A few days ago, I went on a run. It was about 6pm, and I still had a bit of work to get done for the day. I laced up, turned on my music, and I was off to the races.
Only, my tasks were rattling around in my mind still. I had a weird gut feeling that something just wasn’t finished. I couldn’t ignore it. I was right… My work wasn’t finished! I still had to do it when I got back from my run.
I didn’t end up going that far. I turned around early, and headed back. When I got home, I hadn’t ran that far, I felt drained, but I got my work done.
Today, I went on a run. It was about 7pm, and I still had a bit of work to get done for the day. This time, I decided to forget about my work. In that moment, I wasn’t working–I was running. I had consciously decided to direct my focus to what was happening in my present.
While I was running, thoughts about my work came up. Each time it happened, however, I reminded myself: You’ll get it done. Just not now. You’re running right now.
It happened a few times, but after I kept pushing away thoughts of my work, I forgot about it altogether. I ended up running 2x as far as I ran the last time, and felt more energized when I got back.
I sat down and got my work done easily. I felt great. There was no reason for me to worry.
No matter how hard I try, I cannot do both at the same time. I’m either going to be running or I’m going to be working.
Buying into this takes a good amount of trust. You need to trust yourself and the systems you’ve set up. By worrying constantly about what I had to do later, I was expressing to myself that I’m expecting myself to forget about it.
Imagine if someone else did that to me. It would be annoying and I’d feel offended that they didn’t think I could take care of my work. Instead of my own thoughts coming up reminding myself of my work during my run, imagine if somebody kept calling me and interrupting my music and my run.
“Hey, Simon, remember? Remember that thing you have to get done? Don’t forget! You need to get that done when you get back.”
Why is it OK for me to do that to myself, but it wouldn’t be OK for someone else to do that to me? I’m giving myself preferential treatment. That’s not right.
Forgetting is an art. It’s a constant struggle to focus on what you’re doing that moment while ignoring things you have to do that aren’t a part of the current moment. If you are unable to dive into the task at hand, you’ll feel like you’re constantly working on something, but you won’t get anything done. Talk about a waste of energy.
Forgetting only comes after you’ve made a conscious decision on what to think about and what to forget. You should not forget things just so you won’t have to worry about them. Pushing away your thoughts is only half the battle.
You can only push your work away if you’ve set up systems that you can trust.
Otherwise your efforts are futile. Your annoying, pestering self will be right about you. If you haven’t set up a system for yourself, you will forget to do that thing later, and so your other self has every right to pester you.
Write it down. Organize your thoughts and your tasks. Use spreadsheets. Use notebooks. Find something that works for you. Create systems to track your actions so your brain doesn’t have to.
Successful people don’t achieve so much because they’re constantly doing things–they achieve so much because they can effectively chunk things out and complete them (FULLY complete them) one at a time. They track everything, and they trust their systems. Once they finish something, they know they don’t have any reason to worry about it anymore. At that point, it becomes second-nature to ignore the pestering self and focus on the moment at hand.
What I write on my hand gets done by the end of the day.
These are my Life Journals. In October 2015, I bought my first one (blue one on the left). I kept hearing that journaling was a good habit for various reasons, but never took it that seriously until one day I finally cracked down and got one. I go through a journal every ~1.5 months.
Once I run out of space, I buy a new one.
Supposedly, journaling is supposed to help clear your mind. It’s supposed to help you get your thoughts out of your head. A journal is a place to store your thoughts for future reference, but also a release valve for your thoughts regardless of future reference.
I sometimes refer to my journals. They tend to be pretty disorganized.
There’s a loose criteria for what makes it from my brain into my journal. I use it as a tool for different purposes, and they are always changing.
Sometimes I simply write down the things I have to do that day. Sometimes I write down every thought on my mind and it turns out to be an unintelligible ball of text.
I write what feels important. Often, it ends up being a simple theme or word that seems relevant to my life. Sometimes I just feel compelled to write down a certain thought. For most of these thoughts, I don’t ever refer back to them.
