Great days don’t have to be random chance. They can be made, even with a very high rate of success. There’s multiple recipes and you might wanna try out a wide variety before you settle down on your unique flavours and preferences, but eventually you’re likely going to find that with just an hour or two of focus each day, you can set the tone, the headspace, the reliable foundation required to tackle the next 24 hours in an way that builds a wonderfully edifying day, no matter what’s on the agenda.
One thing however, that I want to make extremely clear is: we need to establish and habitualise this, our ‘daily foundation’ far more desperately than most realise. Without it, literal decades can fly by until we only retrospectively realise how long we’ve been foundationless and how much life we’ve wasted. Even for those of us that take the time to plot a course, it remains a challenge to stay the course; for those of us that fail to plot altogether, we comparatively fail to see the signs of a good direction even when we stumble upon it.
We see our whole day, including the small subconscious decisions we make within it, from the lens of our plans. Conscious and subconscious plans. Our whole external world is perceived from this internal lens, and it’s one that too easily gets worn, dirty, cracked and tainted, requiring very regular maintenance and even updating. Even those of us who are expert at using a daily foundation to fix, clean n adjust their lens, are still required to do so again the next morning. It’s nearly impossible for us to spend a whole day in this world without it adding some kind of questionable skew to that, our internal lens.
Our best shot at living a truly edifying life is found in habitualising ‘responding to all things’ in an edifying way. In order to pull that off we need to clean and prep that lens, extremely often. Doing so is what determines our capacity to see the edifying responses available to our life’s opportunities and decisions. Without a pre-determination to utilise our life in a way that produces our desired end, as well as, a commitment to regularly review both the plan and progress, we can’t logically expect to get anything more that whatever random chance sends our way, and considering we all gratify by default, it’s not likely to be something we’re overly happy with. He who does not clean, adjust, align and prioritise his internal state can only carry on seeing his whole external world in that same messy, skewed, mixed up way.
We see the world not as it is, but as we are.― Anaïs Nin
Younger Models Matter More
I often look at the whole ‘aging’ process as something where it’s always more important to get earlier years/stages of life right. The younger you are, the more important you set the highest/most edifying benchmarks, for yourself/by those who help raise you. I’ve heard many times how the first few years seem to set the tone for all of childhood. How the teenage years set the tone for adulthood. It seems the decisions we make remain constantly more weighty and important that we ever realise in the moment because when we’re young it seems that all of our decisions are the same ones everyone else is making but they’re not quite.
When we’re the ones making the decision ‘for the first time’, we’re not just making that decision but we’re also determining the probability of our future decisions. We’re paving the way for how we’re more/less likely going to respond to future decisions that land in similar veins. The younger we are the more positive influence we have over our future selves by responding to even those small decisions in good/helpful ways. Similarly the more negative influence we have over our future selves by failing to do so. The younger we are the more important positive influence is. The older we get the more the influence over others gets mixed with the much more concrete and realised influence of our past decisions and the paths we’ve already paved/habitualised.
Each day follows the same pattern. What we do first, what we choose to prioritise, how we start our day, plays a very large determining factor in how the rest of the day is going to go. How we start our day is our foundation, whether we want it to be or not. If we acknowledge such and utilise it effectively, we can do so to our benefit in a truly powerful way. When we fail to appreciate this concept and allow our day to begin however we’ve subconsciously habitualised it to, we can’t wisely expect any great deviation from our life’s current/default path.
Our daily foundation is a great way to start each day reinforcing that cycle of working from the inside out. Focussing on the external, how we appear to others or what we need from others, is just so much harder to control/influence. Gratification’s ‘outside-in’ model just doesn’t work and the more time we spend contrasting it to edification’s ‘inside-out’ model, it only gets more obvious. Of the many advantages to working from the inside out, a big one is momentum efficiency. If we want to get our ‘whole selves’ moving in a desired direction, we can compartmentalise the more internal/external aspects of ourselves and if we can only lean in one of the two directions to begin with, internal is nearly always going to be the way to go. Although improving appearances often seems the easier route as we can quickly change our outfit, slap on a coat of paint, tighten up the belt etc. the energy invested just doesn’t produce the required long-term results that could have been, when we focus on getting the internal right, first.
Improving is often simply about starting the next thing you need to do. It’s not about doing everything, just what’s next, what’s most important, what’s going to do the best job at getting the ball rolling. When you appreciate that you only have to do ‘something’, you can free yourself from a lot of overwhelming anxiety. You never have to do everything and if circles of stewardship doesn’t make that clear, I’ve failed you terribly. We only have to do what we can do and by working from the top of the list, wherever we run out of steam is fine, because we’ve not wasted the energy we’ve spent on less important matters.
