Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Off the grid...

Living without power or internet in 100+ degree weather the past four days has been an eye opening experience in a lot ways.  If you've ever traveled or lived in other parts of the world (or VA, MD, DC in more recent times...) you probably agree that there is a great synergy between  discomfort, removing distractions, and living more meaningfully in the present.

These past few days I have experienced a significantly slower pace of life.  With fewer opportunities to get distracted, time has dramatically slowed.  Furthermore, being at the whim of nature and having to encounter uncertainty and discomfort in locating sources of restaurants, gas stations that still worked, a/c, internet, and power to recharge phones helped ground me in the present.  I was acutely aware of how hot, sweaty, uncomfortable I was.  I was acutely aware of how good a Quizno's sub was after unsuccessfully trying to find a place to eat.  And the pure bliss of sitting in an air-conditioned supermarket is something that I can still relish after having regained power.

Peter Schwartz recently posted on HBR an article entitled, "How hard are you willing to push yourself?"  Rather than another article decrying American laziness and the loss of work ethic, Schwartz' own experiences focus the article at the individual level.  He argues that humans have through multiple generations evolved to avoid pain and move towards pleasure--neither of which are suited for delayed gratification.  (As demonstrated by the Stanford experiment involving children and marshmallows, success has been tied to individuals who are able to delay gratification.)  

To solve the challenge of delaying gratification, Schwartz poses three solutions:

1.  Minimize temptation.  Newer research has demonsrated that willpower exhausts just like a muscle.  Losing power and internet was a blessing in disguise because I would have never had the willpower to cut myself off for four days.  However, having gone through such an ascetic diet, I feel that I am more able to walk away from or remove distractions.

2. Push yourself to discomfort for short, specific periods of time.  

3. Build energy rituals. (understand your energy peaks and ebbs).

In order to get better at something and achieve excellence, we will have to be willing to sacrifice instant gratification, and endure discomfort to some degree.  As difficult as it may be to take small or drastic steps to remove distractions, I hope that you can be more engaged in present and be able to prioritize the actions and relationships which will help you become the person you want to be.  

1.  Would you benefit more from adding something new to your living experience, or taking something away?    To help you answer that question, picture who you want to be and think about what is keeping you from getting there.
2.  How will an awareness of (dis)comfort help you accomplish the big goals in your life?  Take an inventory to determine the biggest factor hindering you.

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