I’d like to talk about unobligating ourselves, Meredith Bell says to me.

Meredith is an exquisite conversationalist and Host of the “Strong for Performance” Podcast. We were recording a chat for her podcast last week, and Meredith had asked that we speak about the tenets of my book The Moment: A Practical Guide to Creating a Mindful Life in a Distracted World. Unobligating our time is one of them.

Fate had me speaking with Dr. Juan Jose Reyes that afternoon. Juan is a soft-spoken pediatrician from Paraguay who ended up living in South Florida. A few years back, Juan abandoned a thriving pediatric practice of 20 years. Beset by palpable pressures and anxiety, Juan turned to mindfulness when the stress of his life became too much.

Juan left his pediatric life, for good. Became a free-lance mindfulness teacher. That’s the ultimate unobligation.

Unobligation, let’s be clear, does not imply you leave your job OR become mindfulness teachers (although mindfulness is highly encouraged).

This, however, is the deal with obligation: We obligate ourselves at work because we feel we don’t have a choice. And we obligate ourselves in the rest of our lives with great abandon, even in the absence of external demands. We don’t know how to stop.

Time isn’t the main thing. It is everything.”

Miles Davis

Carving out unobligated time feels like the impossible dream.

We complain that we don’t enough time to do all the things we wish to do. For many of us, it’s a true statement. We truly don’t have enough time. We ardently desire a time-out from our obligations.

Some call this time “me-time.” A faintly derogatory term, it smacks of self-indulgence, narcissism. I feel queasy when I hear these descriptors because I don’t wish to be any of these things.

The moment I claim a slice of “me-time,” I instantly obligate this time. I get the spa treatment I have postponed for months, the facial that is overdue. I finally play squash with my buddy Raul, go to see the French movie with my friend Lori that she has raved about.

All cool things, I know. Still obligated time.

We’re talking about something more radical here: A chunk of time for which you make absolutely no commitments. Not a single one. Because you do not yet know what your state of mind will be come next Saturday morning. What you will wish to do, what you may not wish to do,


You wake up in the morning. You may go for a run. You may not. You may drink a cup of coffee, you may not. You may read a book. You may not. You will eat not because it is time to eat but because you’re hungry. You may lie in bed for 30 minutes and stare at the ceiling and do nothing. You may get in your car and drive nowhere in particular. You get to stop wherever you wish. You get to leave again whenever you want.

Most important, you get to ignore the story of what you should be doing with your time. Your obligation story. You get to listen to yourself.

Your UNOBLIGATE Experiment

It sounds improbable, I know. You have a family. You have children. They need you. Your spouse craves quality time with you. And you love your family, and your spouse, and your children, and your friends.

More story. More reasons to unobligate yourself.

  • Unobligate, just for a slither of time. A day, perhaps. Half a day. You decide.
  • Schedule your unobligated time. A paradox, l know. The folks you feel obligated to will be just fine.
  • Here’s what unobligated time will do for you. You get to hear yourself. You get to say yes to your desires. You get to ignore them.
  • More importantly, you get to notice every thought, impulse, hunch, craving, whim, body signal.
  • You get to be real with yourself. And you get to choose.
  • Moment by moment, you begin to liberate yourself from the tyranny of time. You unravel the story of what you should be doing with your time.
  • You discover the freedom to be yourself.

It may feel a little uncomfortable.

If you have ever been to a silent retreat, you have had a glimpse of unobligated time. A silent retreat is usually organized by a specific spiritual group or community to facilitate your quiet contemplation. It does so by ensuring that your basic physical needs are met. The organizers may impose varying degrees of structure on how the quiet time is spent. Most important, a silent retreat removes your access to familiar distractions. You stop doing and more doing. The exit doors are closed. You get still.

And yet, you are still in obligated time.

Unobligated time is the most radical personal choice you will make. You get to be silent, if you so desire. You get to cook a brilliant meal for everyone you love. You get to create whatever you wish to create. You get to observe your desires. All exit doors are open.

You get to play on a vast inner canvas. And you get to roam an infinite outer world.

Just for that slither of time, you get your choice back.

What you hear, what you act on, what you walk away from during unobligated tine infiltrates everything that follows. Because we get real with ourselves, we get real with others. Each subsequent moment is enriched.

Unobligated time is a magical playground in which we approach every second with curiosity of a child and the wisdom of an adult.

And pardon me if this is obvious. Unobligated time feels pretty darn good.

Why not?