An anchored ship will never set sail, no matter the wind.
You’re driven, you’re motivated, and you know what you want. You put in effort day in, day out. The wind is howling, yet you’re still not moving.
Perhaps there are anchors holding you back.
Some relationships are anchors. Some will drain you and put you down at every opportunity, let them go.
Some habits are anchors. 20 minutes on Facebook here, and 15 minutes of Flappy Bird there each day may seem insignificant, but it’s not. 35 minutes a day is over 212 hours wasted every year.
Money is an anchor, it costs us time. Consider a man earning $25 an hour, with a $130 monthly Pay TV subscription. This man is trading 5 hours and 20 minutes of his life energy every month for a subscription. Cull the unnecessary and buy back your time.
Commitments. Learn to say no. Rather read a book or work on your side business than attend a colleagues party? Stay home, time is yours to allocate as you choose.
The wind is already blowing. Lift the anchors and the ship will set sail.
Today we have more opportunity than ever before. We can do anything, be anything, learn anything.
Though with choice comes decision. Which path do we take? Is it the right one? What will we miss out on?
We have limited time, money and attention that we can pour into accomplishing anything we choose. Though it is indeed a choice. Whilst we can do anything, we can’t do everything. We can’t train to be a world triathlete whilst writing a book, working 50 hours a week, building an app, getting a degree and running our own business. We become spread too thin and accomplish nothing.
What we can do, however, is focus. We can pick one thing, anything, and give it our best. Here we have the best chance of succeeding. Though we often fail to focus because we’re afraid of missing out. Opening one door may close another, if only temporarily. The failure to choose a path leaves us lost in a jungle, hacking our way through vines, wondering why we’re moving so slowly.
Better to choose your anything and give it everything.
Imagine yourself with a million dollars, some expensive toys and real estate. You’re sitting in a holiday home, watching the waves crash on the sand, when a black Mercedes arrives to take you to dinner. You are dropped right in front of your favourite restaurant. You enjoy an elegantly cooked meal by an award winning chef, appreciating its subtle flavours. You then retire to watch a film on an expensive, high-end entertainment system. The screen is so large and the sound so rich that you are completely immersed. You smile and think about how great life is.
Except this isn’t a story of a millionaire, this is your $250 story. You access the home for $160 with Airbnb. You procure the Mercedes for $50 with Uber. You hire the experienced chef for a $26 meal. You watch the film at a local cinema for $14. You receive all the benefits of ownership, with none of the burdens. No insurance, no maintenance, no upgrades, no stress.
We can rent what we don’t wish to own us.
A couple of days ago I outlined a strategy on overcoming procrastination, though I neglected an important point.
If something can be perpetually delayed with no consequence, is it worth doing at all? Ask this question and answer honestly. Perhaps it ended up on your ‘to-do’ list without proper thought.
Perhaps your energy is better spent elsewhere.
Beyond the Book is a series of essays, each inspired by something I’ve read. This essay was inspired by The World Beyond Your Head: How to Flourish in an Age of Distraction by Matthew Crawford.
Those who have worked a “9-5” understand its implicit monotony. The daily commute. The weekly meetings. The crowded grocery store on the way home. We give “40 hours” to another, and then crave “me” time.
These mundane tasks are then burdened with frustration, they impose on our “me” time. We are enraged by the lady that cuts us off. We are annoyed at the amount of groceries the man in front of us is buying. We wish the pedestrian would walk faster through the crossing. We wonder why they didn’t think of me.
In a commencement speech by David Foster Wallace, we’re introduced to the idea of choosing the way we perceive situations. Perhaps the lady that cut us off was driving her dying son to the hospital. Perhaps the man with the groceries was buying food for a homeless shelter. Such sympathetic reconstructions are intended to sedate our emotions, though they they do not alter reality.
An alternate approach is to shift our attention from that which torments us. We’ve long used attentional diversion on children, why not on ourselves?
Find beauty in the moment and act upon it. Smile at someone. Jovially tell the lady at the checkout what you’re going to cook tonight. Dance to the music in the elevator. Create the reality you wish to exist.
I’ve meditated (almost) every day for the past year. It’s an illusive and ironically frustrating practice, full of uncertainty. There is no score board, there is no right or wrong, there is only you. It teaches us to see our thoughts as if from the window of a moving car. They come into view, then fade away. We become conscious of this process.
We can use this process to kill procrastination. When we start something important, a thousand other thoughts flood our mind. We remember the rubbish needs to be taken out, the car needs to be washed, we’re almost out of eggs, do I smell bacon?
When these thoughts arise, simply sit with them. Write them down if they are important, otherwise take no action. Do not commence another task, or the unimportant will steal the day. Let the thought fade, then continue with the important.
