Have you ever struggled to get out of bed in the morning? This past month, I've been very, very busy. As a result, I've gotten very tired, and my mood worsened. Recently, I found myself waking up and thinking, "Ugh, today I need to do this. Then I need to do that. And then I need to deal with that other thing. There are so many things I have to do!"
After a few days of this, I realized I needed to correct this mindset. I was reminded of a quote by the Stoic Emperor Marcus Aurelius:
At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: “I have to go to work — as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for — the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm? …
Don’t you see the plants, the birds, the ants and spiders and bees going about their individual tasks, putting the world in order, as best they can? And you’re not willing to do your job as a human being?”
Every living thing diligently does their duty and organizes their world. The plants diligently grow and produce air; the birds diligently organize their nests and family; the ants diligently collect resources for the tribe; the bees diligently pollinate flowers. Am I so much below plants and animals that I can't get out of bed happily?
A Motivating Purpose
What should I, as a human being, diligently do then? Marcus Aurelius said,
"Life is short—the fruit of this life is a good character and acts for the common good."
What Marcus Aurelius said is extremely similar to what Confucius said in The Great Learning:
"The path of The Great Learning is at enlightening one’s bright virtues, at influencing the people, and ending at the greatest excellence."
Virtues are positive character qualities like filial piety (loving parents), respect, loving kindness, carefulness, trustworthiness, and humility. A proper life purpose is to first build our character and virtues. Then we can do acts for the common good and influence others to bring out their virtues. When these two things are done thoroughly, then we have arrived at the greatest excellence.
Re-Evaluating My Time
Over the past few weeks, I've started to get annoyed because I didn't have much free time to study philosophy and improve my wisdom. I knew I needed to cut out or reduce some commitments, so I reflected on all my major commitments, how much time I spend on each one, and what my intention for doing each one is.
I then paid careful attention to anything that was motivated by bad or mixed intentions. Most of my things were purely good intentions, such as taking care of my family responsibilities, working, learning ancient texts, and blogging. However, I realized I had some things with mixed intentions that were taking up over 15 hours per week!
I then scrutinized those things in more detail to determine if I could eliminate or reduce the time I spend on them.
Firstly, I currently tutor two extra classes on top of my work. The intention is mixed: mostly social pressure and a little bit of helping others. Hence, I emailed the school asking if they could find another teacher to take over. If they really cannot, then I can help. After all, helping those in great need is a virtue. But if they can find someone else, then there's no reason for me to stress myself over something I don't need to do.
Secondly, I tutor a few friends in my free time. My intention is mostly good, which is to repay gratitude (a virtue). However, I may be spending too much time on it, and an excess of anything is no longer virtuous. Hence, I can communicate them to reduce the weekly time commitment while still ensuring that I can help them achieve their goal in the specified time frame.
Thirdly, I attend three classes on ancient texts. The first class was out of a sincere desire to learn. The second class was a mixture of social pressure and sincerity. The third was 100% social pressure. Given how I feel so limited in time now, I should at least eliminate the third one.
In summary, the process of re-aligning my life with my purpose was
List out all my major time commitments.
Evaluate if the motivation is purely good, purely bad, or mixed.
Eliminate (ideal) or reduce anything that is not a purely good intention, or change the intention to purely good.
After re-evaluating all my time commitments against good versus bad intentions, I gained much more clarity about what to focus my energy on, and now I wake up feeling much more motivated and excited for the day!
Bonus Tip: Change "I have to" to "I get to"
A lot of things we "have" to do are actually blessings. To help ourselves remember that, tell yourself "I get to" instead of "I have to". For example,
I get to get out of bed today (good health)
I get to go to work today (I have a job)
I get to clean the house today (I have a house)
I get to talk to my parents today (I have parents who took care of me in the past)
I get to deal with that unreasonable person today (It's a chance for me to improve my virtues)
I get to deal with that problem today (every problem lies an opportunity)
If we simply change the language we use in our head, we would feel gratitude instead of complaint.
Do you wake up with a strong sense of purpose?
Are there any time commitments you should eliminate or reduce?
What do you get to do everyday that you didn't appreciate enough before?
Weekly Wisdom Newsletter #182
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