Write What You No

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Photo credits: mermaid99 on Flickr.com

On the back of your list of life goals, write what you No.

One side has the great stuff you’re going to do with your life, and the other has what you will stop doing.

See, this is all about focus, and focus is about saying no.  Think about that for a second.  It’s true, isn’t it?

And if you look on your life and the things you want to do and you ask yourself “Self, why haven’t I done any of these yet?”, the answer will come back, at least in part, “I don’t have time”.  BullllllshI don’t believe in “I don’t have time”.  IDHT means IDC, I don’t care.  You have plenty of time, and unless it’s all being taken up by far more pressing matters than you or I ever deal with on a daily basis, the time is there and it’s your job to take it.  You don’t find it; you manhandle it.

So where do you get all this time from?  That’s where the list of No comes in.  Choose things you will stop doing.  Cut out the fat from your life.  If you don’t, your dreams will fade like the muscle tone of a middle-aged cubicle tenant.

When Seth Godin– who runs the number one business blog in the world, has written more bestsellers than I have fingers, and responds to every e-mail he gets– is asked how he does it all, he says he doesn’t watch TV and he doesn’t go to meetings, so that’s already four to five hours more than most people have.

That’s some serious No right there!  It gives me the warm fuzzies to see someone so boldly cast from his life the trappings of the non-producer lifestyle.

I think you need to say No, and say it hard.  Don’t be– to borrow a term from Noah Kagan– a wantrepreneur.  You know– one of those two-beer bards waxing poetic about lost opportunities.  He is the sad, sad result of a lifetime of Yes.  Yes to every distraction, yes to every addiction, yes to every fashion.

Therefore, No.  Write down your rules.  We’ll start with Seth’s rules.

No TV.  No meetings.

You’re about to bust out complaining about how you have to go to meetings aren’t you?  If so, you’re missing the point.  Let’s go on.

No checking e-mail on my phone.  No mainstream news.

Don’t limit it to time-wasters.  What other habits are you trying to avoid?  Bring down the surgeon’s knife.

No processed sugar on weekdays.  No fast food.  No Walmart.

Here’s something scary: these are principles.  I know some people consider “principles” a dirty word.  It’s an excuse for thinking!, they’d cry.  What we have here is not an excuse for thinking; it’s a necessary precaution against human fallibility.  Make decisions when you’re smart.  Benefit from them even when you’re stupid.  Decide not to eat McDonald’s when you’re full, and stick with it when you’re hungry, broke, and there’s one right down the street.  That’s what principles are.

OK.  Onwards and upwards.

* * *

What is the single most effective way for you to waste your time and money?

If you answered cocaine, you’re close.  I was actually going to say addictions, so good enough, right?  (Frankly, if you answered anything at all before plowing on to the next sentence, I’m pretty impressed)

Now if you answered cocaine, you’re probably also like “sweet, never used the stuff, scroll to bottom DONE”.  Bad move.  We’re not going to spend the next few paragraphs talking about crack.  Instead, we’ll talk about addiction in a general sense.  And this is where it gets interesting.

Your brain has a bunch of chemicals floating around, and at various times, they make you feel happy.  Chowin’ into a big burger, finishing giving a speech, havin’ some sex, etc.  The reason they make you feel happy then is because of evolution– those are all moments where you’re doing a good job surviving and passing on your genes, and evolution rewards you for them.  Food helps you survive (especially burgers!), sex helps your species survive, and when you finish your speech, you’re no longer being evaluated by a ton of critical eyes, i.e. the danger has passed, i.e. you’re safe.  Phew!

But some things hijack this great little system in your brain.  For instance, sugar is great because in times of famine, it’s the quickest and easiest source of energy.  An apple is a great pick-me-up.  But an extra-large cinnamon roll with coffee and sugar?  That’s way more than you can handle, and though your brain doesn’t notice the difference (more sugar=more better!), your body does notice (and by notice, I mean slowly develops diabetes).

In the same way, your brain wants you to be up on current events.  If you know what’s going on around you, you’ve got a leg up on not getting suddenly killed.  But TV shows can hijack that desire, and every time there’s a commercial, they’ll show something dramatic and new, and you’ll feel like you can’t be happy unless you see what’s next.  You know the scary part?  You’re right.  You cannot be happy until the car commercial finishes and the drama begins anew.  Might it be best just to avoid the stupid thing in the first place?

That’s how you should make the time to do your life goals.  Give up the addictions.

Now, I’ve watched Lost, I’ve eaten some cinnamon rolls in my day.  I know what it’s like, man.  Maybe TV is even your thing.  ”It makes me happy!”  If that’s your protest right now, I can say with some certainty you will either have to have a long, serious talk with yourself about this, or you will, in general, never get anything out of reading this blog.

And that’s a shame.

Now I’m not preaching teetotalling here.  No one gives up every addiction.  Heck, you heard me talk about sugar, and I still ate a piece of cake for dinner yesterday.  The point isn’t complete abstinence; it’s knowing when something hijacks your brain, becomes a waste of time, and prevents you from saying no.

For me, facebook and e-mail are among the worst offenders.  How often do I really gain something from checking facebook or watching TV?  So I don’t watch TV– except for Arrested Development, which I watch for about two hours a month.

A lot of people think that’s weird.  But I’m not offended.  I think they’re just wondering a bit.  Wonderment is not something our contemporaries are particularly adept with, so it usually seems to come out as closer to “you’re weird!”.  Author and venture capitalist Paul Graham says “if people don’t think you’re weird, you’re living badly”.  And that sounds true to me.

So throw out your addictions.  Make them the top of your list of No.  Stares and presumptuous questions are far better than wasted days of life.

* * *

The back of your life goals list is just as valuable as the front.  Stop doing one so you can start doing the other.  You’re not making time here, you’re wrestling it from the Enemy.  This list: you need to make it, and it needs to change how you’re living.  Because if you keep doing all the old things you were doing, you can’t expect different results.  That’s called stupidity, Einstein.

What are saying no to in 2012?

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