an overthinker toys with action
Don't just do something, sit there!
This phrase finally dethrones ‘Hey there! I am using WhatsApp’ as my status.
I love quirky flips of language. In contrast to the hustle culture around me, this feels like appealing advice. Without verifying if it suits me, I hold it up as my digital banner.
'Sitting There' has been my privilege and passion for a very long time. I sit for hours. In front of screens, and also without any gadgets in my hand. I close my eyes or prop my face on my palms and sit still. It looks like I am meditating or cogitating, but my mind is buzzing at 12000 RPM. I am overthinking the fuck out of something. Juicing it, grinding it, squeezing out every thought that could arise about a person or a situation. I apply journalistic rigour to my overthinking: what? why? who? when? where? and how? If I have a bright idea, my fearful thoughts kidnap it. I think until I lose sleep and my sense of safety.
Any addictive behaviour seems harmless - until it repeats itself - and weaves a polyester pattern that can strangle a life. How do I move forward with 6 suitcases of thoughts, 2 backpacks of fears, and 1 steel trunk of trauma? Instead of channelizing emotions into projects, I analyze them and paralyze myself. Instead of facing problems head-on, I research them. I make a database of solutions before trying any one of them. My mind is Buzzfeed, full of listicles. Things I have to *nail*, places I *must* visit, friends I would *die* to have - #squadgoals. But lists are not maps, and maps are not shoes, and the costliest shoes do not take the first step by themselves.
One day, I wake up on the anxious side of the bed. I am ridiculously certain it is one of those neverending bad mental health days. In the dull afternoon, I pop a raw mango seed into my dal. I play Barso by Ritviz at tea. I dance a little. My mood shifts without my permission.
I am surprised. It is not therapy or meditation, but small summerly acts that uplift me. It's the first time I believe it: doing something has power. It reminds me of Mark Manson's 'Do Something Principle' that I had stuck on my wall a week back. I walk up to it and scribble in full agreement, 'Doing Something Does Something'. Something is a random word, but it comes to life here. It is a break from my ‘All or Nothing’ mindset.
I grew up around workaholics. Neglected by them as a child, I promised to be different. As a young adult, I watched activists and entrepreneurs worship action. They dismissed the beautiful abstract ideas and emotions that drive poetry and cultural movements. This obsession with action repulsed me.
When I see people run around in a motorized society, I wonder if they ever stop to think. I see teachers teach year after year without reflection. I notice artists who never take sabbaticals to fill their inner well. I hear YouTubers apologize for taking breaks from their posting schedule. Capitalism creates 'the compulsive doer' and then alienates her. Burnout spreads like forest fire.
This makes me averse to the insistence on action. But like everything else, I am yet to personalize it. I want to find my own method of acting. Luckily, bullet journaling chops the huge watermelons of my action into smaller edible pieces. I realize the need for baby steps, as a struggling adult. It is ironic how the educator in me dislikes teaching methods that don't use activities. Then why do I expect myself to learn without action?
As a writer, I have taken so long to conclude that physical labour at the desk is more fruitful than mental maths. I write more when I scribble, freewrite, doodle, mind-map, walk, than when I ‘think’ the piece up in my head.
I notice how the tiniest actions - writing the date on a blank page in Fuschia ink, clearing the fridge, reading out a poem like Amitabh Bachchan - change the course of a day. These actions are not found in books or blogs. I need to discover them. Unpredictable, innovative, small, and seasonal actions become the next best food offering for my life cravings. I need to be present and embodied with intuition to find and complete these acts of will, without any force or rush. I need to ask and not nag myself into action.
I know that starting things is an art. But I never imagine I can start before addressing every single concern or apprehension. I learn from my sister how it is wiser to resolve fears through action and not before it. I learn from my friend Sneha, that I can choose to play with projects, to hide less and seek more, to do more guessing than passing my turn. I can take long shots, be up close with fear, on the field, instead of turning the bench into a throne of resentful inaction.
In anxiety, blood rushes to the hands and legs of the anxious person. Action engages my sore limbs. It promotes my body from ‘Tupperware Container of the Brain’ to ‘Active Collaborator’. Action lifts me like a pulley from the pit of self-pity.
There is this big action that I have been hiding from, for the past year. I could not allow myself to publish this essay without taking my first step towards it. So I did it. And surprise! It felt…good.
I and action have a long way to go. Right now, I treasure the shift from waiting for a jazzy mood to do something, to doing something and arriving at the jazzy mood achanak se!
A tool I’ve used (thrice) for humble beginnings: The Tiny Habits Program