What keeps you up at night ?
We’ve all been there. 3 a.m. You’re beat, but your mind won’t let you sleep. Like a dog with a bone, it keeps noisily gnawing on the same questions. Well, professor Ben Fletcher and his team have sought to identify the questions that keep us up at night. Here’s the top five:
- What do I want?
- Am I doing the right thing?
- What do other people think of me?
- Where am I going in my life?
- Why do I act the way I do?
As there’s a good chance that these questions also keep you up at night, I’ll blog on each of the five. Once I’m done, you’ll be able to read about them all write.
Where am I going in my life?
This one’s an old companion of mine. For years it buzzed reproachfully about me like a greasy fly you can’t get rid off. It tormented me night and day through the foggy years where I couldn’t see the road ahead to a life moving toward what most mattered to me. I tried lots of things – some of them plenty stupid – to get rid of it. Guess what? Nothing worked. That fly would always catch up with me and start buzzing in my ear. At times mocking, at times scolding, always on my case.
A supposedly Chinese proverb says: If you don’t know where you’re going, that’s where you’ll get to. No way to give your life direction without stopping to ask where you really want to get to. Simple, right? Well, not such an easy thing to do. Plenty of potholes await you, the weary driver.
You hit the first pothole when you mix up goals and objectives with directions and values. Let me explain. Goals and objectives are things you can reach — or not: Getting married, getting hired, getting a raise, getting a qualification, getting a home, starting a family, etc. Goals and objectives are fine and dandy, as signposts on the way. But they can’t serve as your directions. That’s because if you use them as final destinations, you’ll face two major dangers. The first is that you won’t reach them. Then you and your life will be failures. Bad for your soul. Second is that you’ll reach them. Because then, what will you do with your life next? Where will you go? That’s how these two scary words « Existential crisis » can hit right between the eyes people who look outwardly successful.
Values and directions are not so much goals to reach. They’re more like qualities that you can embody — or not. You can (I hope) reach the goal of having a date. But what kind of romantic partner do you want to be? Let’s say loving, available and supportive. Turns out you can only display these qualities through your actions— moment-to-moment. You’ll never reach it once and for all. There will always be further steps you can take to embody these qualities. Or turn into a shitty date.
You hit the second pothole when you let your values depend on other people. For example, wanting to be loved. Hey, it’s normal to want to be loved. I want to be loved too. It’s just that you can’t use it as a direction, because it’s not a quality that you can embody. It doesn’t depend on you, remember? So, using this for direction is like inviting a complete stranger to set the direction in your car’s SatNav system. Bad idea.
You hit the third pothole when you pick feelings as your directions or values. Let’s look at a popular example: “Feeling good”. First let me say it’s normal to want to feel good. I want that too. But using this as a direction is programing in your SatNav system “streets with no traffic” as your destination. You don’t control the traffic conditions, so you’re at their mercy. Worse, no way of knowing where you’ll get to. Of course, when it hurts, it’s only natural to want it to stop. When I hurt I also want it to stop. Like I said, it’s normal. It’s just that you can’t use that as your life direction or a value.
So, if you want this question to stop keeping you up at night, be weary of what is normal (and it is normal). Treat yourself to the gift of clarifying your directions and values. In a future blog, [hyperlink], I’ll show you an exercise that can help you uncover life directions that are truly yours. They’ll help you get behind the wheel of a more satisfying life. With a renewed sense of… direction.
Let the rubber hit the road!