HOW to ENJOY LIFE... and EVERYTHING
I know this may seem insane, but it’s possible if you really want to! See, we tend to believe that an activity is fundamentally boring, or fun, or mundane or special. Time quickly passes by when we are playing some sport or watching TV but when it’s time to do some chores like taking the trash out, cleaning the bathroom or making the bed, it feels like we are in an eternal loop of endless boredom.
But this whole dynamic is based on a false premise. Namely, that activities are inherently boring, or cool, or fun.
Mark Twain Doing Dishes?
There’s a scene on Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer that illustrates beautifully what I’m trying to say here:
In this scene, Tom Sawyer was tasked by his Aunt Polly to whitewash their fence as a punishment for a prior mischief. Tom Sawyer being a young boy wished the be playing instead. When Bob Rogers, Tom’s friend, passed by, he tried mocking him but Tom did something quite interesting.
He ignored him an acted as if painting the fence was some special chore that one cannot do every day, and an activity that required high precision. Naturally, Bob couldn’t help himself but ask Tom to let him paint a little. And that was how Tom Sawyer liberated himself from painting the fence.
I can imagine that Bob had the time of his life painting that long, worn out fence while Sawyer was doing his best to get rid of it. How could it be that the exact same activity was perceived and experienced differently?
Mindset is Everything
This story helps us shed light on a key dynamic:
- Our mind is what makes something interesting or boring, not the activity per se.
Or to say it another way:
- Activities, events are circumstances are inherently neutral. It is our mind that embeds meaning into them.
This concept is not new. Buddhism talks about it, Stoicism talks about it and even Shakespeare was aware of this distinction when writing:
“Nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
In a sense, what we do, what happens and what occur to us is not relevant. What matter is how we hold them in our experience and the meaning or significance we imbed them with. What this means is that:
- We can have a blast washing the dishes or picking up our dogs poop
- We can enjoy doing our chores, cleaning the house and doing taxes
- Learning can be as fun as playing videogames
- Meditation and other demanding habits can be as joyful as watching TV
Okay, this may all seem to abstract but let’s ground it in some concrete ways you can change the way you relate and hold different activities:
How To Change Your Attitude
When I was 13 years old, my father told me it was time to start earning my own money. During my summer vacations, he gave me a part time job where my task was to upload invoices to the system. It cannot get more boring than that, right?
I had two options. The first one was to hate myself, the job and my father every single moment of it and the second one was to find a way to enjoy the process. And that’s what I did.
I created a game in which I wrote down how many invoices I could upload in an hour. The idea was to beat my own record each time and as time went on, I learned different ways to improve the upload process and in a couple of weeks, I doubled my productivity.
Basically, what you try to do with this technique is to gamify (from gamification) an activity. That could be using an app for meditation, seeing how many dishes you can wash in 10 minutes or finding ways to improve the clothes-folding process.
Finding Something Interesting
When I was in high-school I hated maths and physics. Sure, I was competent at it but it was not even close to a passion of mine. Years later, I find myself reading Godel, Escher, Bach (a mathematics and logics book) that is, honestly, blowing my mind away.
So, even though the subject is similar, what had changed?
Partly thanks to the way schools teach, partly because of my maturity level, I wasn’t able to see how interesting and engaging can topics be if approached by the angle – or the right attitude.
How crazy it is that numbers can explain how reality work. Or how these physicists and mathematicians discovered what they discovered? What was believed before that theory came into being? What is its application? I find these questions fascinating.
Or take history. You could see is as something you need to memorize to pass a test or you can approach it as a non-fiction story that actually took place! More interestingly, who are the ones narrating the story. What are the consequences of it? Why is it told the way it is told? And much, much more.
There’s always something interesting to find in anything that you do. To find it is a mindset.
The Mastery Approach
This is a concept that is found in George Leonard’s book Mastery, which I always find incredibly refreshing and inspiring.
Mastery is a mindset in which you are 100% conscious of the activity – from start to finish. In this way, your being is completely immersed in the task at hand and, consequently, you are always looking for improvements. Here, there’s no place for boredom or apathy. The completion and perfect performance of the task is all that matters.
When we approach some activity with the Mastery Mindset, we are not expecting it to be fun, we aim at perfection and improvement.
Sure, this sounds rational if we are talking about flying a plane or doing surgery. But for washing dishes or learning to play the piano?
There are 100 different ways to improve washing dishes. Our posture, how much strength we put, how relaxed are we, and so on. Same with driving a car, taking the trash, doing taxes, playing the guitar, painting the fence, going to the gym and so on.
I can assure you this will make anything you take on a fun and engaging activity.
The Presence Method
Anything done with presence, acquires a different flavor and is elevated.
The idea here is to be mindful of every sensation you experience while doing some task. It can be the feeling of your fingers as you type your keyboard while doing takes, your body while mopping the floor or the sound of the grass as you moan the loan.
By immersing yourself in the experience, the mind doesn’t have space to entertain other ideas other than the task at hand. Meditation and mindfulness as a practice comes very handy.
You Can Change Your Attitude
Activities are, by themselves, meaningless and neutral. It is us that give them meaning and significance.
And this is, in a sense, very liberating. It comes with the realization that any activity can be enjoyed. Nevertheless, personal responsibility becomes a crucial piece in the puzzle.
We cannot blame circumstances anymore. There’s no excuse for not doing something or whining about it. Each time we refuse to do something that will help us improve or just stuff that needs to be done, we are failing to take responsibility for the situation and our own mind and being. And this realization take courage.
Don’t forget too that life is not about extravagant or special moments, as social media wants us to believe. It is made out of simple, mundane stuff and activities that are done over and over again – which is, by the way, the way people accomplish great things. We must learn to enjoy them, approach them with mastery and always find the interesting angle. Because if not, 90% of our lives will not be truly lived, and that is a disgrace.
Maybe you are also interested in: