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How to save your soul by doing nothing 

| Thursday, October 3, 2019

The title of this column is incredibly misleading, but ultimately, I want to share two ideas I came across recently that have shaped my perspective on how to live and spend my time.

The first one I heard in a podcast called “The Fr. Mike Schmitz Catholic Podcast” where Fr. Mike discusses different life and worldly topics. Even though I am a Catholic myself, his ideas seem to be applicable at a cosmopolitan scale, especially his episode on “How Do We Spend Our Time?” This episode relates what Jenny Odell portrays in her book “How to Do Nothing,” urging us to resist the attention economy that has led to a global misconception of what it means to be productive and how we should spend our time. 

One of the concepts that Fr. Mike introduces is reducing our estimated lifetime to a 24-hour time span.

For example: If you are 15 years old, it is approximately 10:25 a.m. in the 24 hour clock of your life, at 20 years old it is 11:34 a.m., 35 years old — 3 p.m., 45 years old — 5:15 p.m. and the last age he gives is 70 years old — 11 p.m.

This became a scary metaphor to take in because there are many days like today, in which I write my to-do list for the day in the morning, thinking I still have the whole day. Suddenly, I come to realize it Is already 7:01 p.m., and I have only crossed off two of the seven things I had written down. It is terrifying to think of being 70 years old and realize it is suddenly 11 p.m. at night, and all I did in my life was procrastinate all my goals and think I still have a lifetime to get to them. 

The problem is not necessarily a deficiency of time but our conformity to this age of distraction. Father Mike Schmitz defines a distraction as “anything that takes your attention away from what you should be doing,” even if what we should be doing is as simple as sleeping. This is where Odell’s lessons on “How to Do Nothing” come in where she describes the ‘attention economy’ that is capitalizing on our most valuable commodity — time. We invest multiple hours of our day scrolling through screens of other people’s lives, forgetting to make the most out of our own. Social media platforms especially take advantage of our declining ability to be entirely present in a moment, feeding off of our divided attention. 

These habits have resulted in the misbelief that if we are not doing more than one activity at a time while checking our texts and refreshing our emails every 10 minutes, then we are not being productive. Odell emphasizes how it is equally important to slow down and focus on one thing, as much as doing industrious tasks: “The point of doing nothing as I define it isn’t to return to work refreshed and ready to be more productive, but rather to question what we currently perceive as productive.” Instead of trying to do 10 things at a time, do one but do it well and do it with all your undivided attention. Not only this, but tying back to the podcast, really think about what we should be doing. From a Catholic perspective, this means how God wills us to be spending our time, but for those non-believers could be interpreted on what we could be working to fulfill our life purposes or simply living in the best way possible. Again, this does not need to be taken in a big picture perspective as in feeding the hungry, but as in “in order to excel in my activities tomorrow, I should sleep rather than distract myself on YouTube.”

To tie these ideas with the title for this column, I want to introduce a quote from St. Alphonsus Liguori, who once said, “There are two ways a person can lose their soul: mortal sin and voluntary distraction.” In an age of distraction, what is this saying about my soul? Our souls? What I mean to persuade with this quote is that I, like many of us, need to take into perspective how we cannot afford to keep voluntarily living in distraction that is really taking us nowhere but to being close to ‘midnight’ and realizing we were robbed of time to accomplish all our goals. As a Catholic, I want to focus on having a clear sense of what I should be doing, that is, God’s will or my purpose of being here, while it is still only noon.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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