Why Meaningful Work Takes Time, and How to Find It.

Are you the kind of person that goes to the library and immediately falls in love with every book? Do you end up at the counter checking out more books than you can feasibly read? If that’s you, you probably bite off more than you can chew.

We live and work in a world today that is driven by a “more, more, more!” mindset. A world where our self-worth is often tied to how much we’ve accumulated, how productive we are, or how quickly we can accomplish something (only to get more put on your plate).

If you want to do real, meaningful work, the most important skill you may need to learn is to find ways to buy yourself the time and space to think deeply about a problem (did Watson and Crick discover DNA by moving from task to task as quickly as possible?) and to trust in the creative process (Did Michelangelo paint the Sistine Chapel overnight?).

Frank Partnoy writes in his timely book, Wait: The Art and Science of Delay, about the benefits of not immediately doing something and how slowing down our responses in a world where efficiency and speed is king, proves to be more productive in the long run. Saying “no” when every part of us wants to say “yes” is an art form. It can be cultivated.

So, why is our default response most often to say yes, even to our own detriment? We are initially led by our impulses — our animalistic, emotional reflexes (we all have ‘em!) — or what psychologist Steve Peters refers to as our “inner chimp”. Our basic settings are initially programmed to “chimp mode” when confronted with decisions. However, sometimes a powerful “no” to these impulses is the key we need to give ourselves the time and space to do work that means something to us.

It’s the inner chimp that is wired to emotionally react to every impulse. A very good definition of a human is to have the cognitive function to reflect, evaluate, and to have the capacity to practice the long lost art of patience. For it is only through reflection and patience that we can truly evaluate what it is that we really want, one library book at a time.

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