In a way, everything matters. Every single detail. All things have a purpose and a reason to be acknowledged and shown a certain level of care. At the same time, we can only care about so many things simultaneously. In a way, very few things actually matter.
This is a dilemma. Or is it?
All the minute cells in our bodies are there for a reason. All the atoms and sub-atomic particles have their role. We never question this or even pay much attention to it. We have a limited bandwidth for our focus and limited energy with which to harness our attention. That does not mean that what escapes our focus does not matter in the absolute sense, but it does not matter to us and our present awareness.
When the cells in our bodies start to mutate or behave abnormally we are then reminded of the importance of each component of our physical beings. Once we are forced to focus on what we once overlooked we can see the relevance of even the smallest clusters of cells. Suddenly, what we thought mattered no longer does.
If everything matters how can you or I ascertain what matters? Do we care about the environmental impact of our species and focus on that? Do we care about the puppies at our own local shelter about to be put down? Or do we care about our bodies, health, and happiness?
Important questions. If everything matters we can become overwhelmed and sputter about without much progress. When you acknowledge the importance of all details, but give you focus to only the most important of them you can have tremendous progress. But, only where you focus.
You get to decide what matters most to you. That does not mean that what you ignore or choose not to care about does not matter — but it does provide a reflective insight into ourselves. Our priorities are clearly displayed when we allocate our time and mental energy. These investments can foster immediate gratification, or postpone rewards for the future. However, at some point the sums of these choices assert themselves. Many things matter beyond the scope of our own personal lives, yet it is up to us to decide how much importance to place on everything. The trouble is most of us don’t decide consciously. We settle for the defaults that are an assimilation of our cultural reference points and our close social interactions. Often what matters most is what is predominant around us. We abdicate our choice and place importance in whatever is easiest or insulates our comfort zone.
Maybe what matters most is deciding what matters most. At least for right now. It does not have to always stay that way, it can change and adapt as our lives evolve. But, without that major decision how can we even invest our time? We can’t. Without assessing what to focus on and what matters most to us we are not investing our time — we are spending it. If our time does not matter — nothing matters.
When you or I are indiscriminate with our time we are careless with what is arguably the most important resource of all. When we dive deep and decide what really matters, very often the end result is using our time more wisely. Time matters most. How are we going to utilize this non-renewable resource? We can always get more money — but nobody can give us a windfall of extra time. Yet how often do we lose hours in distraction, dismay, and doubt? I have lost a lot of time in my life. That is what prompted me to start asking and answering these hard questions. After realizing that I have frittered away parts of my life in unhappy and unfulfilled states I resolved to change.
Creating the space to answer tough questions is important. If I had never actually followed through and became aware of what was driving my behavior, how could I decide on how to activate new habits or priorities? You and I share a complex neurological system that can often keep us functioning to survive and operate below the level of conscious choice. Impulses and compulsions can dominate our existence if we let them. You get programmed by habits. The only way to break these patterns is to stop and ask questions of yourself.
Why am I doing this?
How much does this matter?
If these answers do not make sense or compel us to continue the behavior then we know that it is time to change. Deciding what matters to us is a great gift. This gift dictates how our lives unfold. Our motive for action is always based on where we place our focus — and that focus comes from where we consciously or unconsciously place our values. Let’s use an example.
What matters more to you: money or freedom?
That answer can and should change over time. Perhaps we earn enough money to enable greater freedom. We are often told and sold such a narrative. First comes money, then comes freedom. However, if we are pursuing money to pursue freedom — then clearly the latter is actually more important. It is what we really want, and the income is how we intend to attain our freedom. How much time are we letting go by before we ask ourselves that question again? Watch out, or it could be your whole life.
Everything matters. Money matters, and so does freedom. But which are we actually focused on? Have we lost our focus on freedom to shift it to money, so that one day we can have freedom? Are we actually trading what matters most for something secondary? Will we only become refocused on freedom when it’s too late? When our bodies are long past their prime, and we are less able to maximize the freedom we worked so hard for.
Valuing freedom above money and acting upon that will lead to a far different life story. How can we make the most money while still maintaining our freedom now?
Answering that question and creating a life by design matters.
Money and freedom are two interchangeable examples. We could insert health and travel, or other categories, and easily discuss where our focus is and our true priorities. The vital thing is to look at all the areas of life and ask tough questions. Because they all matter.
Everything matters. But, deciding what matters most, and the willingness to ask ourselves that consistently, matters most of all.
This is the 61st installment of Writing Wednesday, and the first time I have slipped back and published this late in 61 weeks. But, this practice is about process, and progress — not perfection.
Let me know what you think about my thoughts.