You’re going to die one day.
Duh, right? We all know it, but our brains have a hard time processing it.
Life, though, has a way of reminding us that it’s not going to hang around forever.
A loved one gets sick. You rubberneck past a crash on the freeway. A family member passes away.
In these moments, I’ve caught myself thinking: Any moment I could die. I need to [do / be] more [insert thing that’s not possible when you’re dead].
10 minutes later, I’m back to being immortal.
For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘no’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.
— Steve Jobs
When I look in the mirror, I see ‘shit’.
I have a sticker on my mirror that says ‘shit’:
There have been plenty of moments in my life when I would have answered no in the mirror.
No, I don’t want to spend my day in meetings with people who don’t listen.
No, I don’t want to spend today at the airport and tonight in a hotel for the fifth time this month.
No. If today were my last day I wouldn’t be happy with how it ended.
In the past few years I’ve tried to be more intentional with my time. Even still, there will always be moments when I forget how finite life is.
Moments like: binging Stranger Things, Twin Peaks, House of Cards, Game of Thrones, or How I Met Your Mother. Mindlessly scrolling through Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and then back to Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Tinder. Or sleeping in until 2PM, only leaving bed because I needed to pee.
I’m not saying any of this is bad (in moderation). I love Stranger Things just as much as Winona Ryder loves reading messages with lightbulbs.
What I’m saying is that the more time I fill with shit, the less likely I am to look back on my weeks, months, years, with a sense of gratitude and happiness.
This begs the question, how do you keep a focus on intentionally spending your time without constantly needing to experience death, sadness, or trauma?
For me, the answer lies in squares.
The 4,680 squares below represent every week of your life, from the moment you’re born up until age 90.
The average person’s life (making a bunch of assumptions here), looks a bit like this:
I’m the white dot above — week 1,416.
In theory, I have 3,264 weeks to spend. In reality, the actual number is anything upwards of 0.
Have the previous 1,415 squares been perfect? No.
Do I regret some of those? Probably.
Can I change that? Big ol’ nope.
That’s all okay. I get to own every square from here on out.
Knowing that my dot will keep moving from square to square — never taking a step backwards — has pushed me to make some changes in the way I stumble through life.
Here are a few ways I’m reclaiming my squares:
Limiting my time on Facebook.
Facebook is a necessary evil. I use it for work, to share my writing, and to stay in touch with a handful of friends. Otherwise, it’s a time suck that ultimately makes us less happy.
So, I’m giving this a try:
So far, so good. My phone battery lasts longer, my newsfeed is full of good designs and interesting news, and I still have friends.
Writing three pages every morning.
Morning pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, ideally done first thing in the morning.
These pages are like a vacuum cleaner for my mind. They allow me to collect my thoughts, write them down, and explore my own creativity — all for my eyes only.
Staying active plays a major role in the number of squares you can cross off. And, unlike the passing of time, you have control over how often it happens.
I don’t have a gym membership, but manage to exercise on a regular basis. I bike to work, walk nearly everywhere (including up escalators), stand as much as I sit, and have a short morning routine. I’m far from body builder status, but even further from My 600-lb Life.
Choosing experiences over things.
I used to vie for things. I thought once I had nicer clothes, an expensive car, higher job title, and fancy apartment, I’d finally feel happiness. So I shopped. Bought an Audi. Fought for promotions. Moved into a brand new apartment. I was closer than ever to being happy!
I felt happiness for a minute, then went right back to wanting more.
It wasn’t until I started traveling did I realize that happiness lives in experiences, not things. Now, when I spend money, I’m buying much more than a shirt, a car, or a fancy place to store all that shit.
Choosing themes over resolutions.
I have never followed through with a New Year’s resolution. Not once.
The last two years, I’ve experimented with setting a theme instead. 2016 was growth. 2017 is relationships. Sounds a bit hand-wavy, I know, but this practice has helped guide the decisions I make in a big way.
By having some sort of north star, something I’m working towards, I’m more selective about the things I do and the time I spend. As a result, I grew an immense amount last year. This year, I’m setting off to build better relationship with myself, friends, and lovers.*
Meditation calms my nerves, clears my mind, and helps me focus.
I use Headspace for this. The first 10 lessons are free and 10 minutes a day is all it takes. If you try just one new thing this year, make it this. You don’t have to sit cross legged on the floor or burn incense. You just have to allow yourself to be open for 10 minutes. It’s worth it.
Listening: new year, new t(u)nes
Reading: The Great A.I. Awakening from the New York Times
Watching: Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee with Kristen Wiig
*for the record, I realize how California-y this sounds. Deal with it.