Resist Apathy and Cynicism

The problem of apathy has been on my mind for years. Especially during the times when I don’t care about anything including myself.

The almost chronic absence of care towards others, events in the world and yourself – apathy. But it often does not dance alone. Its partner – cynicism – usually takes the lead.

It’s a state that we’ve all experienced at one point or another for varying lengths of time and during the longer stretches of time where apathy was at its strongest, I started to think more about just how damaging it can be for how we view the world, other people and ourselves.

Maria Popova puts it well. Apathy is a “symptom of resignation” and cynicism is a convincing self-protection mechanism against it.

The problem with cynicism is its ability to convince us of truth where none is to be found. “oh the world is complete shit”, “it’s never going to work out anyway” “There’s no point in trying”. Tired phrases yet we’re enticed to believe them because we no longer have to try or care if they are true. Of caring. We no longer have to spend energy on finding the good or changing the world for the better because our efforts will be futile.

Cynicism becomes tempting when we surround ourselves with negativity and as a result “prove” to ourselves that the world is shit and can never get better. It becomes believable because it is based on something even if that is a very skewed and narrow perception of the world. Often, if we lose ourselves in the news without the understanding that negative news sells better than the positive, we mistake it as the only way to view the world and other people. From this we utter misguided statements like “being positive is presenting a false perspective of the world” when it could be making it more balanced. It would be a grave mistake to assume that the only facts in the world are presented in newspapers and 24 hour news cycles.

However, this mustn’t be mistaken as a plea for blind optimism. Such mindsets can be as harmful as blind pessimism as hope for a good world without any critical eye is naïve. This is a reminder that examining the world honestly does not mean we should examine the world negatively. It is very possible to be rationally optimistic about the world or at least not assume everything is so bad that there’s no point in caring about it.

We shouldn’t fall into the trap of normalising the bad because we assume that’s all there is then convince ourselves to stop caring. This becomes particularly pronounced in the world we live in at the moment. Western politics seems to be growing more divisive at the front line of things and also within personal discussions. It creates barriers (figurative ones, President Trump) and these needn’t be strengthened by the simple fact that they’re allowed to stand in the first place.

We can afford to care. We can afford to be optimistic when the facts allow it. We can afford to ensure that bad doesn’t prevail over good by allowing the bad to become normal.

It’s unhelpful to think that we’re powerless for that does not grant enough credit to the good that we can do to each other and on smaller scales. We we allow for good acts to become a habit rather than the rare accomplishment, they can also become as common as we say please and thank you.

It requires we keep people other than ourselves in mind. Whether it’s as simple as not interrupting the other person or buying them a coffee for no reason other than you want to, you can do good for others in way that’s appreciated greatly.

It’s something I’ve tried to include more in my personal days and I believe it has paid off. Not because I’m waiting for a special thanks at the end of the year. It’s a valuable habit that fights and actively resists against the prey of cynicism, apathy and hate.

These do not need to fill my day. Nor do I need to drag others down. For I want others to care. To appreciate the world and the helpful people in it. It helps keep us away from darkness and cold. We move closer to warmth, appreciation for the small and a desire to change things on a bigger scale.

To end, I quote Maria Popova directly:

Yes, people sometimes do horrible things, and we can speculate about why they do them until we run out of words and sanity. But evil only prevails when we mistake it for the norm. There is so much goodness in the world — all we have to do is remind one another of it, show up for it, and refuse to leave.


As always, thanks for reading :)

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5 lessons from writing every day for 3 years

January 28th 2014, I challenged myself to write every day for a month. I wanted to improve my writing and thought the best was to write more.

Over 1000 days and 1 million words later, I’m still going and have no temptation to stop.

I want to share a few things I’ve learned from writing consistently for three years.

  1. It’s possible.

After my 30 day challenge, I realised  it was something I enjoyed it and decided to continue. The streak was still young so I wasn’t concerned about breaking the streak.

Without noticing, it slowly evolved into something much bigger that I could have expected. I’d wake up, and want to write. I’d think about my day and make sure that I could find the time for writing. I’d tell friends while on holiday that I’m going to disappear for 15 minutes and write a bit.

I’d carve out time instead of just hoping that I’d be able to get round to it. As the streak grew and grew, I became more attached to it.

Did I aim for 3 years? Never. If I did, I don’t think I would have achieved it.

