Cures for Apathy Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Cures for Apathy

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A note of apology for the lack of graphic on this entry.

Some days you wake up and, frankly, can't be arsed. The weather's too hot, your morale is running on empty and your energy levels are spent. Isn't it always the way that these days hit you when your workload's teetering on the brink of your desk, your deadlines are zooming towards you at an alarming rate and your free time is disappearing like an ice cube on a hotplate?

Well, no one wants to hear about how bored you are, and they certainly don't want you to drag them down with you. We needed motivation. We needed encouragement. We needed your suggestions on how to break the cycle and rid ourselves of apathy. And so you, the Community, gave us the following, you industrious little lot...

Physical Factors

It's advisable to be sure that what you're suffering from is apathy and not something else. Apathy might just be down-and-out laziness, but then again it might be something more serious. Are you looking after yourself? Think about why you might be down; perhaps you've not had enough fluids, food, fresh air or sunlight. Each of these can be tackled quickly and relatively easily. It might be that you're just tired. You might be re-invigorated by a shower or a wash.

However, long-term apathy may be a sign of a larger problem. If you have been struggling for more than a month, are unable to get motivated and are finding it difficult even to get out of bed, there is a chance you may be suffering from depression. If your apathy is accompanied by other factors such as fatigue, the diminished ability to concentrate, insomnia or hypersomnia (sleeping too much), significant weight changes and feelings of worthlessness, then speak with your doctor or a counsellor, and soon. Depression is not something that will just go away. It is an illness and one that can be treated.

Find a Purpose

If you are afflicted by apathy, then lack of direction may well be at the root of that. It might be advisable to take a break and have a go at something you know you enjoy doing, but that has nothing whatsoever to do with what you're supposed to be doing, as the following Researcher describes...

If you can't raise any enthusiasm for your work, subvert it. If you're supposed to be stacking a supermarket shelf, have a go at conceptual art. If you're supposed to be directing traffic, explore your ballet skills. And instead of that urgently required, brain-petrifying management report, take some time to think how your job could be done better and more pleasurably, and write a report on that instead. If you find you've surprised yourself with your insight, then submit that report. You might find a grateful employer, one who will encourage and challenge you now that his eyes are open wider. And if you get criticised or even sacked, then you now know that what you needed was a new job all along. One that allows you to dance in uniform.

Caring about somebody else might be your purpose: many cite being in love as being a prime motivator for them. However, if this is not something you feel likely to encounter any time soon, then military training might be the answer. As one Researcher says,

During military training you can do anything you are told to. I don't just mean running or shooting - I mean that if a senior officer came in the room and told everyone, 'Right you lot. You have two days to write a book!' then you could!

Work that Body

Many Researchers recommend exercise as a way of battling apathy. Of course, this in itself requires motivation, but the quality of your day-to-day living is higher when you work out on a regular basis. There are various theories about how much exercise confers health benefits, but this isn't necessarily about health or self-esteem. Resistance training, aerobics, dance classes, going for walks in the park... it gets you out of the house and moving. The benefits are that it releases endorphins and ought to reduce stress and increase flexibility. It will increase the stamina and energy of your body, and what is the mind without the body?1

Still, what do you do when you're so stuck in an apathetic rut that you can't exercise? This is a tricky one, but recalling to yourself the times you've enjoyed the particular activity (a beautiful day jogging by the river, perhaps) or when you've been rewarded by the activity (developing muscle definition in your arms for the first time) or even scaring yourself by thinking how big and flabby you might get if you don't get out of your chair, might work.

Even then, it's easy to fall into old habits if you don't establish a routine. The answer here is to build your exercise into things that you do every week - preferably where you'll meet other people, so you'll feel you're letting them down if you don't turn up. Set yourself measurable goals to focus on - it might be handy to enter yourself into a local race or something. Then tell people you've entered so you can't get out of it.

When even this doesn't work, perhaps psychological factors should be brought into play. When you're tempted to skive off, use 'warrior mind'. Tell yourself that a normal person would stay in bed - but you are special kind of person, you are a warrior and as such you are happy to endure small discomforts in order to achieve your goal. Then grit your teeth, get out of bed and get on with it. If you can't find the motivation now, you need to question if your goal is something that you really want. Then, when you've shaken off your inertia, remember how it feels. You've probably enjoyed the exercise and felt really good about it, so hold that feeling and use it as reinforcement when you need motivating again.

Another way might be to take your mind off the exercise altogether - ride an exercise bike while playing a video game and you might go past your goal distance on the odometer. And remind yourself of the reason you go to the gym - vanity might not be a strong enough force, but the membership fee you pay the gym might be. Financial acumen can be a great motivating factor:

If you say to yourself, 'I'm doing these squats so I can spend 20% more time on the slopes on my next skiing holiday' (and thus get 20% more holiday for the same money), then you'll do them.

Get Organised

Introducing a bit of structure into your life might be the answer. Break large jobs into smaller ones, then make a list and prioritise it. Those who swear by lists speak of the unparalleled joy in crossing things off them - there is something about structure that keeps apathy at bay. Start waking up at the same time every day. Take your meals at the same hour. Don't restrict yourself to scheduling things that other people demand of you. Tell yourself that at 7.15pm precisely every night you will spend 15 minutes tidying the living room. If you schedule your own tasks and stick to the schedule, you'll often find that things will be done earlier than expected, leaving extra time to devise more intricate schedules. If you're putting a job off, writing it all down might help, as one Researcher finds:

I write out what's bothering me in excruciating detail, then write down the fact that it's making me waste time and avoid work, which eventually leads me to get started on the work.

