Improve Your Life by Contributing More Than You Consume

Photo: Sarah Dibbern

Photo: Sarah Dibbern

January has become a favorite time of year. These frozen, grey days on the tundra when the demands of the holiday season are behind me. Spring and summer remain far enough off with their taunts of being short-lived that send Northerners into a frenzy of lawn care, home improvement and patio dining bucket lists. This stretch of time seems to move more slowly–you know, like molasses in January. And slow time feels like more time. More time to create and contribute–a goal not just for January but for the entire year and hopefully, my entire life.

Photo: Sarah Dibbern

Photo: Sarah Dibbern

You see, here’s the thing. Sometimes I get down on myself. Maybe you do too. Like I should be accomplishing so much more with my life. I get up in the morning, pour a cup of coffee, sit in my favorite chair and scroll through my phone to see what’s happening in the world. I read news articles and send funny videos to my teenage kids in an attempt to make their morning crank faces crack a smile. But I also thumb through all the pretty pictures on social media. Maybe you do too.

I consume lots of ideas. Recipes I’ll probably never make. Exercises I’ll likely never do. Home décor trends I can’t replicate. Beauty secrets that remind me of my age. There’s lots of wonderfully curated inspiration in cyberspace. But whenever I consume more than I create or contribute to the world, this digital diet begins to weigh me down with negative self-talk. Why can’t I cook like that? Dress like that? Have a clean house like that?

Because I spend more time consuming ideas than I do creating or implementing ideas. Duh!

When scrolling through Twitter and Instagram become a spiritual discipline, it’s probably time to make a change.

Don’t misunderstand. I love Twitter and Instagram. I love all of the connectivity, inspiration and opportunities available right in the palm of my hand! But am I letting my consumption of content weigh me down rather than get me going? Am I balancing my consumption with contributing positively to a conversation, offering ideas or implementing any of the good ideas I see?

For many folks, January is a time to refocus on health and wellness. Well, a simple rule of healthy living (including our relational, financial, mental and spiritual health) applies to most aspects of daily life–including our digital life. Our contribution to the world should outweigh what we consume from the world.

That’s my mantra for 2017: Contribute & Create more than I Consume.

Contributions and creativity can look any number of ways. What’s your gift? How can you use your gifts to create something or contribute to the world? Writing. Cooking. Designing. Volunteering. Reorganizing. Donating. Entertaining. Scrapbooking. Teaching. Photography. Whatever.

For me, this mantra isn’t about any particular task or checklist of endeavors. It’s simply going to be about reminding myself to spend a little less time scrolling through other people’s worlds and more time contributing to or creating something good in my little corner of the world.

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Giving Myself Permission to Procrastinate

Photo Credit: theweek.com

Photo Credit: theweek.com

I knew I had a blog post scheduled for today and I had time to write it over the past week. But I procrastinated. I waited until the very last possible minute to spill my thoughts onto the page about… procrastination.

Allow me to illuminate my thought process on this particular topic. Because I tend to procrastinate and so the reasons behind my procrastination and whether I should try to correct this habitual behavior have occupied a fair amount of space in my brain as of late.

What I’ve come to believe about myself is this–I would not procrastinate unless I know I can get the task done. Eventually. And in a timely enough manner to satisfy whatever needs I have for control, accomplishment and not getting fired. For example, I’d already been noodling this topic and what I planned to say about it. So, I was not super concerned about how much time it would take to write about my conclusions. And what I’ve concluded, in addition to the fact that I would not procrastinate unless I had some confidence in my ability to perform under pressure, is that procrastinating and then stewing over it during the period of procrastination is a waste of time that I’ve gifted myself by procrastinating in the first place. Did you get that?

Typical procrastination for me goes kind of like this: I have a task that I don’t particularly feel like doing at the given moment (reasons for procrastination vary and I’ll address that shortly) So I put the task off. Then, in the free time I’ve just allotted myself by procrastinating, I wring my hands in shame and self-flagellation that I should be doing the task instead of say, taking a nap or reading a novel or shopping for a new outfit. Ultimately, I end up completing the task but have ruined any free time allotted via procrastination. The whole endeavor makes me think I should have just done the task earlier and saved myself the travel expenses associated with my guilt trip.

Same could be said for other lifestyle choices, like exercise, housekeeping and eating cake. If you’ve established a routine for regular exercise, cleanliness and healthy eating habits, (this first part is very important by the way) then why beat yourself up if you take a day off from the gym, scrubbing toilets or eat a piece of cake? We ruin what could be enjoyable experiences by shaming ourselves while we indulge in doing nothing or doing things that aren’t considered productive.

So when it comes to the temptation to procrastinate, I’ve decided to examine my reasons for doing it and then, if I conclude that I can indeed accomplish a given task later, I’ll refuse to ruin my freed up time with worry. If I determine that I can’t accomplish the task later without feeling overwhelmed or stressed, then I’ll just do the task earlier rather than wait. So once I’ve made a conscience decision to procrastinate, I’m gonna stand by that decision without agonizing about whether I should be making a different choice.

And so, why do we choose to procrastinate in the first place? Author and evangelical pastor Rick Warren suggests we do if for one of five reasons: indecision, perfectionism, fear, anger or laziness. I’d like to add my own category and that’s mood or inspiration. Sometimes, I just don’t feel like doing something. I’d rather take a nap, go for a walk or watch The Voice. But Warren’s reasoning seems legit, especially the first two–indecision and perfectionism–which seem to be two sides of the same coin if you ask me. But when one of these two behaviors plagues me, I’m reminded that indecision is a decision complete with its own set of consequences and need for accountability.

I don’t think I procrastinate out of fear or anger, although I love how Warren says that procrastination is sometimes a way of passive resistance, like a child sloooooowly picking up their toys. Any parent or manager of people might want to take note of this procrastination motivation.

And then there is plain ‘ol laziness. You may think this is synonymous with my “mood or need for inspiration” excuse, and you may be right. But guess what? I’ve considered the consequences of my actions and accept them with my head held high. I will not spoil my occasional desire to be lazy with guilt over not always being productive. Especially, if I’ve proven to myself that everything that needs to get done eventually gets done.

Hopefully, this post helps you process your own tendencies toward procrastination and that you’ll also stop beating yourself up for sometimes putting things off. And if this post made no sense at all, it’s likely because I wrote it in haste at the very last minute.

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