Tuesday, January 18, 2011

(85 - X) x 365

"The best defense against the manipulation of our attention is to determine for ourselves – in advance - how we want to invest it." – Elkhonon Goldberg

What neuropsychologist Goldberg is saying here is that our social and physical environments are full of distractions. Things that distract us from our core tasks. Pull us away from what we know to be the best next thing to do.

There’s a seductive sweetness to not doing that next thing we know is best. But effective time- and self-managers are able to stay in the saddle.

Do, Be, and Have

Some of us are convinced that we are here on the planet to have some set of experiences, or to manifest some fine quality, or to have a particular type of relationship. Here to do and be and have something specific.

And the key that unlocks our motivation – our burning, passionate, nothing-can-stop-me motivation – is to consistently take actions and pursue relationships and make commitments that connect to those core do/be/have’s. And to say no to anything, even very good things, that do not.

As you’ve probably already noticed, time is a limited resource. Whatever it is that I'm here to do and be and have will need to take place in this pretty narrow window of opportunity. World Bank data suggest that life expectancy for children born in the US in 2008 is about 78 years. But if you're reading this I'm guessing that you've got such excellent health habits and are surrounding yourself with such positive people that you've got 85 years in you. That’s 85 years to do what you’re here to do, to experience what is exactly most important. Eighty five years at 365 days each year. Not a lot, really.

But you don’t have 85 anymore. If you’re reading this when you’re 30, for example, we might say you’ve got 55 years still on the clock. So there’s a formula that you might keep tattooed in your memory the next time someone invites you into a 3-year dead-end relationship. Or asks you to exchange a valuable evening for overtime at work when in fact you might need the time more than the money. The formula is this:

(85 – X) x 365

In the formula, “X” equals your current age. Check my math here, but I think that if you’re 40 right now you’ve got about 16,425 days left to do/be/have whatever it is you need to do. And if you’re 28 you’re right at 20,805 days still on the clock.

So if you’re 52 (12,045 days left) how much of that will you allocate to commuting in and out of the city? Watching television shows about people who have too many cats? Talking about how you really ought to join a gym?

The question here is not “what are people in my zip code doing and being and having?” And it’s not “what are my siblings doing”? The core question here is how do I want to inhabit and embody these 12,045 days?

“I’m going to eat all the gum and candy I want!”

When an 8 year old says that when they grow up they’re going to eat all the candy they want, I chirp something like “Oh boy, you betcha! Being an adult is awesome.” What I don’t tell them, because it would be soul-killing, is that being an adult is really hard work.

I do eat all the gum and candy I want. And when I overdo it, I pay for it in my body. One of my fondest dreams as a boy was to be grown up so that I could decide how late I’d stay up at night. And now that I’m an adult, I do. And if I stay up too late I pay for it my emotional and cognitive experience. I don’t feel quite well, and my concentration is off. And my clinical presence with clients suffers.

And there’s no Mom to tell me to go to bed now. Or to stop eating that. Or to turn that off or stop reading that.

Eating just the right amount of gum and candy is hard work. And having just the right amount of small talk at work is a tough call. It bears repeating:

"The best defense against the manipulation of our attention is to determine for ourselves – in advance - how we want to invest it."

Isn't it a Bit Late for Me to Be Thinking about Life Purpose?

Honestly I’ve heard 70 year olds and 35 year olds and 23 year olds express their belief that the best part of their life is behind them. Do you really think high school is as good as it’s gonna get? If you’re old enough to remember the 1980s do you really think that was the high mark?

The best part of your life may be in the part of (85 – X) that still lies ahead.

Ted Williams and Susan Boyle

When we think of individuals who later in life moved squarely into the center of their life mission, the examples frequently offered are Colonel Sanders and Grandma Moses. Sanders was at the front end of fully exploiting the concept of the food franchise. But not until he’d tried lots of other less phenomenal business ideas. And Anna Mary Robertson Moses didn't take up painting, the medium for which she became beloved, until her 70s.

But we’ve got a couple of more recent examples of mid-life moving into something really important or meaningful. As everyone with internet access knows at this point, Susan Boyle was a 47-year old hopeful on Britain's Got Talent when she wowed the judges and the world with her amazing voice.

Ted Williams was a 53 years old, homeless, and unemployed when a YouTube video went viral and helped him re-connect with one of his real gifts, his "golden" announcer's voice.

Like most of us, Susan and Ted haven't enjoyed entirely smooth sailing since their "discoveries." Just like real life, there hasn't been a happy -ever-after for either of them. But both have indicated a commitment to working through their obstacles and sticking with their do/be/have.

Tools for "Determining in Advance"

So how, specifically, do we “defend ourselves” against the activities and entanglements that would distract us from our core tasks? What specifically does it mean to “decide in advance”?

For me that means setting aside some at the end of each year to consider how I’m doing. Am I doing what I’m really here to do? Do my relationships and commitments reflect my core purpose? Is my mission evident from a review of how I’m stewarding my time?

And before the week starts, it could be valuable to spend some time “determining in advance” how my day to day scheduling is consistent with my do/be/have core tasks.

Finally (and this may be the most important part) we do well to invest some time each morning reviewing our hour by hour tasks and obligations. How exactly does each of these connect to what you most want to express and experience?

So our tools here are:

  • real clarity about our core goals and values

  • a good daily planner or smartphone app

  • a regular commitment to review - hour by hour - our activities in the light of what we know to be most important

Everybody Benefits

Doing this “deciding in advance” work is not just for you, by the way. When you’re really on-purpose, living squarely in the center of your do/be/have, others will benefit as well. If you’ve been around people who are living this type of life you know what I mean, you know how you’ve benefitted from being around that person. There are people in your circle that only you can inspire and affirm. And living your best life is part of that.

photo: beach sand waves

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