Read First: Harder Ways: Introduction
Each and every human being is born on this planet with a set of attributes to their life that they had no control over. Just as we had no control over our genetics, we also had no control over where we would grow up, the experiences we would have.
As random as the hand of cards dealt to each of us was, we were solely responsible in how we were able to either take advantage of what we were given or make the most what we had. This is the sole reason it is impossible to generalize people: the diversity is just too great.
However, one thing is clear: regardless your age or background, we are given an estimated clock of about 80 years in the United States, even more in other Western countries. While genetic disorders or predisposition to disease may hinder that fact, increasing the likelihood of reaching that age depends on the choices and habits we instill into yourself early on in life.
While this is not a health and wellness crash course, it is important to consider that our choices have longer-lasting consequences than we think.
The same 24 hours is given to every one of us: the same sunrise to sunset. As surely as the Earth rotates as it barrels through space around the Sun, the grains of sand of our lifetime are slowly falling to the bottom of our hourglass. The concept of time is based on the coming and going of the seasons, but it is also based on the limits of our biological makeup — how long can our physical selves stay operational?
We wouldn’t be worried about how the rest of our lives would play out if there wasn’t ever going to be an end to it.
The Western world is sold on convenience — companies are constantly using their research and development funds finding just how they can sell something to consumers and they won’t be too keen on buying something that takes a lot effort to use. After all, we’re buying into technology to make our lives easier.
The rise of affordable home automation is one key example of how even menial tasks like checking the thermostat or flipping a light switch can be done from your office via your phone. Services like Uber and Lyft will take you places, Wag! and Rover will walk your dog or have someone house sit with your cat, Acorns and Robin Hood will even invest for you, effortlessly.
What does eliminating all of these so-called time-consuming activities leave us with? More time. Less work. Fewer interruptions in your day for things like vacuuming the floor or checking your investment portfolio so you can focus on what is meaningful to you. Or at least that’s how it’s supposed to work in theory.
Decades ago, we would have spent hours on hand-washing clothes and dishes. Today, we’ve effectively nullified the amount of time it takes to do both, even at the same time.
Unfortunately, with all of this extra time on some of our hands, most of us aren’t quite sure what to do with it. We waste nearly two hours a day every week just checking social media. That means every two weeks we spend over an entire day scrolling. Over the course of a year, we’ll have spent nearly an entire collective month looking through other people’s lives.
If we could break our perfect day down into a rigid, totally hypothetical schedule, we’d see the time allocations look something like this:
Sleep: 7 – 9 hours
Eating: 2 hours
Hygiene: 1 hour
These first essential activities already seem to dominate half of our day, leaving us with an optimal 12 to 13 hours of doing things we actually need to get done. In my case, we’d tack on:
Commute: 0.5 hours
Attending Class: 3 – 5 hours
(Ideally) Studying/Homework: 3 – 5 hours
Cleaning/Chores: 0.5 hours
Gym: 1 hour
It doesn’t look promising, does it?
Adding additional educational or occupational responsibilities seems to take even more time away. Work a 9-to-5 job and you’d essentially get the same results. Even on our least busy weekday, we’re looking at only about 6 hours of free time. Other responsibilities are definitely going to eat at that time. Grocery shopping, taking naps, making coffee — our 24 hours a day doesn’t look like very much anymore.
And yet we’re still willing to spend a significant portion of our time just idling, scrolling through a meaningless feed of other people’s lives or staring at a blank wall, waiting for time to pass. I’d imagine this would be even worse among college students who are infamous for their issues regarding procrastination.
This leads us to ask the question, “what are we doing with our time?”
And for the most part, not a whole lot.
If we’re not being productive in at least one aspect of our lives, we’re doing nothing to move forward and thus, we’re doing nothing to advance our lives in a positive direction. We wake up each day with (optimally) 16-or-so hours to make our lives better than how we found it when we went to sleep.
It could be as simple as decluttering the room or as big as taking the first step into the investment world, but if we’ve taken a step back (e.g. making a bigger mess, losing a friend, going further into debt), we’re not doing anyone — especially ourselves — a favor.