Thankfully, this applies to other habits as well. With some persistence, the habit eventually grows into something you can’t not do instead of something you try to do.

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2. It’s OK to write bullshit.

So much of me is glad that I haven’t sat down to just publish everything in the journal. Half of it doesn’t make sense and the other half just repeats the same thing.

You can dance like no one is watching and you can write like no one is reading. It’s yours.

Surprisingly enough this gave me the confidence to write work then publish it because the first draft of your work is yours and hidden away. Write like no one is reading then edit the life into it. It doesn’t matter how repetitive, boring, and verbose it is.

Good writing comes from writing loads then editing the rubbish away.

Write. Write. Then edit a bit more.

3. It’ll pass.

For those who don’t know, I deal with chronic pain. I’ve written a lot about it in my journal (and much of that led to me writing Living With Chronic Pain) but I’ve also noticed that in the darkest times I’ve experienced, I’ve felt that it’s going to go on forever. It doesn’t.

Emotions pass with time. Especially if you give yourself permission not to latch onto them and see what it’s like to let them go.

This doesn’t mean the depression will just leave or the anxiety will turn into comfort but I do have a greater appreciation of myself and the problems I see myself experiencing. There’s a lot of shit that comes with disability or just living life in general. Having a log of some emotions is somewhat nice.

With time things pass. And that is comforting.

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4. You learn more about yourself.

Occasionally, I’d just spend time writing about my day. Maybe I had a particularly good day and I wanted more time to experience it and relive it as best I can.

Then I moved onto writing more about myself and the values that I hold. It’d take some struggle and time because I often didn’t know what I believed about myself and the world. It was something I’d studied but never really taken the time to reflect and learn.

It took a lot of time but the value in being slightly more reflective, even if it is 15 minutes every week or month, is remarkable. It showed me that there’s still so much for me to learn and improve upon as a person. How to treat other people better and with more respect or even how to treat yourself with more respect.

Taking time to reflect is important. Writing about it occasionally is helpful and better yet gives you a log of how your views have changed over time.

5. It’s OK to change your mind.

When I would sit down and write about something substantial, I’d occasionally find myself just changing my mind. Sometimes I’d dislike it.

But changing your mind is vital to being able to assess the world honestly. It’s uncomfortable. But worthwhile. Most worthwhile things are difficult.

And those are some of the things I’ve learned. It’s been enjoyable and something I hope to continue. As the streak grew, I gained more and more confidence in my ability to keep long streaks like this going. When I reached 2.5 years, getting to 3 years felt easy. When I was at 30 days, getting to 60 seemed impossible.

Start one day at a time. Ignore the end goal and focus solely on creating.

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Now if only I could apply this to the blog…


As always, thanks for reading :)

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Have you ever tried maintaining a journal?

You Are Stronger Than Your Pain

“The obstacle in the path becomes the path. Never forget, within every obstacle is an opportunity to improve our condition”

Adversity is a reasonably simple concept. It’s an event, situation or thing that challenges you and makes life more difficult. It can vary in length, intensity or unpleasantness.

For some, it’s losing a parent. For others, it’s struggling with maths. Whatever it is, let’s start off by refusing to compare our situations to other people’s. It’s a pointless exercise. 

I want to show you that you are stronger than your pain. You are greater than it. For two main reasons.

  1. You are more than your pain.
  2. You can become better because of your pain.

My goal is to show you that this needn’t be a silly platitude. It is not about reading a quote about overcoming adversity, feel invigorated for a fleeting moment, then continue to feel defeated by the misfortune life has offered.

I want you to believe this because it’s true.

I

First, let’s admit that painful challenges life throws at us can really really suck. Ignoring that fact would be stupid. Yes, some things “aren’t that bad” when you put them into the perspective of other people or place them into the grandness of the universe. However, this misses an important point.

Some events are challenges and important ones because you’re experiencing them. Adversity might be the villain in your personal story. Does the existence of millions of other stories invalidate your own? Of course not. Continually dismissing problems as insignificant just prevents us from approaching them head on.

Adversity can not only feel like they’ve consumed you completely but actually consume you. They can be the only things on your mind for hours, days and weeks on end. Anyone who has faced a significant challenge knows exactly what this is like. Everything you do in your life comes back to this pain.

The pain just seems to last forever.

However, the first step to understanding why you are stronger than your pain is to understand that you are more than your pain.

What does this mean?

