Need vs Want

I really wanted to blog about the amazing experiences I had while I was on holiday, but I find myself fairly incapable of doing so. I’ve only been back for a few days, and after completely letting go of all obligations and just experiencing pleasure and leisure and doing whatever it was I desired for the day, returning to my house is remarkably stressful. I missed my room and my games and my very special girlfriend, but now that the excitement of being back has worn off I find myself stressed to the eyeballs for not much of a reason.

I like to think that I’m gaining higher levels of self-awareness over time, and I realised that (as I’ve previously mentioned) whenever there is a blank gap in my schedule, I panic and fill it in with whatever activities I have on hand. I must always be doing something, something productive. I must never idle, I must never be bored. Realising this took a startlingly long time- it was just part of my ordinary thinking, and I couldn’t see how anything was wrong with it. But, obviously, it is a very dysfunctional world view. Since then I’ve tried to do my best to be comfortable with emptiness, with differing levels of success.

But I realised today that it goes deeper than that. That’s symptom management- realising there’s emptiness, and doing my best to not panic. Underneath that there’s another level- the idea that I always have things that I need to do. When I woke up this morning, I was feeling wonderful. The sun was shining, I had managed to largely catch up on sleep (although I still wake at around 5am due to timezone adjustment), and I had a full day to do anything I wanted. And that was when it started to go downhill.

I decided today would be a good day to get off my arse and go to a church to pray. This is a fairly big topic which I’ll write more about later, but for now, suffice it to say I wanted to leave the house and go to church. On the way to getting to the car and leaving, I wanted to eat breakfast, shower and to taiji. I got distracted by youtube, SMS and facebook even before I got out of bed. I thought of all the emails I should send or reply to, the messages I owed people, the websites I had to visit, the things I had to do. I had a brief moment where I thought I might play piano today, just for the pleasure of it. I wanted to drink tea. I needed to clean my sword at some point, and I should probably do some training since I haven’t trained earnestly in weeks. Oh, and the holiday photos needed updating, and my car hasn’t been washed, and I could read Inheritance if I liked. All of a sudden, as I was eating my bowl of Just Right, I was overwhelmed by how much I had to do. My free day was suddenly full of too many things to do. I could struggle and struggle and do each one, ticking them off the imaginary to-do list in my head (I’ve found that physically writing out a to-do list is disastrous- every item I cross off becomes invisible, and I can only see how many things I didn’t manage to do today, and it makes me feel worthlessly unproductive), but that’s an awful life. Stressing about stupid, inane tasks, panicking if they’re not done by the time sun sets, and feeling a small wash of relief every time one is accomplished only to freak out about how many more things are left to do. What a horrible way to live.

I know that none of those tasks are necessary in my day. Some of them, like emailing my future housemates and signing up for uni next year, are relatively urgent. Others, like washing my car, will not ruin my life if they don’t get done before noon. I have developed a new mantra, of sorts. I’d like it to become a much more prominent thought in my life:
“If you need to do it, get up and do it. If you don’t need to do it, do what you want instead.”

It is a huge step for me to do what I want rather than what I should do, or what I need to do. I am not always successful, and I still experience days (like yesterday, and like today) where I actually fight panic whenever I feel I’m not doing enough. For example, I should have finished this blog post ages ago and moved onto some other important article on my to-do list. In fact, I knew this blog post wasn’t essential but I ignored the important things I had to do today and wrote it anyway. Waste waste waste, time time time, being productive, getting stuff done. This is the regular narrative that flows through my head. And despite all my knowledge of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, Narrative Therapy, and every other psychological theory for changing unhelpful thought processes, I do not seem to be making much progress. Maybe that’s my problem- the idea that I need to progress in a measurable, noticeable way the instant I start trying. Nothing for it but to keep being patient with myself.

Blogs about holidays to come.

4 thoughts on “Need vs Want

  1. I find the ‘should’ word is lethal for feelings of productivity and wellbeing. I have yet to successfully edit it out from my thoughts and intentions, but I notice when I fall into a nasty ‘should cycle’ more often and can usually get myself out of it with reasonable success. Have been much happier every time I’ve managed it.

    Wishing you well for all of this internal looking and thinking and noticing :)

  2. ‘Shoulds’ are scary things. I dislike them immensely, and yet they dominate the majority of my thoughts. I’m so proud of you for looking inside and revealing more of the cause, rather than the symptoms.
    May your mantra guide you. <3

  3. Rach says:

    At the risk of repeating the first two comments – “should” is a bad word


    Louise Hay suggests an honest exercise that might take a few moments if you give it space to. She suggests writing down EVERY should statement – everything you should be doing/feeling/being/seeing etc.

    Then, look at each statement individually, and ask WHY. What in your life is causing the external pressure? Societal norms? Outdated expectations of yourself? Unrealistic understandings of your self? Parents/friends/family?

    I found that the exercise gave me a lot of space to release the ‘should’ and be more content with my choices in life…


    • Xin says:

      Thank you Rach. It’s wonderful to hear from you. Louise Hay is one of the inspiring people I would like to get to know a little better during my time off for introspection and growth. You’re talking about You Can Heal Your Life, yes? I think that’s her most famous work. Thank you for the exercise: I’ll try it next time I notice myself saying should <3

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