Monday, 28 October 2013

Do you have a plan for the next 17.000 days? Your most crucial decision is your time allocation. An important lesson drawn from a simple exercise. Why you should fear boring activities more than risky ones

Do you know how to calculate the amount of fear holding you back in life? Take a pen and a piece of paper. On top of the page, write down your current age, for instance "44 years old." At the bottom, indicate how old you intend to grow before you die. "Death at 90" is a reasonable target.

Do you have a plan for the next 17.000 days?

Now comes the mathematical part of the exercise. Draw a straight line connecting your current age with your death. That line represents the number of days that you have left on earth. In our example, the difference between 90 and 44 leaves you with 46 years, that is, almost 17.000 days.

The vertical line on the page divides your future in two areas. The last part of the game consists of deciding how you are going to use those 17.000 days. On the left side of the line, you can write down safe and commonplace goals. On the right side, difficult and disruptive ambitions.

Boring projects are easy to name and quantify. They include, amongst others, looking for better jobs (600 days), cleaning the house (600 days), and going on holidays (1000 days). The rules of the exercise allow you to list as many activities as you wish, provided that you don't run out of time to live.

On your left-side list, you should not forget mundane tasks such as working five days a week (5400 days), washing your car once per month (500 hours), getting a divorce (150 days) and shopping for new clothes (250 days). When your remaining term of 46 years is up, you are dead.

Your most crucial decision is your time allocation

You only need to worry about the opposite side of the line if you have unused time, which is unlikely. The truth is that most people will allocate their complete lifespan to left-side tasks, including essential activities such as watching television (4000 days) and walking their dog (1000 days).

What about the right side of the line? Does anyone actually write down adventurous, risky goals? Are there people foolish enough to risk total failure in order to pursue their dreams? Is it not better to stick to attainable objectives? This is the type of activities that usually come up under the label "difficult and disruptive:"

  1. Live in Paris for a year (500 days, including preparation and removal)
  2. Start up and grow an internet business (3000 days)
  3. Write twenty great books (3000 days)
  4. Save and invest until you are able to live from dividends (6000 days)
  5. Learn to cook according to good nutrition principles (300 days)
  6. Lose weight and acquire habits that allow you to stay in good shape (500 days)

An important lesson drawn from a simple exercise

One could argue that this game is useless, since it has no winner and no loser. Since the same individual appears on both sides of the line, what is the point? What is the purpose of the exercise? The answer is that, paradoxically, the subjects on each side of the line are different persons.

One of them is boring, the other fearless. One of them is aimless, the other determined. One of them is predictable, the other exciting. The lesson is that, one day, the 46 years will be consumed all the same. At the end, results will be trivial or spectacular, meaningless or irreplaceable.

If you don't like the outcome of your calculations, take a blank piece of paper, draw a new vertical line, and start the exercise again. After a few times, you will get quite good at it. At one point, you will begin to fear boring activities more than risky ones. If you are already there, congratulations, now you know how to win the game.

For more information about rational living and personal development, I refer you to my book The 10 Principles of Rational Living


Image by Alan.V. under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under