Did you know that the first five year plan was introduced by Stalin (that bad Russian dictator dude) in 1928 in an attempt to modernize the economy? Stalin set the workers high targets and concentrated on the development of iron and steel, machine-tools, electric power and transport. He demanded a 111% increase in coal production, 200% increase in iron production and 335% increase in electric power. He justified these demands by claiming that if rapid industrialization did not take place, the Soviet Union would not be able to defend itself against an invasion from capitalist countries in the west. Since then the concept of a five year plan has been deeply rooted in modern civilization and is often used as a tool to navigate a path to success. But is it all it’s cracked up to be?
Long-Term Planning vs YOLO
While I don’t dispute the necessity or importance of having a long-term plan, what I am wary of is, how sometimes our long-term focus detracts from our short-term tasks. For the most part, we are so obsessed with moving onto the next big thing, that we don’t immerse ourselves in what is required of us right now. As a result, we end up losing sight of life happening right in front of us. In keeping on that theme, the inverse can be said for those living on the other end of the spectrum. Some people get so overwhelmed by the thought of the future that they adopt a YOLO mentality to justify the choices they make. While I sometimes think this approach is not necessarily bad, as it forces you to live in the present, I think the key lies somewhere in the middle; setting long-term objectives, but at the same time, making sure your short-term choices align with those goals.
The Daily Routine
Many of us try to create perfect daily routines in the hope of realising our long-term goals. We may try imitate the likes of Richard Branson or Jeff Bezos in an attempt to replicate their success. I have tried to do this on more than one occasion, and my conclusion: life is always more out of our control than I would like it to be. It is only after reading countless books by successful people, that I have realised that most of these people, actually just subscribe to their own version of the truth. Unfortunately, there isn’t some secret formula that one can apply to suddenly live the most successful, fulfilling life. These people are just telling you what works for them, not necessarily what works.
For me trying to succeed at aligning real life with a 5 AM wake-up, meditation, and exercise session (like people make you believe), is an impossible feat. Because, to be honest, when one small thing doesn’t happen on time in my “strict morning routine”, then my entire plan for the day ends up falling apart and I just spend the day irritated. This is why I strongly believe every day should consist of some key elements, like healthy eating, a bit of exercise, meetings with key associates with full attention and completing general daily tasks, rather than aiming for perfection in a stringent morning routine, and wasting energy to achieve this perfect. My advice, stop seeing the time you don’t spend on planning or mediating or whatever else it is you do, as unproductive, because you are just wasting energy. Imagine not taking time off time out of the fear that you would have to come back and work double as hard to catch up? There is just no quality of life there. If your day ends up a mess, then your day is a mess, get over it and move on.
So what do I do?
What you shouldn’t do is being so obsessed with the long-term plan that you become a self-hating tyrant who is no fun to be around. Live in the now, focus on a task, make it happen and repeat. Sounds simple right? I know it can be hard, but it’s a lot easier tackling a long task list by treating each task individually. It’s like that joke “how do you eat an elephant?”, answer – “one bite at a time”. I believe it all comes down to focus and finding the drive and will to succeed. A crucial element to success in this area is to surround yourself with associates and friends who push you in the direction you want to go. Being around negative people is like swimming against the current. You never end up going anywhere even though you are working your butt off trying to move forward, but all it is, is a lot of hard work for little reward.
The perfect life is always somewhere 5 years or so in the future. It’s easy to idealise our amazing future life, but the truth is, realistically, the things you think are important now may not be important in 5 years time. While it is important to have long-term goals, don’t spend to much energy thinking about them. We all have the ability to focus on the present, we just need to use it. To stop yourself feeling overwhelmed, try practicing meditation. It doesn’t have to be the traditional kind where you sit cross legged and chant Buddist prayers. It can just be you taking a few deep breaths and centering yourself before moving onto the next thing. And, it does not have to be the first thing you do as you wake up, it could be before bed, before lunch, during lunch, before a meeting. Just take that moment or two, to find your focus before diving into the next task. Do what works for you, and stop chasing perfect, because it doesn’t exist and never will.
“Meditation practice isn’t about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better, it’s about befriending who we are.” – Ani Pema Chodron