I only have one rule when it comes to my journal.
Don’t fake reality.
My journal is a place I am not allowed to tell lies. Only honesty flies in there. Sometimes I’ll be in the middle of writing, and I’ll realize that what I’m saying is a lie. As soon as I realize it, I correct myself and write about that. There’s no bullshitting myself when I’m writing in my journal.
We lie to ourselves, often without even knowing what’s happening. We accept false shortcuts as truths because it’s easier to tell ourselves stories than it is to think through the reality of what’s happening.
Most of the time, honesty brings out our own faults clearly. It’s hard to admit our own faults, and so it’s hard to be honest.
But nobody sees my journal, so it doesn’t matter in there.
Journaling has given me a place to be honest with myself. It’s given me a place to put my most important and meaningful thoughts, and a place to admit when I don’t know why they’re meaningful yet.
Journaling has given me a way to flip back through my life story. Every once in awhile I’ll get sucked into one of my old journals and just flip from page to page. Most of it is very familiar–some of it seems foreign.
All of it is part of my story.
If my apartment was burning down, that stack of journals is the first thing I would grab. They carry the story of my most honest self, and that growth is more valuable to me than anything else I own.
I felt my phone buzz in my pocket. I was pitching a customer, and it was going better than usual. I was on top of my game today. With every objection she threw at me, I had the perfect answer and communicated it without a hitch.
Not ready to get the house painted? “If not now, when? You’ve got me here, now, and you know I’m going to get it done right. Why risk waiting until it gets worse?”
Too expensive? “This is 10x cheaper than the cost you’ll have on your hands when the wood starts to rot. Don’t you want to get it fixed the right way, now, rather than wait until it’s worse and more expensive?”
My confidence was at an all-time high. It was a good day. Then, my phone buzzed again.
I booked the job. $2750. She told me I really knew what I was talking about and that she had no more excuses. There’s not a better feeling in sales than turning 6 hard no’s into a confident yes. She handed me the deposit check, and I went to my car feeling like a badass.
Shit. I pulled my phone out of my pocket. 17 missed calls. Oh boy.
I was running a house-painting business that summer. I quit college to do this full-time because I got to be a real entrepreneur, book real jobs with real customers, make real money, and the best part? I didn’t open a textbook the entire time.
My crew was working on painting a house that day. It was towards the end of the summer, and they knew what they were doing by now. I had already struggled through most of my customer issues for the summer. My painters were well-experienced, and I spent most of my days doing estimates, meeting with customers, or running my marketing team. It was nice to not have to worry about production.
I had finally figured it out. I could book jobs, pass them onto my production manager, and he would take care of them. I barely had to pick up a paintbrush by this point, let alone show up to the job site.
The only time they called me was if they unexpectedly ran out of paint, or needed me to bring them another ladder. But they never called me 17 times within 20 minutes. Something had to be wrong…
Ok, uhh, I’m not sure how it happened, but basically we tipped over a bucket of paint and it’s all over the roof.
I had never been in this position before. I couldn’t have taken a class on it, and I couldn’t have had a mentor explain to me in advance what to do in this unlikely one-off situation.
So what did I do?
I figured it out.
The time was going to pass regardless of what I did. The paint was already on the roof, I was 20 minutes away, and something had to be done. That’s all I knew.
I told my production manager to put water on it. I didn’t know if that would work. I asked him if the homeowner was there. “No,” he said.
It was one of those moments where I could only think of one word to say to myself, and I said it over and over.
“Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck.”
I called my production manager every 5 minutes for an update, and he said the same thing every time: “It’s working, but it’s really slow.”
I eventually got to the job site, climbed up on the roof, and began scrubbing paint. I told my painters to all get back to work and finish the house, and *don’t spill any more paint*. I used different tools every few minutes to see what worked best. None of them worked best.
