It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested… So it is: we are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it… Life is long if you know how to use it.
Whenever you create goals and envision a better future, you’re actually planning for your future self, who values discipline and long term rewards.
But when it comes time to take action, your present self—who values short term gratification—fights with your future self. And more times than not, it wins.
One of the best ways to counter this problem is to make the rewards from your long-term goals immediate.
Example: if you’d like to exercise more regularly, but you also enjoy socializing, you could sign up for gym classes or participate in team sports to immediately benefit from social rewards.
Contrary to popular opinion, Seneca argues that busyness is an illusion of productivity that actually steals our valuable time:
“No activity can be successfully pursued by an individual who is preoccupied …Living is the least important activity of the preoccupied man; yet there is nothing which is harder to learn.”
We often blame external triggers—people, social media, emails—for our inability to stay focused and avoid distractions.
But in reality, it’s our internal state of emotions that influences our productivity.
Most time management experts recommend that we focus on the present and plan for the future. But Seneca takes a different approach. He recommends that we focus on the past:
“But life is very short and anxious for those who forget the past, neglect the present, and fear the future.”
Whilst sharing his thoughts on the vice of procrastination, Seneca writes:
“While wasting our time hesitating and procrastinating, life goes on…”
Seneca suggests that one of the best ways to overcome procrastination is to practice what Stoics refer to as Premaditatio Malorum.
In layman’s terms, it’s simply visualizing what could go wrong in the future.
“You live as if you were destined to live forever, no thought of your frailty ever enters your head, of how much time has already gone by you take no heed. You squander time as if you drew from a full and abundant supply, though all the while that day which you bestow on some person or thing is perhaps your last.”
Seneca argues that our perception of death affects how we live our lives.
Everyone hustles his life along, and is troubled by a longing for the future and weariness of the present. But the man who … organizes every day as though it were his last, neither longs for nor fears the next day.
Often we postpone our happiness until the future, but Seneca argues that ironically this “future” we obsess about doesn’t exist—only the present does.
If instead, we plan and live each day as if it were our last, we can better enjoy today and prepare for tomorrow.
It is inevitable that life will be not just very short but very miserable for those who acquire by great toil what they must keep by greater toil. They achieve what they want laboriously; they possess what they have achieved anxiously; and meanwhile they take no account of time that will never more return. New preoccupations take the place of the old, hope excites more hope and ambition more ambition. They do not look for an end to their misery, but simply change the reason for it.
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