Examining Epictetus #2:  To Be, We Must Do

First, say to yourself what you would be; then do what you have to do.

Epictetus

As a youth, I had some lofty goals. They were always in the same formula:

A + B = C

A = Someday

B = Unknown

C = Goal

Coming up with C was easy. My problem was I never knew how to identify A and B.

A man without a goal is like a ship without a rudder.

Thomas Carlyle

I had both a ship and a rudder. Unfortunately, I was lacking a schedule and a map. The result was years of entering the wrong harbors and not maximizing the trade value of the goods in the hold.

10-3-1 Finding A

My first step is to clearly identify the A in my formula. Someday is too vague. It doesn’t require a sense of urgency and allows external interference. A is my schedule.

10

Where do I want to be in ten years. Ten years is my moonshot. It can be as lofty as I want it to be. Ten years provides me a finish line for the current race that I am entering. This is a marathon. I don’t have to break any speed records. Instead, I just need to run my race. Personally, I have four different ten-year goals. Two of them are where I want to be professionally. The other two are where I want to be personally.

3

As in three years. My first major milestone is three years away. To achieve my ten-year goal, I must define my ideal schedule of progress after three years. Rather than a moonshot, this is just getting off the planet. My three-year goal is doable and aligns with the ten-year plan I have in place.

1

You guessed it! This is the one-year plan. It is the mini milestone that gets me closer to the major milestone. The one-year plan is very doable. It breaks the three-year plan down into smaller chunks. In the recesses of my mind is the moon. Not so far back is the three-year goal of getting off the planet. In the first year, I am looking at the prototypes of the rocket ship, the logistics of the journey, and the beginning of any required training.

The one-year goal is getting the business up and running. Turning profits is the year three and Fortune 500 is year ten.

In my A + B = C formula, this is how I identify A.

Breaking down the B.

B is the how-to that for me was always an unknown variable. It is more difficult than defining A, but it needs the schedule that A provides. B is the action, and I must know what B looks like at 10, 3, and 1 years.

The action at ten years is complex.  Even the three-year mark is at a higher level than the first year. One being the easiest and closest to my present moment, I will start here. What actions are required to hit my first mini milestone?

In the first year, I am a novice. To build up to my ultimate ten-year dream, I must lay the foundation. There are two key elements crucial to my foundation: discipline and knowledge.

Discipline

Discipline comes through the creation of daily habits. These  habits will drive my productivity. Starting out small is a good idea. Reevaluating a habit’s effectiveness over time is prudent to see if it produces the desired results. This is also a good time to look at any current habits that may be counter-productive to the 10-3-1 plan.

All big things come from small beginnings. The seed of every habit is a single, tiny decision. But as that decision is repeated, a habit sprouts and grows stronger. Roots entrench themselves and branches grow. The task of breaking a bad habit is like uprooting a powerful oak within us. And the task of building a good habit is like cultivating a delicate flower one day at a time.

James Clear, Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones

Knowledge

As a novice, we must gather knowledge. This is the first part of wisdom. The second, understanding, will come in time. The accumulation of knowledge is critical to the foundation. If we do not have it, our final structure, the goal we desire, will be shaky. How do we get this knowledge? Living or deceased, we start with mentors. Somebody has been down this road or a similar one before. We can save an immense amount of time by studying their words and works. Their knowledge will become ours and help to ensure secure foundation.

Keep in mind, not all knowledge is needed here. We must curate what we take in and guard against consuming material that is not beneficial to our cause. If it does not get us closer to our goal, we may find ourselves going down the wrong path, which of course will cost us valuable time.


To be, we must do. Easy words from Epictetus, but not so easy in the execution. By breaking down what we desire to be, we can have a plan for the doing. We can take our dreams and make them a reality.

One Take from the Week #4: Harder-than-I-Thought New Habit

Art of Manliness #462: How to Tell Better Stories

A few weeks ago, I listened to the above podcast episode interviewing Matthew Dicks, the author of Storyworthy. He is a professional storyteller and gives his advice on how we can learn to tell better stories. This seemed right up my alley of interests, and I was eager to learn what I could.

It all starts with homework. Okay, homework. I can do that. It sounds simple enough. So, what exactly do I need to do? Every night before I go to bed, I need to spend five minutes recapping the most interesting part of my day. This information will go into an Excel file. There is no need for a lot of details, just a few bullet points. Then, on a weekly basis, I can go back pick one and come up with a worthy story. This is the first step and the inspiration behind my new weekend series of posts, “One Take from the Week.”

