The Road Paved with Good Intentions

One of those striking coincidences that make you wonder how the world works: I woke up this morning from a half-dream focused on the idea of “intentionality.” That was the term bouncing through my mind, at least. The gist of the word for my purposes has to do with the amount of freedom we give ourselves to live in the moment, and the degree to which we assign ourselves goals or aspirations. It’s occurred to me before that I live with a higher degree of intentionality than may be useful.

I don’t mean that I’m too productive--I’m not--or that I try to hard--I don’t--but rather that in my mind I assign an aspiration, a desired outcome, too often. I haven’t quantified this yet and am not sure I will, so I couldn’t say what percentage of my day my mind is trying to tell me how things should be. I can say that it feels like too much, however. More than that, I think my ratio of productivity to aspiring towards productivity is low. One way to look at this is that I spend too much time in my head.

Why do I do this? I think it’s training. When you believe that you should be able to control more than you actually can, that your efforts, if focused, can alter the world in ways they actually can’t, or at least probably can’t, then it’s hard to accept the world as it is. Or another idea: the world is a ridiculous place full of things we all wish we could change, and it takes a tremendous amount of discipline to focus on those things that are most likely to be changed.

The TED Radio Hour ran a segment recently on living slowly, or in the moment, and on it a person talked about the amount of time people spend thinking about the future, rather than the present. In the US this was something like 37%. That feels about right in my case, and puts a bead on this misgiving I woke up with, that I’m trying to live too intentionally. The conclusion on the show, made over several interdisciplinary segments, featuring a former Buddhist monk, and entrepreneur, and some other TED-talkers, is that most people could stand to spend less of their waking lives thinking about what they want to do or should do.

Another excellent commentary on the subject came from Norman Lear, the man who created All in the Family and was more or less responsible for allowing television to show real people doing real things. His quote, made off the cuff on the quiz show Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me, was that in life he has relied on two words to guide him: “over” and “next.” When something is over it is over, he says, and he moves on to what’s next. “If there were to be a hammock in the middle,” he goes on, “that would be what is meant by living in the moment.”

Lear doesn’t talk about how much time he spends considering how to proceed with “next,” but I take it from his description of his mental state as a hammock that it’s as little as required. There is a fine balance between enjoying life and worrying about it--without worry would anyone every put together a budget?--but it’s probably safe to say that we should worry as little as possible.  

I’m going to avoid trying to worry less; I’m going to restrict my headspace a bit; I already have a list of things I need to do--budget, write, cook, walk the dog--so all that remains is to get busy. When I’m done with the list, I’m happy to note, I’ve already got a hammock waiting for me on the back porch.