Article by Zen Habits contributor Jonathan Mead.
Caring is supposed to be a good thing, yet, it can become unhealthy and have an adverse effect on our lives.
When we care too much, we become obsessive and it often leads to dysfunction.
There are definitely times where passion fuels our desire to act. Working towards change, being involved in a social movement, and contributing in a meaningful way to others are all examples of this. But it’s the not caring about things that don’t matter that allows you to focus your attention on these big, important things. It’s the lack of out-of-control caring that brings more levity into your life.
Here are a few classic examples of caring gone too far:
- Caring too much about things that don’t matter.
- Caring too much about things being perfect and reach a point of diminishing returns. It can take four hours of studying to get a 95% on a test, but it may take fifteen hours of studying to get a 100%. Are those additional eleven hours really worth it?
- Caring too much about always being updated. We want to know what’s happening on facebook, twitter, email, and we lose our ability to focus.
- Adversely caring about what others think and don’t give enough credit to what we think.
- Caring too much about the future. We’re always thinking about what will happen next.
I could go on and on about all the possibilities of toxic caring. It’s already plain to see that caring — something usually seen as a positive action — can be highly undesirable.
I’ve seen so many people waste so much time caring about things that don’t really matter. They have dreams and they have big ideas, but they can’t get them off the ground because their attention and concern is in the wrong place.
If your mind is too focused on what’s happening in the next five minutes, you’ll never make progress on the things that will impact your life five years from now. If you’re too focused on tidying up your desk, reorganizing your paper clips and making sure everything is filed immaculately, you’re just spinning your wheels. Things like this have a place, and organization is important. But when it’s taking up more time than your most important tasks, you might want to rethink things.
The same thing applies not just with organization, but with caring too much about getting everything done. If you have a lot of little loose ends and small tasks that you need to close, you could easily get overwhelmed. And you might think that finishing those things is a bigger priority than working on your something amazing.
But trust me, it’s not. There will be more little things to obsess over. There will be other things that you can find to do that will creep into your consciousness. These things are your enemies.
I repeat: These minutiae must be not be allowed residence in your mind. They cannot take up the precious and sacred focus of your attention.
This is where you need to learn the art of putting things off.
Yeah, I know that might sound controversial, given how many of us have issues with procrastination. But, this is actually good news for you procrastinators! Now you can use this valuable skill to your advantage.
Put off or procrastinate all the stuff that doesn’t matter. Do this for the survival of your dreams.
If you don’t learn how to skillfully put off the trivial details of your to-do list, your dreams will suffer for it. If you don’t learn how to stop caring about all the stuff that won’t matter in ten minutes or ten years, your dreams will be left as nothing more than a phantom of your imagination.
I will admit, this is something I’ve struggled with for a long time. While I haven’t fully learned the skilled art of putting off the inconsequential, I am making serious progress.
I used to obsess about the little things, partly because I’m a recovering perfectionist. But it’s also largely due to the fact that I was afraid of facing my dreams. I was putting off the wrong stuff. I was putting off facing the reality of what I really wanted and coming to terms with whether or not it was truly possible. I was afraid of failure; but most of all, I was afraid of the unknown.
Now I see that when I’m putting off the wrong stuff (my true desires), I need to take a closer at myself. I see it as a clue that I might be avoiding what I really want for some reason. Maybe it’s fear, maybe it’s something else. But I know that getting too wrapped up in the details means that I need to step back and take a look at the bigger picture.
Take a step back, and breathe…
When you realize that you’re spending time on a lot of insignificant things, take a look at what the deeper message might be. Maybe you’re afraid of taking the first step toward your dreams.
See what happens when you put off or stop caring about…
- Checking your email every ten minutes.
- Having everything finished on your to do list.
- Having an immaculately clean house.
- Trying to please everyone.
- Seeking praise and popularity.
- [Your malady here.]
When you’re left with your real, authentic self, you will probably be a little uncomfortable, as I was. But it’s better to be face-to-face with this discomfort than letting this lawless caring get in the way of you living your dreams.
So put things off, be flaky. Stop caring about the stuff that doesn’t matter … your dreams depend on it.