It doesn’t take a lot of experience with various ‘somethings’ to quickly realise that of the countless things we could do, they’re not all of equal value or reward. When we focus on the heart of the matter, the centre of the issue, the primary driving factor, we can often find what I often think of as a ‘starting gear’. It’s small, it’s central and it can be turned without requiring the strength otherwise needed to turn the bigger gears or all of the gears collectively. We don’t have to get our ‘whole selves’ right, straight away. We can start small, where capacity to control/influence is high and the often seemingly overwhelming influence of external factors, is low. Start with the heart.
When I look at my life, I see the most productive, the most meaningful, the most rewarding eras, are those where I’ve made sure that I’m at least regularly working on the heart: those most important, most central gears, to keep moving. When I reflect on the periods of regret, waste or distraction, they’re nearly always accompanied by neglecting the heart to some degree, resulting in a lack of keeping those most important/central gears going. I admit that it’s still hard for me to explain clearly, but for some reason we all seem to have the capacity to nearly completely shut down internally, and yet carry on existing externally through ‘life’ for not only hours, days or weeks, but years and decades. A walking ‘shell’ of a person. I’ve been there far too often and I see shells walking around all the time. As aforementioned, I usually refer to this concept as ‘comatose living’ and it’s something too many of us are all too familiar with. Don’t dead, open inside.
I extremely highly recommend that you, my sons, do what you can today, to make this concept as black and white, as clear, as explicit, as obvious and personally-accountable as possible: “without a daily foundation, we die“. I appreciate how extreme that may seem. I get that so many of us walk this world completely absent of what I’m referring to as ‘daily foundations’ and seemingly ‘live on’, just fine. However, I’m telling you right now that my intensity, my desire, my anxiety, my fear concerning this is unquestionably from personal experience, making me extremely biased and easily arguable to be over-zealous concerning the matter, yet it all stems from my reality and that reality has proved to me very thoroughly, that without my own daily foundation, I die. I remain adamant that the same is true for others whether they’re aware of it or not and it’s also my opinion that with an ever enclosing, ever connecting world, the need for a daily foundation increases with each passing day.
We must build the habit of ‘working on the heart’ every single day, and genuinely fear the days we find ourselves too distracted or unmotivated or any even authentic reason we could possible find ourselves in to excuse ourselves for skipping a day. One day is more than enough to slip into two and the slope as begun. Commit now to a daily foundation, for life, for ever. Talk to your wife, your kids, your family and friends about it, read some books on the concept, watch whatever you can find on the matter, take a holiday where the sole purpose is to create, instil and reinforce the habit. Do what you can to crystallise this concept as best you can into your whole being.
Dying from the outside in is far more obvious, manageable and survivable when the inside remains living and fighting on. Dying from the inside out however is like a rotting wound that’s going ignored and festering for so long that when the external layers begin showing signs the damage is too deep and too extensive to recover from. We must keep the foundation of ourselves in check. Alive. Clean. Strong. The longer those internal issues are left unchecked, the more exponentially extensive the potential damage. Don’t live another day without spending at least some time, on your foundation, on the heart of the matter that is your self. To reinforce that even further, make it the first thing you do, every single day. Your mental ‘check-engine’ light, going off every morning if it’s not done.
So what constitutes a good foundation? What do you need to include in the routine to make the most out of both it and the day as a whole? Despite the fact that you’re going to have to figure out a good portion of that on your own, there remains some obvious themes and inclusions, in my opinion.
If the objective is to ‘clean the lens’ or in other words, ensure you’re seeing the world and all of its little problems clearly, I recommend doing those things that widen your perspective, broaden your horizons, things that help you see all things within the context of each other. It’s my opinion and experience that one of if not the primary contributing factors to one’s derailment from their optimal life, is distraction. It’s very easy for us to get overly fixated on unhelpful things for unhelpful lengths of times. Pulling our head out of the sand, or up through the clouds where possible, can do a lot to help us review our own priorities more clearly.
For many of us, this is more clearly evident, to a larger extent when we go on holidays, travel, move house, change careers. Larger, physical relocation, helps in important ways to encourage us to broaden not just our physical perspectives, but our mental, spiritual and emotional ones as well. In fact it’s quite hard for the latter to not follow the former. A long hike through the woods, a mountain climb, a beach day. Even exposure to new songs/movies/books can do the same thing. As ‘all things by degrees’, everything’s on a spectrum. You’ll need to find the material and experiences that work best for you and sometimes that includes changing it up as well.
I recommend ‘the best’, in all categories. We usually only have a limited amount of time to ‘get ready for the day’ which includes the time we can spend on building and utilising foundations, so don’t forget to filter out what’s best from things that are otherwise still good or even great. Best first. Best music. Best books. Best memories. Best goal revision. Best chats with best friends. Best food. Best exercise. Stick to what’s best.
What do I do? Best books. I genuinely believe nothing is more effective at sustaining a healthy psychological state than daily thorough digestion of: the best books. Conscience review and writing/journal keeping might be runners up, but best books is unquestionably number one. I also keep a number of important lists, for review: The things I want; the things I don’t want; including my goals (usually only reviewing the biggest/most important and urgent ones).
