Yo guys! Welcome to our weekly exploration of the mind, Wisdom of the Week! This week I’ve been thinking about enjoying the processes in life with the great Stoic philosopher, Seneca.
“Wild animals run from the dangers they actually see, and once they have escaped them worry no more. We however are tormented alike by what is past and what is to come. A number of our blessings do us harm, for memory brings back the agony of fear while foresight brings it on prematurely. No one confines his unhappiness to the present.”
“…there is nothing the wise man does reluctantly. He escapes necessity because he wills what necessity is going to force on him.”
So one of the most productivity enhancing tips I’ve received in life is to learn to enjoy the process of whatever it is that you are doing. If you can take something that is a total chore, and learn to enjoy it, or add something to it that you enjoy; you can learn to easily overcome any task presented to you.
In the first quote, Seneca talks about how we constantly worry ourselves over what has happened, what is happening, and what will happen. The philosophy of Stoicism is about being like that wild animal. Never putting thought to what might happen, nor what has happened that we cannot change. It is about realising what you can affect, and not allowing yourself to be effected by the rest. Learning to enjoy the process is much like this. Let’s use the example of doing dishes, my formerly most dreaded task. Doing the dishes sucks. Your hands get all pruny, you have to touch a bunch of dirty old food that other people ate, you splash that luke-warm dirt water all over the place. Basically, doing the dishes turns me into a whiny little girl. There are so many things that I could choose to worry myself about when it comes to washing the dishes. I can honestly make that list stretch on for pages, but as Seneca says, there simply no use. The dishes still need to be done, and I still hate washing them. I actually used to work myself up into a mini-frenzy at the thought of it (Worrying about what might happen). So how did I overcome that then? I learned to integrate something I really enjoy into the process of doing the dishes so that I can take my mind off of it. So now when I need to do the dishes, I’ll pull out my phone and either jam to my favorite band, The Twenty One Pilots (shout out, they’re amazing), on Pandora; or I’ll put a new podcast on to listen to while I’m scrubbing away. Finding one of those things that you would do otherwise, and then finding a way to add them to whatever task you have to do makes the boring task immensely more pleasurable, and over time it even degrades that wall of apprehension you’ve built up about doing it. This concept can be applied to mowing the lawn, doing homework, balancing a checkbook, anything really that is a sort of mindless task. That boring busywork around the house that needs done, but you just don’t want to do.
The second quote can be applied to those tasks that require more thought, but remain as unappealing as dirty dishes. “… there is nothing a wise man does reluctantly. He escapes necessity because he wills what necessity will force on him.” The wise man has learned to enjoy the process. He does nothing reluctantly because he has learned to make everything fun. I swear to you, with a positive mindset and an imagination, even watching paint dry can become entertaining. The second example I will use is going to the gym. Going to the gym used to be terrifying for me. You literally hurt yourself, tearing apart your body piece by piece in order to grow. I used to think, “Let me get this straight; you put yourself in physical pain because you think it’s somehow fun?!” Those giant gym nuts used to seem completely insane to me. However, as I began to go to the gym for track, I caught on to why people love it so much. The gym is a place that you can go to see visible improvement in your life that is directly proportional to the amount of work you put into yourself. I became addicted to the feeling of being able to look back month after month and see improvement. My pants got looser and my stature, taller. This thing that started out as a commitment to earn the football team’s respect by not quitting became something that I couldn’t wait to get to. I literally had to hold myself back from going to the gym too much because I would actually begin to hurt myself. The thing that changed my attitude: finding that thing that I enjoyed in doing something that I couldn’t stand. I was motivated by my desire for progress; addicted to it even, and that drove me back to those weights every session. As time progressed, I managed to find even more things that I enjoyed about the very thing that terrified me just a couple years beforehand. I found that I simply enjoyed the feeling of working my body. I enjoyed the ability to escape my mind for a short while in my focus on form. Lifting weights became my meditation. I wouldn’t have been able to do any of this, however, without finding some little way to enjoy it. I followed the path of that wise man, and embraced the task I most feared as a chubby little kid, and through willing to do what I needed to do anyways, conquered it.
Two other ways I’ve found to enjoy the process is to incorporate the task into your daily routine, and to avoid other work with this task. Making something a habit turns it into a comfort. Everyday, I wake up and stretch. At first, it was so so boring to sit there on the floor and wait for my stretch to be done. After building it into a habit, it just became second nature. It turned into something that I look forward to beginning when I lie down to sleep. Making a task a part of your routine familiarizes you with it, and then due to the sunk cost fallacy, we gravitate towards thinking it’s beneficial due to the pure time we’ve put into it. This method requires that the task be something you most definitely want to turn into an everyday thing though, else it won’t sink in and you won’t begin to enjoy it. You can also use a task that you otherwise wouldn’t do as a means of escaping other things. I’ve found that there’s this weird thing that happens in which I find myself occupied with such an intense fascination with cleaning my room every time I have a big project to finish for school. By avoiding one task, you become immensely more productive in a thousand others.
Finding a method that gives meaning to whatever you’re doing, even if it is just so that you don’t have to do something else, will boost your productivity exponentially; and if you find a way to enjoy that task, immeasurably. Choose to enjoy your life, simply because you can.