Before we launch into this, I’d like to say: welcome to my new body copy font, Garamond. If you read The New Yorker, this typeface should look familiar. It’s all part of my grander plan to incept my editorial ethos into your consciousness. Carry on.
I was listening to a Ted Radio Hour podcast the other morning about how everything in nature is connected—that each small piece of the biome, from the lions to the bees, plays a pivotal role in maintaining the equilibrium of the environment.
I bet you think I’m about to launch into a diatribe about teamwork, but plot twist: I really just want to talk about bees.
This nature expert (how do nature experts make money? Who pays their bills? Mother Nature, MBA?) was commenting on how bees truly are busy—they never stop moving. They’re constantly doing. As she’s expounding upon the wonders of bees’ work ethics, I was zoning out a little. This wasn’t exactly news to me given their popularized nickname.
But then she compared them to humans.
“Self-awareness is what holds humans back.”
Wait, what? I turned up the speaker and backed up 15 seconds to make sure I had heard her correctly.
If you’ve ever been in a room or on a car ride with me for longer than, I don’t know, 12 minutes, chances are you’ve probably heard me prattle on about the unmatched benefits of ~self-awareness~. Really understanding yourself, your motivations, and your feelings is the key to true happiness—right? Wrong, apparently, according to Nature Lady.
I had never heard self-awareness characterized as a negative trait before. I always imagined it as the pathway to unlocking boundless potential, success in your interpersonal relationships, and probably a few other things that read like chapters in How to Win Friends and Influence People.
Her ‘hypothesis,’ if you could call it that (which I can’t, because it was more a passing remark in her talk about biome interdependency), was that spending a lot of time thinking about and reflecting on shit without taking any action can make you miserable.
While an initially shocking declaration, it does align pretty closely with another theory that’s been percolating in my drafts for months, unpublished. (In fact, you’re probably reading an adaptation of that very draft right now!)
My original theory was that being overly analytical in romantic situations (and otherwise, really) was largely the byproduct of having too much time on your hands. (Of course, being analytical is also a personality trait—but I think it’s exacerbated in everyone when you have a lot of idle time.)
Think about it: if you’re bored a lot, you’ve got a lot of time to sit around and let your mind wander. This is especially dangerous if you’re prone to catastrophic thinking.
Conversely, I imagine a day much like last Wednesday. I woke up at 5:30 for my 6 a.m. Sculpt class (duh), started work around 8:15 and worked straight through until 5 p.m. due to the chaos of the incident, and then rushed to a different Sculpt class to observe and take notes for my Teacher Training requirements. Afterward, I went home to shower, then back out to the grocery store to buy food so I could cook dinner. You get the picture. I finished up the day’s activities around 8:30 p.m.
I realized as I climbed into bed that night how great of a mood I was in, despite being exhausted. Being busy ironically brought me a ton of joy.
Anyone who played a sport in college or was super involved in extracurricular activities probably knows the feeling I’m talking about. You might be happy once it’s over at the prospect of more free time, but once you’re actually mired in said free time, it might feel a little like you’re drowning in it.
Then I thought instead about nights where I mosey in from work around 5:30, flop down on the couch, and spend time marinating in my (admittedly terrifying) psyche watching New Girl until it’s time to hit the sack.
Maybe being busy really does bring joy, I thought, suddenly grateful for the types of jam-packed days that I once dreaded. Maybe too much time to reflect, think, and analyze just burrows you deeper into obsessing over the past or trying to plan too neurotically for the future. After all, planning is guessing.
It called to mind a conversation Ellie and I had about over-journaling. I typically journal on Sunday nights before I start my week as a sort of status report, but I realized that sometimes there would be this strange threshold I’d cross where it would stop being therapeutic and my anxiety would actually spike. Almost like I had studied myself too long; that my sense of self was anxious because it knew it was being studied (I feel like I’m delving into some really meta shit right now; I’ll try to wrap it up).
Anyway, when I told Ellie about the observation, she agreed that there is such thing as OVER-journaling. There’s a very fine line between checking in with yourself and going down the rabbit hole of self-obsession.
Because, as she so astutely noted, you’re likely either analyzing something that’s already happened or trying to make a prediction about what’s going to happen in the future—both of which mean you aren’t focused on the present moment. You aren’t living in the present.
