A new year is just a date in the calendar, I know, but it is extraordinarily powerful nevertheless. So many people I meet have plans in place for this year - diets, exercise, new jobs, new hobbies, new partners. Here's something that might help those plans to reach fruition....
Many years ago, when I was a registrar in public health, I had a boss called Ken. Described in an article once as 'a mop-top maverick', he was bright, innovative and fun. One day I was in his office discussing a letter I'd received from an angry member of the public. It was not the first letter this person had sent and I had responded on each occasion, but nothing I said seemed to make any difference.
Ken leaned back in his chair, his hands behind his head, his legs stretched out, and smiled.
'One for the FI tray, I think,' he said.
'The FI tray?' I said.
'Yes. When I get letters like that, or some other unresolvable problem, that's where I put them. The Fuck It tray.'
He smiled again.
'And when I do that, surprisingly often the problem goes away.'
So it was with interest and some surprise that I recently spotted a book on the shelves of a bookshop entitled 'F**k it therapy. It was written by John Parkin, who has evidently made an entire career on the basis of this one simple piece of advice.
It is a long and thoroughly sound book, including areas of our lives and psyches that would cover Africa, and take many years to work through in depth, but I'd like to distil some of the most important elements as a basis for us all to have a great FI year!
The premise that John Parkin starts from is that there are some uncomfortable thoughts lurking in the murky depths of us all, which look something like this:
We are unworthy and useless
Our lives are pointless
The world is dangerous
We are going to die
Not surprisingly, our lives are devoted to avoiding those thoughts. However, we quickly work out that trying not to think these things is extraordinarily futile (try not to think about President Putin in the nude), so to improve our chances we devote our lives, also, to
Proving that we are worthy (working hard, being good, achieving, finding a mate, making money, having a big house, big car etc)
Striving for meaning (creating gods, looking for love, having children, doing worthwhile jobs)
Ensuring we are safe (saving money, buying insurance, getting married, fitting alarms, avoiding risk)
Forgetting that we are going to die (avoiding talking about it, avoiding thinking about it, acting as though we are not going to).
Not surprisingly, this all takes a lot of our time, attention and energy. The result? We are in danger of neglecting some important things in life. Where does spending time with our loved ones fit into these aims and objectives? What about rest? What about noticing the extraordinariness of the world around us? What about simply being here, in the present moment, the only real place there is?
And most importantly, what about us? The real us, as opposed to the one that rushes around trying to get approval and safety and immortality?
John Parkin takes us on an whistle-stop tour of the endless ways in which we limit our lives (our story, the prisons we make for ourselves, over-seriousness, perfectionism, self doubt, lack of consciousness), and then goes on to say that there are two main 'f**k it' courses of action:
Put the things that limit our lives into the FI tray (my tray, not his)
Start doing the things that we've been putting off as a result of being so tied up with the things that are now in the FI tray.
So far so good. Now you have to think about the things you want to put in your FI tray. Here are some ideas.
This is a great one to put in the FI tray. Being resentful is like walking around with a dustbin full of decaying domestic waste hanging around your neck. Our twisted brains think that we are paying someone back for some misdemeanor, and that that somehow makes us more worthy or 'right', but in fact it is only ourselves that we're paying back. It is only when you put it in the FI tray, where it belongs, that you realise quite what a burden it has been. Try it!
If you have a habit of hanging on to people who consistently fail to live up to your expectations, why not let them go?
An interesting one. Much of popular culture tells us that we only survive bad times because of hope. Is that true? I'm not sure. If we focus on how we hope things will be in the future, life passes us by. Hope is basically a rejection of where we are now - I don't like this, but one day there will be that. If it drives you forward to productive action, fine, but if it just lingers around, sucking up your energy and attention, it may be time to let it go and see what is actually here, today.
Everybody loves a good problem to get engrossed in, think about, moan about, outrage about, maybe laugh about. Our brains are designed to focus on problems rather than the things that are just fine. When you're thinking or talking about a problem in the service of solving it, great. When you ruminate and grumble for hours, days, months, even years, and nothing ever gets sorted, this is the time to consider that problem as a probable candidate for the FI tray.
Things you 'want' to do but never do
Sentences beginning 'I've always wanted to.....' are a good clue as to what these might be. I've always wanted to.... go to South America, play the violin, live in a commune, write a book, open a bookshop, take some time out, do a degree in English. So why haven't you??? is the next question, to which you will undoubtedly find an army of reasons which largely fall into the 'time, money, age, ability, opportunity' categories. But really, why haven't you? It is probably because you just don't want it enough to devote the time, energy, money it takes to get it, or you don't want it enough to take the necessary risks. If that's the case, why not get real with yourself, let it go and free up your energy for something you really do want?
Feeling like a victim.
Sometimes grim things happen to us and we are victims. Sometimes we move on, sometimes we hold on to that victim-status and it becomes part of who we think we are. When you are injured and need to take care of yourself, or get help, that is healthy. When you feel like a victim for a long time after it's all over, that is very dis-empowering. It is as though you have taken over the baton from the person or thing that harmed you, and are continuing its work. If you recognise this in yourself, how about letting it go?
There are undoubtedly many other possible candidates for the FI tray, and you will have your own special ones, but if you could jettison some of these, think, how would you feel? What would your life be like? What would you have time and energy for?
My experience is that this can go one of two ways, sometimes both. Often the thought of letting something go gives you a sudden feeling of relief, lightness, freedom. You wonder why you haven't done it before. With some, though, there is the initial relief, but after a while, you find out why you haven't done it before. In come the fears, the disappointments, the lack of self-esteem, the feelings of pointlessness and, yes, maybe the realisation that you are going to die. Also may come a new set of responsibilities, and a sudden lack of excuses. Not good. At that point you get to make an important choice - are you going to continue your strategy of avoidance, because day to day it stops you from feeling worthless and insecure, or are you going to take a risk?
Most of the time we do the former, we are only human after all, fragile little creatures under all our bravado.
But sometimes we take the risk, weather the insecurities, and something wonderful happens. We let go of resentment and in comes love. We let go of certain people and in comes self-esteem. We let go of problems and in come solutions, all by themselves. We let go of desires and hope and in comes enjoyment of the present moment.
Take one of the items above, or your own special one, and ask these questions:
How much of your time, energy and attention does this thing take up in your life, and how long has this been going on?
What are you afraid might happen if you let it go? (This is why you hang on to it).
What might you do, if you did let it go, with the time, energy and attention that would then be freed up?
Repeat as required!
Wishing you a great 'FI and get-on-with-life' year.