Recently, someone asked how I maintain a sense of urgency and necessity instead of resting on my oars.
You may think this is where I crib some quotes on embracing our mortality, prioritizing the present, and preventing procrastination. Or confess that my meat and bones are quickened by an ancient blood pact with my Gorgon masters.
Perfectly reasonable assumptions. But this article isn’t like that.
While I neither can confirm nor deny details of any occult operations, how about I squirt some of my artisanal wordsauce into your brainpan, and we can see if it sizzles?
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My urgency and necessity stems from something I call my “personal constitution.”
I picked this up from the book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey, and it addresses three areas of our existence:
- Our character (or who we want to be)
- Our contribution (or what we want to do)
- Our achievements (or what we want to have or experience)
For example, in the book, Covey gives some examples of items in a personal creed like this:
- Succeed at home first.
- Seek and merit divine help.
- Never compromise with honesty.
- Remember the people involved.
- Hear both sides before judging.
- Obtain counsel of others.
- Defend those who are absent.
- Be sincere yet decisive.
- Develop one new proficiency per year.
This exercise has been helpful for me because it forces me to think about my priorities and standards and how to express them as values, precepts, and intentions.
To tap a tired metaphor, imagine that you’re out at sea on a boat, voyaging to a far-off destination. Your boat springs a leak. Water comes rushing in, so you rush below deck and start pumping the bilge but forget that nobody is steering the ship. One day, after bailing water for a while, you poke your head over the bow and wonder where the heck you are and how you got there.
This is the life that isn’t guided by prudent policies, principles, and purposes. This is how people lose their bearings and become preoccupied with just staying afloat.
Here is my personal constitution as it currently stands (it changes over time, naturally), along with a quote that elucidates the preceding directive (I would add quotes around them and add attributions, but it reads better without them):
- Exemplify extreme orderliness. He who wants to keep his garden tidy doesn’t reserve a plot for weeds.
- Be willing to exert more effort. In this age, which believes that there is a shortcut to everything, the greatest lesson to be learned is that the most difficult way is, in the long run, the easiest.
- Always be growing. You don’t attract what you want. You attract who you are.
- Always think long-term. Your future hangs on every day that passes.
- God’s in the details. Of many creations, one feels, “it could have been truly good, if the maker’s appetite for suffering had been greater.”
- Stay positive. Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.
- Make your own luck. The successful person has the habit of doing the things failures don’t like to do.
- Don’t fear failure. If you’re growing, you’re likely failing. If you’re not failing, you’re likely not growing.
- Lead by example. Officers eat last. Leaders lead from the front. Don’t do this for me—do this with me.
- Do unto others as they prefer to be done unto. In the end, what matters most in life are the depth of your relationships with friends and family; and the sheer number of people you’ve helped along the way.
- Don’t forget to have some fun, too. A complementary Japanese concept is that of ichi-go ichi-e, which could be translated as “This moment exists only now and won’t come again.” It is heard most often in social gatherings as a reminder that each encounter— whether with friends, family, or strangers— is unique and will never be repeated, meaning that we should enjoy the moment and not lose ourselves in worries about the past or the future.
- Make it go right. There’s nothing you can’t accomplish if you think creatively and have the character to do the difficult things.
- Be bold. What you can do, or dream you can do, begin it! Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.
- Refuse to complain. Savor both your struggles and your rewards.
- Don’t accept something as true unless it’s true for you. Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.
- Think for yourself, even if it runs afoul of orthodoxies. To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.
- Never comply out of cowardice. They’ve got us surrounded—the poor bastards.
- Be truthful and sincere. Truth and sincerity have a certain distinguishing native luster about them which cannot be perfectly counterfeited; they are like fire and flame, that cannot be painted.
- Be kind. Being “right” isn’t enough. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
- Results matter more than intentions. If all that matters are our intentions, we don’t have much of a reason to make ourselves better at doing good.
- Seek good advice. Believable opinions are most likely to come from people 1) who have successfully accomplished the thing in question at least three times, and 2) who have great explanations of the cause-effect relationships that lead them to their conclusions.
