Don’t Focus On Your Situation, Focus On Your Trajectory
All of us have goals.
There’s something we want to do, someplace we want to go, someone we want to be. It appears that we don’t intentionally plan to be stagnant.
But are you progressing towards your intended destination? Or are you drifting away unknowingly?
Most of us are terrible at assessing our current progress. That’s okay, because in reality not everything is measurable. Objective metrics are difficult to come across for every situation, and often inconvenient.
The problem is that we consciously choose not to take action despite being fully in control of our situation. We take the path of least resistance because we’re programmed that way. We avoid pain and maximise pleasure, to our detriment.
Fog Of War
One of the reasons why we don’t do what’s best for us is because we don’t immediately feel the consequences of our actions. It’s a common occurrence: pleasure in the present becomes pain in the future.
Consider how most people gain weight. Ice cream in the present seems fine because you’re not overweight. It makes sense then, that you have allowance for the occasional treat. But over time, this additional treat becomes a caloric surplus that leads to weight gain.
That’s why fitness experts recommend calorie tracking when the aim is to lose or maintain weight. But life doesn’t work like that. It’s not possible to always measure the impacts of your actions. Once you’ve set into motion a series of events, it becomes impossible to immediately stop the effects from coming into play. You can mitigate it and prevent that from happening in the future, but you can’t retract what you’ve done.
We judge ourselves and base our actions based on the present, but we should really be looking at the future. At any time, our life is on a trajectory that is trending either upwards or downwards — you are the one who decides where that goes.
Rome Wasn’t Built In A Day
One small problem will always become a large one over time.
I learnt this the hard way during my time in the army. Navigating through thick vegetation, my team walked in the general direction of our objective. That general direction was just a few degrees off the actual coordinates of our intended checkpoint, but it landed us a few kilometres away. That cost us a good number of hours and squandered away our effort.
The same thing will happen to you if you cannot say with certain where you’re headed. Being off course by just a few degrees will cost you dearly in the long run. Trying to figure out things on the fly sounds like a great idea, but often doesn’t pan out. There is no equivalent of the GPS when you’re trying to assess how you’re doing in life.
“This is a fundamental irony of most people’s lives. They don’t quite know what they want to do with their lives. Yet they are very active.” — Ryan Holiday
Contrast this method of mindless living with the alternative of discipline and purpose. While it takes infinitely more effort, it certainly pays off in the long run.
General George Marshall kept a little black book for most of his career. In it, he would write down the names of officers who impressed him or seemed to show talent. He knew that one day he would need to call on them. That day came during World War II, where he promoted and advocated for generals such as Omar Bradley and Dwight Eisenhower. The outcome of that war could have been different without Marshall’s foresight.
Control Your Life Trajectory
You can decide where you end up a year from now.
Are your values aligned with who you want to be? Are your habits aligned with what you want to do? Are your actions aligned with where you want to go?
These are the things that we have direct control over. At any point in time, we have the power to alter our life trajectory by making small adjustments to ourselves. Unfortunately, we often aren’t thinking far ahead enough for ourselves.
Every move we make has a residual impact on where we’re going to be. The most important thing you can do for yourself today is to invest in yourself. That is an investment that will pay for itself multiple times over; it is by far the most profitable business to be in. Make sure that you are becoming the strongest version of yourself.
It doesn’t have to be a fixed five year plan. Tim Ferris toys with short-term experiments, which gives him the opportunity to explore new ideas and chase his passions. But in the end, these experiments are aligned with his mission of chasing peak performance. He’s living up to the label he’s given himself: that of the world’s human guinea pig.
Whatever you do, hold yourself accountable to it. Self-justification is a portrayal of the brain that, despite its stated goals or desires, is not interested in truth, but rather self-preservation. It’ll distort the number of mistakes you’ve made in order to protect the narrative about yourself. Don’t give in.
As Mae West said, “You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough”.
Make sure you know what you’re after and actively chase it. Don’t go through life simply reacting to your circumstances. If you don’t know where you’re going then you have to stop. Anyone that’s been lost before knows this — finding your bearings doesn’t just work itself out.
So what’s your life trajectory like?
Are you trending upwards or downwards?
Call To Action
If you want to live more productively and purposefully, grab The Productivity Manifesto, where I distill the principles behind being more effective and efficient. It’s completely free and awesome.