A new habit that takes five minutes. This is so simple that anybody can do it! Except me. The first week, I completed it a couple of nights, skipped a night, did another night, and skipped a few more. That didn’t go so well. Why? Well, at the end of the night, I am ready to shut down. After a day of working out, reading, writing, coaching, and going to the job that pays the bills, the last thing I want is to do the homework. And it is not about wanting to do the homework, so much as it is about forgetting.

What went wrong? I never set the alarm. Now I have a ton of alarms on my phone for just about everything that needs a reminder. Some of these alarms go off, and I immediately dismiss it. Yes, I know I need to take the dog for walk, coach in an hour, and even get out of the car and start walking to work when it is time to clock-in. Often, another alarm gets lost in the multitude and gets silenced.

But I set the new alarm anyway. Why? Because I must do better. I believe this habit is important, and I really want it in my life.

The successful person makes a habit of doing what the failing person doesn’t like to do.

Thomas Edison

Now, what I am not saying is that this will make me successful and you, for not doing this homework, will be a failure. But if this something I want to do and cannot get it done, then I have failed (in this instance). Nathanael Emmons said, “Habit is either the best of servants or the worst of masters.” This is a new habit that will serve me well in the future. If, I can develop the discipline to see it through. Five minutes is all it takes to turn off the alarm, stop what I am doing, and think and record something that was impactful during my day. Just five minutes. We need our habit to serve us. We need them to help us optimize our lives. Is there a new habit you are wanting to begin or have recently started? I would love to hear about it and any tricks you used to make it stick.

Habits Deciding Futures

How much time have I spent thinking of the past? How much time dreaming of the future? If only I had the opportunities. If only I didn’t have to work in this job? If, if, if.

All that time wasted in my youth. I was always in the past, always in the future, never in the present. Back then, my habits (what I was doing at that present time) were not helping me. I had a slew of bad habits and only a handful of good ones. My habits should have been a tool to drive success in the future. Instead, they were preventing me from maximizing my potential in the present.

People do not decide their futures, they decide their habits and their habits decide their futures.

F.M. Alexander

My path was slowly engineered. Of course, there were all sorts of obstacles. There were many setbacks of my own doing. And I say, “there were,” but in truth there still is.  And though I revert to thoughts of past and future, I spend less time there. I am more present in today. And being in the present, I am more aware of my habits. Which ones are helping me? Which ones are detracting? Slowly, I can correct the bad ones. I can design new ones that propel me forward. I can engineer my habits for success.

Once again, it is a work in progress, but I have noticed some interesting things. Opportunities are starting to pop up that I never imagined or tried to obtain. My future is starting to take a positive shift without me trying to plan for it. It as if my habits are starting to decide my future. Maybe they always have, and I just didn’t know it.


Feature photo by Drew Beamer on Unsplash

The Two Spectrums of Habit

Prudence 11/11/2019

They are rock solid pillars of their communities. They have found a formula for victory, and they do not deviate from it. They have studied the works of others. From their studies, they have emulated the successful and discarded the waste. They have built foundational habits tailored to optimize their performance. They are the wisest of men.

The stupidest of men have also built some stunning habits. Habits that are so strong they will never be able to break them. They keep repeating the same patterns of mediocrity, which has time and again failed them. But rather than make a change, they persist in their destruction. They will never learn and will continue to be the stupidest of men.

Keep an eye on your habits. If they are not helping you to succeed, then break them as soon as you can. If not, those habits will become a powerful force in your life, leading to your destruction. Find what works and then build on it. Remove the garbage.

Only the wisest and stupidest of men never change. –Confucius

Don’t be an idiot!

Automating Toward Success

Temperance 5/14/2019: Automating Toward Success

The right habits will make the individual incredibly disciplined. It will put you on auto-pilot towards your desired destination. Like a direct deposit into your retirement plan, you won’t have to think about it. You just do it.

What can you do to optimize your routine? Is it moving your alarm clock farther away, so that you are forced to get up and out of bed? Is it prepping your meals the week before? We can start with small habits and then build upon them. We can design who we are going to be. Draw the blueprints now for your life and create the habits that will get you there.

