This episode is a wake-up call, a call to get back in the driver’s seat of your life, a call to become the boss of your most precious nonrenewable resource: Time.
Because if you don’t have time, Time will ultimately have you. And you won’t like the results.
Guilty as Charged
How many times have we heard someone say, “I don’t have time,” or “If only I had more time,” or said something like that ourselves? I imagine we’ve all done it. I sure have.
If we’re honest, sometimes we trot out statements like these like badges of honor in an attempt to show others just how important and busy we are. Or, I suspect, simply to try to justify or comfort ourselves: “I couldn’t possibly have gotten to that because of all of this, you see.”
But the cold, hard truth is that statements like those are really admissions of guilt.
The crime? Failure to assume full responsibility for how we use our time. It’s a crime we’re all guilty of on occasion.
And the verdict we impose upon ourselves for that crime is future regret.
The Anatomy and Tragedy of Regret
Overwhelmingly, it’s regret for things undone that the old and the dying speak of most painfully–not regret for mistakes made along the way. Sins of omission, so to speak, rather than sins of commission. Regret for spending too much time working and not enough time with their kids. Regret for shying away from adventures that called to them and retreating to the apparent safety of the status quo. Regret for failing to maintain dear friendships over the years. Essentially, regret for failing to give the things that matter most the attention they deserve when they were still able to do so.
None of us consciously sets out to accumulate regrets. But what we so often fail to realize is that each and every day is either an investment in a regret-filled future or in a deeply satisfying one.
Posing it as an either-or proposition is an oversimplification to make the point. In reality, any given day can be an investment in both futures. But the point remains, nonetheless. It’s also a compounding investment, that accrues over time and can’t be made or reversed in a single future moment of regret.
There are a myriad of common reasons, many of them very compelling, why we fail to take complete responsibility for how we use our time. Competing priorities, innate wiring, and fear of the consequences of our choices are just a few. Paradoxically, the immense freedom that taking full responsibility for our time would give us seems to scare many of us off. We want freedom without responsibility. But there’s no such thing.
And frankly, it’s easier to let one day slide into the next without doing the hard work day in and day out to take full responsibility for how we use our time.
It’s easier, that is, until one day, it isn’t, and the consequences of our neglect become painfully clear in the face of crisis, tragedy, loss, or old age.
None of those reasons, though–compelling as they may be–changes the fact that if we don’t have Time, Time will have us. If we don’t proactively possess the Time we’re given, it will possess us and sweep us along as if in a rip tide toward a future we don’t want.
And at the end of the day, none of those reasons, however compelling, is an excuse that gets us off the hook for not taking full responsibility for how we use our time. We know this deep down, don’t we, if we’re brutally honest with ourselves. And every time we summon an excuse, we weaken and undermine ourselves, like the banks of a river being undercut and compromised by the water’s persistent flow.
How to Become the Boss of Your Time
If we’re persuaded at this point that having time is better than time having us, so to speak, we’re still left with the question of how. HOW do we take full responsibility for how we use our time?
First, resolve in your heart to accept complete responsibility for how you spend your time. Embrace your uniquely human superpower of choice–a topic we touched on in episode 058, How to Make the Most of Today. You don’t HAVE to do anything. Everything is a matter of sovereign choice–whether we’ve fully realized it or not yet. We exercise our sovereign choice according to values and priorities. You don’t HAVE to pick your son up from school, for example. But you choose to because that fulfills your agreement with him made earlier that morning, which fulfills your choice to be a person of integrity and a trustworthy, loving parent. With practice over time, you’ll begin to see that every moment of every day is full of choice–not “have tos” and “shoulds” and “need tos.” You are free to choose!
As you practice using your time as you choose, you’ll begin to see options where before you only saw limitations.
Your ability to creatively problem-solve your day in alignment with your values and priorities will begin to expand.
Next, Time may be our most precious nonrenewable resource, but Courage is one of our most powerful renewable resources. Summon the courage to begin using your time to give the things that matter most more of the attention that they deserve right now.
