No, it’s not a misprint, and no, I haven’t gone off the deep end. Could there be any redeeming value in slacking off, in not always conscientiously following through on what needs to get done? Right now, your “to-do-conscientiously” list may be a mile long. Whether it concerns your job, your finances, or your relationships – with your spouse, kids, parents, friends, or co-workers – keeping your life on track may pose a real challenge for you during these very difficult times.
In her recent Psychology Today article, “Make Your Own Luck”, author Rebecca Webber states that “conscientiousness is no friend to serendipity”, or fortuitous chance. She quotes University of Utah psychology professor Carol Sansone’s definition of conscientiousness to mean “you do what you’re supposed to do, and you stick with it”. What could be wrong with that? Isn’t being a quitter a sure road to ruin?
The problem happens, Webber maintains, when we persistently pursue a task even if the reason to continue is gone, or our goals or priorities have changed. I agree; it really is possible to “try too hard”. Remaining absorbed in an effort that may no longer be promising – just because you think you should stick with it – could lead you to miss a more likely solution or path to your goal.
So, give yourself permission to get distracted. What might seem like aimless mind-wandering could instead be your creative side making fruitful leaps of inspiration. Creativity arises in our right brain function; linear, logical thinking originates in our left brain. We live in balance when we can draw on the resources of both sides of our brains – using our reason and our imagination in partnership to find new solutions to the sticky problems in our lives.
“Allow yourself to stray off-task sometimes,” Webber continues. “We need to be loose to become aware of hidden opportunities.” What would this look like?
When you’re reading something with new ideas, or serious content, do you find you want to stop and drift off? Maybe an important concept – just the insight you’ve been hoping to find – is right before your eyes, but your mind needs some time to take it in, to wrap itself around this new perspective. Indulging in a little “drift time” allows your mind the opportunity to make intuitive connections that can bring the whole picture into focus.
Or, when you need to make an important decision and have been intensely studying and analyzing all the various choices and their ramifications, do you feel a sudden urge to go clean the kitchen, or detail your car? Sometimes thinking leads to over-thinking leads to brain freeze. A little physical activity can often free you from the anxiety, self-questioning, and possible second-guessing that can leave you stuck and stumped for an answer.
So whether you indulge in a little daydreaming, or a radical spring cleaning, take an occasional break from rigid management of your time. Following a seemingly aimless train of thought, or surfing a semi-random chain of websites, can lead to “ah-ha!” moments arising from the somewhat unfathomable processes and truly remarkable capacities of our own minds.
Maybe mental wandering looks suspiciously too much like play to us, especially as we grow older and the pressures and stresses pile up. “I can’t take time off, now”, we tell ourselves. “I’ve got to keep working!” Today’s lesson: You deserve a break today (and I don’t mean going to McDonald’s – remember their old ads?). Slack off a little, take off the blinders, let your mind drift, ease up on yourself a little – and give leaps of inspiration and imagination a chance to happen.
Let me warn you: if you live life strictly by the clock, all that ticking may drown out the sound of opportunity knocking.