Have you wondered what “right now” really is? I will tell you. It is the sharp edge of reality springing into existence. You are witnessing the creation of new reality, the birth and immediate death of the Present. You must be ready to take advantage of opportunities as they are created, no matter where you are. This is no different whether when you scuba diving a reef off the coast of Cozumel or going to work on a Monday morning.
Is an idea I used to unconsciously espouse, in which there is something magically different about Friday night to Sunday night. This is a falsehood. Why should the rules be any different about how you live your life (minus regularly-scheduled life activities that happen to fall on those days)? Every night of the week should be seen as equally valuable for enjoying life and making progress, being in flow and conquering your enemies. Days when you are not in the office are opportunities to get ahead in other areas, just as much as they are for recharging the social batteries. You need to be able and healthy to take advantage, not hungover on the couch or blowing time and money on toxic people. So the question this weekend is will you be weak or will you be strong? Schwach oder stark!
Watching your life, what Mihaly would call committing psychic energy to it or things in it, is painful at first. A great example is when I first started keeping a budget as part of my morning routine. Forcing myself to look at my finances for a just a few minutes every day was excruciatingly painful, mentally and emotionally. But the pain is not a setback. It represents the first steps in the right direction. Don’t stop now; on the other side of that pain is something beautiful.
When you’re experiencing intense pain as a result of pursuing a goal, it helps to step back and ask yourself, “Do I want this to get better? If the answer is yes, you must keep moving forward. If you stop, it will only get worse.
Sometimes you’ll have that “wheel-spinning” feeling. Not getting anywhere. Your knee hurts, your shoulder hurts. It’s not getting better. You must seize on this moment to ask yourself why you have set the goals that have brought you into this pain. I still plan to go to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu class tonight, but why? Remind yourself of the beauty that awaits on the other side of the pain. The pain will translate into progress, and that’s how the other side is obtained.
Ray Dalio says in his book Principles, “Don’t tolerate the problems.” He’s talking about how he plans his goals; his method involves identifying the goal, then the problems that are in the way of getting there. Unfortunately, this means people sometimes. How often has an experience with a person been enriching and rewarding, helping to achieve your goals versus the opposite?
Having these goals in the first place is what sets up the contrast. What you would once tolerate because there was simply no reason not to, now is nothing less than an existential threat to a better version of yourself. This cannot be tolerated.
I spent many years enjoying pleasures at the expense of having a well-ordered life, but recently I realized the truth. In fact, the well-ordered life is itself among the highest of pleasures. Not because there is much about it that is intrinsically pleasurable (though I’m sure for some it is), but because the well-ordered life holds the promise of all the other pleasures. A well-ordered life increases the frequency of good things happening and decreases the frequency of bad things happening.
At a deeper level, there are two specific things that engineering a well-ordered lifestyle has unlocked for me. First, it has enabled me to essentialize; to apply the rule “Less, but Better” and sharpen mental clarity by removing noise from the signal of life. Second, I have taken the new reservoir of attentive energy provided to me by removing non-essential things and invested it into things that get me to where I know I want to go rather than the opposite. As simple as all that sounds, it’s been a revolution for me.
photo credit: Spoon Boy, “The Matrix”
This post originally started growing on the end of a previous one and I decided it deserved special treatment. Much of this talk of essentials, habits, routines, and everything else that self-help gurus tell you to do (do a nice thing every day! go to bed early! keep a journal!) leaves little room for something obvious: doing plain old fun stuff, the stuff that you intrinsically enjoy that doesn’t really “get” you anywhere.
Here’s the secret: in many people’s lives, the fun stuff is out of balance with the essentials. I know it was in mine. That balance must be restored. Everybody will remember the age-old “Walnuts and Sand” experiment (known more popularly as “big rocks, little rocks”) where if you put sand into a jar first you can’t fit all the walnuts; but if you put the walnuts in first, you can fit all the sand too. Classic illustration of balance, but how do you motivate yourself to actually make that happen? What are the practicalities that get you there?
The key is increasing your mental clarity so you can finally see the proper place recreation should have in your life; what its real purpose is. Going back to my flywheel post, the best part of making the flywheel spin faster is that you finally understand why you should do all the little things that self-help gurus keep telling you to do. You begin to see it contributing to something beautiful in the future, and suddenly it becomes much easier to put the walnuts in the jar first.
But James, you would be forgiven for asking, how do I make the flywheel go faster? How do I develop the clarity? Greg McKeown points out in Essentialism that the biggest enemy of Signal is Noise; the biggest enemy of mental clarity is mental clutter. Eliminate thoughts, pursuits, relationships, projects, or anything else that isn’t directly contributing to your desired direction in life and the clarity will hit you right in the face.
Photo credit: Susan Hoffman Fishman and Elena Kalman
Life is like a book, start at the beginning. Keep reading, turning pages. Be excited about what lies in the pages ahead, but don’t let that excitement spoil your enjoyment of how the story is unfolding. One warning: don’t keep re-reading the same page over and over. You’ll never get to the good stuff. I look back at my life and I see the same page being re-read for years. Late nights, shallow friendships, too much drinking, neglected relationships, parties that damaged both dignity and bank account alike, all with nothing to show for it in the end. Living a life, like reading a book, requires progressing through the story. Not all at once; but keep making little bits of progress each day and you’ll get to the good stuff soon enough.
When you finish the last page, close the book.
– Mr. Wu, “The Love Bug”