Humans have become a species that fill space.
More specifically, we fill our minds and schedule with things that occupy space. This is part of our modern culture and social conditioning. Take a quick look at the world we live in:
- We have small devices in our pockets that allow us to find information and communicate with others instantly.
- We have immediate access to world news, events and social media as it happens LIVE.
- We pride ourselves in staying busy and active with a never ending checklist of desires.
We have so much access to information and things that we’ve simply forgotten what it’s like to live without them…
Lost are the days of sending a hand written letter or reading the newspaper. That’s simply too slow. We need instant gratification, and we need it now.
Lost are the days of being bored with nothing on our mind. That’s simply too uncomfortable. We need dopamine, and we need it now.
Lost are the days of having open hours in our day with nothing to do. That’s simply too lazy. We need to show the world that we’re achieving things.
I think it’s related to our inability to be still and sit with ourselves, which requires space. I think it’s related to our inability to be patient and slow down, which also requires space. I also think it’s a bi-product of the dopamine driven culture we’ve created and accepted, which doesn’t want us to have any space at all.
Let’s look at our typical day:
– Wake up and check our phone instantly. We tell ourselves we’re just checking the time but our mind is anticipating some new notification to check.
– Make a cup of coffee to jumpstart our day and then open a news app or email while we wait. Sitting in silence while coffee brews is not an option.
– Scroll through Instagram while going “number 2.” There’s no way we can have a bowel movement in pure boredom anymore.
– Eat a quick breakfast that can be microwaved or toasted. We don’t have time for a thoughtful meal, plus we’ll have 2-3 more cups of coffee to get us to lunch.
– Hit the gym for a quick workout while listening to a podcast. We didn’t even break a sweat because we paused several times to check text messages.
– On our drive home check Facebook at a stop light to see if we have any notifications in between the last time we checked it (10 min ago).
– Get home and help the kids get ready for school. They shuttle into the car and expect their ipads before they can buckle their seat belts, which they’ve learned from seeing us on our devices. Our mind is spinning on something we read earlier, so there’s no space for actual conversation on this drive.
– Arrive back home and head into the home office. We can now expect 6-8 hours of Zoom meetings, checking email, scrolling social media and staying distracted. We get up once or twice to use the bathroom and grab a snack. We had a meeting scheduled during lunch so there was no time to really eat.
– The kids get home and there’s a 10-minute window before getting back in the car for soccer practice. This was scheduled back-to-back with no time for a nap or rest.
– We get to soccer practice and none of the parents actually talk or communicate beyond a quick hello. That’s too awkward. It’s way more comfortable to just put some earbuds in or act like we’re reading a super important article (a.k.a. playing Candy Crush).
I’m not going to finish this day because I think you get the point…
By the time we reach the end of our day we’re exhausted. Our conditioning for staying active and distracted has sucked all the space out of our lives. There’s simply nothing left.
We don’t schedule space, we schedule THINGS to occupy space.
My schedule does not currently reflect that typical day, but it did at one point. And that’s exactly how I experienced burnout.
What was the common denominator?
I had no space. I was filling my life with distractions, commitments and things to do.
I didn’t have space to be still or stay bored. I didn’t understand how to go slow. I had one gear and a full schedule. As a result, I was basically running on fumes and it caught up with me. Burnout was a nasty thing that helped me realize rock bottom. An emotional abyss with no sense of purpose or direction.
Today things are different.
Hitting rock bottom was also the lesson I needed. It forced me to look at my priorities and lifestyle in a new way. So I took time to study how our minds work. I practiced slowing down and removing things from my schedule. I simplified my commitments and started building space into my day. For example:
- I start my day in silence.
- I rarely have my phone by me, and check it a few times throughout the day.
- I don’t watch the news or consume any form of mainstream media.
- I walk or run (alone) every day.
- I write, record and journal every week to nurture my inner creator.
- I say no to most things that are not a “whole body YES.”
- I limit the amount of meetings I can join in a week.
- I check out out of work around 5pm every day.
- I take my time with work and meaningful projects.
- I generally go slow and avoid things that fill space too fast.
As a result, I’ve realized a new level of internal peace and awareness. I learned that filling my mind and schedule with more things was no longer serving me. I operate better and show up more authentically when I have space.
The rest of the world still moves fast and chases more things, which is totally fine for them. However, I see a lot of stress, anxiety and burnout happening. I see people running on fumes with no awareness to even realize it.
I see a global culture that’s suffocating from lack of space.
What about you?
Are you hooked on filling space? Do you pack your schedule with things to stay busy and feel good? Are you truly exhausted inside?
If so, the answer might be to create a little more space.
Ali is a creator who's passionate about coaching people through desired self transformation. That's a fancy way of saying he wants to help people do their inner work. He's a father, husband, podcaster, blogger, technologist and many other things that inspire him to stay curious and learn. He's also a huge advocate for nature, hiking, adventure, testing physical limits and experiencing the natural world.