Where to Begin?

Greg Thorkelson, MD with Ryan Reagan, PhD, LPC

For the next few posts, we’re going to pivot to some lighter fare. Recently, the office book club covered two books that address our problematic relationships with time and attention since the pandemic: Stolen Focus by Johann Hari and Four Thousand Weeks, Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkeman.  Don’t judge the latter by its title. It is far more about our relationship to time than tricks and hacks to increase productivity. In fact, you probably find that last line intriguing or infuriating depending on your position. It’s all relative. Someone smart said that.

This week’s post will focus more on Four Thousand Weeks.  The reason is that there is some helpful advice in the final chapters of the book, and the purpose of this blog is to provide guidance. Burkeman poses five fundamental questions to consider as a starting point. We need starting points. As a society, I don’t believe that we’ve come close to fully registering the impact of the pandemic. It was a once in a century pull of the emergency break. Granted, we did that before in the previous century, but time in that world was different.

Stolen Focus also touches on the experience of time accelerating, a phenomenon that was first noticed decades ago. For all the destruction, misery, and trauma wrought by the pandemic, it revealed much about how we were living and consequently what we were missing while busy. It is this “busyness” that is part of the problem. Busy with what? Burkeman’s point is that the what matters. Spoiler alert—time management efforts are doomed to fail because time cannot be managed. It is not something you can possess. Time was never yours to begin with.  

Burkeman states that the fundamental question of time management is “what would it mean to spend the only time you ever get in a way that truly feels as though you were making it count.” To get started he offers five helpful questions for those of us struggling with fundamental question above. Sometimes life drags us to one of those places where we realize we’re not living the life we had envisioned, or we’ve lost touch with purpose, or we just can’t put our figure out where and how to pivot.

1. Where in your life or your work are you currently pursuing comfort, when what’s called for is a little discomfort?

Ah, the comfort zone. We are anxiety avoidant creatures. We seek to maximize comfort and minimize discomfort for obvious reasons. But, as another quote goes “life is what begins at the edge of your comfort zone.” A question James Hollis suggests that you can ask when faced with a choice between two stark choices is does this enlarge me or diminish me? Choose uncomfortable enlargement over comfortable diminishment.

2. Are you holding yourself to, or judging yourself by, standards of productivity and performance that are impossible to meet?

There is a comforting belief that if we get the formula just right, then we will be able to finally achieve the life that we’ve dreamed. Unfortunately, what we imagine is not the world we live in. Reality will always supply a limitless number of possibilities. The idea that we could meet them all is delusional.  There is a technique attributed to Warren Buffet—write down a list of the 20 most important things to you, then circle the top 5. Focus on those relentlessly. In fact, actively ignore 6-10. They were not good enough to make the top 5 and you will be drawn to them. Never hurts to repeat this exercise.

3. In what ways have you yet to accept the fact that you are who you are, not the person you think you ought to be?

One of the anxiety-avoiding techniques we use to avoid accepting the here and now, is to treat life as a journey to the person you ought to be. The psychologist Stephen Cope points out that at some point it dawns on us that nobody actually cares much about what we are doing with our life, so who am I justifying my existence to?

4. In which areas of life are you still holding back until you feel like you know what you’re doing?

Life is always going to be uncertain and will always involve fear. The idea that you’re working toward some destination of authoritative control is worth abandoning, especially if it is preventing you from making decisions. By embracing the notion that you may never truly know what you are doing, you give up notions of perfectionism since total authority is never going to arrive. You can be bold, take risks.

5. How would you spend your days differently if you didn’t care so much about your actions reaching fruition?

Doing for the sake of doing. There is an assumption that what we do matters only if we can see the results. But the pyramids of Egypt took generations to complete and certainly many never saw the finished product. Consider poignant words of Martin Luther King stating that he had “seen the promised land” but “may not make it with you.” Results we never see can still matter.

All Blog Posts

May 19, 2023

Where to Begin?

May 10, 2023

Self care tips!

April 28, 2023

Baby Blues orPost-Partum Depression?

April 14, 2023

I’ve Got Skills….They’re Multiplying…

November 17, 2022

Depression Options That Work

November 17, 2022

Adapting To A Changing Landscape

August 30, 2022

We Need to Talk About Overdose

May 23, 2022

It’s Noisy in Here: Identifying Cognitive Distortions

March 23, 2022

How To Shift A Mindset: Pessimism to Optimism

February 7, 2022

On Grief

November 4, 2021

The Cognitive Triad

October 26, 2021

Thoughts on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

September 21, 2021

The Therapeutic Potential of Ketamine

September 21, 2021

Psychedelics in Mental Health

September 8, 2021

Are You Meditating?

August 13, 2021

Are We There Yet? (Post-Covid Anxiety)

July 22, 2021

Languishing—The Mood State of the Pandemic

July 6, 2021

Neurofeedback—New Hope for ADHD?

June 24, 2021

Finding The Right Therapist

June 16, 2021

Living with OCD

June 9, 2021

CBD and Anxiety

June 1, 2021

Demystifying Bipolar Disorder

May 25, 2021

When to Ask for Help?

May 18, 2021

Good News on Difficult to Treat Anxiety and Depression—TMS.

May 11, 2021

The Nexus Group Announces Deep Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (Deep TMS) Available for Pittsburgh Community

Press Release- The Nexus Group now offering Brainsway TMS Treatment

May 11, 2021

What do we know about post-Covid?

How is Post-Covid Syndrome affecting the Mental Health community

March 5, 2021

4 Commonly Asked Questions About Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation

Nexus answers a few commonly asked questions about TMS Therapy.

February 26, 2021

Things to Know About Seasonal Affective Disorder

Are you experiencing SAD this season? What you can do to improve your mood!

February 18, 2021

TMS Therapy at the Nexus Group

TMS Therapy is now available at the Nexus Group.

December 16, 2020

Coping with your ADHD and COVID19

Effectively handling the current situation can be a scary task to take on...

December 16, 2020

Mental Hygiene During COVID19: Recommendations from (WHO)

With a global pandemic spreading, many of us are bound to be anxious and distressed.

December 16, 2020

Find the Silver Lining: Ways to Remain Positive this Weekend

The week has come to a close and we are left to spend yet another weekend sitting on the couch

December 16, 2020

The Ever-Blurring Lines of O.C.D. During COVID-19

As the weeks press on in quarantine, we are urged take extra precautions.

December 16, 2020

Victims of Domestic Violence: Who to Turn to?

Stuck inside, it is easy to feel trapped as we wait for cases of COVID-19 to dwindle.

December 16, 2020

Date Night Plans, Anyone?

Date nights don’t have to be dull just because you’re stuck inside.

December 16, 2020

A Few Questions to Ask Yourself Daily:

It’s important to clear your head regularly in order to alleviate stress or tension.

December 16, 2020

Parents Helping Children with Autism: Coping with Transitions and Change

A strategical approach to help your Autistic children cope with transitions and change.

December 16, 2020

How Helping Others Can Help You

Giving does not have to be overly complicated. See how helping others can help you!

July 2, 2020

Safely Entering Phase Yellow

Phase yellow shows a positive step in the right direction.

July 2, 2020

Managing Bipolar Disorder Amid the Pandemic

A few helpful tips on how to manage your Bipolar disorder during the pandemic.

July 2, 2020

How to Journal for Your Mental Health

Journaling can benefit your mental health. Here are some practical steps on how to approach it.

July 2, 2020

Experiencing Grief During COVID-19

Some practical steps on how to overcome grief during COVID.

July 2, 2020

Waiting Out Another Weekend at Home

How to keep your brain active at home during the pandemic!