The beginning of a habit is like an invisible thread, but every time we repeat the act we strengthen the strand, add to it another filament, until it becomes a great cable and binds us irrevocably thought and act. -Orison Swett Marden

All the Small Things

Imagine getting in your car and going from 0 to 60. What seems like a simple process to the driver is really a series of many other small processes. You don’t all of a sudden show up at 60. You have to get there. You have to build up the momentum. You have to trust that all the small processes were done properly.

An unexpected package arrived in the mail. Amazon. It was a Christmas gift. Inside, a book sent to me from my aunt. It was a small book with a nice well-designed cover. Mini Habits by Stephen Guise. It looked familiar. It looked interesting.

I opened the book that day and began reading. The book fit well in my preferred genre. It was the type of content I like to write and read about. The perfect gift.

What is a mini habit? It is a small action done every day. It is such a small act that it requires little time and willpower. The author developed this method when he started a one push-up a day challenge. He wanted to get into shape but didn’t have the motivation to do it. So he did a push-up every day. If he didn’t do his push-up before he went to bed, he would get out of bed, get on the floor, and do one. It didn’t take much effort. It didn’t take much time. There was no motivation involved to do one push-up. There was no drive to the gym and no changing clothes. There was only the one small simple act of doing a single push-up.

When you are on the floor having completed your push-up, there is a temptation to do more. Why not? You are already there in the position. If you do one, you might as well do more. Everything above the one is a bonus that will contribute to your goal of getting in shape.

The push-up was a small act towards a larger goal. The larger goal was to get physically fit. But like a car getting up to 60, you don’t all of a sudden show up in shape. It takes momentum and many smaller processes operating together. It takes discipline, consistency, and time. When it is all lumped together, it seems overwhelming and impossible to achieve. When it is broken down into many smaller habits, it becomes possible. It becomes a way of life.

What are the large goals in your life that you are wanting to accomplish? How will you accomplish them? How will you turn that goal into a reality? Break it down into smaller chunks. Break it down into small habits that are so low in motivation and willpower that you can’t help but do them. Like a large snowball that continues to accumulate smaller pieces of snow, let your mini habits accumulate and gain momentum until it is one large habit propelling you toward success. 

We first make our habits, and then our habits make us. –John Dryden

There are a whole host of habits I would like to incorporate into my life. I imagine what my future would be like if I could achieve them. Some I have started and never made it past the first few days. Bet even with these failures, I have not given up hope. The habits were not impossible to achieve. The issue was that I had not built the proper foundation. Now that I have the tools, it is time to start building.

Great things are done by a series of small things brought together. –Vincent Van Gogh

Consistently Winning the Day

Albert Einstein gets credited for the quote, “Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” This makes sense if you are stuck and can’t figure out how to fix a problem. But what if you wanted to get yourself stuck, why would you keep doing different things? If you are looking for consistency, you need the repetition. You need to do the same things over and over again. Is there something you are wanting in life? Identify and create the habits needed to accomplish your goals.

Andy Frisella’s Win the Day podcast (MFCEO #107) introduces the topic of having a Power List. He suggests writing down 5 objectives you need to accomplish every day. Accomplish the task, check it off. Accomplish all of them, and you win the day. The question then becomes: How many days can you win? Keep the item on your list until you can get 21 days in a row and then it should be an automatic habit. Once you hit the 21 day mark, you can remove it from your list and add another item.

Simple, right? My first impression is that this would be a cake walk. The reality is different. There are some desired habits I would like to create, but I am not ready for them. Attempting them resulted in losing days. What I really needed to do was reexamine the desired habit and break it down. Taking writing for example. I have some lofty writing goals that I am not ready for. Originally I put on my list that I would blog every day and write fiction for a set amount of time. Doable for a professional writer? Absolutely! For me? Maybe in time, but right now I have too many irons in the fire. And I don’t already have a daily writing habit. So what I really need is a daily writing habit, not a lofty writing goal. What is an easy writing habit? I first started with gratitude and writing down every morning the three things I am grateful for. That was the start, and now it is no longer on my list because it is a new habit. I have moved on to the next stage. It is a little more difficult. Write something else every day. This consists of either journaling or blogging. It doesn’t really matter what it is. I just have to write. If I can incrementally improve on my writing habit, maybe I can build up to some of those loftier goals.

Can I consistently win the day? Can you? We have it within ourselves to achieve greatness. Greatness, however, doesn’t magically appear overnight. You have to refine the process that will get you there. And once you have the process, you do it over and over again.

Winning is a habit. Unfortunately so is losing. –Vince Lombardi