Deciding vs Acting vs Observing 1: The Problem
Updated: Apr 12, 2021
I was talking on the phone recently (the ultimate in social distancing without a mask) with one of my wife’s sisters, catching up on what’s been going on in our lives lately. In the process, we got to discussing the issue of being too busy and perhaps over-absorbed in keeping up with the news of what is happening, which is or could affect our personal lives particularly with respect to political issues and the pandemic, economy, and election.
The conversation gradually came to focus on the issue of how these all affect our personal health, especially blood pressure, and what to do about it. The basic task was defining what we could control and how to let the rest go, get it out of our minds, and hopefully reduce that threat, or reality, of having high blood pressure. So we talked randomly about what sources of information about the news we utilize, our past and current efforts to select which ones to keep and which to shut off, and the success we did or didn’t have with the effort.
Our conclusion was that, in keeping with general medical advice on this topic, we probably just needed to be more judicious on our exposure to the news—or the inundation of mail, email, text messages, and social media extolling us to contribute, join, or speak out about this or that particular political position. It was really a matter of controlling our exposure by deleting messages, not going to certain sites online, not answering unknown phone calls, skipping newspaper articles, or tossing out paper mail without opening it. Actually, there are lots of ways to effect control over this, when you think about it.
We also concluded that how you spend your time each day is also an important factor in reducing exposure to news and political solicitations. If you’re busy doing something else or don’t have the time available for exposure to news etc., that in itself will help you in controlling all the stuff that is bombarding you—and ultimately reducing your blood pressure. Pretty simple: take away the cause and the result goes away. The best medical advice ever given: if it hurts, stop doing it.
So, what could you do to reduce the amount of time you are exposed to all that stuff? Well, I suppose just do something else. Such as other things that don’t require you to make a decision about what all the news and solicitations are asking you to do. Now, solicitations are pretty blunt about it: If you want to be a good person (or whatever), then choose to "do as we ask." But news coverage is a little more subtle: the presentation may be fence-straddling or one-sided. Either way, news tugs at your sense of morality and self-identification so that you have to agree or disagree with the content and presentation. Either of these mind-stressors can be tough on your brain by over-loading it with information and emotion, as well as taking up time in your day.
So, reclaim your time. Do something else. Like what? Anything that doesn’t require making a decision. Reading or watching a story, working on a hobby, playing a game, cooking, yoga, and so on and on. Of course, all of life and any level of control requires decisions; just select something that doesn’t require a serious, life-changing decision, as those mentioned activities don’t. With them, it’s basically a matter of following rules or instructions, and when making a decision is required, parameters of the choices are usually very limited: do I make it red or blue, stretch a little more in this pose or not, kick the ball to this person or that one, etc. Pretty simple, and peaceful.
Notice also, that in some of these activities such as following a story or exercising, the choices are quite minimal—limited to starting and stopping the activity, basically. Which is why some activities such as bird watching, meditation, jogging, and walking are so popular. Some, like simply observing things in Nature bring the control issue down to a matter of observing. You just decide whether or not to stop and watch that mass of ants scurrying back and forth across a pathway as they forage for food, or to pause and listen to a bird sing it’s heart out on a tree branch, or to marvel at the clouds rushing overhead as harbingers of a change in the weather, or to stare at the ceaseless waves rolling onto a beach or a dog fetching a ball at a park.
Such actions are very basic and nothing like the mind-assaulting news and solicitations which demand our attention. It’s essentially a choice of whether to control our exposure by participating in big decisions or physically doing something simple or just watching something completely out of our control—whether to respond to the pressure of the barrage of messages on social media or to jog along the street or to silently watch a bird soaring in the sky. Decision vs activity vs observing: that’s the simple first choice you have to make to stay in control of time.
Finding a balance is the next post’s topic.