Pain is not the only part of our lives. Our pain plays a marvelous trick on all of us – it convinces us that the good in our day does not matter. Or worse yet, that good doesn’t exist at all.

This forces us to create unhelpful thinking habits which skew our ideas of reality negatively and create a vicious cycle of catastrophic thinking. An example of this is disqualifying the positive and over-generalising.

Let’s say you struggle with maths. You fail a maths test, try again and fail again. When you have the habit of dishonestly assessing your own efforts, you’ll miss that trying again at something you currently suck at is a positive step. You can be proud of the things you control and your effort is one of those things.

There are also aspects of your life that aren’t related to your problem.

If you wake up and have a good breakfast or see a friend smile, that’s an example of experiencing something other than your pain. The catastrophizer in you will continue to say nothing is good in life and everything sucks without ever pausing to catch the good in the day. Of course, the good things can be so small they’re easy to miss but with practice, it becomes easier.

For me, it’s making my bed once a day. It’s a very small thing but it shows me two things.

First, I’ve experienced something other than just being in pain.

Second, it is me who has demonstrated control over something in my day. Not the pain.

Putting our days into context helps show us that there’s more to our lives than pain. This cannot be misinterpreted as purposefully ignoring pain or believing in good things just because for the sake of it.

Pain, adversity, challenges, difficulty. Many events can be tough or extremely limiting but we must remember:

We are more than our pain.

II

“The obstacle in the path becomes the path. Never forget, within every obstacle is an opportunity to improve our condition”

In the dark depths of adversity, it can almost be insulting to suggest life can improve not only despite the challenge but because of it.

To understand this, it is helpful to return to the idea of adversity. It is something that prevents us from continuing in the path we are currently walking down. Adversity makes life more difficult.

In order to move past this obstacle, we either wait for it to pass or resolve to do something about it.

Choosing to wait is the easiest option but completely removes the autonomy that we have over our own lives. It also guarantees nothing.

Resolving to do something about it is difficult but at least opens the option for having some control over the problem.

Let’s assume we’re going to take some action. We’ll return to the struggling mathematician. You want to get better but understand that you don’t currently have the skills to tackle certain maths problems. Your teacher isn’t helpful because she doesn’t care.

Struggling mathematician then decides to go online and use a large variety of resources to get better at certain problems. In the process, she begins to focus harder and with fewer distractions. She takes the test again and passes.

Did she succeed in spite of her disinterested teacher or because of her?

Both. Her rubbish teacher did nothing to help but her absence also showed the student that she is capable of getting better at maths even if it required a harder route. This route also helped her improve her focus and confidence. As a result, she has become better because of her adversity.

As Ryan Halliday says in The Obstacle is the Way:

Blessings and burdens aren’t mutually exclusive terms.

This is a very simplified example but it is meant to show that with some honest self-assessment, we can find skills that we’ve developed because of adversity. Even if that is slowly building up your mental resilience when something goes wrong.

Adversity offers us a challenge. To get past the challenge, we have to develop certain skills, mindsets or habits to get through. Without the challenge in the first place, we will be perfectly fine walking an easy but less satisfying path.

We can become better because of our pain.

III

How you can help others.

Earlier, I lied. There are three sections not two.

Adversity is also not simple. The statement “you are stronger than your pain” is, to me, true because there are many reasons to believe we are not solely defined by adversity and we can often get through it if we plan our approach, let fear pass and occasionally utilise some Sisu.

There is one thing I haven’t mentioned.

Other people.

“You” don’t have to be alone when it comes to facing pain. A lot of the time, the help of other people is much more beneficial than anything you can expect from trying to force your way through life with brute willpower.

With this in mind, you can also be the helping hand for others too.

One of the mantras I try to inject into my day is to add value to other people’s lives. Sometimes that comes from writing these blog posts. Most of the time, it comes from being absolutely hilarious.

Screenshot (30)

Whatever help you give, it will be valued. Sometimes not explicitly but that’s OK. The aim isn’t to help others in order to be congratulated.

And that brings me to the end.

I want you to sincerely believe that you are stronger than your pain because you are.

You are more than your pain.

You are not solely defined by pain.

You can become better because of your pain.

You are stronger than your pain.

I promise.


 

Are there any challenges you’re currently facing?

As always, thanks for reading.

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Disconnect

It’s a friendly silence.

The silence that lets you think. That lets you create. That lets you enjoy peace.

