Beware Life’s Time Thieves

Pursuit of pleasant sensations is in fact the very root of suffering. – Buddha

Our world is becoming increasingly filled with distraction. Information moves faster, brighter, and noisier than ever before. Social media, entertainment, and product marketing have never been so prevalent all begging for our attention and focus. However, in doing so our minds are diverted from more important things, more immediate things until we become mesmerised or obsessed with chasing what tomorrow might bring. Then we wake up one day and realise that half of our life has passed by simply because we ignored the now in favour of looking forward to what might be just over the horizon.

Smile in a sea of frowns
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We seem obsessed less with what makes us happy now but more with what new things might make us happy in the future. But these sensations are often such ephemeral and meaningless vibrations that when we finally experience them, we don’t react to them with the contentment we expected; rather we just crave for more and more.

Advertisers and big business know this more than anyone. Most companies searching for what we the consumer wants have a longstanding belief that happiness can only ever be delivered through pleasure. With the side effect that with each passing year our tolerance for unpleasant sensations decreases, and our craving for pleasant sensations increases. Therefore it is no surprise that both scientific research and economic activity are geared to that end, each year producing better painkillers, new flavours for ice cream, more comfortable cars and mattresses, and more addictive games for our devices, so that now most of us need not suffer a single boring moment alone in a coffee shop or while waiting at a bus stop.

Science, educators and increasingly concerned parents have noticed the decline in our attention spans at the same time as research has shown that such constant distractions have increased violence and incidence of depression among pleasure chasers and those of us who are rarely off-line. The fact that we seem to know these things aren’t good for us rarely helps as most people will freely admit that they spend too much time checking e-mail, watching television, or playing games on their phones or worse still feeling guilty for giving a 2 year old their device to play games on just to grab a few moments to themselves.

Two generations of children playing
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These are all relatively new time-thieving distractions so we perhaps hear more about them. But there are other more established, subtle distractions that steal our time, which can be just as detrimental if not worse. These are not announced with blinking lights or device beeping sounds. In fact, they have become so commonplace and ever-present, we hardly notice their existence anymore. But once these distractions take up residence in our heads they can wreak havoc simply by keeping us from living our lives to their greatest potential.

Here’s a few time thieving distraction that may have quietly taken up residence in your head or in your heart. How many do you recognise in yourself?

Regrets from your Past.  To live is to experience regret. Nobody escapes this one life unscathed. We regret decisions, our actions, and our bad motivations. But no amount of regret will ever change your past and only those who recognize that and truly admit their imperfections will move beyond them. If you made a mistake admit it to yourself, learn from it and if necessary offer an apology and then move on.

The Empty Promise of Tomorrow. Joshua.G.Clark once said: “We waste so many days waiting for the weekend. So many nights wanting morning. Our lust for future comfort is the biggest thief of life.” It isn’t totally foolish to look towards the future and plan accordingly. However, when we endure our todays only for the sake of tomorrow (the weekend, the holiday or your retirement), we risk missing out on the full beauty and potential of the present.

The Pursuit of Perfection. Pursuing excellence and pride in things we do is not a bad thing. But doing your best and doggedly pursuing perfection are not the same thing. When perfection becomes the goal, it also becomes the enemy of progress because it too often distracts us from taking that essential risk of moving forward.

The Accumulation of Possessions. The things we own require our time, our energy, our attention and our money. Every new possession adds increased stress into our lives. Most of us continue to accumulate or actively pursue more and more. But more things are never the answer and far too often they become just one more distraction.

The Desire for Wealth.  Those who crave riches have misplaced their greatest potential. Our lives were designed for contribution so we might provide a positive impact on society for ourselves, our families, and those who live around us. Sometimes, our contribution and hard work provides financial excess. Other times, it does not. But when our contribution to society becomes chiefly motivated through a selfish desire to accumulate more wealth, it becomes self defeating because by investing more and more time chasing riches we always run the risk of losing our ability to live life to the fullest.

Abraham Lincoln Quote

The Allure of Pleasure.  Most of us work hard so what is wrong with a little pleasure? I know I enjoy it. But here’s the problem, pleasure is a terrible teacher. The most significant lessons we learn in life are rarely received during times of pleasure. Instead, they are often born out of pain. I am really not suggesting that we should seek pain in our lives. But what I will say is that a life lived chiefly for the pursuit of pleasure, will usually end up looking for ot it in all the wrong places.

Active Indifference.  Our chaotic world offers many opportunities to make a positive contribution to the lives of others not because we feel we have to but because we really want to. Those who choose to live life as a victim will always miss their opportunity to give. Additionally, those who choose to adopt an indifference to the world around them will always miss out on their greatest potential. But those who recognize need and seek to do something about it through a sense of compassion and a willingness to make a difference will experience a joy and fulfilment that can never be discovered anywhere else.

The Need for Fame or Notoriety.  Today’s media is populated by a legion of A-Z list celebrities many of whom seem to be famous simply because they are… famous. In today’s fast moving world of social media and throwaway TV the popular idea of some people achieving their 15 minutes of fame seems to have been boiled down to little more than 15 seconds for most of them. The life you live is the life you live regardless if anybody notices or not. Those whose shallow lives focus on their need to be recognized are usually the ones who take shortcuts to get there anyway. Instead, find significance in the eyes of those who know you best because, as any lonely and faded celebrity of yesterday will tell you, in the end, that is all that really matters.

