Is anyone else finding it harder and harder to avoid their cell phone?
Spare moments – at first wake up, in line, in the bathroom, at red lights, and of course before bed – are spent checking Facebook, Twitter, Youtube or google news. And I’m finding it increasingly difficult to avoid commenting on meaningless arguments online.
I didn’t used to be this bad. A big part of it is the news cycle. I’ve never been interested much in politics until the most recent election. The constant deluge of scandals and outlandish quotes combined with the quick dopamine hit of social media seems to have beaten back my self control.
I know none of it matters. None of it is under my control and none of it affects my life in the least.
Maybe the steady stream of sound bites eliminates my need to process any of it. Thinking is hard and the internet is easy.
Maybe my human tendency toward choosing a side is attracted to polarizing articles.
Whatever it is, here and now I’m making a vow to stop consuming so much.
I vow to create more. That means thinking and writing, business and play.
When I consume, I vow for it to be though books. Preferably older books.
I vow to avoid mainstream media. In its place, I will read from authors whose words don’t appear to be controlled solely by their politics, clicks, or sponsors.
Marcus Aurelius said, “Don’t waste time arguing what a good man is. Be one.”
There are a lot of people that need to take this advice but the only person I can force it onto is myself. And so I start today.
My wife gave me her standard smirk when I mentioned to the kids that today’s rainy 45 degrees was perfect running weather.
As runners, we all have family who insist we are a bit crazy for willfully subjecting ourselves to the pain of endurance training.
Unless you’re an athlete, it’s difficult to understand why one would push through years of physical discomfort for little more than a finisher medal or finish line banana and bagel.
But of course it’s the intangible rewards that keep us at it. The confidence gained from rising to a difficult challenge. A sense of accomplishment from completing a race. The feeling of incredible mental peace in a physically taxed body following a workout.
But maybe the most important result from endurance training is resilience.
The famous Stoic philosopher Seneca wrote:
“It is in times of security that the spirit should be preparing itself for difficult times; while fortune is bestowing favors on it is then is the time for it to be strengthened against her rebuffs.”
I like how Tim Ferriss put it a bit better though:
The more voluntary suffering you build into your life, the less involuntary suffering will affect your life.
Steve Pressfield received unexpected advice upon finishing his first book.
He was ready to sit back and relax. The book had been a major struggle.
His mentor told him to start his next book the same day. Steve didn’t know it but his mentor was trying to save him from The Resistance.
The Resistance is the name Steve uses for the our tendency to put off doing our work.
The Resistance is grounded in fear but the excuses it gives us can appear quite reasonable…I deserve a break, I’m too stressed out, I’m sore today, I need to clean the house, etc.
The key to defeating The Resistance is to sit down and do your work every day. Don’t let anyone interrupt you. Don’t worry if your work isn’t perfect. Perfectionism is another symptom of The Resistance.
Pat Lafontaine, regarded as the best American born hockey player in history, worked with NHL rookies after retiring. The first thing he always told them was as follows (I’m paraphrasing):
Congrats on your accomplishment. But that part about getting here is now considered easy. You’re here. The hard part now is moving forward and getting better. If you want to stick around in this league you need to bring your A-game night after night, year after year.
Let go of the past. Let go of the future. Both are distractions.
Do your work.
Let the results be what they may.
PS – This is fabulous advice for when you don’t feel like training.
Most competitions aren’t life and death. And truthfully, most competitions we gear up for don’t really matter that much.
But think back to the last time you lost in a battle you really wanted to win.
Did you really put it all on the line?
I think we’re programmed to keep something in reserve. Just in case.
For some people this program comes from a fear of success. If they actually win, then the story they’ve told themselves about an unjust world is proven untrue. And their entire life before has been a waste.
Others might just fear the unknown. Tim Ferriss likes to say, “people choose unhappiness over uncertainty.” The job/spouse/fill-in-the-blank we hate is safer than the chance of finding a better job.
One of my favorite film scenes comes from Gattaca. Ethan Hawke’s character and his genetically superior brother had been competing in a game of “chicken” in the ocean from the time they were kids. All growing up, the brother dominated. But there came a point where Ethan’s character finally beat him.
I can’t remember who said this but it’s absolutely true.
If we weren’t, we’d spend an ungodly amount of energy each day re-learning how to brush our teeth, deciding what to eat for breakfast (Waffles? Spaghetti? Margaritas?), even which route to take on the drive to work.
The ability to operate without making a new decision every 20 seconds conserves a lot of energy and has obvious survival advantages.
But there’s a downside.
We spend most of our lives Sleepliving.