In the journey of trying to design an enjoyable life, I started thinking back to some of the times that I’ve felt most satisfied or happiest.

I noticed, as did Derek Sivers, that they are the times when I’m not consumed by needless distractions. During these times of peace, I am completely engaged with whatever I’m doing. I allow myself the privilege of not dividing my attention all over the place because I want to focus completely on one task.

You can pick out these moments in your days too.

When your friend tells a joke, do you stop laughing to check your phone? Or when you’re writing an essay and you feel everything just fall into place, do you want to go onto twitter or continue working?

Peace is valuable

The peace found from disconnecting from social media, from people, from mindless consumption simply gives us a mental break and allows us to spend more time focusing on single things.

Given that we have a limited amount of time and energy each day, why not spend that time trying our best to become immersed in things that we truly enjoy. An example of what not to become immersed in is social media.

While Twitter and Facebook can be enjoyable, I’ve found in my own experience, talking to friends, and researching why we should spend less time on things like the news, spending too long on them is rarely satisfying. I see as something that stops us from being bored instead of keeping us engaged.

This is not my crusade against social media (you’ll understand why at the end). What is important here is to understand the problem with living with distractions all throughout the day.

The solution is to disconnect.

 

How to disconnect

Thankfully this is quite simple. Unfortunately, it isn’t always easy given how tempting distractions are.

  1. Be mindful

Throughout the day, be aware of the times that you’re entering a distraction-rich environment. This can be as simple as sitting down and having all your social media profiles open at the same time to being at work and finding yourself just talking to coworkers and friends throughout the day.

Being aware that you’re simply floating on the surface of something engaging rather than diving in is the first step to removing needless distractions from your day. It’s easy to become consumed by distractions without realising you’re doing so until you’ve already wasted valuable energy and time.

Ask yourself, is what you’re doing actually increasing your well-being? Does it bring you any joy?

  1. Retreat

Sometimes it’s best to completely cut off from social media, other people and whatever takes you away from what you’re enjoying. This doesn’t mean tell all your friends you’re never talking to them again. Well, if you do, that wasn’t inspired by me.

Set times for when you’re going to enter states of complete focus or for when you will not check distraction heavy places like twitter and emails. 

If you want, you can choose to go into complete solace where there is no internet, no other people. There’s just you and your desire to live an engaging day. These “internet-free” retreats have become more popular but you can just design your environment that way by turning off your internet and disabling data on your phone.

 

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  1. Find engaging things to do.

The newfound peace is helpful without anything else added to it. Simply sitting in the park or going for a calm walk has benefits when they’re distraction free. However, it might be difficult to maintain if your free time involves a lot of nothing. That’s why it’s helpful to use this calm to engage your creativity.

Spend time creating. Whether that is through writing, drawing, singing, gaming, whatever. Let go of the useless idea that you’re “not creative”.

You cannot get better at creating without creating. Nor does anyone start their day as the perfect creator. You practice. You suck at first. Then you suck a bit less. Then you start to think “Well, I’m not terrible”. Then you build more confidence and continue.

It’s more difficult to create than it is to consume. Thankfully, creating comes with much more intense benefits than mindless consumption does.

Creating is not the only way to be mindfully engaged with your days. You can watch films, read good books or go for a run. All without distraction. A time when you can enter the flow.

 

The friendly silence…

… is found through disconnecting from distractions and mindless noise that takes you away from being engaged with your own day. It might expose difficulties you purposefully chose to avoid but at least you can now confront the fear and defeat it.

It’s rare to focus but it gives much better rewards.


Thanks to Derek Sivers for the blog post on disconnecting. It reminded me how valuable it can be.

Similar reading:

The Low Information Diet

A very Short Guide to Meditation

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How to Prioritise like Warren Buffett

Here’s the oft cited story*

Buffett was talking to his pilot and asked him to write down the top 25 things he wanted to accomplish either in a few years or his lifetime.

“What 5 are the most important?” he asked.

This is a terribly difficult task and he took some time trying to decide his top 5 priorities – the accomplishments he wanted the most.

“But what about the other 20? What will you do with them?”

The pilot said that the other 20 aren’t as important but they’re a close second and he’ll work on them when he has time.

Warren then said that he’s made a mistake. Everything he didn’t pick as his top five gets no attention at all until his top five priorities have been accomplished.

