Sunday, June 26, 2011

Does it Really Matter?

If you’re anything like me, you’re probably worried about something. Maybe it’s a big project at work, or maybe you’re stressed out over an illness in the family, or an upcoming event that you really don’t want to attend. 

Regardless--it's shitty.

All of this worry compounds upon itself; it grows like a fungus inside you, feeding off the negativity and the fear. At times, it can become consuming to the point where you can’t think about anything else. Though these moments start out as rarities, they start becoming more and more common as the years go by. You worry about whether you filed a motion properly, or if you forgot an argument that you previously had thought of. 

In short, it sucks.

Next time this happens to you, ask yourself one simple question:

Does it really matter?

Our minds are trained to worry about our primitive, “play-it-safe” lizard brains, the part of the brain that is left over from our reptilian ancestors.  The lizard brain paralyzes us through fear, and makes us second-guess our gut instincts by over-inflating the importance of many otherwise inconsequential events.  One good way to silence your lizard brain is to acknowledge it, realize how ridiculous it's being, and move on.

Literally say to yourself, "I know this is my lizard brain over-inflating something ridiculous."

Honestly, your lizard brain is an idiot. It's the first part of you to second-guess whatever your first instinct is (try to parse THAT out for a while...). On some level, sure, you want a nice dry place to live, some cash to flash around, a mate, etc. But by-and-large, in our era of modern abundance, your lizard brain has outlived its usefulness.

I guess this raises a larger issue: what does really matter to you?  Is it fancy cars and a big house?  Or are you craving the attention or reaction you will get from people if you have those things?  Does whatever report you’re working on at the moment really matter to you? Does the movie that you’re watching while putting off writing that book you’ve “always wanted to write?” Get to know your true priorities, align your life accordingly, and work toward those ends.  Family, friends, doing something meaningful in the world—these are the things that really matter.  And even if there’s a looming crisis in one of those areas, stay calm and look for a solution as opposed to just worrying about it.  If it’s a true tragedy, it’s okay to mourn for a while, but at some point, you have to get back up again and get back to living life.

Is whatever project you’re working on now important to you?  Or just to your employer?  Does your job really matter?  Or is it a means to an end?  Once you realize that you don’t honestly care about something, that it doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, it frees you up to just say “fuck it,” and focus on getting to where you can do the things that mean a lot to you.  Once you realize that things like “titles” and “prestige” are invented by people that want to feel important, you can focus on the truly important stuff that lets you be you, and not on some stupid memo that keeps you up at night. 

I know this sounds like common sense, but we don’t have that much time on this planet, and life is too short to spend most of your waking hours worrying about stuff that doesn’t really matter.  Get your priorities straight, get your life together, and go out and live, damn it!

Action Item:  Write out a list of things that you need for basic survival. I think there are probably three: food, water, and shelter. Sometimes clothing makes it on that list, but hey, different countries have different sensibilities. Then write out another list of five of your priorities assuming that those essentials are taken care of. Cut back on activities and don't advance you toward one of those priorities.

D.J. Gelner is a writer, entrepreneur, and recovering attorney in St. Louis, Missouri. You can e-mail him at Follow him on twitter @djgelner. Friend him on facebook here.

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