Brain Food #607

Catching up is an illusion

Thoughts of the day

Life may sometimes feel like an endless to-do list, a combination of daily tasks and lifelong goals, ever-changing and ever-growing. Some of our life goals may be evergreen, others may be the ones that we let go of.

We may have been told that we have infinite potential, and so we chase after it for as long as we can. But this may mean that we are always trying to catch up, either with a future version of ourselves, or with a list of tasks that will propel us further into our week, that will advance our work and that of others.

Perhaps the most common form of catching up, no matter what one’s life situation may be, is that of catching up with sleep, which even has a name: sleep debt. And this can be one of our most daunting tasks. A 2016 study discovered that it takes four days to fully recover from one hour of lost sleep. This lack of sleep could be due to the fact that we sacrifice it to give ourselves more time to catch up with everything we are expected to do in our waking life.

There are two approaches to this: either to try and tackle everything, to perpetually dangle a carrot in front of us and keep heading towards it, or to accept that this will be the way things are, because life is an echo, the more we put out there, the more will come back to us.

And this last approach could be the most liberating one. The day ends, it has its finite limits. Tomorrow starts when the clock resets. Yet we are living in the future, forgetting that real life lies in this very moment. We can do as much as we can today, and tomorrow we can carry on from where we left off, without beating ourselves up over the fact that we have left some items on our list unchecked.

Perhaps there is nothing -and no one- to catch up with. Perhaps we are already there.


“True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is sufficient, for he that is so wants nothing. The greatest blessings of mankind are within us and within our reach. A wise man is content with his lot, whatever it may be, without wishing for what he has not.”

— Seneca