Be Intolerant

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.

How to Start a Riot

I’ve written quite a bit already about how I’ve become a morning person. For this particular post, I want to share how it came about originally and some of my more recent observations with regard to how developing a morning routine has helped me change.

First off, the inspiration for mornings as a Conquer List item began with me being me. Aside from the 1-year period between late 2007 and late 2008 in which my all-compelling motivation to become a police officer got me out of bed super early, I have always been the worst. The worst at snooze buttons, the worst at rationalizations, the most vocal about “ungodly hours” and “sleep being better than sex”. You literally couldn’t find a more dedicated anti-morning person than me. As for how that came about, I will discuss at a later point. But it suffices to say that as recently as this June, most mornings you could find me lagging about until the last possible minute in bed.

Before I actually did conquer the mornings came the Awakening. I’m actually not sure what I want to call it. The Renaissance? The New Age? I’m sure some inspiration will come to me. Coming off the heels of a post-breakup trip to Jamaica with my mother, I had realized a few somewhat dire things about my work life: if I did not find a way to motivate myself and make my own way, I was pretty much sunk. My employer was big on goal-setting, but this as a concept had never been introduced to me. On top of that, nobody else seemed to know anything about it either. What was the purpose of goals? What should they look like? How do you set them? Basically anything to do with goals was completely foreign to me. On the other side of Jamaica, I was armed with the desire and inspiration to figure this out for myself. Since I didn’t know anything about goals, that seemed like the most obvious goal right there: Find things to read that would teach me what it meant.

Now, I’ve always styled myself as a “reader”. I’ve always kept a library going at the apartment and taken in pride in looking at the titles. The real truth however was that I was a terrible reader. I’d start a book, then set it down for months if not permanently. If I did manage to toil through a title, it would be months after starting and then naturally I’d consider myself among the most learned of men to walk the earth (I’m imagining a “Finishes one book” meme here with a picture of me followed by Aristotle or something). So this was actually something that would be a bit of a challenge, but I had something going for me: my daily commute. Roughly 40-45 minutes a day on the Red Line, plus other mass transit time around town since I’d ditched my car a couple years before. So the plan was hatched: I would find books that would teach me about goal-setting and other corporate core values, then read the shit out of them.

The first book was a goldmine: Angela Duckworth’s Grit. Within a chapter or two she had introduced me to the concept of the “goal hierarchy”, in which lower-level goals roll up to larger goals of which they are aggregate parts, which in turn roll up to an Ultimate Concern that gives purpose to everything beneath it (I hadn’t yet discovered what purpose was… that wouldn’t happen until about three books later).  Adopting this concept immediately, I continued to plunge into title after title. Mindset (Dweck) taught me I could improve at anything. Start With Why (Sinek) taught me about the power of purpose. The Power of Habit (Duhigg) taught me about keystone habits; the little things in life that generate small wins and build into big things. Essentialism (McKeown) taught me about “Protecting the Asset”. And then the final breakthrough was a tip from Kevin Anderson in “Your Oxygen Mask First” about a cool company called Habit Nest that created the “Morning Sidekick”, a purpose-built journal designed to ingrain a proper morning routine for anybody willing to pick up a pen and commit to the program. The Conquer List item was official.

By mid-July when I started the Sidekick journal, I was already getting into things like making the bed first thing after getting up. Great start, but it was still getting put off on the regular occasion when I just didn’t get up with enough time to bother with it. I was so hungry for it when I began the journal that it almost felt natural. Initially I stuck to 10pm bedtime and 6am rise, which then shifted to 9pm bedtime and time 5am rise. The routine began to stick: Journal. Glass of ice water. Shower. Do chores. Do push-ups (I had to start at a max set of 6 reps). Make the bed. Get dressed. Process yesterday’s expenses. Study German. Basically, over the sixty days that the journal covered, I was able to fit into the morning routine 20-30 minutes of activities to support all my other conquer list items. Life was changing rapidly now. The riot had begun.

This was all not without its troubles and pains, mind you. I found that the people I regularly associated with were sapping me of time, money, and health. I was still drinking enough to forget things every Friday night and it would be almost at the end of the first sixty days before I was able to keep the journal going through the whole weekend. My budget was revealing some major pain points that had been bleeding me dry for years. Ultimately, though, it was getting better a little bit at a time and that is genuinely all you can hope for.

Recently I’ve discovered how routines can save your life. I came off a pretty decent bender – Nashville bachelor party. I had started drinking Thursday right after work, and that pretty much continued until I was home Sunday at 7:30pm. This basically ruined me, but the routine was still there to catch me. By Wednesday AM I was nearly back to 100%. It reminded me though of how easy it is to kill good progress. How many times in my past had I had great intentions going into a fun weekend, and by the time I came out the other end I was right back where I started? For this reason, I am so grateful that prior to developing this routine I engineered a lifestyle that would support it even if there are the occasional trips out to the edge.

Latest Edition

Now this here, this is what the Conquer List was really meant for. This book, according to the author, is “designed for persons who cannot draw at all, who feel that they have no talent for drawing, and who believe that they probably can never learn to draw.” This describes me exactly.

Drawing is something that I’ve always told myself “I’ll never be able to do that” which made it a perfect candidate for the Conquer List. The reality is that drawing should be no different from learning any other skill. My first inspiration in this regard came from Carol Dweck’s book “Mindset”, in which she defines a “Growth” mindset as being one which the mind always feels it can learn more about anything. Talent, as people have generally thought about it, is way over-hyped. Or is it? We shall see, my friends. We shall see.

That Friday Feeling

Today as I left work, I got that Friday Feeling. It persisted back at home, taking my shoes off and unpacking some new stuff from Amazon. You know exactly what it is; the micro-euphoric sense of impending freedom, excitement, and adventure that the weekend triggers in millions of people like me all across the Fruited Plain. Here’s the catch: today’s Tuesday. Instant bummer, right?

It was at the “I should be bummed about this” moment of thought that the light bulb went on. I should be upset about this. But I’m not. How is that possible?

On its face, there’s nothing special about this Tuesday. No happy hours, no dates, no after-work plans of any kind. Just the prospect of getting my life together and getting a good night’s sleep. The prospect of being at the top of my game at work tomorrow and all the potential that brings with it. The prospect of having more mental clarity to chose to do the things that really matter by eliminating the things that don’t. And I’ve only recently made this discovery.

I’ve been reading Greg McKeown’s Essentialism. His chapter on Protecting the Asset came at a critical moment in my life: when I could immediately see why what he was saying is true for my life. I was finally able to connect getting a good night’s sleep with where my life was going. More accurately, where I wanted it to go.

Let me break that down a little more. I got a good night’s sleep as recently as last night and that’s happened plenty of times in the past. What’s different now is that choosing to sleep well, among other new little habits like making the bed in the morning, has purpose. It’s now a contributing factor to plans and goals and success and who knows what all else that I have propped up as important in a life that’s somehow remained remarkably free of obligations of any kind.

Having a purpose, making a choice to obtain the things that contribute to that purpose (another big thing that McKeown champions), is what makes a Tuesday feel like a Friday. People often say we should live for the week as well as the weekend; this must be what it feels like. How did it come about?  Nothing earth-shattering. Little habits. Small choices. I can tell you right now that this feels good, and I want more.

PHOTO CREDIT: FREAKY FRIDAY, Jodie Foster, Barbara Harris, 1976
© Walt Disney / Courtesy: Everett Collection