No prioritisation = nothing gets done

If we don’t assign any kind of importance to our tasks, everything is of equal importance and urgency. You have a lot of choice but no way to determine which one you should start on first. Therefore, you spend a lot of time trying to decide rather than working on something important.

If you do happen to choose, without clear priorities, it’s easy to abandon the project because we wish to start a different one.

This useless dabbling can’t be taken too literally because we all prioritise some way simply by virtue of doing something. If I watch videos, at that time, my behaviour is indicates that videos is what deserves my attention.

While our behaviour seems to point towards our actual priorities, our actions doesn’t always match our desires. Meaning, we don’t prioritise too well.

Although I spend my time watching videos, it doesn’t mean I want to spend my time that way.

Ruthless Prioritisation

Prioritisation should be ruthless.

It involves saying no to tasks you don’t need to complete and some things you want to complete. It asks you to close the door to things you hold dear so you can spend more time with the most important things. Saying no to yourself when the tasks seem so important almost feels like you’re not giving yourself the best chance possible.

Why not do everything instead?

It increases our chance of doing less. Doing everything means we spread our focus and energy very thin. It leads to incomplete to-do lists and accompanying feelings of guilt.

So why does this technique work?

It emphasises simplicity.

By removing the things we don’t need to do and the activities which fall under the category of ‘it would be nice to do some day’, we free up a lot of mental space and reduce our levels of stress considerably.

It’s much more satisfying than blaming the lack of time because it isn’t a great excuse.

You can’t get more time in a day by asking the clock gods to make one hour 100 minutes long rather than 60 minutes. You make more time by removing the inessential and focusing on the important stuff in life.

I mentioned the term ruthless prioritisation because it involves closing the door to some things you have a desire to do and focusing as much as you can on a smaller number of important tasks.

In theory, this is difficult. In practice, it’s even more so.

Here are a few practical tips:

  1. “If I don’t do it, so what?”

What’s the worst thing that could happen if you didn’t make this a top priority?

What happens if it’s not completed?

For the vast majority of things, nothing significant happens. Otherwise, they’d be urgent priorities we’d devote a lot of time and energy to anyway.

I’ve said, along with millions of others that I want to learn a language. It was one of those ‘terribly important things I must do’ but somehow never devoted any time to.

“I should really get round to that”

“I’ll do it someday”

Have you said any of these things before?

Useless statements. They didn’t inspire action because they created an obligation that didn’t have any criteria for completion. They did, however, make me angry at my inaction.

What was I really saying? “I should really get round to it but I won’t”.

Admit it isn’t a priority or make it one. Let the self-imposed guilt will fall away.

  1. Stars, asterisks and scribbles

On your to-do list, write out a list of tasks you want to complete and put an asterisk next to the task you deem most important.

What does important mean in this context?

If you completed this and nothing else, the day is still a success. Everything else is just a bonus.

I found it helpful to be generous when doing this. Writing a long list and making everything a priority increases the standard for success very high but is often unhelpful. It increases self-criticism rather than your ability to complete more.

  1. Priorities change

After hearing about prioritisation and saying no to things, it might be tempting to think priorities can’t change.

They can and probably will.

Focusing on a task and deciding you don’t want to continue is a much better way of making choices than dabbling in a lot of things and never giving yourself the chance say no.

Here’s an example: Reading part of one book and choosing to stop reading is much better than skimming the pages and never understanding if you like the book or not.

Finding what is most important is difficult. And that’s normal.

I frequently find myself having too many options and needing to reassess what is important to me. Sometimes the list stays the same. Sometimes, it changes. It doesn’t always mean something is going wrong.

It’s often a simple indication that I’m changing my mind – which, admittedly, can be uncomfortable.

Letting go of fake obligations and priorities made handling feelings of guilt and indecisiveness much easier. I stopped being pulled in different directions and I could focus on the things I really wanted to do.

Proper prioritisation takes time. Often you’ll need a small reminder of your priorities rather than resorting back to spreading yourself too thin.

Prioritise the important and remove the distractions.

Find peace in focus.

What will you decide not to do?


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* As with a lot of stories about famous people, they aren’t sourced very well at all. I have no reason to believe that it actually happened any more than the Einstein story. Luckily, this story is merely a way to make the value of prioritisation more personal.

The story is from Live Your Legend.

Quiet Courage

My sister recently started university and seems to be having a good time. She has friends and made a good effort to meet new people.

The person most surprised at this is probably her.

