“Shouldn’t you be doing something?”

Insights are coming in a flurry now.

Sitting at the computer I notice what’s always been there, the feeling of someone looking over my shoulder, a reflection of my own inner sense of shirking my duties.

“Have to” means you owe something. Do I owe anyone anything? I prefer to look at my life in terms of the things I would like, love, and enjoy doing.

The same action can be performed with love or with obligation. Which would you prefer?

The mystics tell us that every particle of creation is vibrating with divine joy and love, not with obligation, burden, and IOU.

What should I be doing, if not enjoying life? What could be more pressing than love, joy, and appreciation?

I have this old pattern of resistance, this thought that someone has demands of me and they aren’t going to be happy with me unless I fulfil them, and even then they won’t be truly satisfied, just temporarily appeased.

But if I’m honest (and there is no such person) I can see that I found some direction, some certainty, and some consolation in letting others tell me what to do.

I came to rely on others for my direction and purpose. That way I didn’t have to work out my own preferences and desires. I could hide behind other people: parents, siblings, friends, and follow their lead.

I could be a non-person who just fitted in with others and received praise for adapting and not resisting.

I didn’t really know how to do my own thing, and I didn’t understand how others were so sure of their preferences. It made sense to give way and it felt good just to follow.

But that’s a shitty way to live your life, and as people grow and variegate and specialise you realise you can’t follow them all.

However daunting it might be to work out what you want, it only takes intention, focus and practice.

And the fear of being criticised, of owning things that might make you stand out and attract unhelpful advice…well isn’t it better to focus instead on the pleasure and enjoyment of following your genuine desires?

Not knowing what you want is not a virtue or a skill. Being insensitive to your own preferences is not the same as being adaptable. Others won’t thank you for fitting in with their plans, they’ll just assume you’re where you want to be anyway.

So why not be there? Work out where you want to be and stop hiding behind other people’s plans and momentum as if they define the limits of your world.

How positive thinking works

If you start paying attention to your thoughts while noticing how each thought feels, you’ll soon discover that some thoughts are a bit strange.

What’s strange about them is that they may be focused on a subject that seems “positive”, yet the thought itself feels negative.

The thought “I need to get something done now” feels both good and bad.

That’s because the subject of accomplishing things is a positive one. I want to accomplish things, it would feel good to accomplish things.

But the focus on “need” is negative. The subtext is that if I don’t accomplish things then I will have failed.

There’s a big difference between “I need to get something done” and thinking of a specific thing I want to do.

“I need to get something done” vs “I really want to do this specific thing”.

The former focuses on the absence of what I desire.

There’s self-sabotage built into this kind of thought. It doesn’t aim towards what I really want, nor does it aim away from what I don’t want.

Instead it beats me up for not doing something unspecified right now.

…which isn’t especially helpful.

Imagine saying it to someone else in an anxious voice: “You should be doing something right now!”

Not especially helpful.

How would they react? Probably with a well-deserved “Wtf are you talking about?”

Imagine saying it to them again and again at every opportunity. Maybe say it every time they sit down, every time they appear to be relaxing or enjoying themselves: “Shouldn’t you be doing something???”

If you don’t pay attention to your thoughts, you’ll just feel a kind of acceptance that you should be doing something… followed by the frustration of not knowing what it is you should be doing.

Maybe you’ll throw yourself into any activity just to escape that unpleasant feeling, and you might be productive.

But there’s a big difference between the productivity that comes from escaping unpleasant feelings and the productivity that comes from doing what you feel genuinely inspired to do.

If you accept the thought at face value then your orientation is toward “I need to do something…but I don’t know what”.

By paying attention to how the thought feels, you notice instead “I’m making myself feel bad for no good reason”.

I wouldn’t have noticed this if I hadn’t decided to pay attention to all of my thoughts.

Imagine choosing to no longer activate thoughts of that type…the “feel bad for no good reason” thoughts.

The trajectory of positive thinking is such that removing these kinds of thoughts makes space for new thoughts, since there’s a limit to the number of things you can focus on in a single day.

But it also lifts your overall mood, removing one source of negativity and thereby making more positive thoughts accessible.

And on the subject of “things I want to accomplish”, perhaps we’re now free to consider things that feel good, instead of repeating thoughts that feel needlessly bad?

Or perhaps what would feel best right now is to accept that the whole subject of accomplishments is not about “should” or obligation, and was never something best framed by need or by external pressure.

Are we best served by approaching accomplishments from the direction of avoiding shame and humiliation? Or are we better served by looking at it through the lens of inspiration and appreciation?

In fact, we might begin by completely letting go of any thought of accomplishment for now, and focusing instead on appreciating the many things we have already accomplished, beginning with the mere fact of being alive, of having survived to enjoy this present moment.