Our world is full of distractions and the most dangerous are those we do not even recognize. But you’ll never reach your full potential unless you can spot the ones that have become a negative part of your life story.

Life Quote

Love your life so much you want to write about it and take a thousand pictures. Tell people you love them and get out of your comfort zone by sometimes talking to complete strangers and do other things that may scare you at first. Don’t do it for affect for approval or fame do it all for yourself – because in the end so many of us will die with no one remembering a single thing we did let alone how many facebook or twitter followers we once had. So cut out those life sapping distractions and make your one life the best story that ever was… don’t waste another minute.


Friends, Enemies and Gossips

I am always struck by the way some people value themselves not just against the quality of their friends but on the loyalty of those same friends when it comes to enemies. How many people do you know who expect you to regard someone they find distasteful or as an out and out enemy for no other reason than to display your loyalty to them? This despite you having no axe to grind yourself personally because you haven’t actually had any negative interaction with that particular person or persons or perhaps because you have forgiven some past transgression? This ability to influence others often goes beyond loyalty into the realms of their feelings of self worth. Sometimes rather than settling for a less stressful situation where they can content themselves with functional friends and simply ignore their perceived enemies for the sake of self harmony they instead turn it into something more desperate and needy along the lines of ‘if you are their friend you are no friend of mine.’ Worse still a passive aggressive: ‘You can still be friends with them but…’ also confirms it is no longer about your friendship and more about a subtle kind of bullying.

A dock in the mediterranean

Living in a small village in a foreign land is a great leveller of people particularly when it comes to friendships. Prejudices and any affectations of societal class or things like intelligence or ideas about what does or doesn’t make someone interesting enough to be courted to become a member of your circle of friends are often turned on their heads. Although I confess that I sometimes find myself depending on the daily affection of a small furry animal – I am blessed with the ability to spend long periods of my life relatively alone. This fairly solitary life doesn’t suit everyone especially those who hate their own company. I have seen friends leave Turkey for that very reason. My other great benefit when it comes to living here is my reasonable grasp of the language, which opens up a whole new dimension of social interaction. Conversely I also have friends who have been here almost as long as I have but who still have almost zero grasp of the language beyond beer ordering type basic Turkish. But they seem happy enough with their small circle of friends, many of whom are just as comfortable living in a similar expat bubble. We all have our own needs and requirements built upon a foundations of our earlier life expectations, parental guidance and later life experiences, which is after all what shapes our character and makes each of us interesting as individuals.

In the microcosm of a small fishing village I have witnessed friendships blossom between people who would never normally speak or might even cross the road to avoid each other in another time and another place such as a town or city with a larger pool of people. That said I lived in London long enough to know quite a few lonely people who could never quite get the hang of making and retaining friends. In such rarefied circumstances out of our comfort zones unexpected friendships often flourish and thrive because we have little choice but to re-examine and abandon most of the things we thought were must have’s or ideals when seeking friendships. Of course there is also a negative that can thrive amongst any relatively small pool of people for quite different reasons if you let them… idle gossips.

Gossip is a disease spread from mouth to mouth
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Science tells us that shared dislikes create stronger bonds than shared positives. This is why gossips seems to create a quicker and easier connection with fellow gossipers. But make no mistake, gossip doesn’t facilitate real or lasting connection with anyone. You, me, or anyone else that doesn’t know how to tame their inner critic, will inevitably be found out as untrustworthy. So the last person we’re going to feel safe trusting and sharing real life with is the public critic. Why? Because, though it may take a second, everyone eventually realizes that people that gossip, inevitably end up gossiping about you. There are also those unfortunate individuals we meet who can only really flourish on drama. We all know them: like the couple who always seem to be breaking up just so that they can feel an emotional buzz before they inevitably make up. Quite often these individuals have grown up in similar familial situation of extremes where sometimes one or even both parents would eventually become prone to domestic violence. I would never defend a spousal abuser but there is some evidence that such situations can sometimes trigger a sadomasochistic element that one or both parties get off on. In a similar way some people can’t help being gossips because of where they come from and the mayhem and drama they feed on is often the only way they can feel connected to others, particularly in a small relatively quiet village. So if there is not much going on it won’t be long before the gossip tries to create the drama that they need to survive.

An experienced gossip’s need for drama to feel this perverse connection will always find a way. Their poisonous tongue helps them luxuriate in the reaction or counter reaction their embellished observations or downright lies create. The saddest thing is that one of the other main drivers of a gossip is to be liked or wanted as the go-to source for information. So when there is nothing much happening or an unfounded suspicion enters their heads these self declared centres of ‘rumour control’ just can’t help themselves from spinning out yet another lie into the public domain. But the reality is, usually after the gossip is unmasked as such, once, twice, or a hundred times is that a lonely friendlessness is the inevitable price that most gossips must pay. This of course perpetuates it even more because when a gossip becomes ever more isolated they believe they must make their lies bigger and ever more elaborate in order to still be noticed and maintain that feeling of a connection.

A sunset in the mediterranean

In the end of course it’s about us and who we are. Just like we can only build our own circle of friends that suits us by resisting the direct or passive aggressive bullying of those overbearing friends who want to regulate who is and isn’t our friends; we must also deny the gossips amongst us the oxygen they need by refusing that all too human urge to feel connected by passing on any juicy snippet, which we suspect at best may be embellished or at worst could be a downright lie simply because of who told it to us.