It’s easy to get swept up in the day-to-day grind of everyday life…before long, you can lose perspective of the bigger picture – your hopes, passions and dreams – and find your life reduced to a passive game whack-a-mole: you vs. your bills, commitments and obligations.
You’re not really going anywhere…you’ve got head above water, you’re surviving, perhaps even comfortable…but you’re just as far away from your dreams as you were last year.
It’s easy to see how many people spend decades in this trance – only to wake up at age 50 and wonder: where the f*ck did the last 30 years go?!
It’s a dangerous trap. Don’t get caught.
Soldier vs. Commander
Day-to-day, you are much like a soldier on the front lines, executing orders, following commands – very productive but a slave to routine. There’s nothing wrong with this, except your viewpoint is confined to that which is in front of you: your bills, most pressing commitments and obligations.
If you live your life in default soldier mode, quickly enough you’ll have lost perspective of any grander visions for your time on planet Earth.
That’s why soldiers have a commander.
Unlike a soldier, the commander can take in the entire battlefield at once and make the best decision accordingly – in accordance with the short-term duties of day-to-day life, but also in agreement with the grander battleplan.
You can’t be a soldier all the time. You need time out to take perspective and take command of your life.
Understanding this, I realised I had to block out a regular time slot to get perspective.
I’d wasted days upon months upon years at school and university, mindlessly chipping away at urgent but trivial short-term tasks, to the detriment of my longer-term standing. So I designed a Weekly Review system to keep me out of these brainless ruts, and ensure constant progress.
Every Saturday afternoon, I sit down with my laptop and open an Evernote document I have, titled Weekly Review.
At the top are my goals, prioritised by importance:
Overall: Becoming the happiest me possible. Having the biggest meaningful impact.
- Fun & friends
- Launch First Words
- Learn Data Science
- Aprende Español a nivel C2
- Write an article a week
Note: these aren’t specific goals. And that’s intentional: narrow-mindedly lusting after an equally narrow goal (e.g. make 10,000 sales) shuts you off to the more important bigger picture. The point of the weekly review is to see the big picture (of your life).
Next I review each of these goals in turns and work through a series of important weekly exercises:
- Deposit 10%
- I am grateful for:
- 1) Fun & friends
- 2) Launch First Words
- 3) Learn Data Science
- 4) Learn Español to C2 level
- 5) Write an article every week
- One person from your list
- One activity from your list
- Respond to your messages
- Book BaseLang
So first I deposit 10% of my bank balance into my stocks & shares ISA account. I used to deposit giant one-off sums but have moved to a more manageable, straightforward 10% per week because it means I have a bit more leeway in my spending, but also builds the habit of saving.
Next I write all that I’m grateful for from the last week (or in life, generally). I usually review my Instagram stories from the last week to help with this – I do a lot of stuff so often forget where I’ve been and the experiences I should be grateful.
Third is “free-writing”. I get a blank sheet of paper and just write down or draw anything that comes to mind. What manifests in ink is a reflection of my subconscious: what I’m excited about, what I know I’m not doing enough of, what I’m worried about and so on. I then my type up any interesting points from my free-writing exercise into my Weekly Review document.
Fourth is my general review. I ask myself explicit questions like: are you happy? what aren’t you doing enough of? is anything stressing you out? If anything interesting surfaces, I’ll add it to my notes.
I then review each of my goals: evaluating my progress towards each of them + anything that’s getting in my way.
For instance, under Learn Data Science last week I had the following bullet points in review:
- Haven’t done anything for two weeks
- Need to get back on it
(We’ll come back to this later.)
After my goals, there are another 4 habits I complete.
First, I choose a random person from a list of my friends/acquaintances/people I like and reach out to them. I’ll usually organise a dinner to catch up. This has helped rekindle numerous dormant friendships and brought me notably closer to existing friends.
I also choose on weird/interesting/fun activity from Design My Night to check out. Novel experiences are a key contributor towards happiness, but also help you develop into a more interesting person.
Next, I’ll respond to all my messages (Instagram, Whatsapp, FB etc.) I’m terrible at this and often piss people off with my ostensible “aloofness”. Messaging everyone back on a weekly basis guarantees I don’t piss anyone off or lose any friends over 3-year-late response.
Finally, I book my daily 30-minute Spanish classes for the week. This is how I’m maintaining my level of Spanish whilst in London, living with a bunch of dirty monolinguals.
Now…for the most important part. This is where all the progress comes from: I read back over my notes and systematically engineer solutions to any of the problems that have stymied my progress that week.
Let’s revisit Learn Data Science:
- Haven’t anything for two weeks
- Need to get back on it
My initial notes tell me I’ve been slacking on the Data Science – great. But what do I do about?
Here’s where first principles thinking comes in: let’s get to the root cause of my slacking:
- Why haven’t you done anything for two weeks?
- Been busy with my GRE exam…
- But you’ve managed your other responsibilities while preparing for the exam?
- Yeah…but I have to do those things
- Okay, so why don’t you have to study Data Science?
- Fine, you got me, it’s because there’s no accountability measure in place
- Thought so, mate…let’s get you an accountability partner
- You’re such a tw*t – always wanting me to succeed. Okay, accountability partner it is – I’ll send a message now
- Why else haven’t you made Data Science progress?
- Not sure what to do next at this point…
- Why not?
- I just don’t know what course is best to work through
- Okay…so let’s do some research and find out!
- Goddamnit! Fine, yes, let’s do that now…
This is a relatively accurate representation of the internal dialogue I go through when trying to drill down to the root causes of obstacles to my progression.
Unlike a lot of people, I refuse to accept useless answers such as: I just need to be more disciplined.
Sure, that might be true, but it’s very unlikely you’re going to magically double your willpower overnight. You need a strategy, a system.
Here are some more real examples from previous weekly reviews:
- Haven’t meditated this week
- Why haven’t you meditated this week?
- I just get too distracted
- Why do you get too distracted?
- Messages from friends, notifications
- How can I remove these?
- Keep phone on aeroplane mode so when I wake up there are no notifications
- Why else do you get distracted?
- Don’t like sitting down, feels restrictive, usually end up sleeping if I meditate in bed
- Hmm…is there a time when you have to sit down anyway?
- Yes, on the toilet…
- Well, why don’t you just meditate while on the toilet in the morning with your phone on aeroplane mode?
- That’s f*cking great, brain! I will do that
- Overate this week big time
- Why did you overeat?
- Got cravings for random foods and couldn’t resist
- Why do people get cravings? (I researched this)
- Overly restrictive diets
- Okay, let’s create a more lax diet that allows more “cheat foods” in moderation
- Why else?
- Not full
- Why aren’t I getting full? (I researched this)
- Eating too fast, so brain doesn’t realise I’ve consumed enough food
- Okay, so eat mores slowly
- Use a more smaller spoon and a heavier folk
- Why haven’t you been to the gym this week?
- I literally just cannot be fucked to get dressed, walk to the gym, work out next to a bunch of strangers, then walk all the way back home, remove clothes, shower etc.
- Okay, so how can we make going to the gym easier?
- Could just work out at home
- F*cking great idea, brain, let’s do that
- Buy dumbbells and pull up bar, work out immediately after meditation, shower then get changed
All of the above are real examples I’ve put into practice over the last year and the results really do speak for themselves: I’ve meditated 362 out of the last 365 days, I’ve worked out daily with 100% consistency since implementing my home gym solution, and despite eating out for dinner virtually every single day I’m still in the best shape of my life.
Don’t let life pass you by.
Block out time to review your life – weekly, monthly or yearly. Give yourself a chance to take command and course-correct.