Children are curious by nature. My daughter will reach up out of her stroller and grab a rose petal. First, she examines it. Then, she starts pulling it apart to see if it breaks. When it does, Melaya will drop one half, and rub the other half on her cheek, smell the rose, and eventually put it in her mouth. That’s usually when I step in.
Melaya doesn’t worry about what happened a week ago. I mean, she doesn’t even think about what was bothering her five minutes ago! She has no sense of the past or the future. She’s in the moment. She just is. She just learns.
We all start out this way, but somewhere along the road, we’re told that our present is determined by our past, and the only time worth our attention is the future.
These are important to take in, but then we use that knowledge to justify going to jobs we hate, for the sake of “creating a better future”. We use whatever circumstances we can think up to justify our current position, and we forget to take the time to just be.
Be in the moment.
Be excited for the future.
Are You Living In the Moment, Or For the Future?
Simply Living In the Moment
Don’t get me wrong, if we never lived for our future, we’d probably all end up homeless vagabonds. The ability to plan for the future is the bedrock of human civilization.
But at what cost?
Simply Working For the Future
I had a conversation with a busy doctor in the US. It went something like this:
Him: you can do what you enjoy, or you can be wealthy, but you can’t do both.
Me: well, then why would you want to be wealthy?
Him: so I can have a lifestyle I enjoy.
Me: ok, how long is that going to take?
Him: maybe 15 more years.
Me: what if I told you that you could have a lifestyle you enjoy tomorrow?
Him: what do you mean?
Me: well, you said you can do what you enjoy, or you can be wealthy, then you said you wanted to be wealthy so you had a lifestyle you enjoyed. What’s the point of working 15 years to “enjoy” your lifestyle when you could do something you enjoy tomorrow?
There are plenty of people who enjoy being a doctor, but this guy was not one of them. He was also trying to discourage me from starting my own business, so his logic may have been “exaggerated”, but there’s a bit of this mentality all of us.
I used to run 5-10 miles every single day. I would run in the trails above my hometown, and it wasn’t until recently I found out this was detrimental to my health.
My single objective was to be healthier, but then “perfectly healthy” runners I knew of started dying off in their 40’s and 50’s. New science was coming out around that time, saying that an ideal amount to run in a day was 15-20 miles per week, and anything over 25 miles consistently was worse than 0 for your health.
Those same studies showed that taking a few months to train for a marathon was great for your body! But then you need time (more than you think) to recover.
The human mind is exactly the same.
Deborah and I are writing a book called #powercouple. Our aim is to write the first draft in 3 weeks. We’ll have to work 10-14 hours a day to get there. Will this be detrimental to our health?
No! Because we’re training for that marathon. We have a specific outcome in mind, and a deadline for when it has to be done.
First off, why should you find the right balance?
I’ll skip the cliché answer and tell you: you’ll actually get more done. It sounds counter-intuitive, but it’s true. I’ve sat in my house, written and scrapped 3, 4, 5 blog articles I was under pressure to write, before giving up, going out, and having fun, then coming back to gold whirling around my head.
“But I’m [insert import job here], not a blogger. That wouldn’t work for me!”
That’s where you’re wrong. Before blogging, I was a web developer, and that’s where I discovered this tactic.
I can’t tell you how many coding problems I went through, how much debugging I had to do, how many late night hours I didn’t sleep, before taking some time for rest, relaxation, and reflection, only to magically discover the solution.
Even when you’re training for the marathon, your body needs balance to get the job done.
But if the only thing this method did was “help me get more done”, I would hardly care enough to write about it. It also helps me enjoy myself more, allowing me to be more emotionally independent from work, and freeing me up to do the most important thing of all: focus on my relationships.
How Can I Do It?
Every person’s methods will be different, but here’s what I do:
1) Set longterm and short term visions.
Note that I didn’t say the word goal. Goals are just words, but visions are emotional. What is it inside of you that you want to accomplish?
When you focus simply on words, you’ll get there and realize it’s not quite what you wanted. Your short term visions should lead up to your longterm ones. Be ambitious and hit those hard.
2) Get your hardest stuff done first.
Some people say to do the easy stuff first, because then you’ll have something done and be motivated enough to get to the rest. I disagree.
This may be helpful to someone who’s particularly unmotivated, or someone who does the same job, day in and day out, but for those of us who hit it harder for short stretches, then longer rests, there’s no lack of motivation as long as there’s vision and direction.
3) Put aside time everyday to relax and reflect.
After you’ve gotten your hardest stuff done, take your time with the easier stuff. Enjoy it! Even go outside and do it on your phone or laptop (I’m on a walk through the park right now!).
4) Structure your day
I think there should always be some flexibility and wiggle room, but I’ve found that having a set schedule and method to write (and sticking to it) helps motivation for the next day.
5) Have something to look forward to, week to week, and day to day.
There’s hardly anything more demotivating than working all day (and feeling hardly productive) and then going to bed just to wake up and do it all over again. My wife and I come together every evening just to enjoy each other’s company, without distractions.
We also set at least one weekly “day out” around somewhere new in London.