Here’s an exercise you might try in order to improve the quality of your life. This practice started, evolved, and has been refined by me during my time here in Paris. It’s possible I see some of my fellow citizens doing something of this sort on a regular basis: cafes lend themselves perfectly to the exercise, and Parisians are nothing if not contemplative.
So order a coffee, pull up a chair, and follow along with your Uncle Byron…
Set aside 30 minutes every 30 days, at the start of each month. Find a place you can sit comfortably, be alone, and remain undisturbed.
Bring a pen and a piece of paper. Turn your phone off, but wear a watch. Get comfortable, but dress elegantly. For some reason, it helps with the thinking processs…
For the first 5 minutes, do nothing. Don’t think of anything in particular. Watch people walk by on the sidewalk or clouds roll across the sky. Sip your coffee or your tea. Avoid alcoholic beverages or food. Smoke ’em if you got ’em.
Your mind will probably bounce around to things you’ve been doing, things you need to do, people you need to talk to, arguments you’ve had, things you’d like to buy. Scribble a note and create a random ‘To Do List’ from whatever crosses your mind. This list will be whimsical. Accept this.
As you remember the past 30 days, you’ll probably recall moments when you weren’t your best self. Make a note of these. You may want to call someone and apologize for your less than stellar behavior or compliment them for the work they did (small task). You may want to make a note to improve your performance or behavior at work or in your personal life (bigger task). More generally, you may want to improve or change the way you behave going forward (large task). This I call The Taskmaster section. These are not just things to ‘get done’. They are things ‘to master.’
It’s unimportant how you itemize or categorize these initially. Just write them down. You’ll probably use up about 5 to 10 minutes of your 30 minute allotment.
Now, take another 5 minutes. Watch more people walk by. Listen to the birds chirp. Don’t talk to anyone. Avoid screen time of any kind.
You’ll now make a list of Everything That’s Gotta Go. From clothes you don’t wear to grudges you’ve held to toxic people in your life to eating junk food. Once you’ve made the list, you’re going to have to write down the First Step that you’re going to take to make each Gotta Go Item depart from your life. This spans the globe, from cleaning out your closet to having a hard but necessary conversation about a toxic relationship and ending it. Just the First Step. Gotta Go section, done.
The next block of time is going to find you making a list of the things you have, that you like, that you want to expand or increase. “I’m healthy. I want to stay that way and become even healthier as I age. I have money in savings. I want to increase that amount as I work and earn. I have a good marriage. I want to nourish that. I have talents. I want to honor those by becoming more proficient, more skilled, more knowledgeable.” This is the Double Down section, in which you’re going to articulate and itemize the good. Then Double Down on everything good and wonderful in your life.
Scribble those thoughts down. Sit. Ponder. Sip. Repeat.
Now, quickly right down your goals. If you do this quickly, with as little thought as possible, you will have your authentic desires in front of you, probably in the order of importance to you. This is your Wish List. The big question is: how do the goals or desires on your Wish List relate to your Double Down list? How do they relate to your Gotta Go list? And finally, probably least importantly, how do they relate to your Taskmaster List?
On your piece of paper, you should be able to correlate ‘what I think I can improve’ with ‘what I want to achieve’ and ‘what I’m grateful for’. If you have some task or something you’re not doing well or something you want to accomplish that’ important for you to make a note of, it should relate to something that’s important to you. If it’s important to you, you probably wrote it down at some point during this 30 minute exercise.
If it’s an outlier, something that doesn’t relate in the Taskmaster, the Gotta Go, the Double Down, or the Wish List, why is it in your life? Either you’re ignoring something that’s important to you, you’re not being honest yourself about something, or you’re wasting and energy on something that you need to dismiss and get out of your life.
If it’s important to you, it’s on your mind. If it’s on your mind, you’ll make a note of it. If you make a note of it often enough, you’ll end up talking about it. If you talk about it often enough, you’ll probably take action to address it (or your friends and family will call you out about just talking about it and never doing anything about it.) If you take action about it often enough, eventually you will get good at it. If you don’t get good at it, over time you will give up and find another goal to pursue.
As you look at your group of Lists, you’ll want to make sure that you can see a holistic quality to what you’ve scribbled down, even if it’s initially disorganized. Little, recent events and desired corrections should have meaning: they reflect things that are important to you. Things you want to get rid off…that thinking reflects a longing to improve, streamline, or be more free. Appreciation of your blessings and talents makes you focus on those. It means you care about those.
Those talents should align with your goals, your desires. They are the fuel you use to achieve. What you’ll give to the word in exchange for money, for fulfillment, for your true rewards.
Question: can you draw a line from an item in each category and connect it to an item in another category? It should look like a ‘conspiracy of desires and priorities’. What’s standing alone? What’s not connected to a priority or an action or a desire? Address it or stop thinking about it, like I said.
Take the last 5 minutes of your 30 minutes and clean up this document as best you can. You’ll have things you need to address in the next week, the next month, the next year, and over your lifetime. If you’re sitting at a cafe, pay your bill and leave. Well done.
You may want to buy a 5 x 8 inch moleskin notebook and keep this ongoing list in there. 30 minutes. Every 30 days. Or every 7 days if you really want your life to change. Yes, it’s a slightly disorganized approach, but it accommodates our thinking process: from random to specific. From vague to focused. From intangible to tangible. From most important to least important.
The next time you refer to your document, you should be able to check things off that you’ve accomplished. Big, small, trivial, life-changing. Who cares. You’ll also add on items. Big, small, painful, joyful. You’ll be able to look back on this journal/diary/to do list and see patterns of behavior. Things you thought you wanted. Things you didn’t achieve. Things you found meaning in. Things you obtained and enjoyed. (Date your entries to gain perspective on the passage of time and weed out procrastination.)
In closing: the elements of thought/word/deed in your life should line up. Stated goals should align with time spent/money invested/emotions expended/commitments honored. You should never ask yourself, Why am I doing this? If you find yourself asking that question, find an answer and adjust your choices. Your actions are not reflecting your true desires.
I hope it helps. That’s it from here, for now… A bientot.