- Don’t associate with people who don’t share your key values. While there is nobody in the world who will share your point of view on everything, there are people who will share your most important values and the ways in which you choose to live them out. Make sure you end up with those people.
- Make a difference. The lure of the distant and the difficult is deceptive. The great opportunity is where you are.
- Refuse to make excuses. Nearly every problem has a solution. It’s just a fact. It might not be the solution you want, but there is a solution.
- Strive to understand the other side. We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are.
- Stay humble. Whom the gods wish to destroy, they first call promising.
- Stay curious. The only way to enjoy life is to remain interested in it.
- Be temperate. A nation is born stoic and dies epicurean.
- Don’t need praise, admiration, approval, or sympathy. Real self-respect comes from dominion over self, from true independence.
- Don’t feel sorry for yourself. Life is one long battle; we have to fight at every step; and Voltaire very rightly says that if we succeed, it is at the point of the sword, and that we die with the weapon in our hand.
- Never regret yesterday. Life is in you today, and you make your tomorrow.
- Do what’s right even when it costs you something. It can ruin your life only if it ruins your character.
- Always be willing to change your mind. It’s not the strongest species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.
- Don’t do harmful things that you need to hide. Life is like an echo. We get from it what we put in it and, just like an echo, it often gives us much more.
- Give far more to people and society than you take. That the person who lives on the labor of others, not giving himself in return to the best of his ability, is really a consumer of human life and therefore must be considered no better than a cannibal. Service is the rent we pay for the privilege of living on this earth.
- Deal with reality as it is, not as you wish it were. The problem is not to find the answer, it’s to face the answer.
- Don’t hold grudges. He who wrestles with us strengthens our nerves, and sharpens our skill. Our antagonist is our helper.
- Help everyone on your team win. The greatest gift you can give someone is the power to be successful. Giving people the opportunity to struggle rather than giving them the things they are struggling for will make them stronger.
- Earn your place every day. Part of respecting a way of life is passing it on, doing what you can to make sure it doesn’t die with you.
- Be worthy of freedom. To get what you want, you have to deserve what you want. The world is not yet a crazy enough place to reward a whole bunch of undeserving people. Slug it out one inch at a time, day by day. At the end of the day—if you live long enough—most people get what they deserve.
And how does all of that fill me with urgency and necessity?
Well, whenever I consider pursuing a goal in my work or otherwise, even something trivial, I see how it aligns with my personal charter, and if it doesn’t reflect at least a few of my tenets, I don’t chase the goal.
This way, I’m making choices driven by who I want to be and the life I want to live, not other factors like what others think or expect of me or a spiritual hole that I think I can fill with praise, money, status, etc.
Accordingly, my work checks many of the boxes, and so do other activities I do, like working out, reading, spending time with my family, and hell, even golfing. There are also many “normal” things I do little or none of because they don’t conform to my principles: watching TV, surfing the internet, playing video games, scrolling on social media, drinking alcohol or using drugs, looking at porn, conspicuously consuming, and so on.
In short, this approach to living provides me with a powerful carrot and stick.
I derive deep satisfaction from using my time to pursue my ideals and work to perfect myself (even though perfection isn’t attainable), and if I were to fall away from this creed and become, say, a dishonest and complacent goldbrick who takes more from life than he gives, the emotional pain would cut to the quick.
So, YMMV and all that, but if you’re still reading, you may benefit from having a personal constitution, too. And if you want to get the most from it, my book The Little Black Book of Workout Motivation may help.
Think of it as my personal—and 100% practical and hands-on—blueprint for personal transformation, inside and outside of the gym.
In the book, I share wisdom and insights from hundreds of scientific studies and scores of legendary artists, authors, entrepreneurs, philosophers, generals, and conquerors, as well as my own biggest “a ha” moments that have helped me overcome the things that were most holding me back.
Check it out here ⇒ The Little Black Book Of Workout Motivation