Keep It Simple Stupid

In the name of keeping things simple, I'm going to keep this article simple instead of diving into one of my usual theoretical diatribes.

Take a Sheet of Paper and a Black Pen


Choose nice pens, with thick, felt tips that bleed when they touch the paper. With the black pen, write down everything you want to do in the next 5 years. Try to answer the question, "Looking back in 5 years, how do I want to have lived, what will I want to have accomplished, and where do I want to be?" I did use a couple of Sharpies and a blank paper, but I wanted to type it up. Here's my list:
  1. Work a full time job.
  2. Cut down on sugar and processed food in your diet.
  3. Major in Government.
  4. Minor in Creative Writing, Computer Science, History, or Psychology.
  5. Build a successful comedy website.
  6. Read a book a week.
  7. Write a daily blog.
  8. Write a book.
  9. Do a one-handed push-up with each hand, do a handstand push-up, and do a straddle planche push-up.
  10. Complete an IronMan Triathlon.
  11. Invest my savings.
  12. Conquer my fear of getting shots.
  13. Run a business.
  14. Sleep as much as my body wants to. Unless I'm trying polyphasic sleep again, in which case go for broke.
  15. See my parents and brother each an absolute minimum of once a quarter.
  16. Both give 20% of my income to charity and volunteer regularly.
  17. Learn to ride and buy a motorcycle.
  18. Cook at least once a week.
  19. Go to every continent. Well, we'll see about Antarctica.
  20. Win a fight against an evenly matched opponent.
5 years is a long time and this is not an exhaustive list. But by itself it's an utterly ridiculous number of commitments. Right now, working a full time job, I basically have time to work, eat, and sleep. And my job is only 40 hours per week. So it's really just absurd. This leads us to the next step.

Take a Red Pen


This will feel better if you use a felt pen that draws a thick line.

Look at your list. Pretty daunting, huh? I've got 20 items on mine and I'm starting to hyperventilate thinking about it all. Do I need to do all those things to find contentment? Of course not. After a good day of work, I'm happy to sit down and watch Arrested Development while eating pizza. I really am. I know I rail against the work-work-work-consume-consume-consume lifestyle as ruining the environment and making us stressed, sick, and fat, but it's pretty nice. Asking for too much more makes me anxious. I'm pretty content.

But--and this is a pretty big but--contentment isn't enough. This is paradoxical, so pay attention. Contentment isn't enough.

If I die having lived a long and happy life, that's just not enough. Being surrounded by people that love me, never having to worry about money, and healthy as can be isn't enough for me. It's not that I want fame, power, or fortune. That wouldn't be enough either.

So what do I need? I need to be utterly convinced that my mind and body have accomplished every single goddamn thing of which they're capable. I want to reach the peak of Maslow's hierarchy and plant my flag where so few have stood.

I don't need to do everything on that list within the next 5 years. If I tried to do so, I wouldn't be able to do any of them. So I take my red pen out, I circle the bare minimum, and I cross out the rest.

  1. Work a full time job.
  2. Cut down on sugar and processed food in your diet.
  3. Major in Government.
  4. Minor in Creative Writing, Computer Science, History, or Psychology.
  5. Build a successful comedy website.
  6. Read a book a week.
  7. Write a daily blog.
  8. Write a book.
  9. Do a one-handed push-up with each hand, do a handstand push-up, and do a straddle planche push-up.
  10. Complete an IronMan Triathlon.
  11. Invest my savings.
  12. Conquer my fear of getting shots.
  13. Run a business.
  14. Sleep as much as my body wants to. Unless I'm trying polyphasic sleep again, in which case go for broke.
  15. See my parents and brother each an absolute minimum of once a quarter.
  16. Both give 20% of my income to charity and volunteer regularly.
  17. Learn to ride and buy a motorcycle.
  18. Cook at least once a week.
  19. Go to every continent. Well, we'll see about Antarctica.
  20. Win a fight against an evenly matched opponent.
I'm left with eight items. One for my career, one for my diet, one academic, one intellectual, one for fitness, one for personal finance, one for sleep, and one for family. I'll admit that academics is career-related, so that's kind of doubling up, but I only commit to working when I'm not in school.

Anyways, it's a pretty drastic reduction. Only half of those are activities I need to do every day and sleep is sleep. So what I'm really saying is that, at the moment, all I'm trying to do on a regular basis is a) go to work, b) write for a little bit about self-improvement, and c) do some bodyweight fitness for half an hour. Just that is hard. It's enough. I made the mistake over and over again of trying to do to much, but I'm happiest and I accomplish the most when I try to do as little as possible! Another paradox.

Take stock of what you're trying to accomplish over the next 5 years. Kill your babies. Self-actualize.