Being Passive vs. Active

Over on Youtube, Joey Schweitzer on his Better Ideas channel has a video in which he talks about the act of watching movies either passively or actively.

Passively watching something would be such as when you get home from a busy day at work and just throw something on the telebox, whereas actively might involve first researching what it is you want to watch and properly sitting down and focussing on it for the duration, and pondering what it’s all about.

“Being actively engaged with something increases the quality of the thing that you’re engaged with.”

Even before watching Joey’s video I had realised I was more of the latter camp, after all, that seems like the best one to be in, right?

Brian says November 2016:

These days I really struggle with “passive” activities; I struggle to watch a film, something on Youtube, or read a book without making something of it; turning it into something active. I constantly find [or seek] points of interest that I want to mull over, make a note of, or write about further. I’m somewhat surprised that I can follow a 30 minute yoga sequence on Youtube without craving for something more… “doing”, thankfully they do generally keep my attention although I do have to tell myself not to worry “it’s only 30 minutes” even though the way time slows down it can feel significantly longer, and that I’m somehow wasting part of my day.

And as recent as last month:

…there are a few Youtube videos that I have watched recently that I want to blog about, so I will need to dip back into those to do that, but that’s creative stuff, which is what I’m trying to be about, not passive absorption.

While Joey’s video’s title proclaims to be about watching movies, it actually refers to other things too and the important lesson to take away from it seems to be about considering what we want to be actively engaged with – the important things to us – such as when we’re at work, and when we’re with family and loved ones. The reason, it is said, is because we have a finite and limited amount of energy and willpower [and time] and therefore we can be at risk of exhausting ourselves mentally when being engaged actively, too much.

I know people who perhaps work more hours than they need to just so they can avoid other commitments.

For a long time I have sought to be someone who is actively engaged in what ever I do, although the result is anything but. I find myself not wanting to be one of the people that sits on their backside all day, not working, not tidying the house, not doing anything to better themselves, all the while only absorbing stuff, whether it be music or other things like video games, television shows, or a Facebook feed. I rarely binge watch a TV series, which this is seemingly a habit that people tend to joke about while the repercussions can be serious; I prefer giving myself time to properly absorb something, and savour it.

I wrote of this concern in May 2018 in a topic about the ‘Overton Window‘:

…in practice [it] shows how things can shift to the more and more extreme over time, but in some avenues the opposite can hold true; our views, or things we deem to be acceptable, can narrow over time, indeed we can have our so-called freedoms taken away from us. Again, the pace can be such that we barely (if at all) notice it happen. Are we not being trained to be passive creatures?

This is quite a dystopic image and something I noticed later when I read the science fiction novel Utopia 239 last year:

…it is explained that in the time after the group left in 1984 the people had become slowly more passive – accepting anything their government ordered, that was until nuclear war broke out and all things changed.

The problem is I seem to be virtually unable to do anything without being (or seeking/appearing to be) ‘actively engaged’.

  • My work requires it; I like being attentive to my clients, or I certainly feel I have to be.
  • I can’t read a book without taking notes or wanting to blog about it in some way.
  • I rarely choose to listen to music these days since I either find it distracts me from things I want to focus on or I’d rather be playing along to something on my guitar.
  • In order to curb my time spent watching things on Youtube I’ve found myself actively avoiding things I might only watch for entertainment (unless I’m watching something while I eat…)
  • Even when sleeping I want to be engaged with my dreams in order to remember them and write them down when I wake in order to figure things out.

This, I realise, poses a variety of problems for me.

After a busy day at work, which involves me cycling to my clients (physical energy) and then being actively engaged with them and their computer problems (mental energy), I get home wanting to rest and, as seems to be quite normal, turn to something merely to watch or absorb for entertainment; I have not the energy to properly engage with things, yet I’ve largely failed to appreciate this and I end up being hard on myself and resenting “the time I’ve wasted” and wishing I’d spent the time doing something I wanted to actively pursue, such as:

  • Reading that book that requires my attention
  • Working on my model railway
  • Editing that video
  • Writing that blog post
  • Improving those songs I’ve been trying to play well on my guitar or keyboard

Even doing yoga or making the effort to focus on actually improving my cycling and jogging fitness (rather than just doing them passively) seem to fall by the wayside.

While Joey’s video helped me to see all of this, and it seems useful to actually consider how much energy (or will power) the things in our life each day require in order for us to be actively engaged in them, I’m not sure how to proceed. It doesn’t seem like better Mental Energy Management (or MEM as Joey calls it) is the be all and end all.

  • How can I let go of the demand I placed on myself to aim to be actively engaged in everything?
  • How can I ‘let go’ and read that book without trying to make something of it?
  • How can I watch something and relax both my body and mind?
  • How can I not feel guilty (or like I wasted precious time) for just absorbing something?
  • How can I avoid the fear of being (or being seen as) a ‘lazy person’?

Am I fighting my ego and failing at Ikigai? Joey made me think of this when he talked about forcing ourselves to relax; floating and being free.

What I do know is that there are a number of things which drain our energy, such as:

  • Procrastination
  • Multi-tasking (or the attempt of)
  • Negative thinking

Not too long ago I considered focusing more on one thing at a time, even setting a daily intention for what thing I wanted to achieve, complete or work on. I’ve always struggled with this right back to the point of “putting your toys away”; these days it’s bit of projects either physical, written and/or digital ones – Desktops are a mess, and other surfaces around the place are a similar sight. I find it difficult to do one thing at a time and properly finish one thing (and put my toys away) before starting or continuing something else, partly due to work which is not a regular 9-5 affair. One day is usually different from the next and often on my quiet days I seem to need some recovery time, either physically, or as I’m appreciating more now, mentally. Going forward though I think I give this all a better try.

One comment

  1. Geeze Brian, you’re all over the map. I suggest you pick three things to focus on. And rotate them for three months and see how it goes. Too much too thin paints a superficial veneer over your endeavors.

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