once you get the hang of it.

It might not surprise you to find that, on this Monday morning, I’m tackling the “easy” one here in this post.

De-Guilting Yourself

The reason it’s easy to do the second thing is because you’re not trying to lie to yourself. There’s no doubt about it: that thing you want to want is probably a good thing. The people that do actually want it are good people, and trying to put them down as being elitist malcontents will not really reduce that idea inside that you should want what they want so you can be like them.

I have a hairy om, but I still don’t look like this.

Nor are you trying to tell yourself you’ll never do it; as I mentioned in my Dirty Yoga reviewsI don’t like yoga. I don’t have to, though, to know that it’s good for my body. It’s one of the first lessons kids learn as they begin to grow up: take your medicine, even if it doesn’t taste good. I do yoga, when I do yoga, because it helps my body. I know this, and I also know it’s ok to not enjoy it. Yoga doesn’t care; it will still help my body, even through my swearing and grunting and absurd efforts to find a way to win.

No, all you’re doing is showing yourself some compassion. You’re saying “yep, you’re right, that sucks, and there’s no reason you should like it.” In fact, you can revel in the suckitude of the thing. Make a list of all the reasons there are for not liking it. Take yoga & me:

  1. I look silly
  2. It makes me feel old
  3. It hurts
  4. Twisting poses hurt worse
  5. It gets boring with all that “breathing” stuff
  6. It takes a long time
  7. I’ll never look like Rodney Yee
  8. There’s two many kinds! Hot Bikram Kundalini Power Peace with Coconut Water…how am I supposed to choose?
  9. The mats are always too short

If some of these seem ridiculous to you, that’s probably because you like yoga. In fact, you may have seen some things in that list that you happen to like about yoga, and that’s cool; it’s not your list. I’m sure you and I could make a list about the relative merits of Keanu Reeves that would differ greatly, too. The point is that you’re listening to yourself, not trying to fix anything; you’re saying “yep, that sucks!” and letting it be that way, rather than trying to convince yourself it doesn’t.

You can’t have everything. Where would you put it? – Steven Wright

I’m not one of those “lists solve everything” people, but I do think there’s some potential benefit in making another list at the same time. It probably won’t be as long, and it’s possible that you can just do it in your mind. That’s the list of “What’s the point?”

All the Points

The points are all the things that you believe about this thing you want to want. Again, using yoga as an example, here’s my list:

  1. Yogis supposedly have calmer, more peaceful attitudes.
  2. My body feels better after it’s done than it did before I did it.
  3. My friends really like yoga.
  4. It’s both ultimately portable (I just need the ground) and easily scalable (yoga studios everywhere, including the internet).
  5. Someday I’ll look like Rodney Yee.
  6. It’s something I can do no matter how old I get.

A couple of things may happen as each item gets added to this list. Either you realize that the reason is kind of silly (such as numbers 1 or 5) or else you realize that there’s something there you actually do want (numbers 2, 3, and 6, notably). Or it may be that there’s something in there like number 4 that also applies to something else that you actually want (in my case, body-weight exercises such as push-ups are things I enjoy and share these characteristics).

If it’s silly, then it’s pretty easy to let go. If it’s something you actually do want, then you’ve given yourself a tool: a reward in that whole “replace a bad habit” scenario we talked about before. If I focus more on enjoying the feeling of my body after yoga, or find a yoga partner who makes me giggle as we’re doing asanas, then I won’t look forward to yoga…but I’ll look forward to the results of yoga.

Either way, I don’t have to want it. I can let go of the want to want that thing, and that’s one less way that who I am differs from who I want to be. All the things just got a bit smaller. Rinse, repeat, apply as needed.

Give it a shot. How big are all the things for you? How much smaller can you make all the things by the end of the week?

Want to find out?

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