And I think that’s the crucial difference: I was confusing mindfulness and present-state living with being self-aware and constantly looking inward. But as Nature Lady noted, a constant inward focus will drive you crazy. It’ll hold you back.
Circling back: that’s why people who tend to succeed in the fragile early stages of relationships (as I originally postulated) are those who have a lot going on in their lives (or, I guess, are equally un-busy). But frankly, sometimes it’s less about confidence and well-roundedness, and more about distraction.
You’re not stressing out about why someone isn’t texting you if you’re trying to beat traffic rushing from one activity to the next. Yes, you probably do lead a full life—which in itself likely makes you more attractive to another person—but more importantly, you aren’t overanalyzing every move and self-sabotaging because you literally don’t have time to do so.
There is one monumental, colossal, unavoidable caveat that begs to be made here.
As with all the best things in life (Tiff’s Treats cookies, headstands, and alone time), effective self-awareness requires a delicately practiced balance.
I was over-journaling a few months ago and paying too much attention to myself, but there’s an equal possibility and reality of under-awareness—if you’re flailing around from one thing to the next with absolutely no sense of purpose or awareness of your motivations whatsoever, you’re probably safe from anxiety and analysis, but you’re also probably aimless.
So, KG, what’s the point?
This part is always the hardest for me because I’m hesitant to package up my own realization and serve it to you presuming it’s going to be applicable to your life. Maybe you’re the bumble bee crashing into the walls of the hive because you’re so overcommitted that you’ve never spent 5 minutes reflecting. Maybe you’re the person who’s a little like me and places such a high value on self-understanding that it can cause your undoing sometimes.
So instead, I’ll urge you to find balance. And more than that, find enjoyment in your busy-ness. If you’re scoffing right now at that suggestion, maybe it’s time to find activities that could feasibly provide an experience that's as enjoyable as it is productive (or close to it, at least).
Or, you can ignore me and my psychobabble, and try one of this reading material instead.
What I’m reading right now
Welcome to KG’s Solo Bookclub™. If you’d like to render its current title incorrect, grab these reads and join me in my literary quest for #SelfImprovement.
Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance
Technically this is one I just finished reading, but I knocked this baby out in a matter of weeks. It’s one of the most inspiring things I’ve ever read. Elon is a person who simply sees the world and its constructs differently, and sneers in the face of conventional reality. For the unacquainted, he made formerly Prius-level lame electric vehicles as sexy and appealing to the masses as a Maserati (the Model S was designed to evoke the same body style vibe) and, by the way, also runs a multi-billion dollar venture that’s working tirelessly to colonize Mars in case Earth craps out on us. Basically, you need this book in your life. He learned how to make rockets from scratch, and if that’s not enough to make you feel like every excuse you’ve ever proffered is bullshit, I don’t know what is.
Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
I just ordered this puppy so standby for the official KG’s Solo Bookclub™ review, but what originally drew me in about this read was the way the synopsis touched on the two brain systems I’ve expounded upon on katiegatti.com many times: the fast, intuitive, ‘animal’ brain and the slower, logical brain. I think cognitive biases are fascinating, and this book promises to delve into how they can impact everything from our relationships to corporate decision-making (i.e., my favorite topics).
Everybody, Always by Bob Goff
This is another one I’ve just recently ordered, but I’m excited to dive in because of the subtitle alone: “Becoming Love in a World Full of Setbacks and Difficult People.” Put simply, I’m trying to work on being a more loving, empathetic, and understanding person. I want to practice assuming positive intent in others and loving people well in my interpersonal relationships. Also, honesty hour, the sparkly cover really caught my attention on the NYT Bestsellers list. Bob’s premise is that the secret (although anyone that purports to have ‘the secret’ to anything is cringe-y to me, but I’m giving some grace here) to living a ‘big,’ liberated, unfettered existence is to love people—even the admittedly shitty ones (see? See how much work I need?).
Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein
What initially caught my interest about Nudge is that it’s a behavioral economics approach to positive decision-making. I think the economics of choice are so intriguing, and I’m pumped about a book that promises to teach me how to manipulate small decisions optimally—especially in the financial realm. It teaches that no choice is every presented in a neutral way, so our inherent emotional biases impact the way we choose one path over another (and ultimately, this can produce poor results for us fallible creatures down the road).