Three Maxims

My workout routine for some months consists of eight circuits. Situated on the wall above my exercise mat are seven index cards. I read each one in turn during each rest period between each circuit. The first six cover different aspects of my life that I’m grateful for: my health, friends, and the like. The seventh contains an affirmation I read to myself each day:

I accept the day as it comes. I am not pressured to be happy or sad. I need not pass judgement on anything.

And below that are three maxims that I use to guide me. They encompass what I believe it means to live well. As alluded to in my last post, some of those books left me with a changed mental model, and this has been their most lasting impact.

Be present

The first and the most important because it’s the foundation for the following two. I can’t speak for anyone else, but my mind is noisy. But that’s because, for years, I let distracting patterns of thought habituate to relieve the monotony of the moment. Wherever I was, more often than not, I didn’t want to be there. Only recently did I realise how pathological that is.

The present is all there is. That is the main message behind The Power of Now. Aurelius observes it on a recurring basis. The Body Keeps the Score spells out the benefits, backed by neuroscience, of practising acknowledging and cherishing the moment and the psychological costs of trauma for not doing so. Deep Work brings to light the gratification and delight of doing a single task with pronounced focus, not letting interruptions, diversions, or disturbances take that opportunity away from you.

I have found it paramount to cultivate a pattern of bringing myself back to this moment. Regrets for the past turn into lessons to learn from and remember but not dwell on. Anxieties for the future turn into obstacles to make sound plans for and to prepare for, but not fall back in fear from.

To be present is to accept what has happened and what will happen and still try your best.

Try your best

Trying your best requires you first to be present. You can’t try your best if you’re crippled by regret and anxiety. Newport describes in detail the thrill that honed focus brings to work. To treat one’s work with the integrity, discipline, and dedication that a master craftsperson would pay theirs, one can attain a sense of purpose from it.

But this extends beyond work. It extends to relationships, to exercise, to self-respect. It even extends full circle back to being present.

Trying your best eliminates all kinds of doubt. Working with what you’ve got, the information you have, the will you’ve mustered, and giving it your all is its own reward. As discussed in Robert Greene’s Mastery, many of life’s endeavours can be reduced to a process. Trust the process, try your best, and the results will follow. As for the process, it’s often down to the daily choices we make.

Prioritise appropriately

Make beautiful choices that support being present and enable you to try your best. Choices are everything. Where you let your attention linger is the crucible for your future thoughts, and ultimately your future self. This is where habits form.

So choose well. Discern the motivation behind every decision. Is it selfish? Is it an excuse? Is it contrary to my goals? Does it come from social pressure? Do I really need it? What are the consequences?

That’s not to say to lead one’s life second-guessing their every move, or worse, paralysed, but to develop an awareness for motivations and consequences. On the contrary, if one has a solid foundation of principles and sticks to them, decisions become easier to make.

And that is the goal: healthy choices that bolster a purpose-filled life of focused attention on what is happening right now, free from crushing negative emotions through controlled awareness and practised acceptance.

If it doesn’t support that goal, discard it.

[Krishan Wyse]

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