Escaping Achievement

Saturday was a Day of Planned Non-Productivity. Translation: I stayed in my pajamas until an hour that cannot be mentioned publicly and proceeded to do nothing at all. On purpose. It was fantastic.

box of popcorn and film with movie framesPlease do try this at home. Instructions: Rent as many movies as you can comfortably watch in a day. Comfortably is important. This is a day for floating not for becoming an expert on the history of film. Documentaries or dramas about the world’s problems are not allowed. This is not denial—it’s a break. I highly recommend renting the night before so you don’t have to leave the house if you don’t want to.

I chose a cartoon, a romantic comedy, and a supposedly heartwarming slice of life. Warning, save Mike Leigh films for productive days: they will likely teach you something about somebody’s problems.

Suspend all obligations and attempts at self-improvement, including those eternal ones such as, “It’s a nice day. I should go outside and enjoy the sunshine.” Remain vigilant: obligation creep is insidious and can disguise itself in cunning forms, such as the door knob you’ve been meaning to fix for months or Great Aunt Mildred who is 92 and recently bought an iPad and has sent you a week’s worth of emails you have not yet answered.

Lie on the couch in your pajamas and watch the movies. Eat cereal for three meals, or frozen pizza, or popcorn and hot chocolate. Only eat vegetables if you enjoy them as much as you enjoy ice cream; do nothing for the sole purpose of being healthy—“being healthy” is code for obligation and self-improvement all rolled up in one. Scary, I know.

Guilt may tempt you. We Americans have a productivity addiction problem. We measure our days by how much we accomplish rather than whether we enjoyed what we did or were kind to the people we met. We don’t consider it odd to answer the question, “How was your day?” with “I got this and that done.” We are accustomed to confusing doing and being.

Planned non-productivity takes this mentality into account and transforms doing nothing into an accomplishment. You don’t have to change all your unhealthy cultural norms to take a day off; you simply make relaxing a goal and voilà! an answer to that voice in your head telling you you should be doing something.

I confess that Sunday Night Guilt, second cousin of the gunk monster, caught up to me when looking at the piles of unwashed clothes and the pot rack still covered in paper two weeks after painting. (Yes, seriously.) But Saturday itself was a rare event for me, a day during which existence sufficed without any attempts to mold it. Let’s hear it for cartoons and popcorn.

11 thoughts on “Escaping Achievement

  1. Funny that this is your post for this day. On this day, I departed from Manchester, England, on a flight to JFK airport in NY. A 7.5 hour flight. I sat in business class, which is a delightful way to survive such a long flight. I had my laptop and thought about how much work I could get done, but what did I do? With a personal video screen on the seat back in front of me, a Bose headset, and two flight attendants bringing me food and drink, I watched movies! Mwah ha ha! Nothing like being in a cocoon and being completely pampered.
    Special note: I was NOT wearing pajamas.

  2. Good job! I do this on a fairly regular basis, only I sometimes focus on a book, or alternate between a book and a movie or TV series. Be sure the book will be a pleasurable escape, i.e., Science fiction or fantasy with fun doses of adventuring, romance, and bravado! 🙂

  3. I don’t know/remember enough about co-dependence to make this claim, but I think there is something wrongly-conflated in the relationship of Being and Doing. I see the flip-side in the student who doesn’t want a ‘C’ (for what she is Doing) because she is (her Being is) an “A student.”

  4. There are forms of Doing that really help us to Be, right? And, say, walking meditations are a version of that? I think writing is a version of that for me (?and maybe for you). Have you found any noticable improvement in the relationship of things you Do in order to Be, once you’ve disengaged them for a bit? I ask this at the risk of sounding as if such disengagement has to Produce in order to justify its existence. Oh dear!

    • Yes to the first three questions. “Pray without ceasing” comes to mind–the end of separating the two perhaps. Disengagement, hm, I think all things are cyclical, so it’s likely helpful because it’s likely natural at some times. But I usually just go until I’m forced to disengage because I’m exhausted, which I think does not produce good evidence to answer that question in a useful way.

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