Distraction is the bane of most of our existence. It is hard to remove the things that steal our time from our lives. But as we carefully weed out the things that provide only mere momentary reward, we can reach for higher goals and achieve much more. This is not to say that recreation does not have value. Wholesome recreation is a vital part of the human experience and provides valuable rest and opportunities to develop meaningful relationships. However, the constant drone of music, the electronic devices we tether ourselves to, and meaningless pursuits are far too pervasive in many of our lives. We waste the moment when achievements could be made and relationships enriched for a high score on a game, which will only be beat by someone willing to waste more time than we are. There is always someone willing to waste more time than you are.
A common concern for many people is how to maintain a good balance in their lives. A balanced life has been the goal of civilization since the days of Greek philosophy, and likely before that. Aristotle believed that happiness was derived from virtue. Virtue was defined as a habitual act of balance. That is he believed not in an unconscious decision leading to happiness, But habits of intellectual choice. He defined virtue further as the mean between extremes (Nichomachean ethics). He taught that virtue or habitual action was learned or developed under the tutelage of great teachers. Therefore we can determine that good is only good if we choose consciously to perform the act. Also good done for the wrong reason is neither good nor bad, but rather mindless habitual action. This means in our lives we must choose to live a balanced life, and do so consciously, or we cannot participate in the good virtuous act of balance.
There are many competing demands in our lives. it is not easy to find balance, or to know what the mean between extremes is. We live in a world in which extreme behavior is portrayed as normal. The lines between balanced virtuous conscious action are blurred daily by the onslaught of factions who would have us believe that there is no good or that good is a relative construct.
Taking time for reflection is paramount in living a life of meaning and clarity; however, many people confuse reflection and rumination. Reflection is a thoughtful process weighing the merits, both good and bad, of a subject. Rumination is a concentration, focus, and even obsession over the bad that has happened. Reflection is a balanced approach allowing you to view the optimal course of action, rumination is lopsided, frustrating, and damming to all progress.
If you want to see success reflect on your strengths, recognize your weakness, and plan a realistic course of action to amend the deficits. If you want to end up angry, depressed, and anxious, ruminate over the bad things that have happened, declare them unfair, and wallow in your misery. Self pity while rewarding for a moment only leads to feeling worse in the long run.
Part of your reflective process should include prioritizing your life. Choosing priorities is not an easy task. The infinite competing activities available can skew the perspective of even the most clear thinking individuals. Therefore I will give you a useful tool to manage this process. It is called a pen and paper. This may take the form of a journal or just a sheet of paper on which to sketch a grid. The useful nature of journaling is easy chronicling of your thoughts collected into an easily accessible compendium. However if you are not particularly sentimental or well organized a slip of paper will do.
Begin by drawing a two by two grid. Label it across the X axis with non-urgent and urgent. Along e Y axis write non-important and important. With this grid you can quickly place task and competing demands into the quadrants. Those demands that fall within the quadrant of important and urgent are likely the things that you spend most of your time focused on, or if you do not you should. Even in seeking balanced our obligations must be met. After all our children must eat, and our employer will not look kindly upon not coming to work because we were seeking balance elsewhere.
After the important urgent demands are met though you may be puzzled at what to do next.
Although many things may have the appearance of urgency, if they're not important then we should consider if they are really worth our attention. Conversely the important things in life that seem not to be particularly pressing can escape us entirely leaving many might have beens if we are not careful. John Greenleaf Whittier said, "Of all sad words of tongue or pen, The saddest are these: 'It might have been!'" Do not let your life waste away seeking only after the immediate pleasures that life can dangle in front of you. In twenty years you are much more likely to regret not spending time with your family than not getting an extra half hour in at work. How many people in their old age think if only I had made and extra ten dollars that day back in my thirties. A much more likely regret is that you missed your daughter's first play.
Lastly we address the unimportant and non-urgent. These activities are very good at masquerading as important or urgent, as they are often more desirable and fun activities. These activities have their place in a balanced approach to life, but in excess lead to lasciviousness and avarice. A helpful idea for me, an avid workaholic, when contemplating the place of the less important and urgent is, ‘Do not run faster than you have strength.’ For those of you who have the opposite problem and cannot get motivated to get going perhaps you can find motivation in the eyes of a loved one when you sit down and ask them how their day was. Whether you are a workaholic or a sloth we all have moments in which we need to find the fine balance in life. A moments reflection can provide the clarity needed to decide what comes next.
Writing and Photography By Joshua Kirton
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