You must vie with time’s swiftness in the speed of using it, and, as from a torrent that rushes by and will not always flow, you must drink quickly.
- Quote by Seneca
Have you ever felt like life happens in waves?
That sometimes 1000 things happen all at once, and then there are periods in which nothing new is really happening.
I certainly felt that way often enough.
Especially during university, sometimes a new week seemed to roll by, and suddenly I was booked out to the last minute and struggling to hold true to all of my commitments. And then there were the slow weeks, where nothing was really going on.
I was not super good about planning. I would react more to life than really think ahead and schedule my time accordingly.
Instead of applying some discipline and moderation, I studied most of the semesters content in a few weeks before the exam period. Obviously, that was intensely stressful and not fun at all.
What did I do the rest of the semester? You know, the usual, I worked on my social skills (in bars), practiced my hand-eye coordination (on a device called a PS4), and got my deadlift PR up to +205 kg (~450 lbs).
I lacked moderation — the ability to understand that suffering a little bit every day and then rewarding myself would produce much better results than binging all of it.
You cannot drink from the firehose if you don’t stick your face in it sometimes.
If I don’t constantly apply myself and chip away at my goals, if I don’t stick to my own plans, and remind me of them every day, I get nowhere. Because I would constantly be trying to accelerate to a speed at which I can operate effectively. However, accelerating costs much more energy than keeping a certain steady pace.
This is what Seneca means, I believe. To be operational in dealing with life, you want to become used to doing the essential things every day, so you may finish them quickly, and have time for other stuff.
This does not mean you need to stress out about your tasks. Consistency will take care of becoming fast. Keep doing the essentials and watch yourself become proficient, even if that means some temporary pain until you are up to speed.
Over the last few years I have much improved, after practicing the Stoic virtue of Temperance more. I’ve gotten to a point in which I know what’s going to happen in the foreseeable future and am able to schedule my time in a way so that there seldom are dull moments or ones in which I have nothing to do. And even in the rare occasion of having a few free hours on my hands, I have a bunch of stuff queued up that wants to be done, but is not high up on the priority list.
To me, you can only become proficient at dealing with time's swiftness (as Seneca put it) if you prepare by asking yourself what you really want and then model your life around that. Essentially, being aligned with yourself, before you attempt to do anything else. Because when you are, what you need to do now becomes very clear. And since you established what you are doing it for (in the end, to serve your own higher purpose) it will be much easier to consistently apply yourself.
If you feel like you are not drinking up fast enough what life’s swift stream has to offer, and hence are feeling overwhelmed or dissatisfied, I recommend 2 things I learned from Steven Covey to get started:
- Do some soul-searching. What do you really want? What are you good at? What does the world need? There is an exercise I like to, you can find a template for it here.
- Pick 3 higher-level tasks for the next week you want to accomplish. Allocate time slots for each one. Leave space to shift things around + to account for the randomness of life. Bonus: repeat this every week.
Be thankful to be able to absorb life as it happens, for one day you will be gone. (Amor Fati & Memento Mori)
It doesn’t matter how much you did in the past — that is already gone.
Do what you can now. Welcome some discomfort every day to grow stronger and better suited to face tomorrow. (Temperance)
Plan ahead, prepare for what is to come. (Premeditation Malorum)
Now I’d love to hear from you.
What situation have you dealt with where you drank from the fire hose?
Or maybe you have another great quote regarding Temperance? Don’t hesitate to submit it through the form here 📝
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