I would like to be a little boat, peacefully bobbing upon the ocean of life. Drifting with the flow, seeing where I end up, and having little adventures along the way. Escaping the mindless hustle, endless competition, and tiresome hostility of a restless world. Where everyone is so busy doing nothing, and dissatisfied with the stuff they spend all their energy acquiring.
I’m not a boat. And even if I was, this is not what happens when we drift. I would more likely end up shipwrecked, flooded, or out in the middle of an ocean without any sense of where I am.
You never drift to the destination you have chosen. It’s through deliberate momentum in the right direction, that you get to where you want to go. If you want to be in better health, to clear your debts, or to have stronger relationships, you wont drift there. You’ll need to pick up the ores, and start rowing.
In this episode of the podcast we explore how drift takes us away from ourselves, and what to do when we look up to see we’re not where we want to be.
Where Do We Drift?
It’s easy to get caught drifting within the current of a job, industry, or career. Even if you don’t have any passion for the work you do.
Our friendships, families, and partners often become victims of drift. We take them for granted, and fail to do the work necessary to keep them healthy.
We drift with our health. Through the small habits we engage in regularly. Often this leaves us drifting towards crises moments, which we only realise when it’s too late.
We drift into debt and patterns of mindless spending. Even when we earn more than we used to, we still struggle to make ends meet.
We can get caught in the drift of self-development, carrying the belief that we are not good enough. So we drift in search of the secret.
We tend to ignore things that are important but not urgent. Things that we can sweep under the carpet. This happens in our lives as individuals, as well as our collective life in families, communities, and wider society. Drift creates the cracks where the toxins get in.
Over time we can become numb to the things that once mattered to us. We drift from our deep values, and start to tolerate, excuse, and even pursue things which we know are not good for us.
Why Is Drift Dangerous?
- You end up in places you have not chosen to go
- Your sense of control disappears
- You become dissatisfied and full of regret
- It leads to ill health (both literally and figuratively)
What Causes Drift?
Belief in Your Own Immortality
Palliative care nurse, Bronnie Ware, recorded the thoughts of patients in the final 12 weeks of their lives. “When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently,” she says that “common themes surfaced again and again.”
All 5 of the biggest regrets are underpinned by drift. Where the person has not been deliberate in the pursuit of things that actually mattered to them. This happens when we don’t appreciate the fleeting transitory nature of the life we’ve been given.
We submit to drift when we live without perspective and appreciation for what good we can do in the world. When we carry no sense of meaning beyond ourselves. When we only live for our own hedonistic experiences and what we can get out of life, rather than what we can put into it.
Donald Meltzer calls defence mechanisms “the lies we tell ourselves to evade pain”. According to Joseph Burgo (author of Why Do I Do That?), defence mechanisms are “unthinking and reflexive; they aim only to ward off pain this very moment and don’t take into account the long-term costs of doing so.”
They are the ruts into which we fall when we want to avoid feeling things. If we heavily rely on them then we will drift into the same kinds of situations over and over.
If you’re driven by money, you will never have enough. If you’re driven in pursuit of perfection no one will ever be good enough, and nor will you. These drives leave us drifting towards self-destruction, in the never-ending belief that the destination is just over the horizon.
External Locus of Control
A person with an external locus of control attributes success or failure to luck, and circumstances beyond their influence. This leads to drift because it puts the person at the mercy of the waves, the weather, and the current. They blame other factors if things go wrong, and don’t take responsibility for moving things in the direction they want to go.
Turn the Tide on the Drift
Be Self-Aware and Acknowledge Reality
Where are you drifting? Where do you feel like you’ve lost control and you’re just coasting without meaning to. Your career? A certain relationship? Your health?
What would your ideal future look like if you stopped drifting and moved in the direction you would prefer to go?
Assess Your Options
If you were to move in a better direction what would you do?
Make a Plan
We stop drifting when we pick a direction and start moving. Pick an option, and kick your feet in the water.
Don’t be the impatient kid in the back saying “are we there yet?” Many of us desire instant results, and get anxious when things take time. But if you know you’re moving in the right direction, you can stop worrying about how long it’s going to take. You can start to enjoy the journey.