ideal and reality — part one

Every night, I go to bed determined to flip my life starting tomorrow. Today was awash with wasted time, procrasinated task, and just a general lack of zest for life. Tomorrow, I promise myself, will be different. I will be the harbinger of a new “me” that the world hasn’t dared to see before.

Tomorrow, everything changes.

Except it never does. My biggest challenge in life has been becoming more disciplined and structured, which betrays my penchant for serendipity and “go with the flow.” I deluded myself into believing that the latter was a character strength and some expression of the “zen” mindset, but now I see beneath the lie. Life simply cannot be lived to its fullest extent without ingrained habits. Even the monks, who have detached themselves from the conventional pressures of capitalist productivity, take strength from their strict habits. Habits may appear restrictive in the moment, but over a long horizon, they are a necessity for liberation.

The challenge is then the constant battle between my present self and its ideal counterpart. I currently have the following routines (which include the elimination of routines) that I would like to automate:

  • Showering at 9:30pm, getting into bed by 9:45pm and reading for at least 45 minutes — and not touching the phone
  • Not logging onto any social media for 7 straight days (including Reddit)
  • Getting up at 7:45am, showering right away, and making myself tea
  • Weight training every other day
  • Writing a Medium post every other day
  • Cardio 3 times a week
  • No mindless browsing on my phone
  • Being more proactive in doing the things I want, not living on autopilot
  • Eating healthy
  • Checking in with friends more regularly
  • Meditate either at night or in the morning for a minimum of 10 minutes

I’m sure I can get even more ambitious with the list, but these are the true ‘quintessentials’ for me. As in, I will never achieve a fulfilling life without attaining this combination.

But if these are the basics, why are they so difficult for me to habituate? I enjoy being lofty with my self-improvement goals, but when the push comes to shove, I can’t seem to actionize on it consistently. It is probably the deepest frustration in my life at the moment. I also recognize that I owe it to those I love deeply to be at my best self, because they deserve the best I have to offer. That is the least I can do in return for the amazing human bond we’ve built together.

The more I try to make these habits become real, the more I realize life is really about discipline, not motivation. Focus, drive, and commitment are far more important than any whimsical inspiration or inborne intelligence (this becomes ever more true after reading former Disney CEO Bob Iger’s Ride of a Lifetime — a riveting autobiography I recommend to everyone). These sound simple in theory but for many, like myself, take years to achieve. Even this article took me multiple sittings to finish.

I blame all of this on the smartphone. This device, which I seemingly cannot let go of, has singlehandedly obliterated my concentration and willpower. I encourage the reader to check out the many articles on how dopamine receptors and pathways work. The rundown is: the ability to entertain your brain with a few seconds and clicks on the phone has rewired your brain’s interpretation of fulfillment. Fulfillment now comes from the quick 5-second TikToks and ADHD-inducing Facebook videos rather than deep, meaningful work. It’s seriously toxic and I’m surprised society isn’t talking about it more.

Which brings me to my ultimate hypothesis: my relationship with the smartphone will dictate the success of all my other habits. Apologies if you read all the way to here expecting some grand epiphany. I used this post more as a way to promise myself — and you, my dear, anonymized fan somewhere out there — that I will truly, truly, truly give it my best to improve my relationship with this small black square and unlock my full potential, one habit at a time.

I hope that you will cast a vote of faith to my most demanding test so far and watch with great interest.

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