Every day, if you are waking up with the intent to further yourself into your ideal lifestyle, you will get there much faster than just daydreaming about it.
The Transtheoretical Model for behavioral change suggests that it takes nearly six months for you to even prepare to make a change in your life, even if you’re thinking about doing it.
Here comes the uncomfortable truth: every time that we give into desire, we’re failing. Identifying the easy way is the first step in making a change in our lives as it gives us a landmark of which we can set up an attitude of what “not to do”.
The Easy Way: doing something that requires little effort to feel good.
Of course, this is but the raw essence of what we should be staying away from. How many times have we caught ourselves playing video games instead of doing assignments that are due the next morning? How many times have we ignored our accumulated debts when going shopping? How many times have we turned a blind eye to the fact that we haven’t gone to the gym at all this week, yet have plenty of time to watch a TV show?
If any of this sounds familiar, it is. It’s laziness. Laziness is a plague we need to take every step to eradicate from our lives. Laziness is a plague that eats away from our precious time, of which every second counts. Laziness is a plague that baits us into sacrificing our lives for meaningless activity, siphoning our time that could otherwise be spent on other focus points of life, such as our friends, family, health, spirituality, or any other facet that could further improve our condition.
As much as we’d love to justify it, being lazy is not a quality we should be proud of.
The Hard Way: sacrificing temporary discomfort for future benefit.
Think of it as an investment. We’re allocating the time now, paying it forward for a future benefit, which will be immeasurably better than the instant gratification we get now.
This is the first principle of the Hard Way: time is valuable.
Minutes add up to hours, hours add up to days, and days add up to months. If we began waking up every morning with the attitude to spend our time to further our existence, many of us would be in a far better place.
Begin by allocating one hour every day to something that could benefit your life. That’s barely over 6% of your waking day. Whether it’s spending a little extra time to cook instead of picking up fast food, studying ahead of time for a distant exam, or going to the gym, make it count.
If, over the course of a year, you added even three or four of these activities to your daily routine, those one hours suddenly add up to over a month and a half furthering the pursuit of a greater existence.
Of course, it’s definitely easier said than done. We are easily swayed by something more immediate or urgent in our lives. It might feel so much better to bite into a fast food burger or take a nap instead of going to the gym, but remember that anything worthwhile is difficult to obtain.
First, plan out a schedule for your week. It doesn’t have to be concrete, just get a general sense of how much free time you have. Make sure to overestimate when you’re busy, giving time for yourself for commutes, buffer periods between activities, and sleep.
Next, think of an activity you’d like to add to your repertoire, maybe centered around the ideal version of yourself.
It is important to note that we will never quite achieve whatever image we pictured. The media, science fiction, Photoshop — these things, among many, have shaped our ideal human to be impossible.
Maybe you’d like to lose weight, pick up a new skill or hobby, or even just want to read more. Set aside that time, uninterrupted, and make it your goal to integrate that activity into your life. In Sixty-Six Days, I discussed the length it might take for us to fully assimilate a behavior as a habit.
The first two weeks will be the most difficult. This is the phase when we will constantly be forcing ourselves to forfeit a lazy, idle state and activate ourselves. Make it hard on yourself. Write a list of “I will” statements about the things you want to get accomplished. This kind of language puts us in an immediate position to accomplish.
One of the worst things you can tell yourself is “I’ll do it later.” “Later” is indefinite, and “tomorrow” is just as bad. Give yourself something concrete to follow, not a vague amount of time. We all know the vicious cycle of getting nothing done — it begins with putting it off.
Why is choosing the hard way important?
You will be happier. The returns will be much higher and people will begin to notice. The delayed-gratification of improvement will undoubtedly elevate your mood. Just think of the person we would be if we dedicated all of our time to making ourselves better people.
Positive psychology has discovered that happiness is contagious up to three degrees. That means if your good mood rubs off on just ten people, there’s a chance that thousands could be affected for the better.
Choose the hard way.
Until next time,