I spend most of my time responding to short term cues. My wife asks me to hang a picture. A co-worker asks me to file a TPS report. My calendar tells me that it’s time to file an income tax return. The clock tells me it’s time to go to work, or to go home.
That’s most of my time. I spend it responding to short term cues and wishing for time with no short term cues to respond to, when I can “do what I want”.
When the external short term cues abate, say on the weekend, I think it’s time to “do what I want.” So I think about the various projects I’ve been telling myself I want to get to. Instantly, that motivation becomes a short term cue! The habit that has developed is to resist the short term cues and long for time with no cues “pressuring me”. So the motivation to work on my project gets turned into pressure and resisted. The project makes no progress.
Very shortly after that, the external short term cues come back (it’s Monday morning and time to go to work), and, feeling vaguely dissatisfied that nothing got done during my “free” time, I’m off to the races again, reluctantly complying with the short term cues, whining on the inside all the way.
How to get out of the trap?
Well, it’s clear that the moment-by-moment resistance to short term cues is habitual. That habit has to be broken and replaced by a habit of embracing the short term cues. “What do I do next? Oh! Hang the picture. Here we go. What next? Oh! File the TPS report. Done! Go to work? Okay! Go home? Here we go ho ho.”
This is David Allen’s “mind like water“, Byron Katie’s “loving what is“, the way of engagement and satisfaction. And the only way to break the habit of resistance and install a habit of engagement is by making that choice over and over and over again, moment by moment throughout the day, until it becomes the dominant, habitual behavior.
It’s simply another kind of pleasure trap. Intuition tells me that escaping the short term cues will be more pleasurable than engaging and responding to them gladly. But intuition is wrong. Following intuition, I resist the daily stream of cues and then do nothing productive when they abate. Acting counter-intuitively, I would engage the cues gladly and simply do whatever comes up next to be done without judgement or resistance. At the end of the day, I would have accomplishments to look back on.
Any feeding of the old habit (indulgence in thoughts like “I don’t want to do this”, “This is boring”, or “I’d rather be reading a book”) just makes it harder to get the new habit installed, leading to more time suffering under the old one.