Head in the weeds. Autopilot.
Occasionally, I wake up and remember I get to decide the course of my life.
I don’t really have to sell shoes the rest of my life. Or live in Missouri.
I always thought the job of a parent was to teach kids the answers.
How to save for college. How to drive a car. How to get a job.
Turns out, the only way I ever learned was the hard way.
The time I got busted for shoplifting as a child. The time I let a homeless man give me an IOU for $40 in college. The time I got fired after calling in sick for a bar shift and then showed up later that night (at that bar!) for a drink.
Sean Hutchison is one of the best swimming coaches in the world. He’s coached many national and olympic champions. He said on the Finding Mastery podcast that kids with “helicopter” parents might get lucky once or twice in high pressure races. But they never do well consistently.
“Parents who won’t let go have kids that crumble.”
Along the same lines,Eric Tyson who wrote that children should be given an allowance so they can make mistakes with money before it really matters.
I like that a lot. The most successful people in life always have just as many spectacular failures. Probably far more.
I still don’t know what my job is as a parent, but I suspect it’s helping my kids learn to be self reliant.
Why didn’t they tell us that the world is brutal? That life is brutal? That everyone will be fired from a job at some point. Half of us will get divorced. We will lose friends, fingers, and get colonoscopies before the age of forty.
This video, from one of my favorite new Youtube channels – The School of Life, really irked me at first. But I’ve come to appreciate its wisdom.
The point of all this isn’t to focus on the negative. I think there are two takeaways:
To base our expectations on reality so we can be happier and more grateful
To live better lives with purpose
There are going to be bad days for sure. But why do so many of us react when this happens? It should be no surprise when things go wrong. How much better would our mental outlook be if we didn’t feel crushed every time? How much more grateful would we be after a great day?
The media is obsessed about mass shootings. Yet if you ask an economist about the topic, they wonder why aren’t there MORE shootings. About 34 Americans die from shootings each day. It sounds like a lot until you remember there are 316 million people in the U.S.
At Ironman Florida three weeks ago, I raced sick and came down with pneumonia. I almost quit 20 minutes into the swim, fought dizziness for the majority of the bike ride, and walked as much as I ran in the marathon, finishing the day 2 1/2 hours slower than expected.
Before the race my buddy Derek told me to remember the Idiot’s Running Club Rule #6. When we talked afterward I was mentioning that I thought I broke the rule. He said, “if you felt that bad and you still finished, dude, you didn’t break the rule.”
Yeah. I like that.
Maybe I need to start every day, every race, every appointment with the certain knowledge that it could all go very badly. Things will not go according to plan. And simply fighting, even if we fail, can be heroic.
How many people do you know who are living with purpose? Who have jobs that they love to go to every day? Who are making a real difference in the world? Not many.
Now, how many people do you know who are mindlessly repeating day after day, week after week? Going about our business mostly based on habit. Pretty much everyone?
Why don’t we take a lesson from Medieval artists who kept a Memento Mori nearby? A Memento Mori is a small object that reminds us of our mortality.
I recently bought a plastic skull to keep on my desk to remind me to spend my time doing things that matter. I’m going to die one day and right at the end I’m going to be pissed about all this time I spent on Facebook.
I’m probably going to be just as pissed if I don’t follow through on some of my bucket list ideas, such as being part of a massive food fight, throwing a giant party with lots of alcohol and karaoke and calls for the police, and running in a naked mile running race.
The Memento Mori sounds a bit dark, but thanks to that skull I truly have made better decisions lately about where to put my efforts. It has given me the strength to say no a lot more. If you know me, you know I HATE saying no. But I’m coming to realize that I hate wasting my time even more.
You can always make more money. Buy another house or car. The one thing you absolutely cannot get back in life is your time. Time is the only non-renewable resource known to man.
The ancient Greek Stoic philosopher Seneca wrote:
“There is nothing the busy man is less busy with than living.”
“People are frugal in guarding their personal property; but as soon as it comes to squandering time they are most wasteful of the one thing in which it is right to be stingy.”
This really rings true for how I’ve been living for a very long time. As a result, I am making some big changes in my life that I’ll elaborate on soon. Eliminating the clutter. Getting less busy and hopefully living more.
I’ve always been a bit of a Pollyanna. It drives my wife crazy. Her realism/pessimism has similarly challenged me.
But I think I see a middle ground now. Rational pessimism with an optimistic glint. Expecting the worst but hoping for the best.
This new outlook is already changing the course of my life. Maybe it could do the same for you?
If you don’t mind, please share in the comments what you could eliminate? What changes will you make to live a more meaningful life?