Let’s Begin With The ‘Oughts’
It can take a long time to accomplish desired tasks. The intention is present, but the focus eludes us. And we spin in frustration.
“Is it ADD?” asks my hindered client. I smirk in recognition of a shared sentiment.
It’s not an attention disorder (not likely). Its what I call the ‘oughts’. An annoying brain default that prompts postponement and delay; like a sudden need to eat something, or pay the bills, or learn to run Genius on your new IPod; everything and anything but the ‘desired’ task of our good intentions.
It took, for example, a looming deadline to begin this article. And when I finally sat down to it, I found myself answering work emails, managing a deal on Kijiji (for that Ipod I mentioned earlier), a desk to tidy up, and the sudden urge to jump for another cup of coffee.
Well…maybe it is a bit of ADD (or the effects of too much caffeine). But even still, the ‘oughts’ are a grueling distraction. And, if not for their ability to best our ambitions, the ‘oughts’ can be somewhat comical.
As a brain default, the ‘oughts’ are a complex mix of neural firing, rapid blood surges and oxygen flows. Neuroscience states that attention is “a complex process…mingling with emotion, memory, identity, will, motivation, and mood” (Anderson, 2009, New York News). As such the ‘oughts’ cannot be easily accounted for, and consequently, we can’t easily rid ourselves of them.
It’s important not to judge ourselves too harshly for the ‘oughts’. It increases their power and adds guilt and shame to the frustration.
In my experience, the ‘oughts’ are best diminished when accepted (and anticipated) as naturally arising before certain tasks can begin (or be finally accomplished). When the ‘oughts’ are treated as part of the process instead of judged as deferring the process, we can make certain allowances for their distracting character.
For example, when I appreciate that my writing process demands time to wander all over the place (in my mind as well my office), I start the work a bit earlier predicting these ‘oughts’ will need attention. Also, by accepting the ‘oughts’, I have come to know them as less intense in the early morning (before the daytimes’ many other distractions).
Without judgment the ‘oughts’, which can occur not only before, but also during the task at hand, may even come to be enjoyed as a break.
But let me not underestimate the difficulty the ‘oughts’ can create. The problem with the ‘oughts’ increases as the importance and immediacy of the task increases. For example, sincere attempts to develop new interpersonal habits, or to develop new strategies for managing complex issues (like anxiety or anger or an addiction), may find the ‘oughts’ extremely distressing.
In such emotionally charged situations, one might ask whether the “oughts” are not so much ‘oughts’ as they are a true resistance to the task. In such cases it might be best to find someone to talk it through.
Another related point, is too often, with good intention, we invest in what we think we should be doing as opposed to what we really want to do. When we resist it we might think we are into the “oughts”, when in fact we are into the “shoulds”. And that is an entirely other issue.
As I see it, as long as I am pursuing what I like to do, (like my writing) and keep the ‘oughts’ a very real part of the process (without discouraging judgment), I know that at the very least, my deadline will get met and, as a possible bonus, I could learn to fully enjoy my new Ipod this summer.