Active Restlessness: How to be productive

I still remember the days when my mother called me lazy. Lazy for not cleaning my room. Lazy for sleeping in. Lazy for not emptying the dishwasher. Lazy for not taking out the trash. Lazy for watching TV. Lazy for wanting to play video games (even though I was never allowed to own them).

Now, I’m told I’m too intense; that I have no chill. I’m told I need to sit down and relax and take in the sights and smells.  Well, they are right (whoever they are) about that on a certain level, I do eat incredibly fast out of habit.  At this point in my life is no longer have a legitimate excuse to sleep in.  When I was younger I wish I had thought of a good reason for wanting 12 hrs a night.  Now I wish I could subsist on 4 hours a day and use that time for other things. Alas, I cannot function on less than 6 a night, preferably 8-9.  I know that and aim to achieve it every night, enforcing discipline and the help of technology to maintain my sleep schedule. This discipline comes from a mindset I call Active Restlessness. It is a mental schema of never being content with where I am and what I’m doing in life and finding peace from it.

I engage a mental paradox in order to close that paradox in a feedback loop expanding into myself.

I listened to a Jordan B. Peterson podcast a few weeks ago and something he said resonated with me.  It echoes much more clearly my mindset than I’ve attempted to articulate throughout several drafts of this article.  I’m paraphrasing:

“What is good? Good is not what is good for you now.  That chocolate bar taste good and is good now.  Good is what is good for you in the future.  That chocolate bar attributes to diabetes, that isn’t good is it?  So it must not be good.

Good is not necessarily what is good for others now.  Letting your son play video games instead homework probably isn’t good though it may stop him from bothering you about wanting to play video games and you can actually get work done – which is good!

Good is what is good for you in the future and what is good for others in the future as long as it is not harmful to you now.  What that means is it is not good to sell sex for money to keep yourself and your family off the streets if it means you are at risk of sexually transmitted diseases and become emotionally damaged – which isn’t good for you in the future by the way.  That is not good!

Good is the act of putting of that good feeling now for a better and more pleasurable feeling in the future.  Don’t eat that candy bar now, delay that gratification, and you will feel good when you are comfortable in a swimsuit a few months from now.  That is good.

Delay the good now for good in the future.  This is a necessary action we’ve practiced since the dawn of time. Don’t eat these seeds now – even though we’re starving – because we need to plant them in the spring to grow crops and get more food!  That is good.”

I like the way he stated that definition of good.  I’m sure I transcribed a lot of it incorrectly, but that is the gist of his original thoughts; please find his podcast if you want to hear the whole thing.

I encourage you to take a similar mentality of Dr. Peterson’s definition of good and channel that into what I describe as Active Restlessness.  By this, you put yourself in a constant state of action by refusing to be idle.  Restlessness has an implied supposition to meaningless work.  You aren’t sure what to do with yourself so you do whatever you find to occupy your thoughts without actually doing anything.  Perhaps you get restless waiting for a flight or sitting in a doctor’s office; maybe this occurs when you get home at night in an empty house and turn to porn as an outlet for activity.

Next time you are having a long commute or sitting in traffic, turn off the radio and sit quietly with yourself.  Ask yourself what you’ve done with your life this year and how those actions so far will make next year or next decade better.  Are you working towards a goal that will increase quality of life? Have you learned something you can leverage at work or in your relationship? Can you run farther than you ran yesterday?

Identify your weaknesses then identify your goals.  Most self declared gurus will tell you to define goals first then work towards those goals.  This is the wrong mindset and perception is reality. Let me explain.

If I ever find this title I’ll update it, until then it will remain a mysterious POW book.

I read a great book years back in middle school about a pilot who got shot down in Vietnam.  He was a POW for years locked in isolation with concrete walls forming his cell.  Using a code he learned in survival school, he was able to communicate with other prisoners. It was slow and tedious but once he figured it out he could read it instinctual without his makeshift cipher. For the next few months he was kept there, often moved between cells until he discovered himself next to another POW who spoke Spanish.  He learned Spanish using a cipher.  If that doesn’t speak to the power of the human brain I don’t know what does.

