relaxing by the sea

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I want to talk about a strange and subtle phenomenon I noticed happening to me after I became free of any time and place commitments (but still with a stable income).

Once I truly had this freedom, I found that I unconciously recreated the very constraints I had escaped from. I had this residual feeling of obligation to make commitments and a totally misplaced sense of guilt around enjoying the new freedoms.

For instance, perhaps I’d tell my friends “I’ll probably be back in Tokyo in December” – I’d then feel this sense of obligation to honour this “commitment”, so I’d start planning my life around this as though it was an unavoidable event rather than a vague and noncommittal suggestion.

It was like part of me was desperate to find some sort of commitment/schedule it could work with, so it would attach importance to the most trivial and inconsequential affairs.

Also there was often a background sense of guilt about doing whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. For example I’d agonize about taking off for the beach on Wednesday morning rather than trying to finish some project or other (that really had no deadline, and I could take my laptop to the beach anyway).

For some reason I felt unworthy of the prize I’d worked hard for – I had total freedom yet I had this strange need to organize myself out of it again!

The laboratory hamster learns how to get the cheese

Looking at this behavior objectively, it seems absurd – clearly there’s some conditioned behavior/beliefs/emotion behind the scenes influencing how I think and feel.

It seems quite obvious to me that somewhere along the line, I’ve learnt that life is meant to be rigidly organised and it is “bad” not to always have organisation, or perhaps even it’s “bad” to do what I really want to do.

Maybe this was imprinted on my mind at an early age from something like homework at school. Or perhaps it’s the ongoing influence of everyone around me who organise their lives around deadlines and commitments.

Of course there are good reasons for organisation and commitment and countless times when they are essential to the greater good of human and hamsterkind. But it’s not black and white. There are also countless times when no organisation is required, when spontaneity works.

Hamsters breaking out of the laboratory

Now that I’ve noticed this laboratory hamster like behavior in myself, how can I break out? Can I see things objectively and not make decisions based on some misplaced sense of guilt?

Well simply my approach is to be “mindful”, or “present” and aware. The more I examine and become aware of my feelings and thoughts, the better I get at uncovering the layers of conditioning and emotional responses. This goes beyond just “logically” reasoning things out. Even seemingly reasonable thoughts like, “I should really finish this project today and not go to the beach with Uncle Hammy” can be the voice of conditioning or some unhelpful dialogue going on in my mind. Being able to make such distinctions takes acute awareness.

I don’t even trust my own thoughts (more on this in another post).

Protip: If you’ve never tried being “mindful” or “present” or meditation, then stop reading and *try it immediately* and do it every day for a month (there’s endless reams of text on the subject, but you could simply start by taking two deep breaths and observing how you feel – do it now). You will change.

It’s this awareness, mindfulness that gave me the chance to take a more objective view and realise this odd behavior.

So maybe you’re curious as to if you have some heavy conditioning spoiling your fun too? Perhaps you too have some conditioned behavior that’s making your life stale and boring? Well I have prepared a selection of hamstertastic tips that I’ve used myself for breaking out of the organisational cage:

  • Call a friend and suggest you meet up immediately, “I coming over now”.
  • Disrupt your routines: skip a meal, wake up early/late.
  • Keep a vigilant watch out for feelings of guilt, and take sometime to meditate/observe yourself when they arise
  • Doing something differently every day – like simply walking to the subway using a slightly different route.
  • If you need to make plans, do it quickly quickly. Flip a coin rather than deliberate.
  • Make some plans, then deliberately change them – try cancelling or rebooking a flight (it’s a lesson worth 100 bucks for sure)
  • If you have enough freedom already, make your “weekend” during the week – take Tuesdays off and work on Sunday. (Also a great way to do fun stuff away from crowds)
  • Organise a tropical holiday (or just buy the flight), starting in the next 7 days (I went to Goa in India 3 days after having the idea).
  • Move country (I’ve done it 3 times in the last year alone, and moving again tomorrow).

Why the hamsters? Why not!

relaxing by the sea

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