This requires courage because it means stepping into the very real tension of competing priorities, choosing one over the other, and accepting whatever the cost might be.
You will have to begin getting really honest about what matters more to you than other things and putting your money where your mouth is. It might mean leaving the office when there’s still a lot more work to be done so that you can be on time for dinner with your wife or your daughter’s basketball game. You’ll face your boss’ displeasure, but you’ll enjoy the satisfaction of giving your family the invaluable gift of your time and attention. For more on how to manage life’s many tensions more effectively, tune in to episode 017, Busting the “Balance” Myth: A Better Way.
Next, live Today, AND keep an eye on the future. Today is the only day we’ve got. We can’t live our tomorrows today. In fact, strictly speaking, tomorrow never comes. This is good news! The only day we can actually do anything about is Today. So, summon the courage to exercise your superpower of choice in all of your comings and goings today. And, along the way, exercise your best judgment about what choices would contribute to a regret-free future to guide you. Sometimes, it’s pretty clear which choice would contribute to fewer regrets in the future. Sometimes, it’s much harder to tell. Keep at it, though, and in time you will refine your judgment through experience so that it serves you even more reliably.
Finally, cultivate the Mortality Mindset. Nothing, absolutely NOTHING, clarifies our priorities and motivates us to break free of the tenacious grip of the status quo like conscious confrontation with our Mortality. Like unblinking acknowledgment of the fact that we will one day draw our last breath in this life and be completely out of time and options. But in order to harness Mortality’s incomparable motivational power, short of experiencing an actual crisis, we have to work at it. We have to courageously and consistently bring our Mortality to mind. This flies counter to our most deep-seated human instinct to avoid our Mortality. And we’re especially skilled at doing this in the affluent Western world, where we’ve done an excellent job of insulating ourselves from crisis and death through a vast array of technological advances and conveniences and direct active avoidance.
Which is why I say that we must “cultivate” the Mortality Mindset–much like a crop must be cultivated. Short of the impact of an actual crisis, it won’t arise out of the soil of our hearts and minds on its own.
Everything instinctively within us is trying to suppress its emergence, in fact. We must till the soil, plant the seed, water it, and protect it from external threats until it reaches maturity. And then, once mature, we continue to nourish it so that it continues to produce fruit in our lives. In this, we must have the attitude of the patient and persistent farmer.
Make this podcast a steady part of your diet, and till the insights you glean from it back into the soil of your heart and mind. Join a Graveyard Group, where each week we tap into the power of our Mortality to motivate us to live the lives we were made to live with guts, gusto, and abandon. Write your own obituary, and make it a habit to read it once a month or so to keep you orientated toward a life that you’ll be proud of when you draw your last breath. There are a myriad of ways to cultivate the Mortality Mindset. But there are no shortcuts and no silver bullets. It’s a commitment, a discipline, and a practice.
Choose Your Hard!
If we don’t have time, time will have us. Time is no respecter of persons and cares nothing for our hopes and dreams. It moves inexorably forward. There’s nothing we can do to change that.
But we CAN control HOW we use our time. And that’s really good news. What’s remarkable is how few of us fully embrace that opportunity. In fact, this has been one of the fiercest battles of adulthood for me–the battle to assume full responsibility for how I use my time and take hold of the freedom and power that we get in return. The battle is ongoing, but there’s good evidence that the tide of battle is turning in my favor.
It’s not easy, but it is worth it. So choose your hard: Put in the hard work day by day right now to take full responsibility for how you use your time, or deal with the bitterly hard consequences of failing to do so after it’s too late.
TODAY is the day, ladies and gents. There is no Tomorrow.
Remember: You ARE going to die. But you’re not dead yet. So get after it!
I Can Help
You CAN take full responsibility for how you spend your time. But you don’t have to do it alone. I can help.
I’m so glad you tuned in today. Don’t forget to follow this show, and I’ll see you next time on Andrew Petty is Dying.