What truly matters: Important vs urgent
Illustration: Dova / 123rf
We all know that, if we keep focusing all our attention on what is urgent, we may very well end up missing what is truly important. But it's easier said than done. Trying to do it on willpower alone often doesn't work. Why is that?
We are wired to pay attention to what is urgent. On the whole, considering how it came to be that way, it makes sense. Evolutionarily, those creatures that were not able to shift gear quickly to attend to clear and present danger didn't make it. In other words, we have inherited the genes of people who had an extreme sense of urgency.
Sense of urgency = Fear
In this context, it is easier to see that "sense of urgency" is a fancy word for sensitivity to fear. It means noticing danger and reacting quickly to it: An instrumental ability to survive in the wild. In such conditions, it's better to overreact: Better safe than sorry.
Reactivity is very adaptive for living in the wild. But, within a civilized society, we need more than this to prosper (not to mention enjoy our life). We need to turn off the reactive mode (when we are safe, of course) to be able to do more complex things, like looking at goals and how to achieve them.
The critical part in the above paragraph is that, to override the reactive mode, which is fear-based, we need to feel safe.
Here's how this translates to what you can do in real life:
- When you notice that you have been so focused on what is "urgent" that you have been neglecting what is "important," remember that this reactive mode is fear-based.
- Then look for what you might be afraid of, consciously or not. Chances are you may not even be aware of having any fear. Your conscious mind may be aware that "these things need to be done." So ask yourself: "What might be the fear that pushes me to act this way?"
- As you get more of a sense of what that fear might be, let yourself feel it more, get a more visceral understanding of it, as opposed to just staying with abstract words.
- Keep in mind that you are not doing this as a way to scare yourself needlessly, but as a way to confront the fear. Remember that just engaging in this exercise is showing your courage and strength: You are not avoiding fear. You are facing it. There's at least a little part of you that has some degree of confidence in your ability to overcome it. You are giving that part of yourself a fighting chance.
- Little by little, you find yourself connecting to your inner sense of strength. You feel fear, but you're not paralyzed by it. You start to see possible ways to go at it. You are experiencing your ability to keep danger at bay. From this calmer, more reliable place, you are now more able to focus on what is truly important.
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