He who bestows all of his time on his own needs, who plans out every day as if it were his last, neither longs for nor fears the morrow. For what new pleasure is there that any hour can now bring? They are all known, all have been enjoyed to the full.
Think about how easy it has to have one more—to go beyond what you allowed yourself and have one more piece, one more glass, one more handful. And yet, think about how much harder it is to do one more—one more lap, one more page, one more hour, one more rep than you intended. There’s always rationalization on hand for the one and an convenient excuse ready for the other.
This is timely.
Self-control is really just the art of making the future bigger.
Constraint in everyday life. A lesson learned as I spent a couple weeks dog- and house-sitting barely a mile from the office. In theory my time not-on-a-train in the mornings and afternoons could have converted to reading time like usual. In theory. If I had any discipline. And thus I remind myself that less important than the amount time I have–a shit-ton, if you know where to look (as in, let us say, around lunchtime; before, during and right after breakfast when I’m usually just kind of sighing and limping around the house; and pretty much every day from 6pm to midnight)–is the structure I give it.
At last R gets down again to his score, though he still has no pen which he likes.
Helen DeWitt, Chart 2008
The things that drive us crazy don’t do so once a month, or once a week, or even once a day: we have to fight them minute by minute, hour by hour.
In a fascinating piece over at Incongruous Quarterly, DeWitt recalls charting her year. The red blocks signify days she didn’t smoke, didn’t drink, or went to the gym. Very Lodwickian.
If you study the root causes of business disasters, over and over you’ll find this predisposition toward endeavors that offer immediate gratification. If you look at personal lives through that lens, you’ll see the same stunning and sobering pattern: people allocating fewer and fewer resources to the things they would have once said mattered most.
This is a surprisingly great interview with Jason Segel (via Austin). My favorite bit:
I had two friends in high school who sort of showed me how a piano works. And I just spent two years being terrible at it until I was good at it. That’s just me. There’s no way I’m actually intrinsically talented at writing, acting, playing music, puppeteering. It’s that I’m willing to be shit at them for a while, until I’m good at them.
College is such an amazing time of freedom. For many of you, this is the first time in your life when it’s completely up to you, and you alone, to decide what you study, what activities you engage in, and how you structure your day. One idea I came up with as an undergrad was to try to maintain balance by making sure I engaged in four different types of activities every single day. These were:
-something intellectual (not so difficult at school);
-something physical (like running, biking, a team sport);
-something creative (like music, art, or writing); and
-something social (like lunch with a friend).
And I went on to remind myself: “Gotta be constantly tweaking the recipe, right? I kinda know the ingredients but the ratios get out of whack”. I say all this because it reminded me of something that I bookmarked a couple months ago and forgot to share, which is Seth Roberts on Optimal Daily Experience (via Justin Wehr):
Everyone knows about RDAs (Recommended Daily Allowances) of various nutrients. In a speech to new University of Washington students, David Salesin, a computer scientist, advised them to “maintain balance” by getting certain experiences daily:
something intellectual [such as a computer science class] (not so hard in college); something physical (like running, biking, a team sport); something creative (like music, art, or writing); and something social (like lunch with a friend).
This served him well in college, he said, and he continued it after college.
Roberts goes on to propose his own list. This isn’t rocket surgery. Make some basic priorities, try to check them off on a regular basis, re-evaluate every so often. So I think to myself, how simple would it be to take a basic calendar, divide each day into four quadrants for these four, and add a little check marks as appropriate so you can track yourself? Very simple. Done.
It also kinda ties in with Austin Kleon’s tumble about Ben Franklin and pros and cons lists. Says Ben:
And tho’ the Weight of Reasons cannot be taken with the Precision of Algebraic Quantities, yet when each is thus considered separately and comparatively, and the whole lies before me, I think I can judge better, and am less likely to take a rash Step; and in fact I have found great Advantage from this kind of Equation, in what may be called Moral or Prudential Algebra.
First off, I love the phrase “Moral or Prudential Algebra”. It ties in with my general attitude of 19th-century optimism (which phrase I stole for my Twitter bio), the idea that with a little forethought and pluck and some striving, you can make Good Life Decisions. And secondly, there’s that idea that you should lay it all out where you can look at it–and this is not just for quote creative unquote stuff. The point is, your life is the Ultimate Creative Project, if you will, so you’d best keep an eye on the how the stuff’s accumulating. Not the details themselves, but the pattern, the trend. To quote Colin Marshall again:
Satisfaction is a product not of where you are, but of where you’re going. To get calculistic, it ain’t about your value, it’s about your first derivative (and maybe your second). In this light, statements like “When x happens, I’ll attain happiness” don’t make sense, but ones like “While x is happening, I’ll be happy” make somewhat more.
And a bit later in the evening I was reading Derek Sivers’ excellent notes on The Happiness Hypothesis (in the bookpile now) and I came across a couple quotes that tie in with Roberts, Salesin, and Franklin. First on moral education:
Moral education must also impart tacit knowledge – skills of social perception and social emotion so finely tuned that one automatically feels the right thing in each situation, knows the right thing to do, and then wants to do it. Morality, for the ancients, was a kind of practical wisdom.
and then on choices vs. conditions:
Voluntary activities, on the other hand, are the things that you choose to do, such as meditation, exercise, learning a new skill, or taking a vacation. Because such activities must be chosen, and because most of them take effort and attention, they can’t just disappear from your awareness the way conditions can. Voluntary activities, therefore, offer much greater promise for increasing happiness while avoiding adaptation effects.
Note to self: moral education (not just ethics stuff, but we’re venturing into Franklin’s thirteen virtues here) involves a set of skills that you can practice. Practice and it becomes voluntary, habitual, sustaining. That’s my working theory, in any case. So what have I learned today? Pay attention. Make good choices. Nail the basics, consistently. Basically, the most vague, mundane things ever, but sometimes having a new sense of the gestalt of the whole endeavor can be very refreshing.
When I really feel like dogging it at spinning class, I engage in some self-talk that goes something like this: This is 45 minutes out of the entire day, and 45 minutes is all you get. In an hour you will be at your desk, where you’ll stay for most of your waking hours. You’ll be envious of the joggers outside in the middle of the day. It’s very unlikely that you’ll get more gym time once this 45-minute opportunity has ended, so treat it like gold.