This is absolutely my favorite Seneca Quote: “I don’t complain about the lack of time. What little I have will go far enough. Today, this day, will achieve what no tomorrow will fail to speak about. I will lay siege to the Gods and shake up the world.”
Most of us simply complain about the lack of time to do anything worthwhile. When you listen to people saying how you should take this course, work on that hobby, study, exercise, meditate, eat healthily, or read more, your immediate reaction might be: “Awesome, but when?”
Then you might start throwing excuses around, saying things like I work all day, I take care of my family, I am so busy, or I can’t find the time. You might even believe it too.
You need to know right now that this is absolutely not true. You do have the time, but only if you really want to make that time. Time is not something you “find” or stumble upon unwittingly, it’s something you create and make room for consciously.
When you tell me that you simply can’t find the time I can immediately tell the problem. You are a prisoner of your old habits.
Take an audit of the things on which you squander your time and figure out how big is the chunk of time you waste each and every single day on mindless use of social media, watching TV, and all the other million things you do that are basically “entertainment.”
You are entertaining yourself more than you actually do useful work in your “not work time,” and let’s be honest, sometimes also during the time you’re supposed to be working.
If you are serious about doing something important with your life, that is something that will add a great deal of meaning to your life, then you must start with claiming back control over how you use your time.
You should start by examining how you actually use your time during the day and what are the mindless habits you have created for your life over time.
I remember my biggest sin was spending an inordinate amount of time watching TV.
I watched everything.
I knew by heart every show that was playing, and some of those shows I’ve watched many times over during reruns. Now, I think this was the biggest and most significant waste of my time during my childhood years.
Sometimes now, I just wish I could claim some of that time back.
Busy is a decision, indeed, because what you are doing right now is something that you have chosen to do. No one is making you.
For instance, I am writing this blog post right now by choice. I have a dozen other things I can do instead. I can finish a book review I am doing for an author’s new book, I can prepare the interview questions I need to ask on my next interview post, I can finish reading any of the three extremely interesting books I am currently reading, I can watch any one of the dozen informative documentaries I want to see, listen to the 100 podcast interviews I’ve been meaning to play, go eat a sandwich, take a walk outside, or simply go back to bed.
And these are what I consider productive uses of my time. I can just as well, waste three days binge-watching a Netflix show, as I have done many many times.
Arnold’s admonition left a mark on my mind. In his autobiographical memoir “Total Recall” he was very clearly dismissive of any claims of not having enough time. He basically said, and I’m paraphrasing here, that you get to sleep for 8 hours, work for 9 hours, that leaves you 17 hours left in the day, and what you do with it is your responsibility.
That Arnold book is the best autobiography I have ever read in my entire life, and I believe it to be the most life-transforming book ever. I recommend it to everyone who wants to know what efficiently making full use of your time looks like. Most people only think of Arnold as a Hollywood actor and superstar. They don’t get the outstanding richness of his life. If there is a real-life gladiator and a modern-day Hercules, Arnold surely fits the bill.
The guy was raised in less than modest circumstances in a European country where his first challenge was becoming a champion in a sport that was not on the radar of the global sports scene, but one that he loved and enjoyed. He had his idols and his heroes and he wanted to be like them, and that is where he set his sights and directed his focus until he was winning championships and collecting medals.
Then he set his sights on moving to the United States and he managed to do it. Next, he wanted to be financially independent, and he created a mail-order instructional material business and started working in the real estate business with his life-long friend Franco Colombu, then he became a real estate heavyweight and a millionaire, and that was even before he became an actor.
Once he decided he wanted to become an actor, he took lessons, dedicated himself fully to the practice of becoming an actor, and then pursued a role that befits him. Arnold never auditioned and did not have to start at the bottom of the ladder because he was independently wealthy from his real estate business, and his focus and superhuman self-belief allowed him to dismiss the negative feedback that he is not handsome enough, or whatever attributes that were common in the prevalent Hollywood superstars of the time, he was tall, muscular and bulky and no one saw him as a lead actor, that was until he landed the role as Conan the Barbarian, and he played the star. Arnold’s acting career took off and he was completely focused on it until he achieved his goal of becoming the highest-paid actor in Hollywood.
After he conquered acting, he set his sights on politics and worked his way until he became the Governor of the State of California.
It is staggering how many lifetimes he managed to cram into a single lifetime. Athletes will spend their whole lives trying to become sports icons and superstars, but that was his chapter one. Those who suffer from oppression, discrimination, or looking for more opportunities will raise heaven and earth trying to immigrate to the United States and become US citizens, that was merely his chapter two. Everyone in the world, to this very day, every single day, will try to become financially independent and business owners, that was his chapter three. Artists will start at the bottom of the pile and work their way to becoming world-renewed actors and directors, but that was his chapter four. Civil service enthusiasts will groom themselves their entire lives to become influential politicians, but this was his chapter five.
Oh yeah, and he’s a master chess player as well!
Let that sink in for a minute. He managed to do ALL THAT with a single skill: focus.
And that is something that other greats and culture icons also recognize as their greatest power. When Bill Gates first met Warren Buffet as his dinner guests, Gates’ mother asked everyone around the table to identify the one thing to which they would attribute their success in life, and both men’s answer was “Focus.”
