Know thyself: ebb and flow

I’ve been thinking a lot about what I enjoy doing and how I want to spend my time. Though I’m a big advocate for being open minded and trying new things, it’s sometimes just as revealing to review, revisit and repeat. Some years ago I was shocked and astonished to discover that my nephew, who had repeatedly watched and adored the Lord of the Rings film trilogy when he was very young, had absolutely no memory of the films, his obsession with the ‘playing’ the characters nor of his insistence on calling my Dad ‘Grandalf’. This year, my nephew came afresh to the films (ahead of the release of An unexpected journey) and fell in love with them all over again. Of course, he’s now not so interested in pretending to be Aragorn, but his interest has the same intensity, albeit appropriate for his age (he’s learning Elvish through YouTube).

In adult life, this process of loss and rediscovery is less pronounced; the way our habits change is more akin to an ebb and flow. I’m curious about why it is that we stop doing things we enjoy, and why sometimes it feels like we stumble back upon former loves with out planning to do so.

Making choices about what to do at any given moment is, of course, complicated. I’m trying to master this in my productive (as opposed to leisure) life with the help of David Allen’s fantastic book ‘Getting Things Done’ (thanks to Will for that recommendation). No doubt there’s an equally perceptive handbook about finding fulfillment and satisfaction from leisure time, but it seems like this should really be a no-brainer: a ‘just do what you want to do in the moment’ kind of thing.

The tricky thing, for me, is the thought process: what mood I am in? Do I want my activity to change my mood? What can I do well right now? Am I looking to feel satisfied? Do I just want to pass the time? Do I want to build on something and feel the benefit of progress? Do I want start something that I can finish? How likely am I to be disturbed? Are there jobs that I should be doing instead of enjoying myself? Let’s face it – such a barrage of questions is a true passion killer. So I think the secret to enjoying leisure time that suits you is about establishing a set of hardwired responses to particular places/materials/stimuli/moods… Twyla Tharp calls this ‘The Creative Habit’ (with a mantra of ‘learn it and use it for life’). Perhaps it’s time that I finished that book and started carving my own habitual practices?

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