Cast off your bogus obligations.

November 1st, 2015

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I’ve been reviewing my life for fake obligations.

Of course we have genuine obligations — for example to our spouses and children, or contractual obligations that we’ve entered into intelligently and that it would be painful or unwise to break.

But feeling obligated, or guilty, about some old personal choice that doesn’t fit into one of those categories of genuine obligation? Bogus.

  • Feeling guilty about the “To Be Read” pile of books on your nightstand? Pointless
  • Needing to “catch up” on a TV show or your Twitter timeline? Inane.
  • . . . you can fill in your own examples.

I once worked with a guy who had a sort of fetish about reading ALL of the New York Times every day. But he was a busy man, so the newspapers piled up. He had weeks’ worth of a backlog, but he wouldn’t chuck even one section without at least leafing through it.

To the degree that that was enjoyable for him, and that the growing stack of newsprint in the corner of his living room didn’t weigh on his psyche, fine. But it was starting to weigh on him, from what he said.

A lot of us do something similar with our inboxes, magazines, Netflix queues, financial mail to be shredded, books we’re not thrilled about finishing, or whatever else. If you take ten seconds you can probably think of the leading culprits in your own life.

I say: chuck those bogus old not-really-obligations to the curb, and do it with a clear conscience. In fact, make a conscious point of developing your skill and your mental toughness in chucking them without remorse.

Travel light in your psyche, friends. Life is short.

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4 Responses to “Cast off your bogus obligations.”

  1. Russ Somers Says:

    Great post, Tim. Anytime we find ourselves storing something (read this later, DVR a show, saving an item we plan to fix), we accrue a small cost in terms of storing, remembering, etc. We should feel guilt-free about changing our mind on those things and deleting unwatched shows, that table we planned to refinish, etc.

  2. Tim Walker Says:

    Just so, Russ. I used to have lots and lots of open tabs on my browsers at all times, because I *wanted* to read all of those interesting things that I encountered online. But there will always be more interesting things to read, and humans suffer from a well-understood cognitive bias that makes us think we’ll have more time later . . . when of course we won’t. So if I don’t get to those tabs in a given day, I now close them without a second thought.

  3. Stacy Says:

    For me, it was a matter of redefining what it means to “stay on top” of certain things. Personally, two areas that come to mind are: shredding and family photo albums. To “stay on top” of these things used to mean that I had nothing left to shred, and the last photo I took had been printed and glued into an album. (I didn’t feel like these things could be deleted from my life, but maybe they didn’t need to be quite as important as I had made them.) Once I redefined what it meant to “stay on top”, I relegated these two tasks to once per year and saved myself the ongoing queue. (I now toss my shredding into trash bags and take them to an industrial shredding facility once per year. My photos are no longer printed and glued into albums – I let Apple print them directly into books and mail them to me.) Instead of sitting at the shredder or rushing to print photos, I get to actually live life. I live it in a house with two trash bags full of documents awaiting the shredder and photo albums that only go up to last year, but somehow life goes on. Redefine what it means to “stay on top” of something if you can’t drop it altogether. It’s amazing.

  4. Tim Walker Says:

    Stacy, this makes a ton of sense. We can easily get wrapped around the axle with housekeeping like this rather than putting things in their proper perspective. Filling a trash bag that you keep in your garage or someplace and then paying a few buck per year to have it shredded makes obvious sense . . . but only as soon as you embrace a different idea about “staying on top of it.” Love it.

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