I find when I am living my Regular Life, my mind is full of a constant barrage of Regular Life Thoughts. Stuff I need to do today at work, what groceries I need to swing by the shop on the way home for, what am I getting my sisters for Christmas, who can I convince to come to the pub with me Friday, which one of my friends has just had a baby, when am I going to get that run in?
It’s a constant barrage of thoughts that keep everything ticking over. There’s nothing wrong with this relentless buzz, in fact I find it pretty necessary to lead a fulfilling and enjoyable life. But all this time spent thinking about what I’m doing today or next week makes it way harder for me to think about what I want to be doing 5 years from now. What I want my life to look like. Maybe some people can mute the relentless buzzing in order to think about these Big Picture Things, but I always feel my mind is so full, they all get shoved to the back, thinking about them put off indefinitely. However, I have found there is one reliable technique that gets me mulling over these things without fail.
I first noticed it on my gap year in 2009. Freshly out of high school, my university entrance deferred and some traveler’s cheques in hand as my parents insisted people still used those (spoiler… they did not). I was ready to spend 10 months backpacking across Canada, the US, the UK and Thailand. It rapidly became apparent that backpacking is actually code for waiting around while wearing or (depending on how long the wait time is) sitting on your backpack. Now I would probably fill that time with mindless scrolling on my smartphone, but luckily I didn’t have one of those yet.
While I sat there on my faithful backpack, waiting for whatever mode of transport I happened to be taking next, I noticed the myriad of day to day brain occupying thoughts had calmed significantly. I started thinking about new things, important things. The Big Picture Things escaped from the box in the back of my mind, flexing stiff, crumpled wings. They flapped gloriously to the foreground, ready to be mulled over by a can of Kokanee on a lakeshore or a bottomless cup of filter coffee at a hipster cafe.
This realisation has become even more pronounced as I have got older, probably because I have way more relentless everyday thoughts to keep my life ticking over now than when I was 17. I am currently lucky enough to be on another period of extended travel, and yet again I am finding my mind has quieted to the point that the Big Picture Things have found their way to the fore once again.
I have realised things that were once important to me have been neglected. Other things I do out of habit but don’t get much out of at all. I’m trying to set up new routines while I have the luxury of being unconstrained in the hope I will be able to carry them back with me to my Regular Life once my trip is over. In 2009 I realised that I actually wanted to do the university degree I had essentially fallen into because everyone around me told me it was a good idea. This trip I have realised the damaging habits of mindlessly death-scrolling on my phone and binging TV shows when I could be doing something I enjoy and get way more out of, like reading or writing. I have also realised (for at least the 5th time) that yo-yo-ing between high fitness levels and champion couch potato is significantly harder than just maintaining some sort of basic athleticism. Ideas about future jobs and homes have also come more into focus, as well as deciding to stick with my currently nomadic lifestyle for a at least a few more years.
I won’t figure everything out on this trip. I won’t sit down with a glass of wine and get the rest of my life all sorted and planned. You don’t start out with a raw piece of wood and after a few months traveling end up with an exquisitely detailed sculpture. But each time I manage to unlock the Big Picture Thoughts, I am able to carve off a few more shavings, fashioning the unhewn block bit by bit, slowly bringing it closer to the life I want to lead.
I strongly feel everyone should take time out to allow their Big Picture Things to come to front of mind. Not everyone has the luxury to take 6 months off, but even just a weekend in the bush can quiet the buzz significantly. No phone service, no plans beyond getting up, having meals and getting to the next campsite, or enjoying the spot you have chosen. Simplifying life to its basic components is a great way to help reflect on where you are and where you want to be. Turn off the relentless buzz so you can start carving some shavings off that block.