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There is no living in the now

A few years ago, when I first started diligently planning my days and weeks, I used to keep it a secret. I would rarely tell people that I tracked pretty much every activity that I did and that I planned to achieve very specific goals in determined time frames. Back then, if somebody asked me to tell them something about me that nobody else knew, I was likely to tell them that I live off an excel sheet.

But since then, I've frequently written about the whole planning and tracking process and how it leads to better progress on goals and better productivity in general. So, nowadays, I end up giving the same answer to an altogether different question. Which is, "Tell me something interesting about you."

When people hear about yearly goals and weekly plans and tracking progress on tens of metrics, they ask me with a hint of surprise as to whether it all gets robotic and monotonous. And I have learnt to answer them with a question of my own. "Does going to the gym get robotic and monotonous? Does investing in equities get robotic and monotonous?"

When I put it that way, they seem to get it.

Nothing in the world just happens on its own. Nothing. Everything is a consequence of something else. Ever since the Universe as we know it was set in motion by the Big Bang billions of years ago, everything that has happened since has been a consequence of what happened prior to it. The global warming that we observe today, the rise of capitalism and democracy (and now the increasing questions around their long term sustainability), the skills you bring to the table at work, the friends you make, the fitness that you have (or lack), you name it and it is a consequence of what has happened prior to it.

This means that everything that happens in the future is a consequence of what happens before it.

And if you break it down, what happens before the future in question (which could be your own life at the end of this year) can be broken up into three things.

One, things that have already happened up to this point will have some amount of influence in determining how the future will be. The University that you went to, the grades that you got, the things you read and watched as a kid, the friends you made, etc all play a role in determining how your life will be at the end of this year.

But, these are things that you can do absolutely nothing to change. What has happened has happened. This is the equivalent of sunk cost. Of course, you can understand the consequences of the things that have happened before and take actions to bring about a change in those consequences. For example, if you burnt bridges and cheated some people in the past and you know that they could play a role in you being hired for a gig in a few months time, you can apologise and make it up to them (or try to). But these will be actions that you take in the future, and they will do nothing to change what has happened already. There is no erasing or re-writing the past.

The second part is made of things that are not in your control and will happen between now and the time in the future that you are interested in (the end of the year, for this exercise). The bankruptcy of the company you are working for, the death of a loved one, a car accident, are all things that could potentially happen between now and the end of the year and will definitely have a bearing on your life at the end of this year if they do. But there is absolutely nothing you can do to predict or avoid them.

Again, thinking about these things are pointless and will not add any positive value.

The third part is made of things that you are in control of and will happen between now and the time in the future that you are interested in (the end of the year, for this exercise). Going to the gym, maintaining a healthy diet, investing in equities, learning new skills, etc all fall in this category.

And this is precisely where the yearly goals and the weekly plans come in.

These are not set in stone and these are not something you will hold yourself accountable to no matter what. But these act as your guide in shaping a future that you want with the assumption that the things in the first two aspects continue to affect things the way they do today.

The consequences of the first part will be the same unless the person you cheated is cheated by another person and now hates everyone that cheated him ten times more, making it impossible to make amends. And the things that happen outside of your control are things you can't possibly prepare for.

But, planning for the things that are in your control helps you to quickly understand any effects arising out of the changes in the first and second category. You will quickly know whether it makes sense to continue working as per your plan or to change course and come up with a new plan. While not having a plan pulls the third category out of your control as well, leaving you to lead a completely passive life determined by forces outside of you.

Everything that happens in the future is a consequence of what is happening now. Which means that there is no 'now' that is separated from the future.

There is no living in the now. Because everything we do in the now is a seed we are planting for what is to come in the future. Sure, there might be external conditions like a flood or a famine that will also determine the yield. But flood or famine, a seed for an apple won't grow into a mango.

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