In a recent newsletter, Oliver Burkeman commented that “striving toward sanity never works. You have to operate from sanity instead.”
His point was we can make a habit of telling ourselves that a calmer, peaceful, more meaningful life is right around the corner—just as soon as we complete this project, turn in this paper, get moved in, or whatever else is on our plate at the moment. Then things will be better. And since it’s only a little into the future, not years and years away, we keep thinking we’ll arrive there soon. But when “sanity” becomes something we’re striving to get to, we also find that it’s always just beyond our grasp. Other things inevitably come up, and we never quite reach that point in the future we’re waiting for.
Operating from “sanity”, though, means focusing on embodying the kind of person we want to be first. Once we’ve done that, then we turn our attention to doing what needs to be done. Instead of waiting to do the things we care about until we’re able to get on top of everything, we start doing them today—even if it’s only for a few minutes. We’re not focused on some future point to get to, but on how we can live like the person we want to be, right here and now.
Suppose I want to be someone who spends time with my spouse and kids, but I have lots of other things going on. I can either tell myself I’ll start spending time with them soon, once everything settles down. Or I can choose to spend a little time with them today, regardless of how small. I can choose to embody who I want to be, instead of waiting till the perfect time to get started.
If I want to be hospitable and have friends or family or neighbors over more often, I can either wait till I have plenty of space in my calendar, or I can decide to schedule something now, knowing that doing something in alignment with who I want to be—however small—is better than nothing, regardless of my intentions. Or perhaps there’s a book I keep telling myself I want to read or a hobby I want to pick up. I may feel the need to first get caught up on everything else I need to do before getting started. Or I can choose to start today anyway—even if means giving them just a few minutes to begin with.
Waiting to get started until everything is calm and I’m caught up on my backlog of things to do is waiting for a moment that may never arrive. But I always have today, and I can choose how I’m going to use it. Will I embody who I want to be by choosing to spend time on what’s valuable to me? Or will I keep waiting for the day when things are less crazy?—that day that’s perpetually just around the corner but always out of reach.