Are you using your downtime to escape your current life, or to build the life that you actually want to be living?
If you live for the weekends to get liquored up with friends, or spend all weekend indoors playing video game, you are likely escaping a life that drags you down. Maybe you got into a groove of these things in college and never broke the habit, that is a possibility as well. Lord knows we humans are creatures of habit. Regardless of the origin of this behavior, you have to take a step back and realize that this is not productive behavior.
I am amazed at how many people struggle financially, living paycheck to paycheck, and yet go out and party every single weekend. Instead of limiting the expenses and solving some of the financial issues, they continue to drink away a portion of the money they have in hand. They live like there is no way to change their circumstances, and that just is not true. I know, I had a bad relationship with money for a large chunk of my life. It can be an easy trap to fall into, temporary relief from the oppressive feel of not having enough money to live more comfortably. In most cases there is improvement to be had, you just need to see it and then act.
Let me repeat that:
See the problem
Take action and solve it
I know that seems so oversimplified, but it really is as easy as that. Now, execution of this is a little more difficult, but start small and work your way up. The same way you don’t show up at the gym for the fist time in your life and rack 300 pounds on the bench press to make up for lost time, you don’t want to radically shift your lifestyle to quit all of your bad habits at once. It won’t stick if you try to do it in this fashion, you need to ease your way into it. Life is a marathon (hopefully) and not a sprint, so treat it accordingly. You likely didn’t get into this habit or your financial situation overnight, which means you can’t get out of it that quickly either. Slow and steady will win the race.
For example, I have a day job that fluctuates in demand on a daily basis. Some days I am slammed from 8AM to 5PM in my time zone. Sometimes I stray from this and add stuff in even earlier in the day, as I have prospective clients on the East Coast and I decide to accommodate their schedule instead of sticking to mine. In most cases though, if I schedule something at 6AM my time, I am done by 2PM that day, so it balances out. I used to schedule a lunch time visit to the gym, but I kept finding that I would have things occur that would inevitably get in the way or shorten the process. I had to change that, so I switched to doing morning workouts. This way I am sure to get the workout in each day, and it also does not impact the work I do. Now, about my down time…
By getting everything in my daily routine accounted for and taken care of, I too, have downtime to use as I see fit. I spend a lot of time writing blogs, working on talks, and drumming up speaking opportunities. The life I have is great, but the life I want to live will be even better. What I want is to at least once a month to fly to a new city and do a talk in front of an audience and get paid five thousand dollars to do it. I want my flight and hotel paid for, and I want to share my message with the world. The additional income and the personal satisfaction I will achieve with this is going to make my life that much better. It’s coming, I can feel it…I just have to keep working and I can bring this to fruition.
Every time I waste a day NOT doing something that contributed to this overall vision, I set myself back another day. If I spent my days engrossed in a fantasy football league or living for the weekend nights to get drunk and spending the days on the couch trying to recover for another round of it the next night, I wouldn’t be well on my way to accomplishing my goals. My life would be in limbo, living for the moments of happiness that I believe I get when I am completely distracted from my life. If my life is that uncomfortable to live, I need to make some serious changes. Here’s a question for you:
What are you hiding from?
What is it that you are lacking, missing altogether, or trying to ignore in order to feel good on occasion? If you step back and take a deep look at this, you may easily find the answer you are looking for. We all have baggage that we drag around with us, some of it from yesterday and some of it from childhood. Bad habits, poor mindset, emotional trauma, all of it can contribute to the lack of productive use of your time. Escapism is a temporary solution to what will be a permanent problem if you do not address them. I love watching NFL Football, but I watch football when I have time. This means I have productive days that make me feel like I moved towards my goals and/or got a lot accomplished, and then I can sit and relax and watch a game. I usually watch Sunday Night Football for this reason, as I am busy during the weekend fishing, hiking with my wife, etc. in addition to writing and other things. I need to earn my downtime…
I am not telling you to throw away your gaming console, but what I am suggesting is that you put it in the closet when you are not using it, and that you “earn” the right to take it out and use it the next time. If it is sitting in the middle of the living room floor all the time, it is easy to have it be top of mind and with it being so accessible, you’re gonna end up firing it up again soon. Add some friction to the process of getting engrossed in another marathon session of HALO or whatever your mind numbing game of choice is. Make it less accessible and you will soon be putting distance between you and this bad habit.
And yes, I am going to goes as far as saying this is a bad habit. We all have them, so don’t get defensive on me. I have my own weak spots and areas for improvement just like everyone else on the planet. But I am aware of them, working hard to control squash or eliminate them, and unless you can honestly say the same, I would encourage you to be open to the fact that this is an area that could use some improvement. I am trying to help by exposing areas of weakness so you can improve and live the best version of your life. I have made a lot of improvements on my side, and I know how satisfying it is to see differences and changes.
You can apply the above example to anything you A. should be aware of as a non-productive time suck in your life and B. that you want to change the behavior patterns for. Adding friction to anything makes it more difficult to access. If you are trying to accomplish anything, it takes focus. The problem with this is that we only have so many hours per week that we can allocate our focus to; family, work, and lots of other stuff gets in the way. Which is why I am harping on this point, you don’t have time to waste having a part time job playing video games. If you have nothing else you are striving for, or it is a coping mechanism for a rough patch in life, I get it. But don’t let it become a habit and worse yet a lifestyle that so many get sucked into. You’ll regret it; maybe not immediately, but at some point I do believe you will regret those lost hours that you’ll never get back.
One final clarifying point…everything in moderation. If you want to participate in a fantasy football pool or play video games, great…go do it. Just try to mitigate the overall amount of time spent (wasted) in this pursuit. We all need down time, a break from the grind that our weeks can be, but don’t sacrifice time with loved ones or hours that should be allocated elsewhere when indulging in the numbness.