I scrubbed for about 2 hours. Then, when it was mostly gone, I called the customer and let her know what was up. I told her, tactfully, that we had spilled paint on the roof, but we cleaned it up quickly and you can’t really tell what happened. I let her know that I’d be scrubbing for another hour to make sure it’s completely fixed.
In the moment, I had no idea what to do. I ended up doing the right thing because I wasn’t over thinking it. I was simply reacting to the situation, using whatever abilities I had at my disposal.
This moment taught me an important lesson. You will always run into situations in which you find yourself unprepared, and it’s impossible to prepare for everything.
The ability to just “figure it out” is the most important ability you can have.
It’s the ability to put yourself into a situation knowing full well that you might not know what to do. It’s putting yourself on the spot. It’s trusting yourself to rise to the occasion, whatever the occasion. It’s accepting that preparation is only important because it lends itself to making you more effective for game-time. Without gametime, practice is futile.
Luckily, that customer was a sweetheart, and appreciated my honesty. We still got paid for the job, because I had simply decided to “figure it out.” Though, I never got any extra compensation for my near heart-attack.
I stepped outside. It had rained all day, and I could feel the moisture in the air.
For some reason, I’d always loved thunderstorms. They reminded me of nights from my childhood when my family would gather on the porch, blanketed by the safety of our house, watching the violent swirl of rain and lightning rip through the neighborhood from what seemed like a far distance. We were right in the thick of the chaos, but it didn’t feel like it. All 6 of us would stand together, silent, in awe of the powerful and destructive force of nature unfolding before our eyes, invoking a sense of peace and calm within each of us.
I walked into the parking lot, heading towards my car. The air smelled like rain and it brought back that same sense of peace and calm I used to have. I felt happy.
It was my second time visiting this new friend in this new town. I had parked in the same spot as last time. As I approached my parking spot, something was off. A brief moment passed that felt longer than it should have felt. I looked around, as if to second-guess the fact that I was standing here, in this spot, right now.
It was gone. Disappeared. My stomach dropped.
A thing that I had so clearly owned had vanished. My own possession, which I had worked for and paid for, which had carried me on multiple journeys across the country, which is uniquely part of my story and mine alone, had been ripped away from me.
As soon as I gained proper functioning of my senses, I concluded that one of two things had happened. Either someone had broken the window, hot wired my car and driven off, or some vulture towed it as part of his job description. I’m a big believer in not over-complicating things, so I assumed the more reasonable latter.
My fists were tightly clenched. I paced around with an air of haste. My sense of peace and calm had transformed in a matter of moments. I’d been in this situation before, so it wasn’t confusion that I felt. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. I found the sign I was unconsciously looking for, and dialed the number, almost automatically.
“What kind of car is it?…Uhhh…yeah I’m pretty sure we have it…Well I dunno for sure, I haven’t seen it…They’re closed…Monday at 8:30 am………I’m in Georgia, bud…8:30 Monday…”
I felt as if I was chained to a wall. I had nothing but my words with which to fight for what was rightfully mine, and my words didn’t matter. They shattered like sugar glass against the structure that had been imposed by some faceless voice on the phone, utterly out of my reach. If I screamed, I felt as if the sound would fade to silence no more than 2 inches from my face, reaching nobody. I felt helpless.
I started walking. It was still wet. The moisture in the air felt sticky and gross.
I saw my apartment, but kept walking. I was heading for the tow company lot. Initially I didn’t realize I had made up my mind, but my quickened pace told me everything I needed to know. I was not going to let somebody impose their own structure on me. I decided to take control of the situation. I was in charge of my own freedom and I wouldn’t let anybody take that away from me.
It was a 30 minute walk to the lot, so I had some time to devise my plan.
There would probably be fences, and they would probably be locked up with a chain. I could climb over the fence no problem; I had done so many times before.
I had my snowboard and a bag of winter clothes in my car since I hadn’t fully moved into my new place yet. In that bag was a ski mask, so I could conceal my face in the likely event that I was caught on a security camera.
