On keeping a mantra (with Inbox)

It is super hard to implement a new idea for how to live the optimal life into one’s daily routine.

The problem has existed ever since we humans started to try living according to higher moral principles, than say, just receding to our primal instincts. Both religion and philosophy have historically been vehicles for this.

But due to our somewhat unreliable and easily distracted nature, we have always sought to find techniques that could help us stay on course when times got challenging.

Journaling, meditation, praying, fasting and the practice of wearing symbolic artifacts have all served as reminders, to help us remember our path.

One of the greatest emperors of Rome, Marcus Aurelius, chose to sit down and journal in his diary after a hard days work, contemplating the optimal way of living for a stoic philosopher, mostly to remind himself of what I already knew, so he wouldn’t forget next time he would encounter a stressful situation.

It is still as difficult today, for us humans to stay on a mental course, once we get pushed or stressed out, and that is what makes Marcus’ book relevant 2000 years later.

My Idea

Recently, I wrote about how I like to try and incorporate certain principles into my daily routine, by writing them as reminders on the lock screen image on my phone, so I can get reminded several times a day.

The problem I found with this, however, is that my brain has a weird ability to ignore a static image that it is presented with continuously throughout the day. It is as if the letters loose their meaning, once you have seen them enough times.

So now, instead, I have come up with the idea of using my to-do list to repeat a daily mantra.

It is important to mention, that I use the Inbox app from Google, as both my email client and to-do list, and this is important, because of the snooze function that you can use to snooze all emails and to-dos to a future moment.

I input a principle that I want to remember as a to-do, and then I snooze it for the next day. Once next day rolls around, and I decide to check my email inbox, I get reminded about the mantra, which I had totally forgotten about, and then I snooze it again for the next day, or whenever I want to be reminded again.

The act of having to interact and snooze the object makes it easier for me to actually register and think about it for a split second.

In practice

Right now, my daily mantra is something I stole from Zenhabit, and is simply: “You don’t know anything”.

If you stretch the meaning of this saying, you can apply it to almost all areas of your life:

Oh, you are feeling stressed right now? You don’t know anything about how stressful life can be. Your life is probably pretty easy.

Oh, people seem stupid and annoying today? You don’t know anything about what it is like to be them, or even how they perceive you.

Oh, you don’t feel like making the extra effort today? You don’t know anything about what the long term consequences of your laziness will be. Better make sure to put in the work today.

I might change this mantra over time, or input several others into this system, that I can snooze to different times. But this is what it looks like currently.

Sit Back And Think

If I were to start my own religion, I would call it the “Sit-Back-And-Think” religion, because I think it is the way life should be lived.

It goes hand in hand with my idea about being Relentlessly Proactive, but here is the main idea:

Sitting back to think implies being non-reactive, introspective, well calculated, logical, strategic and executive.

Basically, it is about showing all the qualities you want, whenever you make an important decision – or any decision really.

If we approach life this way, by sitting back and thinking, we should experience more effectiveness/efficiency and less stress, as we would be able to get more of what we really want from life, with much less work. We world see things like a general instead of as a foot soldier, and thereby be able to better distribute resources, by minding the big picture.

President Lincoln has been quoted for saying, that he’d rather spend more time sharpening his axe, as opposed to working manically to cut down a tree with great effort. This is what I am talking about.

Even though all of this is just describing how we psychologically deal with life, I am a believer in embodying the qualities we want to express. That means, I think we should actually sit back in a chair physically, whenever we want to think deeply about something.

It is not that I think, the way you sit in a chair can improve brain function, but the idea is to make it a physical and conscious exercise, where you don’t do anything else but think about the problem at hand.

That means, back against the chair, hands away from the computer and eyes gazing straight forward without looking at anything in particular.

This is a physical manifestation of the mindset, that will more or less force you into the desired thought pattern.

Many people will say that they do think about their important problems from a higher perspective, but I refuse to believe they can do this, running around busy, doing stuff and do high-level thinking in a “multitaskingly” manner. Unless they are really sitting down and deliberately thinking, they aren’t doing it to their full capacity.


An Exercise

So here is how I suggest we implement the idea into our lives. And I will begin doing it myself from now on.

Every time a bigger concept, question or idea pops into my head, that I know will require some higher-level thinking to process, I will write it down in a specific section of my notebook. Then, I will try, whenever I have half an hour to spare, to think about a subject and see if I can reach a conclusion and ultimately write it down.

What do you think?

Would you join me in this practice? Or am I just wasting my time?

Sit back and think about it.