By Brianna Wiest

When we design the lives we think we want, we plan our elevator speeches, not our daily routines. We think of what we want to be called, what would be cool to accomplish, how we want to be perceived. We don’t think of the daily work that goes into creating those things, or becoming those people, and that is why we fail so spectacularly.

People who are productive manage their energy, not their time. There is only so much focus and effort we can funnel into a given period of time. Human beings function on an equilibrium of impulse and composure. Tolerance for grit may differ from person to person, but it’s limited regardless.

This is something that people who have mastered self-control understand as well: that to effectively restrict themselves or force themselves to complete a task that requires unwavering focus, one must always then allow themselves to “be free” and to let their instincts take over. Over-restriction ultimately leads to an “energetic backlash” of sorts. When people make their budget too tight, for example, they often begin to overspend simply to retaliate against that feeling of restriction.

Defining the big five

What this means is that you need to determine what the most important things are in your life – something that’s known as your “big rocks.” If you don’tyour attention most will inevitably be dwindled away by little, meaningless things that you didn’t have enough insight to avoid (think: relationships you don’t want to be in, anxiety scrolling, and so on). You simply will not have time for the things that don’t matter when your energy is going toward the things that do.

The term “big rocks” comes from a story by Stephen Covey:

One day, a professor stood in front of a group of overachievers and pulled out a one gallon, wide-mouthed mason jar and set it on the table. He had three piles of sediment: fist-sized rocks, pebbles, and sand. When he placed the sand in first (the little, meaningless stuff) he did not have room to fit in all of the big rocks. When he put the big rocks in first, the pebbles found space between them, and then the sand filled in the rest. Everything fit.

The point is that ultimately, the work of designing the lives we want lies in designing the days we want, and like life in general, we must acknowledge that our time (our energy, our attention) is limited. There is not room for everything in the jar, not if we don’t strategize how we place it inside.

Fulfilling lives are not the ones that have the most mindless productivity to show for them, but the ones in which we decide what matters and thrive in devoting ourselves to those causes. It’s in that awareness that we also find the grit to sacrifice, work hard, and persevere.

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