Another word for it is “obsession.” People who are obsessed with something dedicate every single waking moment to learning about it, practicing, improving, and losing themselves in the process with joy and persistence. This is exactly how anyone can reach mastery.
I envision people who are single-focused on doing something as akin to a hiker climbing a high mountain as their penultimate goal in life. They keep their mind on doing the work, maintaining progress, and overcoming obstacles in their path until they reach the summit.
People who never get high enough are those who got distracted by the scenery, turned back at the first obstacle in the road, who go scared by the unforeseen challenges that may lie ahead, or who tried in earnest for some time before they ran out of stamina and steam and threw in the towel.
The biggest disservice you can do yourself is to give up on doing something meaningful in your life. Of not finding that focus, determination, and obsession that will take you places.
Your excuses are not hurting anyone but you, so do away with them and start taking control of your time.
There are many levels of mastery over one’s own time, but the first of which is to do away with distractions. Stop watching the news, stop wasting time on social media being upset or getting outraged over meaningless nonsense. Figure out activities that will produce the highest value like reading, and learning. Some of it can be highly entertaining and inspiring like the popular podcasts by Tim Ferriss, James Altutcher, Shane Parrish, Jordan Harbinger, Aubrey Marcus, Joe Rogan, Tom Bilyeu, Gary Vaynerchuck, Debbie Millman, and Cal Fussman.
As you advance in your endeavors to focus on whatever holds the most meaning to you, you start to say “NO” to things that are actually useful, productive, informative and will have a high return of investment on the time spent on them, mainly because you don’t have time to do any of it.
If you listen to Elon Musk’s answer (Minute 6:13) during his Joe Rogan interview about how he manages his time, saying he only sleeps six hours, you must feel mystified. This is a guy who actively manages several highly successful companies and who is actively involved, not just in the financial and management decisions, but in design and engineering decisions as well. Musk builds spaceships, rockets, satellites, solar panels, batteries, tunnels, and electric cars.
People who managed to do just one of such endeavors are historical figures, but people like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Elon Musk, and Joe Rogan are in a league of their own.
It’s quite interesting how Joe Rogan looks at Elon Musk with wonder at how he manages to be so productive and so prolific when Rogan himself is a wonderous creature of multiple talents. Joe Rogan is a well-known top standup comedian with a long-established career as an entertainer comedian and actor. Rogan has had an outstanding career in martial arts like Karate, Taekwondo, and Jiujitsu. Rogan is also a multiple business owner on top of his now flourishing career as the highest-paid podcast show host in the world.
There’s no blueprint, there’s no one way of doing something, there’s no one way of reaching greatness. Each one of these men did not put obstacles in front of themselves or limit their options on what they should do in life. They just have the clear-minded no BS proper allocation of focus and time in things that are important and that will pay the highest dividends in the long run.
I’m not telling you this to wow or depress you. Honestly, I’ve been both when I started educating myself about how people pulled themselves out of misery.
It had always been painful to know that people not only managed to pull their own selves from the depths of depression, aimlessness, and nihilism but managed to murder their own self-doubt and create masterpieces of human success.
Being present is your only way out. You only have to focus on what you can do right this very minute to change your circumstances. Life is not a mystery if you teach yourself a few key important lessons.
Your best outcomes will happen by experience because some lessons cannot be learned except by practice and by taking action, and also by reading and educating yourself from books, and other mediums and resources, about the experiences of other people.
Dwelling on practical experience only is a huge mistake, because you don’t have enough time to experience everything that you need to know to excel in life. Also, you can’t only dwell on reading and learning without action and practice because certain types of knowledge require a hands-on approach, especially since failure is, and should be, your first and biggest ever teacher.
Some of us are walking through this life carrying the heavy baggage of the ghosts of the past. We all need to let them go. The past can’t harm you. It doesn’t exist anymore and it doesn’t define you at this moment right here and now.
You define yourself every single moment of your life. And when you do that long enough, over a long enough period of time, it ‘magically’ becomes your history.
As for the future, that hasn’t happened yet. So don’t start building sand-castles in the air daydreaming about things that haven’t happened yet.
Absolutely, plan ahead, dream big, and chart a course towards greatness, but do not feel like it’s all set in stone just yet.
Planning is amazing and necessary, but it’s like what they say “no plan of action survives contact with the enemy.” Even if you plan for every contingency in the book, life is bound to throw a couple of curveballs your way, and trust me, you’ll never catch them all.
Oh and don’t make a habit out of telling people about your big dreams. One of the biggest tricks our minds play on us is that we believe we have achieved things simply when we tell people that we “want” to do them.
You confide in your best friend and tell him you have decided to start this highly ambitious plan to lose weight and exercise every day and your friend is all songs and praises and you feel so great about yourself at the moment, so great in fact that you feel like you’ve accomplished whatever you needed to do already, and you abandon the whole thing!
There’s this old Arab poetry verse about time: “Time is a sword; if you don’t cut it, it will cut you.”
All you have is the here and now. Your procrastination masks your fear and anxiety. Spend this moment and this day to the best of your ability, doing something important and useful and sowing the seed of tomorrow today. It’s useful to ponder the words of Seth Godin in his recent interview on the Knowledge Project podcast: “Unless you believe you’re immortal, using your time wisely is probably a good practice.”
Marcus Aurelius famously said: “Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be. Be one.”
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