Weeks prior to starting university she came into my room many times, sometimes at night, to say:

“What if I won’t make friends?”

“What if no one likes me?”

And so on.

The thing is, she’s very friendly and when she wants to be, she has a higher than 50% chance at being funny. When she does finally talk to people, the conversations don’t end in one person on fire and the other in tears. They’re fairly normal.

This, she didn’t believe. Even up to the point when we were saying goodbye, she voiced doubts about making friends and having a good time. Before she walked away, my mum started pointing out people she could talk to as if she planted people in the crowd to make the start of university easier.

Goodbyes were said and she walked away. But she didn’t dart to her right and run upstairs into her room. She joined a group of people and started talking.

Quiet courage

This probably doesn’t seem like a big deal. All she did was say hello and not fall on the floor. She probably doesn’t think it’s a big deal but that doesn’t take away from what happened.

She had a small fear: she’s not going to make friends. It was at the forefront of her mind up until she said hello.

She stepped over this barrier and continued forward despite of the fear hanging around in the back of her head.

Not all courage needs to be loud.

Courage isn’t limited to those who have faced great adversity such as overcoming cancer, giving a speech in front of thousands of people or charging into battle in the front line. Nor is it limited to firefighters, surgeons or police officers. It’s something all of us exhibit.

It involves facing small fears we may have such as talking to new people, asking for help even if you think pride stops you or remaining persistent with something even though you’re not too good.

Since this courage doesn’t demand great attention from others, it’s easy to go unnoticed. Even to the person who exhibits it. It might be dismissed as something too small to be proud of.

Such dismissal might take the form of: “If Mary did [enter grand event here] why should I be proud of talking to a new person?”

Thankfully, there are many examples of quiet courage that we should take time to appreciate. Here are some examples I’ve seen in a few of my own friends.

  • She used to be overly critical about herself and university grades. Now she practises much more compassion.
  • He joined a group to help with weight-loss.
  • She started sharing her work with friends.
  • She told her business idea to non-friends and admitted it’s something she wants to pursue.

There are more examples of this that can very easily swim around unnoticed and you can probably find examples like this among your own friends. Hopefully, you’ll be able to find it in yourself too.

Why is it important?

It’s remarkably easy to be harsh on ourselves.

If we do something wrong, it’s because of our flawed character. If a friend does the same thing, we don’t subject them to the same criticism. Not just because we don’t want to lose a friend but because that criticism wouldn’t be true.

Noticing and appreciating quiet courage helps remove us from the negative and often exaggerated thoughts we might have of ourselves. Doing so moves us closer to self-compassion and further from self-criticism.

It’s a welcome change noticing a small thing you can be proud of. Even if we aren’t bothered by self-criticism, it’s a good exercise in catching the good in ourselves and other people. If we do find ourselves in tough times, appreciating the good in small things is an unbelievably valuable thing to do.

It’s OK to appreciate our own examples of quiet courage.

You don’t need to scream from the top of our lungs “I spoke to someone new!” every time you make steps to beating social anxiety but you can congratulate yourself. It acts as small encouragement to keep trying. Which is, of course, the best we can do.

But if you do want to scream your encouragements to the world, please do. Just not in my ear.


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How to Create Plans You’ll Stick To

There are two easy ways to create feasible plans:

  1. Pretend you have 30% the energy you usually have
  2. Copy a plan you’ve completed successfully before

Note that I’ve left out the most obvious way – looking at a calendar and the things you have to do then filling up the hours.

Why don’t we stick to plans?

I’m probably one of the biggest culprit of this which is what led me to figure out how to stop this from happening again as it was becoming a huge source of frustration.

It’s simply too difficult

For some reason, if we imagine a free day we imagine a lot of time. But we also assume our energy levels will match that. It often doesn’t.

Cramming the day with loads of activities is only going to make you tired quickly and far more likely to stop doing them even in the middle of the day. If it’s a long term plan it’s even less likely to continue.

We get distracted

Distractions are a huge problem. As research shows, after a distraction, it takes about 25 minutes to get back into work.

It makes our work far less efficient and moves everything in the plan forward. Therefore we work longer, become more tired and start putting things off.

We don’t give ourselves enough time

We might assume that we can get an essay done in 3 hours but sometimes we might get stuck which means we have to take a longer break. Or we can’t find the book we want.

Same with side projects you might want to do after work/studying. If we expect to do all of them in a minimal time then we’re either going to drop them completely or reduce them drastically and feel guilty about it.