Funnily enough, I started a ‘I want to remember’ list a long time ago which largely included notes to bring me back to mental states acquired throughout life when I had intentionally or unintentionally found materials that I felt really brought be back to reality. They’re were often quite harsh, emotionally heavy, painfully serious and sometimes quite gut-wrenching. Reminders of the deeply painful world many of us live in. “This is what matters, this is reality, these are issues worth serious consideration” is what I would think as I came across and recorded such things, largely in the hope that if I could remember these things that I would then be able to better see how trivial my own problems and distractions are, keeping me more focussed on important matters and working hard on projects and priorities that help achieve the most good in life.
Another discover made however, is that there’s only so much time and energy I can put into revising these things without getting quite overwhelmed and depressed myself. I discovered what I call ‘edifying death’. Experiencing content that is true, that is important, that is real, but also has the capacity to drown us when overly focussed on. I discovered that despite the reality I should experience ‘edifying death’ often, it needs to be in manageable doses or it doesn’t end up edifying at all, as my capacity to do and be good can start to decrease. Hence I started putting more energy into brighter reminders, more hopeful ends, enlightened dreams, uplifting goals and reminders that truly ensured I was ‘edified’.
So what should you include in your foundation? Well, I’d recommend a review of the lists that provide you the most powerful reminders of both edifying death and edifying life. What keeps you in reality AND what keeps you hopeful for tomorrow. Things that ‘exercise’ your perspective in multiple ways. Stretching in ways that minimise mental atrophy. Reminders that keep you from getting trapped in distractions, that awake you from comatose living.
I do believe all kinds of exercise should be involved, including physical, mental & spiritual. However I also don’t believe they’re all equal, as I’ve discussed elsewhere in this book. You need to decide for yourself but my current conclusions remain that some are more internal and more influential on the others, than others. For this reason, prioritising them first, has advantages. I remain adamant that spiritual is first, mental second and physical last. I also remain adamant however that the longer one goes without exercise any particular area, the more important it becomes to exercise that area. Sometimes we should work backwards and when stuck in a rut, sometimes we have to work backwards.
The mental exercise is likely an overall review of the ongoing and most important projects and goals. It’s the reminders of the desired blueprints, current trajectory vs desired trajectory etc. Spiritual might include a more thorough analysis of the underlying concepts that the current trajectory is based on, ensuring they can’t be improved upon. Physical is a little more obvious, as most people know how to exercise physically, but I do recommend trying to be conscious during one’s physical exercise, of training one’s body to align with those same desired ends. Remembering the purpose for the physical exercise.
Don’t forget to build the rest
We find what we’re looking for. Either we prep ourselves to look for what we want or we default to being prepped by the world into looking for what we’re told we want. Either way, there is no avoiding ‘having filters’. We can however, certainly work on improving them. This often requires a great deal of constancy initially, for those who have gone so long without doing so. Over time however, we can establish systems, processes and checks that allow an ongoing review and correction of our mental lenses. Habitualising our daily foundation is how this is accomplished.
Now the whole foundation itself should be seen as mostly theory. Remembering that we’re trying to get our lens right for the day so that we can then go about actioning the plan. It’s certainty possible that one lays a great foundation and then completely slack off on the rest of the build. Sure it’s easier to start again as often as needs be since we have a good foundation, but we’re obviously still better off continuing the build without errors or waste. Fixing our lens might be the most important thing we do each day, but it remains only part of what needs to be done.
Lastly, consider output ratio. It may be one of the best ways to measure how effectively your daily foundation is contributing to your ongoing growth, progress and health. If it’s true that a daily foundation is one of the best contributing factors to your life, it should be self-evident over time. After you’ve spent that time focussed on correcting yourself: aligning your own mental and physical states to your own truth, take note also to how much of the rest of the day you’re able to contribute to helping others, lifting their load so they’re able to do the same. How much more function are you providing yourself? How much more surplus then, are you finding yourself with, that you spend on increasing the function of others?
It’s my opinion that if the system/habit is working properly, it’s like giving those first, smallest, most internal gears, a great big wind up, which despite the reality that it doesn’t keep the rest of the gears going 100% for the rest of the day, it does give them all a big jolt, making it much easier to get and keep the rest moving throughout the day. It seems as though if we can take care of everything we need for ourselves in about an hour each morning, with the rest of the day focussed on taking care of others: we can utilise about 1hr self-management/edification to comfortably spend the following 12 hours (time awake minus other misc activities) edifying others.
Under the influence
We have far more influence over our lives than most of us realise. The amount of work we need to put in, in order to make significant improvements is likely much less than most realise. Discover the things that have the biggest impact. Remember that 80/20 rule. We don’t need to do everything, but remain committed to two things:
- Doing something
- Making sure that the something is the best thing
A daily foundation is one of those ‘best things’. Prioritise is. Do it first. I very highly recommend making it the first thing you do, each day and retain giant red mental flags that go off each day the daily foundation is missed/failed to be prioritised.