The illusion of comfort is a false ideal, one for which we often strive. We settle with routines, relationships and beliefs. Inherent with comfort is the stagnation of growth, though we are wired to grow, to become more than we are. We crave novelty, as it jolts us to the present. It is a place we are alive, a place we are happy.
I recently visited a new cafe, as my favourite venue has become too comfortable. It was a quirky coffee house in an industrial estate.
As I settle in with a steamy black cup, an elderly man asks if he can join me, it seems my table has the only working heater. The man explains his love for remote control planes, and invites me to see his collection at a nearby warehouse. The warehouse is chaos. Organised chaos. Hundreds of planes are strewn across every conceivable surface. Some are assembled, some are in pieces. The man knows the story behind every one. He picks out a favourite, and we scurry to an empty warehouse. For some time we fly the plane, carefully navigating roof beams, fixated on the object above our heads. We then part ways, and continue with our day.
This adventure was uncomfortable, with new people and places. But it was invigorating. Life is full of novelty when we enter the unknown. Every moment is a continuum of infinite possibilities. Steer the ship in a new direction. But first we must set sail. We must leave the harbour. Sure, we could get lost or be attacked by pirates. Or we could find treasure on a hidden island.
Find a comfort you have established, and move beyond it. Break your rules. Take a different route home. Cook a new recipe. Speak to an unfamiliar acquaintance. Take an evening course. Smile at the receptionist. Do something new.
When we anchor to comfort, our ship will rot and slowly sink.
The pursuit of perfection stands as one of the biggest hurdles in achieving our dreams. We all have projects we’d love to pursue. We imagine how great life will be once we do them. We become excited and motivated. We make a rough mental plan of what we need to do to pull it off. Then we wait. We wait until the stars align. We wait until the economic climate is right. We wait until our finances are sorted. We wait until we have more knowledge and skills. We wait until the unknowns are quantified. We wait for perfection, we wait forever.
Falling for the fallacy of perfection leads to frustration and inaction. It is when we succumb to the idea that everything must be just right before we begin. The truth is that the time will never be right. You will never be fully prepared for the road ahead. Often you won’t even know what needs to be planned for until you begin.
When I started my first company in tea distribution, the timing wasn’t perfect. I had very little money, little knowledge of how to run a company, and no knowledge of the legal requirements. But I took action anyway. I booked a flight to Hong Kong to meet with a group of potential suppliers, and figured the rest out as I went along. I learned how to design packaging. I learned how to import goods. I learned how to build an eCommerce website. I knew none of these things before I started, nor could I have predicted the specific requirements before I began.
The only thing that mattered was that I took the first step. For only then, could I take the next one.
Sometimes, despite our best efforts to push on, we just need to take a break.
You may feel like you’ve lost motivation, like your thoughts are scattered, or that you’re mentally warn out. When this happens, the most important thing to remember is that you are not broken, you have not failed. These thoughts are okay.
Often we become frustrated by these inconvenient occurrences, frustrated at ourselves for not being good enough to take on the task at hand. This creates a destructive cycle which is difficult to recover from. Instead of beating ourselves up over it, simply accept the situation and take action to remedy it. Consider physically leaving the space you are in, if only temporarily. Stand up from your desk and take a short walk. Stare out the window for a couple of minutes whilst focusing on your breath. Make yourself a hot pot of coffee. Go sit under a tree. Whatever you do, take a moment to focus solely on the action you’ve chosen.
This focus is not easy. It takes effort and discipline. There will be a hundred other things demanding our attention. Though it is important we make the effort. This applied focus allows our mind to perform a mental reboot, to recalibrate and put things back into perspective.
I broke my Bose MIE2 headphones last week whilst doing sprint training in the park. The cord collided with my hand as I pushed for a new personal best, leaving me with only one functional earpiece.
I remember the sales pitch when I bought those headphones. The way I experienced music was to change forever. The bass strong, the treble crisp. Over time this sound become the norm, its quality taken for granted. Hedonic adaptation at its finest.
In an attempt to reverse this tendency, I reverted to my older, cheaper Apple earphones, instead of replacing the Bose. They were a little harsh sounding at first, especially compared to the MIE2s. However, over the past week I’ve undergone a similar process of reverse hedonic adaptation. The sound characteristics of these headphones have become the new norm. Further, if they happen to break, I can easily and cheaply replace them.
It’s worth reflecting on the tools we use, and often take for granted. There will always be a newer version, a model with a red stripe, or fancy upgrade with Bluetooth. We are stuck on a cycle of perceived inadequacy. Usually what we already have is enough, it fulfils our every need. Consider this the next time you feel the urge to upgrade.