Intentional Living Is The Key To A Great Life

I looked back on one month of writing on Medium, and it didn’t escape my attention that a lot of my writing have centered around persistence, motivation and taking action.

I recognize it’s partly because these are some of the things I’ve struggled with the most in the past — and therefore, given lots of thought and attention to.

Moreover, almost everything we dream about and want to see in our lives involves taking some action, be it travelling the world, writing a bestseller, becoming a millionaire, being a great parent and so on.

And this got me thinking…

What are those situations where we DON’T find it difficult to take actions? What are those situations where big motivations are not needed because action just seem to flow out so easily like a new pair of scissors through cloth?

I noticed two specific instances..

When an activity is urgent, we don’t struggle to swing into action. Regardless of importance, when something is right in our face, it’s hard to ignore. Those things press on us, and we are forced into action. Phone calls, emails, a coworker barging into your cubicle, important deadlines etc. We just get on with it and do what’s required.

We also don’t struggle to take action when it is pleasurable to do so. Nobody reads a motivational article before they sit on the couch and watch 8 hours of TV or Netflix or play video games or scroll through their Facebook news feed. Those activities are pleasurable.

And, as humans, one of the things that we do best is to gravitate towards pleasure. We rarely struggle to return to the place of pleasure.

So when an action is pleasurable, we have no problem getting started and following through. Pleasure is a giant motivator.

Which brings me to my point..

It’s a solemn point though. And you have to just take it as it is.

Here’s is it:

The important things — that makes the most difference in the quality of our lives — are rarely urgent, and rarely do they activate our pleasure button.

And that brings a problem: They are easy to ignore.

This tie in with what Steven Covey called — in his book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People — Quadrant II activities. The important but not urgent activities. Things like relationship building, strategic planning, exercise, education and personal development activities.

So what am I driving at here?

When Covey first wrote about this 4-quadrant matrix in 1989 (30 years ago), he placed interruptions and time-wasters in Quadrants III and IV —and quite rightly.

What he wouldn’t have guessed is that the ‘fathers and mothers’ of all distractions were not even with us yet. They were still on their way. Think about it. Almost all the time-sinks we have today — social media, streaming services, video games, etc— are barely 15 years old.

And it gets worse. Almost all the unimportant activities — the “time-wasters” of Quadrant III & IV — now have built-in notifications so we are never not tempted. Their voices: louder. Their lure: stronger. Companies are spending billions to outdo themselves to make these addictions even more addictive.

The saddest part of all these?

The most important things, on the other hand, stay quiet in the background — unappealing, having no built-in notification and therefore very easy to ignore.

Think about all the important things that lead to a great life in the long term (not an exhaustive list):

Spoiler alert.. None of these things have a built-in notification that tells us to do them everyday, a la Facebook, or Twitter.

Don’t you wish they do?

Let’s say we just ignore and decide to live on auto-pilot instead, and just decide to live and see where life takes us, isn’t it blindingly predictable that life will steer us towards what’s urgent and the pleasurable — because that’s our natural human inclination?

Don’t we already know that doing only what’s urgent and pleasurable isn’t how to arrive at a great life?

Devoid of notification, we have to take responsibility each day for how well we do on the non-urgent but no less important tasks.

The responsibility it calls for is why life of mediocrity is more common than a life we would call great.

If something is important but neither urgent nor pleasurable, if there’s no police to put us in a cell for non-performance, our natural tendency is to give such things a skip. We skip one day, nothing catastrophic happens, and we are emboldened to skip the next. And on and on we go. We never do this to things that are urgent because they slap us in the face anyway, forcing us to give our attention. And for pleasurable time-wasters? We actually go looking for them.

The danger:

Life’s most important tasks are rarely pleasurable and rarely urgent thus easy to ignore.

The lesson:

A life of meaning requires us to be intentional. To be deliberate.

When next you find yourself idling away, not sure of what you should be doing. Not sure what should go on your to-do list. Find an activity, then ask these questions of it:

Is this activity important? Is it urgent? Is it pleasurable?

If your answers are YES, NO, and NO in that order, it’s as close to a guarantee as you will ever get that that’s what you should be doing.

Truly great people have mastered the art of doing what’s important regardless of whether it’s pleasurable or urgent. And that is what make them great.

Intentional Living Is The Key To A Great Life

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