On the Iniquities of Compulsions

It’s been seven days since I got back from Boracay, and to my wary surprise, a number of urgent items that I thought would require weeks to settle have been more or less handled as of today.

This is always a delicate space for me. Repeated experience has demonstrated that whenever I begin to feel that I have some time on my hands, I immediately set about disposing it by launching on any number of extravagant projects. A lot of this has to do with my propensity to equate self-worth and self-justification with productivity. In other words, the number of my accomplishments doesn’t merely establish my value—it also validates the fact of my existence. If I’m not doing anything—not taking action or not producing results—then I’m literally just “taking up space.”

This notion is just one of many self-defeating habits of thought I’ve carried with me throughout my life. Coming to an awareness of them has been half the battle, yes, but only half the battle. One of life’s tragedies is that there are many unworkable things about ourselves that cannot be overcome through realization alone. We realize, and repeatedly too, that we procrastinate too much, prevaricate too much, yield too easily, submit too quickly, say yes when we mean no, say no when we intend yes, and do a number of other things that dissipate or reduce our chances for happiness. What intensifies our fallibility as human beings is our lack of originality: very often we make the same old mistakes—and we make them with eyes wide open.

The other half of the battle—and the part that takes a lifetime to accomplish in contrast to the instantaneousness of insight—is practice. And I’m not even using the word in any elevated sense. I simply mean the repetitive performance of thoughts and actions that counter the self-defeating tendencies that have (fortunately) managed to rise to our awareness. And in this particular instance, what that looks like for me is not giving in to the (terrible) urge to repopulate my calendar and run myself to the ground all over again.

And like all things that require practice, it’s far easier said than done.


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