I recently sent birthday wishes to a boy in my family who turned 18. 18 is a pretty big deal in Germany with lots of legal and social consequences following this birthday. My congratulatory email contained some of the most important lessons I have learned over the course of my 33 years.
- You never stop learning.
I probably heard these words a thousand times before I finally realized the unapologetic truth in these words. Why unapologetic you might ask? After all learning means you get smarter every day, right?!
Yes, but it also means you were much dumber 5 years ago than you are now. You’d probably even admit that to anyone stranger, and tell them the stupid things you did in your ‘youth’, way back then. However, If I asked you now if you were doing lots of dumb and stupids things, a natural reaction would be to deny this outright and show off the progress and smart things you’re recently doing. But try this, and imagine yourself 5 years later and be aware of the fact that once you’ve collected 1,825 more days of experience you will in all certainty look back at yourself being ignorant, naive and clueless right now.
While we might think of ourselves as our best “self” right now, our judgment will already have changed in just 1 or 2 years. There is much more to come: much better decisions, much worse decisions, some smarter and some way more stupid things we do.
This might sound depressing to some, because in conclusion of this principle, we would never arrive at our best possible selves. We’d always be learning, developing and leave our lesser-selves behind. God forbid, we might feel bad about our current self because we are so self-aware of our better self that is just around the corner and yet to come. Don’t fret though, instead enjoy the ride and the vista at your better self. Use your experience to iron out mistakes from the past, and develop your lesser self into the person you aim to be. The future holds many opportunities for all of us and we should not put too much meaning in the present or be content with the status quo.
We have the tendency to underestimate how much we are going to change. It’s called the “end of history illusion” and you should not fall for it. Instead embrace the experiences you are about to collect, indulge in the knowledge you are learning and be proactive about the change coming your way. Don’t overestimate what you can do in the coming year, but also never underestimate what you can achieve in the next ten years.
- You can have anything you want in life, just not everything!
Focus is probably something I lacked most in my life until about after I met Jade and found my life anchor in her. Before that my attention was constantly divided between too many things to even keep count of. I was constantly pursuing girls, mindless hobbies and exotic experiences. I loved traveling and I was even proud of the fact that I didn’t call anywhere my home. I thought I was “living the moment”, but I now think I was just indulging myself in short-lived entertainment without any meaningful long-term goals. Of course, contemporary culture is inviting us to “live life to the fullest” and not to worry about the consequences. Everything is inter-connected nowadays, and a shot of endorphins is just another click away on YouTube, an exquisite dinner in Tokyo or an exhilarating dance in the nightclubs of Bangkok. However, true happiness does not come from trying to enjoy all of the above at the same time. It does come from circling your interests for what you consider most dear to yourself and then building long-term passions around these experiences.
If I had known at the age of 18 how precious my time really is, I might have made a few different choices. Not that I regret my youth. I am very happy about it, including the many mistakes I made and the memorable experiences I collected. But I am happy that whatever I did led me to understand the simple truth of focus. I now live by the principle that I have only enough time in my life to concentrate on 3 of the following 5 disciplines:
- health / fitness
Pick your 3, and pick them early so that you can live up to your own expectations for mastering them.
- You should sleep 8 hours a day
You should not forget that successful life and a productive day always rely on a solid foundation of 8 hours sleep every night. To thrive in any of the above disciplines the basis has to be a healthy long nights sleep, which only leaves 16 hours for your chosen 3 disciplines. Get your sleeping habits right and only then can mental & physical fitness follow suit. I know how hard it may seem to get enough sleep with todays schedules of binge watching Netflix, going out for parties, taking care of kids & family, or just having another beer with a friend, but proper sleep, as has been proven scientifically, does take your abilities during your waking hours to another level. When you plan your time management, always schedule in more than enough sleep to recharge your body battery and allow yourself to perform at your best.
- True freedom is impossible without a mind made freed by discipline
This may be the most important advise, which I haven’t been able to follow myself all the time. Looking at top athletes, successful business founders and even YouTube celebrities, you will see that great success is achieved through discipline. The over-achievers and top 1% usually set themselves apart from the herd, not by performing at maximum capacity all the time, but by having the discipline to consistently follow their dreams and work towards success in a stubborn and unforgiving manner. The discipline to consistently choose your routines over other opportunities, i.e. distractions, brings them ever so closer to their goals. Consistency in saying “no” to distractions, however great they may sound or exciting they look, will give you the freedom to do the things that matter to you in the long term. Once you picked your 3 disciplines and what you really care about, work on them over years not just days. If you miss a day, that’s okay, as long as you you don’t miss the whole year. Take a very long term perspective. Take a long term perspective and pursue your goals with discipline and consistency over that time frame. Free your mind from doubt and second thoughts.