Define Your ‘Musts’
Feb, 27, 2014
In Steven Pressfield’s small but highly poignant book The War of Art, he discusses “Resistance” and how we have to beat it each and every day. He describes Resistance as an enemy that will use any and all methods to miss going after our dreams or from reaching for greater heights. The self-doubt, the familial commitments, the “easy path” is always there. Every excuse that causes us to not do the things we really want to do, that stirs deep within us, is Resistance.
If you want to write a book, when’s the last time you sat down and wrote? If you want to lose weight, when’s the last time you worked out or tracked what you’ve been eating? If you want to go back to school, when’s the last time you figured out a budget to afford it?
In the book, he describes how Resistance only shows up when you are striving to reach a new level of growth. It won’t stop you from going in the opposite direction. In fact, it will help you. If you want to stop working out, it won’t stand in your way. You won’t have 20 people come up to you and tell you to go to the gym with them today. If you do want to go to the gym though and you’ve been doing it for a few weeks, you’ll usually see the opposite effect. You’ll start to see a bunch of other plans and people start asking you out for a dinner or other things that sound like valid excuses for not going. Your car breaks down and is in the shop. Do you stop working out or do you do a little something at home? If you do a little something at home, that’s you beating Resistance that day. The key is we have to beat Resistance, each and every day.
Every day we must beat Resistance and follow a list of our own individual musts. In a recent article by Nate Green, he delineated between things he “Must” do versus things he “Has to” do. A Must is something you choose for yourself that makes your day better, that moves you closer to your goals and your overall happiness. No one is going to check on you to see if you’ve done it. As such, it’s not something you technically “have to” do, but if you want to keep your sanity and to keep growing as a person, it is something you ‘must’ do.
My ‘Must’ list goes beyond a simple to-do list and in fact, planning it in rigid terms often aids Resistance and doesn’t benefit anyone. The following list are things I’ve chosen that must done each and every day, like beating Resistance.
Here are my own musts:
I must write for 42 minutes per day.
I must work out (Monday thru Friday with Saturday and Sunday optional)
I must read for 30 minutes per day.
I must cook for 20 minutes per day.
I must take Quiet Time (meditate) for at least 10 minutes per day.
Overall, these musts come out between two and two and a half hours per day. This may sound like a lot of time, but when you see that the average American watches 5 hours of TV per day, it’s really not. Here’s how it usually breaks down. I have to take the train into NYC 5 days a week. It’s a 15 minute trip each way. That’s 30 minutes of reading per day. If a client cancels or I have an hour in between clients, that’s 42 minutes of writing.
Working out is blocked off from 12:30-2 each day so if I do have a client at 12, I still can get a workout in.
If I get home at 9 pm, I can cook til 9:30. In that time, I can make a soup (takes about 15 minutes to throw all of the ingredients into a crock pot), get my Nutri-Bullet ready for the morning, make some organic beef with vegetables as a stir-fry. That’s 3 meals for the next day in 20-30 minutes. Quiet time is the least time consuming one on the list and is usually the hardest one for me to implement. Ideally, I would wake up 10 minutes early in the morning and make it a consistent habit. Instead, I usually take 10 minutes for quiet time before writing for the next 42.
These are my musts. They help me stay healthy (working out, eating healthy), sane (reading, writing and working out), centered (quiet time and writing), feeling energized (healthy eating and working out) and up to date with the latest information (reading).
Some people might look at this list and think it’s “not enough” time. I’ve had people comment that I’m not spending enough time doing things (How do you write for only 42 minutes?) or they say that they don’t “have enough time” to fit in their musts. Let me tell you, I am not perfect with my musts, but I do have a higher than 80% success ratio with hitting them. Sometimes Resistance does beat me. Most of the time I beat that Resistance and it’s a damn good day every day that I do.
Your Turn to Define Your “Musts”
In defining your musts, the most important piece is in finding what you are for. Mother Teresa in explaining her position on war said, “I am not against war. I am for peace.” Often times, we forget what we stand for. If you get into the same argument time and time again, you are fighting against something. The question you should be asking yourself is, what are you for.
