When I hear the whisper, I make a deal with myself. If after waiting for ten minutes, I still have the same urge, the same impulse, I’ll give in. It usually works. The impulse fades before the time is up. It is momentary, and time defeats it.
That’s how I tell the difference between an impulse and a true desire; I meet it with deliberate inaction.
Another example: If I’m feeling bored, I try to prevent myself from seeking some novel stimuli immediately. Typically, whatever I’m doing that’s boring me stops being so boring if I wait for the feeling to pass.
A few months ago, I became obsessed with doing some drawings. I was thinking about some ideas I’d had and how I could communicate them. I had pages and pages of sketches in my notebooks. “Great,” I thought, “I can use this and put them online. Maybe release a new drawing every week, or two or three every month.” I looked at drawing tablets. I looked at different software options. I looked at iPad Pros and the Apple Pencil. I looked at options for having illustrations printed and framed. Basically, I sunk a lot of bandwidth into this idea that had taken hold of me.
Then, after a while, the obsession faded. The heat cooled. I had waited the impulse out. I had met it with inaction—or a level of action below what it was demanding of me—and it had faded.
The things worth doing, the ideas worth pursuing, the feelings worth exploring, they persist. If you’re genuinely hungry, you don’t stop being hungry after ten minutes. If I’ve found something I’d truly love to do or try, it won’t slide out of my head after a month. It’ll be there for years.
When it comes to evaluating impulses and inclinations, we can use time as a qualifier. As a test. If the application of time and inaction weakens it, we know that it’s not that important. But if it intensifies? If, as time passes, it gets harder and harder to not act on? Then maybe that’s a signal, a sign that we should devote some resources to exploring it.`