On Active Inaction

We all have plans. Goals we want to accomplish. Things we need to do. There are times when our energy and motivation are low. In our heads we know what it is that needs doing, and yet that task, that work, seems too daunting. This is normal. Do something to make forward progress. Too tired for that full workout? Get up and get moving anyway. Have less time than necessary? Make adjustments, scale back and do what you can. Don’t let yourself be stopped. The slow creation of great things is accomplished more on the bad days than on the good ones.

There are other times when you need to pause. Pushing your life forward is great. That’s what we’re here to do. But we also need to take time out for everything that wraps around the activity. To spend time not on forward progress. To spend it instead on recovery, interlude, reflection, and planning.

Recovery

We push hard. Grind on the workouts, on the task list, on the plan, through the course. But we’re human, and the physical and mental machinery can wear down. Don’t keep pushing until it breaks. Make time to rest. Meditate. Get outside and take a walk. Enjoy some idle leisure or time with friends. Because life is too short for it to all be a grind. We need to build in recovery time. Allow for slack where we can catch our breath. Let the body rest, the mind calm, and the spirit recharge. Be aware of when you have ventured past replenishment into indulgence. Don’t get comfortable or lazy.

Interlude

Then there are the times when we’ve reached a milestone. Finished that first draft. Released version one. Run that race we’ve been training for. Completed that trek through the wilderness. Gotten that degree. All accomplishments great and small have an endpoint. But we’re not a collection of endpoints, we’re a process of becoming. And now that that last thing is done, take a moment. Enjoy the feeling. Celebrate the win. Look back at what it took and how you struggled. All that led to now. What did you learn - about the work and about yourself? Take stock and ready yourself. Then look ahead. Maybe you already have something else planned. Now is the time to be sure of it. Are you certain that is what needs to be next? If so, start planning. If not, some deeper reflection is in order.

Reflection

We don’t always know what will bring us fulfillment, what will be meaningful, where we will find peace. How the story of our life might be best lived and how it might go wrong. Sometimes we make decisions that result in different outcomes and feelings than we expected. Sometimes the world itself changes out from under us. This is not the time for forging blindly ahead. Instead, take the time to reflect, understand yourself better, ask questions, journal, get back to first principles. Whatever it takes to figure out what direction you need to go and what experiments in your life you need to try.

Planning

Once you know what’s next, it’s time to plan. Or to enhance/revise your existing plans and systems. How are you going to make time? Is any training, preparation, or equipment needed? How does this new goal or system change need to be deconstructed into actionable tasks or daily activities? What’s the priority? Identify the current obstacles and near-term obstacles and what you need to do to mitigate them. Maybe what’s next is a simple tweak to adjust your routine. Or a connected set of pieces that compose into a new experiment that you want to run. Or maybe it’s a dramatic and aggressive, multi-year shift in your existence. Good. Create the outline of a plan that you can iterate on.

Our lives are not all forward motion. It is true that we have a bias to action (or at least that we should), but discernment and reflection are sometimes more important than the forward rush of effort. The trick, as with most things in life, its to find the right balance. Know when to move, know when to be still.