However, if you're on a rigid schedule, you shouldn't be scared to break it when apathy strikes. Stay up until dawn. Go to the pub an hour early to see if it looks any different. Indulge now and then - doodle, sleep, or even spend time on h2g2 (!) to recharge your batteries and remain creative. Schedules can be unfriendly beasts, as can the tasks that comprise them. Take a step outside of your own life and look back. See what it is you haven't done that you wish you had. You may find there is something in your daily routine that you miss, and you can return to it with new-found fervour. Or perhaps you might find that your schedule was keeping you from the thing you truly love. Either way, you should find your apathy waning. We do, however, recommend that those with dogs maintain certain elements of their schedule, unless the thing they truly love involves carpet-cleaning.

Kill Your Television

Many of you seem to blame the goggle box for your apathy. Do you eat meals in front of the television? Before you know it you're sucked into a programme and it's hard to leave before the end of it... by the time it comes to an end you've settled in for the night and it seems too late to start doing anything new, and you can't be bothered as the evening has been so easy thus far.

The obvious answer is to turn the television off. Eat at the dining table and only watch the television programmes that you had planned on seeing. You'll get loads more done about the house, and you might even revive the great lost art of conversation.

Moving the Mind

Other, less passive, forms of entertainment can stimulate the brain. Put on some music (Researchers recommend everything from Handel's Water Music to er...'Disco' by Ottawan...) and pick up a good book. This should get your mind into gear and that's half the battle - once your brain's active the rest of you can follow.

One Researcher recommends reading either a good book or a bad newspaper:

Reading Naomi Klein's astonishing No Logo shook me out of my complacent ignorance about how consumerism works, and there are certain fast-food chains and sportswear manufacturers who definitely won't be getting my custom in future as a result of my reading it. The book made me make the effort to find fair-trade alternatives to some of my favourite products, and nudged me towards getting actively involved in politics for the first time in years. Michael Moore's highly entertaining Stupid White Men and John Pilger's The New Rulers Of The World are two more books that I found similarly enlightening and invigorating. On the other hand, sometimes reading a really bad newspaper can leave me feeling determined to try to make a difference. If ever I find myself starting to believe that most of the major battles against bigotry have been won, a quick look at one of the right-wing tabloids soon cures me of that delusion.

Selective Apathy?

Is it possible to care too much? Is apathy a necessary evil, a self-defence mechanism that helps us cope with the stresses of modern living? If you care passionately about every cause, then you might collapse from exhaustion or end up thinking the world is hopeless and end up not caring about anything at all. Or, as one Researcher put it:

If I really cared about everything that was going on, I think that I would drive myself insane - and start talking to large red leather sofas for comfort.

Perhaps the solution is to direct or focus your apathy, and establish what Douglas Adams referred to as a 'someone else's problem' field. After an initial moment of severe realism: 'I'm human, I have limits, I have to match my energy levels with tasks that won't deplete them' you should then ruthlessly prune everything that would lead you to system overload.

Political Apathy

In the realm of politics, particularly, there are hundreds of bad things that have happened/continue to happen because no one wants to get involved. Our lives are becoming busier and busier. Becoming involved in a cause takes an effort. It requires giving up something else in order to find the time and confronting unpleasant people and unpleasant situations isn't the way most people want to spend their time. As long as the unfair situation doesn't involve us, we turn away from it. Becoming involved can be dangerous physically, financially or socially. So, when fear is joined to apathy - even if we know we should do something, even want to do something - we don't. The issues and factors involved might be so overwhelming that you don't know where to start.

Perhaps the answer here is, again, to start small:

I went through a really cynical phase a few years back. I was completely convinced that the planet was totally beyond hope, and that the actions of any one person trying to change things were futile. So I went about my business, stopped attending meetings, dropped memberships in organisations that I'd belonged to for years. But I tried to relate to individuals as I met them the way I always had, and lo and behold one day I realised that that's what makes the real differences in life - the one-to-one contact. Maybe I can't save the rainforest, but I can make sure that my elderly neighbour has a hot bowl of soup on a cold winter night. And maybe my voice, when added to others who don't think they're making any difference either, will get the attention of someone who has the power to change things for the better.

Perhaps, then, the key is perspective - but, if all else fails you could, of course, take inspiration from the greats...

Think Like William Blake... or Bruce Willis

The word 'apathy' is derived from 'a' (without) and 'pathos' (pity), and at the root of pathos is 'patheme', or pain. In Aristotle's Poetics, he says that the aim of tragedy is to create feelings of pity ('pathos') and terror, and to remove these with catharsis. So, if you're apathetic, it means in this sense that you're unmoved by tragedy. If catharsis is the opposite of tragedy, then this possibly points out the fallacy of trying to achieve a pain-free life. One Researcher concludes that William Blake got it just about right:

'Joy and Woe are woven fine [together]'. I say, life is something that you've got to scab your knees upon!

Whereas another cites a different mentor:

You've got a job to do. You don't want to do it. But someone has to do it or everything will go to pot. Which is the plot of virtually every Bruce Willis film. Did he back down when he had to save the world from a meteor/save the world from a big ball of evil/save the world from, erm, anything else? No. So, just think like Bruce Willis. It works for me.

It's also great fun shouting 'Yippeekay-ay!' at your boss.

1Don't answer that question philosophically, please, it was meant to highlight that without physical energy you cannot have mental energy.

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