As such, here are 4 steps to help you define your musts:
1 – Figure out some goals that are particularly important to you. What makes you a better person in every other area of your life. If you’re like me, then feeling healthy is important. Beyond that, what gives you peace of mind? Peace of mind is usually achieved for me whenever I write or work out. For you though, spending quality time with friends or family might do it best.
2 – Make a list of 12 things you feel you “must” do every day that make you a better person. Twelve items may seem like a huge number, but it will help you sort out the things you “want to do” versus the things you “must” do.
3 – Prioritize this list. If you’ve got all 12 down, then your job is to narrow that down to 3-5 “Musts” and leave the others for “if I have enough time.”
4 – Put those other things on your I really, really want to list. This is the list that compliments your “Must” list. By prioritizing, you know what you need to do for the day, no matter what else is going on. And if you have more time, you can work on the other things that are important to you.
3 Tips for Knowing if it’s a Must
1 – You would do it on vacation. For example, if I’m on vacation, I still write. If it’s a week day and I’m on vacation, I’ll do a fast workout, even if I’m not “training” for that day. Sometimes if I know I’m not going to be training, I’ll prepare beforehand by doing double sessions the week before. These are things that add to your life and are therefore things you should strive to hit, no matter the day, time or location.
2 – Planning on getting it done isn’t super specific. Every “Must” list will be different, but in defining yours, you get the advantage of knowing how to structure each and every day without needing a to-do list for it. It should be on there like brushing your teeth. You know before bed, you’ll brush your teeth without needing to put it on our “to-do” list.
3 – Your list is unique to you. For example, I’ve put time frames for my “Musts.” Honestly, who says “42 minutes of writing?” I do and I like when numbers end on the two’s. For you though, you don’t have to put time frames. The only reason I put time frames is because I used to think I would need at least a 3-hour block for me to get my writing done. As such, I almost never wrote as finding a 3-hour block to write was nearly impossible. Forty-two minutes is much more manageable. Now, even if I only have 30 minutes, I can sit-down and try and write. It’s not a perfect 42 minutes, but it’s better than nothing. Some days I don’t get close to the full hour in the gym, but I do get in 20 minutes and that’s enough.
I’ve messed up with these lists too often by putting too much pressure on myself to do something for a given amount of time. The bottom line is these are the baseline minimums that I want to do these things for. If I have more time, then so be it, but I don’t want to burden myself with the “responsibility” of “having to do” something for 3 hours and not having the time to ever get it done. Now, if I “only have an hour and a half” I can do a lot more things and feel highly accomplished, even if the rest of the day is spent doing other things that I really need to do. In an hour and a half, I can take quiet time for 10 minutes, read for 15, write for 42 and workout for 20. Later in the day, I can usually find the other 15 minutes to read and cook before bed. In doing so, I hit all of my targets on my “Must” list.
The Real Benefit of a Must List
No matter what’s on your “Must” list, the real benefit is that it causes you to get started. If you have a big goal of writing a novel, but feel you have “no time” for it, start with something extremely small, such as 5 minutes of writing per night. The physical act of sitting in the chair every night will lead you to get infinitely further than if you wait “for the perfect time” or even “when you have more time.” What usually happens is that after a week or so, you find you can do 10 minutes a night…and then a bit more time. You start seeing 5 minute pockets and then 25 minute pockets.
The same thing can be said with working out. If you don’t have 20 minutes to get to the gym, you can do 5 minutes in the morning at home and 5 minutes at night. It won’t be “perfect” but it will be a start. And that is the real benefit of a “Must” list – You Start!
Starting something is usually the hardest part of anything. Starting a job, starting a conversation, starting a workout program, starting a new way of eating. The beginning is always the hardest part. By starting though, you come up with the biggest solution to most people’s failures which is not actually starting.
I’m not saying you will be super-successful. I am saying that by starting and sticking to your “Musts”, you give yourself infinitely more potential to be successful than if you never started. Remember, Resistance is the enemy and you must defeat it, each and every day. Start today!
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