Tuesday, July 7, 2009


As high concepts go, "drift" has everything going for it. It is simple and concise; it is easy to visualize. The minute you hear it you have an intuitive grasp of what it means.

Gretchen Rubin first articulated the concept of drift on her blog. As she defined it: "Drift is the decision you make by not deciding, or by making a decision that unleashes consequences for which you don't take responsibility." Link here.

Drift happens when you let things happen to you, and when you awaiting a sign that will make the decision for you.

More than being purpose-free, a life of drift involves not being an active participant in your life. When you feel that you are no longer the decider, that your life is running on automatic pilot, that you are living a life you did not choose, and that you cannot do anything to change it, you are in drift.

In another post Rubin illustrated her concept with an example from a novel. A married woman is having an affair. "She cannot decide whether to divorce her husband and marry her lover or to end the affair, and she begins to drift...."

Of course, decision-making is not a simple or easy matter. If it were there would be a lot less drift in the world.

Sometimes drift leads us to conform to the expectations others have for us. But sometimes we discover that the right path is the one that other people see us on.

Deciding takes time. And during that time, you are not drifting; you are deliberating. As Rubin puts it: "you may be following a pathless path-- and that's find, if that is what you intend to do. Or you may have to choose between multiple courses, with their pros and cons, and you can't decide which you want, and while you're deciding, life continues rolling along. This isn't drift because you're actively weighing your options."

Drift is familiar to me because it is a primary reason people consult life coaches. Where therapists tend to imagine that when you get in a rut you need to discover why you are there, coaches work on getting you out of the rut. They help people to make decisions and to take actions that will overcome drift.

It needs noting that an organized life, with its routines and security, is not necessarily filled with drift.

As happens with many bad habits, drift is built on a positive foundation. Michael Martin explained it well in the comments section of Rubin's blog: "... it is less costly to repeat old patterns of behavior than it is to forge new patterns, with uncertain results." He adds: "... the efficiencies of repetitive patterns are also very important to happiness."

Overcoming drift does not require that you make a fetish of going against the crowd, following your bliss, or making every moment of your life an occasion for creativity. Too much spontaneity can drain energy that would be put to better use in more purposeful activities and more important decisions.

Just because your heart's desire-- to the extent that you know it-- is to retire to a cabin in the woods and throw pots, that does not mean that your career as an accountant manifests drift.

The opposite to the world's expectations is not your inner creative spirit. If there are people who expect you to continue to be an accountant, there are others who disparage your work and would want you to give it up.

You are not choosing between your immortal spirit and the expectations of others. You are most often choosing between two different sets of expectations.

I can easily imagine people becoming so afraid of drift that they make rash and impetuous decisions, decisions that defy the crowd, for the sole purpose of telling themselves that they are not in drift.

Overcoming drift does not mean following your bliss. If your bliss tells you to quit your job when you have no other means of support and when your family depends on you, then you and yours will be far happier if you stay with the job.

If you do not find your job as satisfying as it used to be, it might be a better idea to make a different type of decision. Not to run away from it, but to run towards it. That is, to work harder, to volunteer for more tasks, to gain new responsibilities.

After all, you might be a very talented and successful accountant. You would not want to give that up to be a mediocre artist. Your happiness would not forgive you.

Avoiding drift means making intelligent, mindful decisions. And many of the adult decisions we face are immensely complicated. Sometimes we fall into drift because we are too aware of the many factors that must be part of a good decision.

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