This post originally started growing on the end of a previous one and I decided it deserved special treatment. Much of this talk of essentials, habits, routines, and everything else that self-help gurus tell you to do (do a nice thing every day! go to bed early! keep a journal!) leaves little room for something obvious: doing plain old fun stuff, the stuff that you intrinsically enjoy that doesn’t really “get” you anywhere.

Here’s the secret: in many people’s lives, the fun stuff is out of balance with the essentials. I know it was in mine. That balance must be restored. Everybody will remember the age-old “Walnuts and Sand” experiment (known more popularly as “big rocks, little rocks”) where if you put sand into a jar first you can’t fit all the walnuts; but if you put the walnuts in first, you can fit all the sand too. Classic illustration of balance, but how do you motivate yourself to actually make that happen? What are the practicalities that get you there?

The key is increasing your mental clarity so you can finally see the proper place recreation should have in your life; what its real purpose is. Going back to my flywheel post, the best part of making the flywheel spin faster is that you finally understand why you should do all the little things that self-help gurus keep telling you to do. You begin to see it contributing to something beautiful in the future, and suddenly it becomes much easier to put the walnuts in the jar first.

But James, you would be forgiven for asking, how do I make the flywheel go faster? How do I develop the clarity? Greg McKeown points out in Essentialism that the biggest enemy of Signal is Noise; the biggest enemy of mental clarity is mental clutter. Eliminate thoughts, pursuits, relationships, projects, or anything else that isn’t directly contributing to your desired direction in life and the clarity will hit you right in the face.

Photo credit: Susan Hoffman Fishman and Elena Kalman

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