As a way to stave off boredom and keep his mind sharp, he did a push up contests with fellow prisoners.  I don’t remember what he hit but it was upwards of 800 in one sitting while living off a malnourished diet.

Eventually he was transfered to a more open camp.  POWs could interact physically with each other and he still kept this push up routine.  One day a young private walked by his cell as he finished a set and said “wow, I wish I could do that!”  This pilot told him to try and see how far he got.  Kid got somewhere near 40.

“Okay,” the pilot told him, “try again but this time let me count.”

The young private hit 140 without breaking a sweat.  He freed his mind and let his body control itself.  I want you to do the same.  By telling yourself ‘I want to be able to run a 10 minute mile’ you will get there then stop.  Instead, look into yourself and think ‘I’m not a good runner, I need to become the best runner my body will allow.’   I promise you will hit sub 6 minute miles much faster than if your goal was to hit 10.

Identify your weaknesses, then set an impossible goal nested into a realistic goals.

For example, I took swim lessons for years as a kid and thought I was pretty good at it.  I decided I wanted to become a lifeguard (goal) as a first job – much better than flipping burgers.  At my mother’s urging, I went to the community pool prove to her that I could swim the test inside the time.

I was winded by the time I reached the end of 1 lap – let alone 8 (weakness).

That spring semester I scheduled a long lunch break and went to the pool every day.  My goal was to swim 8 laps in 5 minutes when I could barely swim one.  I discovered I couldn’t actually swim. I put my face in the water and stroked, but didn’t properly kick my feet or even know how to breathe without taking in water (weakness).

At this point my priorities changed.  I no longer cared about the goal of passing a test, I wanted to learn to swim!  I set a goal to be the best swimmer there was (impossible – I’m not built like Phelps).  Small goal was to swim a total of 8 laps a day, no matter how many breaks I needed.  I hit that every day, slowly trying to swim a bit farther each time.  Within a month I could beat the test.

At this point, I would have stopped and taken the test, passed, then continued with my life had I defined my goal first.  I beat the weakness enough to get where I set my sights.

Back in the water the next day I set a new goal – 20 laps.

-50 laps

-100 laps

-1 mile

-2 miles

FYI, for a standard pool, 70 laps (there and back = 2 laps) is 1 mile so I hit my 100 lap goal before I even cared enough to compute distance.  At my peak, I could swim 2 miles non-stop with no stretching.  I would stop without breathing hard.  I stopped at 2 because it was mentally draining to stare at the bottom of the pool for that long.

Identify your weaknesses, then set an impossible goal nested into a realistic goals.

I now apply this mentality to my life.  I make huge demands of myself then parse it down into smaller achievements.  The difference in my mentality is these are to plug personal weaknesses not to gain personal victories.

The first step to applying Active Restlessness is to first define your weaknesses in your life.  Then, identify your vices.  These are the things that are not good. Be it TV, masturbation, eating or even reading.  I used to read to relax and escape reality.  Now I don’t read fiction without a purpose.  All of my books have something to teach me.  My reading list has grown and so have my interests.

Go try Active Restlessness in your own life by asking yourself if what you are doing at this very moment in helping your future self or even hurting your current self.  Ask that of yourself every time you want to sit down and do something you’ve defined as not good.  When you realize you want to waste your life on something, get up and do something else.

For me, I keep a list in Evernote (including article drafts) of all the things I need to do.  Often they are 1x chores to do around the house or even recurring ones like vacuuming.  They don’t have to be big.  As Dr. Peterson likes to say, “make your bed.”  Yes, that can be on your list.  Get that as a habit and add harder things to it!

Active Restlessness might have saved my life.  It has certainly saved my boredom. I find peace knowing that I’m not wasting mine playing video games or jacking off to porn.  Everything I do has a purpose, even if it is just going out dancing and having a good time.  That is a stress relief and I have trained myself to de-stress by being active.  I can barely sit still through a 2 hour movie.

Like, share, comment on ways you can implement this in your own life.

Until next time,

-Han

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