Flipping Ambition: Helping Your Child Achieve More by Effectively Slacking Off (Part 2 of 5)

This is part two of a five-part series “Flipping Ambition: Helping Your Child Achieve More by Effectively Slacking Off”click here to read the rest of the series.

5 Dangers of an Overstuffed Garden

Did you ever try to walk through a too-packed cornfield? Is it not tough to enjoy a field of daffodils when the whole field is overtaken by wheat, trees and weeds? The same thing goes for having a schedule or lifestyle that is overflowing with way too many activities. You can barely wade through the day without feeling like your suffocating.

The previous post already taught you and your kids how to sift through the seeds in your bucket list to plant only those you truly desire in your garden. Just in case you’re not sure if you actually need to whittle down your list, it may be helpful to take a gander at some of the horrible things that can happen when your gardens are too stuffed with stuff.

Rotten vegetation is one of them, since not every plant will be receiving the proper attention it needs to thrive. Confusion is another, thanks to all the things fiercely competing for your attention. Stress, anxiety and total energy depletion also come with the overstuffed landscape, and you may have already seen your kids are not having much fun hanging out in their gardens if the soil is teeming with anxiety and stress. More dangers come with the territory.

5 major dangers of your overstuffed gardens:

No joy of the moment. Life is a big series of little moments, and you and your kids will lose out on the joy of those little moments when faced with too much to do. Rather than focusing on and enjoying each goal as you accomplish it, the human brain tends to gallop ahead into the future looking for what’s next on the list. A prime symptom of anxiety is worrying about things that may or may not happen in the future, and overstuffing your garden sets the perfect stage for anxiety to thrive.

Robotic existence. When you face an impossible to do list, the only thing that becomes important is the completion of another task, not the process of completing it. Your overall aim can become only to get something done as quickly as possible, a prime way to fall into the robot trap. Things typically get done much quicker when you go into a robotic mode, which means you start to do tasks automatically without taking the time to actually think about or enjoy what you’re doing.

Inability to get good at anything. People can only get truly good at a few things, and trying to do more than a few prevents you and your kids from getting good at anything. It’s a factor of time and energy, which are both finite. If you or your children have 10 hours a week to devote to practicing something, it is much more effective to spread it across one or two areas than trying to spread if over six or 10. We can bet Dr. Suess didn’t get to be the poignant writer your child thinks he is by sharing his writing time with soccer practice, cello lessons and mountain climbing training.

Loss of other opportunities. Focusing on one thing always takes focus away from another. It doesn’t matter how skilled you or your children are at multitasking, time and energy will once again come bite you in the butt by limiting what you can actually achieve. Spending all that time and energy on one goal comes at a high cost of lost opportunities for others. Furthermore, when you or your kids engage in activity A, it’s not just the time and energy spent doing it that’s the problem, but it’s the lost time and energy you could have spent doing something much better.

Falling into a habit trap. A habit trap is similar to the robotic existence in the sense that you don’t really think about or enjoy what you’re doing. You just do it. The habit trap takes it even further by ensuring you keep on doing whatever it is just because it’s what you do. Maybe it’s an activity like cello lessons that you started in your 20s and keep up, begrudgingly, in your 30s just because you feel like you should keep them up. Sure, the lessons were a great idea in your teens before you had kids and a family and you really did want to make it to Carnegie Hall.

But now your priorities have shifted and your passions changed and you’d rather be spending that cello lesson time doing something else. That is perfectly OK! People change as their lives change, and their priorities and passions may change right along with it.

Don’t keep wasting you and your kids’ time doing things just because you’ve always done them or because they seemed good at the time but now aren’t but you feel you should continue. Most decisions are reversible. Don’t forget, too, that every time you or your children say “yes” to one thing, you’re saying “no” to countless others. That means you better make sure the stuff you say “yes” to is worth it.

Exercise: Zero based thinking

Zero based thinking is a concept that can help you and your kids decide if something you’re spending your time doing is really worth it. You do this by throwing out all preconceived notions and habit traps regarding an activity and starting your thinking from zero. You can retain all the information you know at the moment, but don’t hang onto the idea you have to keep doing an activity just because it had been a good idea at one time. Don’t feel compelled to continue something just because you started it. You don’t.

You can instead look at the activity and ask yourself:

If I knew the same information that I know now when I first started the activity, would I continue to do this activity?

If yes, then keep at it! If no, you’d better dump that bucket.

The cello lessons example can help you grasp the concept, and we can throw in another one for good measure. Let’s say your kid volunteered to help at the local pet shelter because he or she loved animals and was thinking of becoming a veterinarian. Every week for years your child dutifully showed up to help scoop up kennel stuff, learned a lot about the shelter, and got an inkling of some of the stuff vets do.

Fast forward a few years and your kid decides human medicine is more his or her speed, and not just because of the kennel scooping stuff. Is your child compelled to keep volunteering three hours each week at the shelter just because, well, that’s what he always did? Or can he free up that time to pursue something else now that he knows she is no longer interested in veterinary medicine?

Zero based thinking can help him decide. Changing one’s mind is always OK, especially if it means freeing up time for activities that build on your strengths rather than wallow in your weaknesses. We’ll talk more about wallowing in weaknesses and why it’s so common in our next article. We’ll also tell you how to stop doing it!

This is part two of a five-part series “Flipping Ambition: Helping Your Child Achieve More by Effectively Slacking Off”, click here to read the rest of the series.