How to be less ‘all or nothing’

By Geoff Harris

My name is Geoff and I am ‘all or nothing.’

Let me explain. I get interested in meditation, for example, take it to extremes, spend a lot of money going to study Zen meditation in Japan, force myself into full lotus and do my back in… then something else comes along, I don’t practice for months and years, and have to start all over again.

Or I’ll go from having no house plants at all to having a, erm, house full!

Does this sound familiar? If you are one of those slightly obsessive people, like me, who plunge headfirst into a new passion or interest, but then get distracted or dispirited and lose motivation for whatever reason, you are not alone.

Rather than beat ourselves up about this character trait (or character defect if you want to be hard on yourself), what can we do in order to be more consistent in our approach to hobbies and interests?

1) Recognise what really works for you

In this day and age, we are bombarded with messages to try new things, or distract ourselves with this or that – from yoga to yodelling. During the lockdown, it may have got worse, as, despite the restrictions, well-meaning people are always suggesting disciplines and pursuits to make us feel better on social media.

A key step in achieving more consistency with whatever you practice is to think about what you did before that proved to be the most rewarding and beneficial.

If you found running or kickboxing a more enjoyable way of keeping fit and toned than going to the gym, then go back to that. It sounds obvious, but remember, ‘know thyself’ was the first of three maxims inscribed at the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. Those ancient Greeks knew a thing or two.

2) Focus on a bit every day

One of the biggest challenges with any interest or hobby, whether it’s exercise or learning Cantonese, is practicing regularly. Often we just don’t feel like it (see later) and tend to fool ourselves that we’ll do an ‘hour or so on Sunday’ when we are not worrying about work.

Come Sunday and something else gets in the way. A better approach could be ‘little and often’ – 10 minutes a day or example, first thing in the morning. We can all find 10 minutes in the day – think of how many minutes you fritter away in the day browsing eBay for stuff you don’t REALLY need or social media.

3) Multitask

If time is squeezed, why not try and combine two pursuits to get the most from your time? I used to listen to Japanese language lessons as I walked back down the hill during my daily exercise, for example – get some Bluetooth ear buds and nobody else would know what you were doing.

Or, try walking up a steep hill for exercise and then do your meditation practice for 10 minutes when you get to the top.

4) Recognise there is never a ‘perfect’ time

Putting off meditation or exercise until the time you feel more like it? Again it rarely happens. This is quite a big realisation, or at least it has been for me. ‘Feel the fear and do it anyway’ could be rephrased as ‘feel the boredom/laziness/lack of motivation and do it anyway.’ At least for 10 minutes a day. Or as a famous shoe maker said, ‘just do it.’

I nearly always feel better after daily practice of something beneficial, while procrastinating has the opposite effect over the longer term.

5) Recognise time is fleeting

At the core of procrastination is somehow feeling that time is an infinite resource, and we’ll start practicing ‘whatever’ again next week, next month, next year. But be honest, do any of us really have time to waste, especially if we want to get quite good at something?

Without wanting to sound morbid, it might be good to get a ‘time flies’ sticker or something and put it somewhere you see every day, like the fridge or alarm clock. Truth is, there is no time like the present.

6) The way is in practice

I love this saying, believed to come from 17th century Japanese sword master and artist/author, Miyamoto Musashi. What he meant was this: rather than some final destination of mastery, meaning and reward come from the act of continued practice and perseverance. That is why many masters of martial arts, for example, keep on practicing even when they have earned all the black belt grades they can. You don’t need to wave a sword around or break bricks to apply this wisdom to whatever you want to do in life…

Geoff Harris

I am a journalist and photographer and currently work as the Deputy Editor of Amateur Photographer (AP) - the oldest weekly photographic magazine in the world. Before that I served as the editor of Digital Camera, Britain's best-selling photography magazine, for five years. During my time as editor it became the UK's top selling photo monthly and won Print Publication of the Year at the 2013 British Media Awards. As well as being lucky enough to get paid to write about photography, I've been fortunate to interview some of the greatest photographers in the world, including Elliott Erwitt, Don McCullin, Martin Parr, Terry O'Neill and Steve McCurry. This has been a wonderful learning experience and very influential on my photography. Beyond writing, I am a professional portrait, travel and documentary photographer, and reached the finals of the 2016 Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year competition. I am a Licentiate of the Royal Photographic Society and hope to take my Associateship whenever I can find the time. In addition I write about well being/personal development and antiques collecting for a range of other titles, including BlueWings, the in-flight magazine of Finn Air.

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