We procrastinate

Looking at a large plan for the day can be intimidating and cause us to procrastinate. Therefore we don’t do anything we aim to. Here’s one simple way to stop it.

Making plans work

  1. Assume less energy than normal

This point relies on assuming you have less energy than your plan assumes

If we try being superhuman then get intimidated or worn out by our plan, it’s not a useful. On the other hand, if we’re more modest, we have a much easier starting point, procrastination is less likely and we will complete things.

Let’s take one of the plans I’ve had in the past (and I’ve had many):

Capture 4 Capture 3 Capture 1

This is actually a simplified version of a plan I had at one point in my first year of university.

Looking back on it, it’s surprising to think that I considered it then even more surprising is that I was annoyed when I couldn’t complete it! Nearly 9 hours of difficult (and unnecessary!) work I had planned. That’s on top of being social, dealing with chronic pain and you know, trying to not hate books after my first week.

The plan didn’t work for a variety of reasons:

  • I didn’t have the energy to complete them
  • I ignored other factors (like having friends and going outside)
  • It was boring
  • It wasn’t flexible

Creating the plan with the mind that you’ll have less energy means you plan to do fewer things, increase flexibility and still complete things. So the plan above might turn into this (assuming there’s a 9am start):

Capture 2

And that’d be it.

The first plan has nearly 9 hours of mentally tasking work while the second has 4 hours with large breaks in between. It’s much easier to start and I found I got more work done with the second plan overall.

  1. Copy a previous plan.

The second condition is easier to implement. If you’ve successfully created and completed a plan before, copy it and use it again.

However, it’s important to take into account new factors when doing this because your past plan might have been completed under much different conditions. For example, if you’ve caught a cold, your energy is going to be lower than it would be normally so you’ll complete less work or it’ll take longer to complete the same amount.

But remember to be reasonable. If you’ve planned an overnight stay at your library or a general rush till exams, you won’t be able to sustain it for a long period. To combat that, refer to point one.

An impromptu Q&A session

“But you’re doing so little work – you’re obviously doing a Philosophy degree this doesn’t apply to me!”

Fortunately, it still does. If you’ve ever planned anything and never completed it (although you feel you should have) then it applies. Creating unrealistic plans is normal and unless you actually have unlimited energy, it’s fine to plan less and complete more.

Dealing with chronic pain means I’ve had to change how I view plans and making my time more efficient. This is one way I’ve managed to stay with the crowd despite being in pain all the time.

“But what if I can’t plan less! I have so much more work to do than you”

That’s where the second condition comes into place.

Not every plan can work on such little energy. Deadlines and loads of work exist. If you’ve actually completed a plan that meets the demands of your current situation, mould it around that. As Scott Young says, you’re allowed to experiment.

If not, continue to assume you’ll have less energy when creating it. And stop procrastinating.

“What if I have scheduled commitments?”

If you have a variety of things you want to do (clubs, learning new things, blogging etc), reducing the amount of energy you’ll have to complete it seems ridiculous. It isn’t.

In this scenario, you have to exercise prioritising and say no to some commitments. If you don’t, there’s a good chance you won’t do them, get frustrated at the ‘little free time’ you have or burn out very quickly and blame yourself.

Admittedly, it is difficult saying no to things especially when you seem to have a lot of time for trying new things. Those things won’t disappear straight away and there’s no point in planning them if you’re too tired to complete them.

It’s alright to say no.

“Am I allowed to continue working past my smaller plan?”

Yes. A minimal plan makes it easier to start working. It doesn’t necessarily put a limit on how much you should continue working. Though, it should make you more efficient with the hours planned – reducing the need to continue working much more.

The next day, return to the minimal plan. A good plan is sustainable.

“I’m rubbish with times. What if I oversleep?”

Ignore times and focus on activities. Instead of planning the hours, aim to work on a project for an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening.

If that is too difficult, aim to do an hour of the project during the course of the day. The earlier the better of course as you don’t want tiredness to excuse you from working.

“Did you write these questions yourself?”

Some things are best kept secret.

Action Steps

The take away from this is to reduce the amount of energy you’ll need to finish a plan so it’s easier to start and easier to complete.

What can you do now?

  1. Create a plan for your ideal day
  2. Assume you’ll have less energy than normal
  3. Create a new plan.

A small amount of completed work is better than a large amount left wished to be completed.


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