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    2019 Reflections

    I started to do a 2019 reflection post and quickly realised it was blowing out to a huge post, so I decided to break it down into smaller bite size chunks, which I’ll add in the coming week.



    2019 Reflections - Health

    Having completed a 70.3 in 2018, I started the year assuming I would do another big fitness challenge. Initially I landed on a marathon, but in the first few days of the year I ruled it out. Training for the 70.3, although enjoyable and addictive, was time consuming, and I wanted to direct my attention to other endeavours in 2019. On the 4th January my bullet journal reads:

    Decision made. Marathon out. Full time work is just too much when your focus this year is building a brand.

    I decided to try a simpler approach to exercise: to do something, even if it was only small, every day. 50 push ups, 30 pull ups, 15 minutes of yoga. Just try to not break the chain.

    In total I hit 289 days of exercise from a possible 365, a strike rate of 79%. I’m usually really tough on myself, and I’m disappointed I didn’t reach a round number like 300 days, or 80-90%. But viewed from different perspective I averaged over 5 ½ days per week, which is, in retrospect, a reasonable accomplishment.

    Irrespective of how many days I did, I hit the end of the year feeling fantastic. I felt strong enough, fit enough and flexible enough. My focus was on the process and not the end result. I stopped comparing myself with others, how fast I could run compared to X, how much I could lift compared to Y, what I was doing or what I looked like compared to Z. It became all about putting an X down each day. The result? A much happier me, both physically and mentally.


    Artificial environments of scarcity

    In their book The Millionaire Next Door, authors Thomas Stanley and William Danko discuss how millionaires who don’t budget become millionaires. These millionaires become wealthy because “They create an artificial economic environment of scarcity for themselves and the other members of the household.” In other words, they only make available to spend, by themselves and the members of their family, a proportion of the total amount of money earned. The rest is invested.

    Cal Newport is a father of three, a professor and successful author who produces peer reviewed articles and books, amongst other work, at a prodigious rate. He also doesn’t work after 5:30pm, which seems an impossible feat given how much he creates. In his book Deep Work Newport outlines what he terms fixed-schedule productivity, in which “I fix the firm goal of not working past a certain time, then work backwards to find productivity strategies that allow me to satisfy this declaration.” It seems counterintuitive, but by limiting the time available for work he is able to focus and produce more.

    In MinimalismA Documentary About the Important Stuff, we see the growing trend of people downsizing to tiny houses. The motivation for living in smaller houses, smaller spaces, seems to be one of affordability, simplicity and sustainability. But regardless of the intent, it’s clear that people choosing to live in tiny houses are limiting the space available in which to live and store their belongings. This in turn makes ‘space’ available in other areas of their lives.

    These examples touch upon a behaviour I’ve notice a lot recently, how applying limits in to certain areas of your life, such as time spent working, how much money you spend, or your physical space — in other words artificial environments of scarcity — you can create a greater intensity of focus on what matters, and remove what doesn’t.

    The wealthy become so in part by creating an artificial scarcity of money. The productive become so by creating an artificial scarcity of time. And the minimalists of the world choose to create an artificial environment of space in order to have more of what they value over physical possessions.

    What happens when you don’t consciously create environments of scarcity in your life? You live paycheck-to-paycheck, dependent on credit, accumulating debt, unable to save toward a future of financial independence. You workday is spent on autopilot, stretching the tasks you’re allocated throughout the entire time you’re allocated to do them, interspersed with internet browsing, coffee breaks and office gossip. Your home becomes cluttered mess, every square inch of floor- and storage-space filled with junk you either don’t need or convince yourself you might need someday, but never do.

    Parkinson’s law states Work expands so as to fill the time available for its consumption.” But I think it applies to more than just work and time. Stuff expands so as to fill the space available for its consumption. Spending expands so as to fill the money available for its consumption.

    I’m not drawing any concrete conclusions here, but I see examples of this everywhere. Those who apply the principle seem to have clarity about what is most important to them — time, freedom, wealth, creating. This clarity also illuminates the inverse, or unimportant, so they are able to more effectively drain it from their lives.


    Slow down

    Some days you wake up with a heavy feeling hanging over you. Ahead of you lies another day of grind. The mountain of things to do seems to only get bigger, the peak further away. On days like this you tend to view your role as getting through the day rather than being in it.

    This is how I felt earlier this week. I lay in bed with that heavy, despondent feeling, another day of churn ahead of me, knowing I probably wouldn’t be satisfied regardless of how much I achieved.

    But instead of sucking it up and getting on with it I decided to come downstairs slowly, make a cup of coffee, and just sit on the couch quietly. After some time I took out my journal and did my morning reflection slowly, taking care with each letter, each word I wrote. I contemplated what each task meant instead of the usual quick glance. I savoured each sip of coffee. Then I started working on my first task, not trying to just get through it, but to do a good, thoughtful job. Strangely I started to feel better. Happy.

    One of the emails I read that morning was this post by Ryan Holiday, from which the quote below jumped out at me:

    “If the farm has taught me anything… it’s the importance of slowing down, of doing things right, of a different kind of work.”

    On this day, in this moment, it was as though Ryan wrote those words for me. They were validation for what I had just experienced, a lesson I had re-learned. Then and there I ordered his new book Stillness is the Key which I hope is full of the type of wisdom that reinforces the idea, and the importance of slowing down.

    Slow down, live in the moment; they’re nice sentiments but not always the easiest to achieve. We get so swept up in the busyness of life, in the goals we set for ourselves and what needs to be done to achieve them, that it’s easy to forget that joy comes from journey, not the destination. You have to work at staying in the moment.

    I had two more cups of coffee that day and enjoyed every sip. I found pleasure in the work I had earlier resisted because I gave it my full attention and took my time. A day that started so bleakly turned into the best I’d had in some time, all because I started looking at what was right in front of me, not what was to come.


    Let go

    Everything you own feels like it is necessary. The services you subscribe to seem essential. Everything on your to-do list seems important. But when you feel like you’re forever chasing your tail and there’s never enough time in the day, eventually something has to go. It’s difficult to decide what to cull, but after the initial withdrawal you wonder how you ever found time in the first place. It turns out very little is essential, it’s just hard to let things go.

    Before I quit Facebook I feared I would miss a huge chunk of my social life; now I don’t think about it unless I see other people glued to their phones. Before I sold my Crossfit equipment I feared my fitness would deteriorate, but I manage just fine with body weight exercises, running and yoga. Stuff we think is essential usually just takes up precious time and space in our lives. But it doesn’t mean the decision to let stuff go is easy.

    Recently, and despite being on a sabbatical, I’ve felt overwhelmed with the amount I’ve tasked myself. An example is the process of digitising book notes and marginalia to put on this site. I feel it’s important because this is how I best remember what I read, and something I hoped others might find useful. But the Book notes task remains untouched in my journal month after month, serving only as a burden to be migrated to time and time again. Sometimes you have to dig deep to discover what is truly essential.

    I decided to remove my book notes, deeming the process too time consuming and a duplicate of the effort I put into keeping index cards for my Commonplace Book. But it was hard to let another seemingly essential activity go.

    Your job is to ruthlessly cull the superfluous, to create more time to focus on what truly matters. When you focus the lens on what is truly important you realise there’s very little you cannot do without. By letting go you free up time and space to focus on the more important things, like spending more (and better) time with your kids, improving your writing, perfecting your craft. Removing a feature is a feature.

    Every great man has become great, every successful man has succeeded, in proportion as he has confined his powers to one particular channel. — Orison Swett Marden