My license plates were attached to my old address, halfway across the country. I would be difficult to locate. The towing company was a small local company, so I assumed they didn’t have enough disposable resources to justify fighting a legal battle over a lost tow fee. I needed to register my car in my new state anyways, which I would do first thing that week. That way the license plate they had on file would no longer be valid. I was betting on the fact that pursuing me would be too much of a cost to be worth it.
I also had a set of pliers in my car, which I would use to loosen the chain. This might take some work, but it could be done. Once the chain was loosened, it was a matter of busting through the fence. I would just need to pick up enough speed. My Jeep could take the hit, no problem.
I had arrived. It was time to make the move. I jumped the fence easily and stealthily made my way to my car. I opened it up, located my ski mask, put it on, and grabbed the pliers. My heart was pounding.
I ran over to the fence. The chain was thicker than I had imagined. I worked on it. I found the weak spot and tried to pry it open. It wouldn’t budge. I kept trying. I must have been working at it for 30 minutes. I looked at my watch and less than 5 minutes had passed. I stuck with it.
After 10 minutes, I had noticeably chipped away at the metal. My hand was cramped. I switched hands and kept working.
It was dead silent. I was focused completely on the metal in front of me. I had never felt so alive. I was committed and there was no turning back now.
30 minutes later, the gap in the metal was almost as thick the chain itself. I lined up the hole with the adjacent chain link, grabbed each side firmly, and ripped it with all my strength.
It worked. The chain popped off, and all that was left was a weak fence held together by a small lock. This was doable.
I hopped back in my car. This was it. A leap of faith. I revved my engine, ready to make my move. Clutch off, gas on. I heard a metal clatter from the rocks that my rear wheels spit at the car behind mine. I was off to the races. 50 yards stood between me and my freedom. 40… 30… 10…
My foot instantly felt cold and wet. I looked down. I had just stepped in a puddle. I was a 5 minute walk from my apartment, back in lucid reality.
None of that happened. It was at this moment that I fully realized how truly free I was.
I was not chained to a wall, and my words were not meaningless. It wasn’t that I had no choice. I had every choice in the world. This was always the case. Taking my car by force would not earn back my freedom. I already had the freedom I desired.
I never had to accept the structure imposed on me from that faceless voice on the phone. I could choose to play this game in any way I wished. I could choose to wait until Monday and pay like the man on the phone had suggested, or I could choose to covertly break my car out of the lot by force. Both had subjectively unequal risks and costs, but both were equally available to me.
I glanced at the puddles in the road, and felt the soft moisture of the air on my skin. That familiar sense of calm and peace come over me once again, but this time I felt strong. I felt in control of the same situation that had me voiceless and powerless less than 15 minutes ago.
Just as I had the freedom to break my car out by force, I also had the freedom to wait until Monday and pay to get it out. I could weigh the risk and cost of either scenario, and choose the one that made the most sense for me. I didn’t have to take my freedom back by force – I just had to realize that my freedom had never been taken away.
The ideal situation was that I never got towed in the first place, but this had already happened. It wasn’t part of the game I was playing currently. The game I was playing was confined in the reality of this moment. The only set boundaries were events from the past. The future held unlimited possibilities, and I could bend those boundaries any way I want, thinking through the costs and risks, acting as freely as I pleased.
It is difficult to accept our own freedom. We play games in life all the time, but what we must remember is that everything we do, we do by choice. This does not mean we are always consciously thinking about this choice, but at one point we chose to play the certain game by certain rules. My initial frustration came about because I had decided, in the past, that it was more beneficial for me to simply wait and pay the tow fee rather than go through the trouble of breaking it out by force and assuming the potential risk of doing so.
To ignore this fact of choice is to disempower yourself and to unknowingly become a victim of a decision you, yourself, made in the past.
To accept this fact of choice is to realize that all seriousness, even the most dire, is a result of a free, playful choice to participate in a game that can be taken back at any point.