Above the desk in my office, I have an abstract painting of Epictetus framed with the following quote:
“How long are you going to wait before you demand the best for yourself?”
I purchased it as a New Year’s present to myself for completing what I considered my first successful year as a writer.
Being my best self and ensuring I’m on a path to success is something I think about a lot. I know life is short, and the thing I fear the most is wasting my potential. If I sit around on my butt all day eating chips and salsa watching Netflix, I’m afraid that life will pass me by.
Like you, I have big aspirations. And like you, I push a lot of them off. Instead of today, I choose tomorrow. I’ll eat better tomorrow. I’ll workout tomorrow. I’ll write that article tomorrow.
Sometimes I’ll get my shit together and sprint after what I want but rarely in a sustainable way. Like you, my life is a series of false starts. I’ll make progress, then I’ll backslide. Rinse and repeat.
Let’s break that cycle together. Not tomorrow, but here and today. Here’s how I’m going to do that:
Decide What’s Truly Important
James Clear wrote about Warren Buffett’s “2 List” Strategy, which I highly recommend everyone read. To sum it up, Warren suggests everyone create a massive list of things they want to do in their life. Everything big to small that comes to mind.
Do you want to learn the guitar? Start a business? Write a novel? Learn Spanish?
Great! Write all that down.
Then prioritize it and pick your top five. Now put all your effort into doing or becoming those five things. The most important part here is avoiding the other stuff at all costs. They’re merely a distraction. Be more selective and say no more often.
We can’t do it all, and if we try, we’ll fail miserably. Derek Sivers puts it best:
“More people die from eating too much than eating too little. Most of us have too much baggage, too many commitments, and too many priorities.”
Create A “Could Do” System
Creating that list is a great start, but we both know you’ll never stop wanting. Neither will I. The “could do’s” will pile up, and that’s okay. Just find a home for them and think of them differently. I keep a massive google doc of cool ideas, places to travel, habits to form, things to buy, you name it.
I’m not saying never to these things. I’m saying not right now.
That way, they don’t weigh on me.
In a weird therapeutic way, it’s freeing knowing I don’t “have to” do these things anymore. David Allen gets it:
“When looking at a large to-do list, you feel a mixture of relief and grief. These items represent agreements you haven’t kept with yourself. What happens when you break too many agreements with yourself your self-esteem plummets.”
Turn Your “Shoulds” Into “Musts”
With the “could do’s” tucked away, I’m now faced with my “should do’s” list. Here’s where life gets complicated. We know what healthy food looks like, but we still opt for fried foods. We know how to save money, but we still spend money on stuff we don’t need.
How do we break that cycle? How do we live more purposefully?
We have to turn our “shoulds” into “musts” and find a way to get it done.
Tony Robbins says, “We don’t hit our goals, we hit our musts.”
Must means “no matter what.”
Must means getting okay with being uncomfortable.
Must means sacrificing sleep sometimes or forgoing things that feel good.
Must means putting in the hours.
Unfortunately, the hours won’t suddenly appear. You’ve got to steal them from comfort. Anything you were doing before was comfortable. This won’t be. You’ll be very uncomfortable. You’ll feel awful on the surface, and chances are you’ll be fighting that inner voice telling you to “take the day off” or “you can have just one donut.”
But if you do the work consistently, you’ll get a deeper satisfaction from finishing what you said you’d do.
Clear The Path To Success
The only way to change your body and mind is to change your standards. Here are a few tips that are working for me:
1. Surround yourself with people playing the game at a higher level than you. Who you spend time with is who you become. Find successful entrepreneurs to mentor you on starting your business. Make friends that have accomplished your fitness goals. In-person is great but even chatting with people
2. Schedule your success. Literally, make time in your schedule to accomplish your “must do’s.” I have time blocks on my calendar to write from 5-7 every morning. The same goes for my morning cardio session and my evening workouts. I start and end my workday with workouts. That’s a rule. Try to find consistent times for your “must do’s.” Then they’ll become habits.
3. Destroy your “all or nothing” mentality. There will be days you are sick, injured, or slammed at work. Days you won’t be at your best. Make it a rule to never skip your “must do’s” twice. Skipping two days in a row starts a new habit—a habit of skipping. Implement make up sessions. For instance, if I miss a workout, I don’t beat myself up, I just schedule two workouts for tomorrow.
4. Create personal accountability. I love technology and use it to my advantage. All my to-dos go into Things 3, and I keep my “must do’s” in my Done app. Both have reminder functions, which I use often. Done helps me keep “streaks” going, which I find motivating. I don’t want to break the chain.
5. Know exactly what you want to do ahead of time. Writer’s block doesn’t come from not knowing how to type. It comes from not knowing where to start. Think about it. You know how to run. That’s not the hard part. It’s setting the conditions for your run. Making sure you know when, where, and how far you’ll go. Find time in the day to plan tomorrow. Plan your workouts, healthy meals, work tasks, and what you’ll wear. Make doing the right thing feel easy.
6. Create contingency plans. Life will get in the way. It’s inevitable. A lot of things that will torch your progress are avoidable. Find time each week to look ahead for obstacles. Are their meetings, trips, or personal obligations that might trip you up? Front-load and do more work on other days. Look at the menu ahead of time so you can make a healthy choice now.
7. Make personal contracts. The worst thing you can do is give yourself options. There’s a time and a place to quit, but it’s best to schedule that too. Decide now when you’ll review your goals and systems. If you’re going to give losing weight everything you’ve got, then tell yourself you can revisit your workout plan and diet eight weeks from now. Until then, you’re all in. That will keep you on track and prevent you from switching things up too often.
How long are you going to wait before you demand the best for yourself?
What’s holding you back?