Throughout my adult life I have, time and again, tried to answer the following question: how much could I accomplish, how much could I experience, were I to not waste so much time and instead discipline and channel my energy toward writing, reading, working, walking, hiking, cycling–toward, in short, doing and experiencing? Why this question? First, as an avid reader of history, poetry, fiction, and biography, I am witness to what can be done by those, like Thoreau or Blake or Shakespeare or Martin Luther King or Einstein or Muhammad Yunus or any number of other great men and women, who dedicate themselves wholly to their craft. Second, I know that the average American, myself included, spends three, four, or even five hours per day in passive activity: scrolling through social media, watching TV or YouTube or Netflix, etc. Third, I know that, while I have written a fair amount of poetry and essays and founded a successful nonprofit, my potential is far from being fully realized: I could be bicycling more, writing more, thinking more, meditating more; could in short, be both feeling and doing more. And finally, the idea of pushing my boundaries and seeing how close I can get to perfection fascinates and enthralls me.
The problem, of course, is that I am not a robot, and as someone with a mental illness (I have a mild form bipolar that, while it is very well managed by medication, is still an illness) I know how important it is that I get enough sleep and not overdo things. Another problem is that there is a lot of research showing that willpower resembles a muscle: the more you use it, the more fatigued it gets, meaning that there is only so much you can force yourself to do in a day (the flip side is that the more you use it, as long as you give it time to rest, the stronger your willpower will become).
One possible workaround is to reframe the goal so that, instead of forcing myself, I am approaching my day with an attitude of joy and eagerness. I know, for example, that while it is almost always difficult for me to force myself to go for a bike ride outside (which is why far too many of my bike rides–over 90%–are indoors on the stationary), I invariably end up enjoying the ride once it’s underway. So perhaps I can force myself to do more if, instead of applying willpower to the entire “thing” I want to do–read, write, bicycle, etc.–I channel it into taking the first step: getting out of bed, opening the book, starting the blog post, swinging my leg over the bicycle.
I think that this approach can work. By breaking out each goal into three component parts–getting started, doing it, and then recovering–I can recognize that the hardest part, getting started, is also the shortest. In so doing I should be able to make the goal less daunting. The next question, of course, is what goals should I set? For no matter how strategic I am, there are only so many hours in a day, and I can’t get around the need to sleep, to eat, to deal with surprises that come up.
In an ideal world, every day I would do the following: get up early and do yoga; write a blog post or poem; work 8 – 10 hours for Capital Good Fund; bicycle at least an hour; and read. However, a look at the math is sobering. There are 24 hours in a day, which means that we can quickly determine how much time is available to me for all these activities:
– 8 hours of sleep
– 10 hours of work
– 1 hour of cycling
– 1 hour for meals
– 1 hour for writing / reading
– 30 minutes for walking Chance
– 30 minutes for yoga / stretching
= 2 hours for other things
In other words, even if I am perfectly disciplined–no dawdling, no losing hours to tv or YouTube–I am still only left with a paltry two hours in the day, two hours during which I have to account for showering, errands, and the like.
But isn’t it worth trying? I know that, while I am doing pretty well, I could be doing great things if only I applied myself more completely; that, were I to devote more hours to Capital Good Fund we would grow more quickly; that by writing every day I could be pouring forth books of poetry and essays; and that by cycling more and eating better l I could be fit and healthy. So let’s give it a shot! This week I am going to try to get up earlier and do some yoga; work 8 – 10 solid hours; write at least one post per day; bicycle at least an hour and, whenever practicable, do so outside; cut out TV or YouTube; severely restrict social media use; and replace this previously wasted time with reading, walking, and other activities which require that I be fully “present.”
Lastly, I want to note that what I’m proposing doesn’t negate having fun. To the contrary, it’s a question of replacing mindless time with mindful time, be that watching a documentary, bowling, hiking, going for a walk with Bianca and Chance. Put another way, the issue is not that I’m too boring but rather that I’m too willing to succumb to the desire to “tune out” for five hours per day, and what I’m trying to find out is what will happen when I instead “tune in” for those five hours.
I will report back on my progress. If nothing else, this should be interesting! Here are some related blog posts of mine: