The One-Year Rule

The past is just a story we tell ourselves.

Paper Pile by Pstiegele

The past is just a story we tell ourselves.

Productivity is a scam.

My entire life is a constant, never-ending struggle. I suspect this is the case for many. Scientifically speaking, we are hard-wired to be lazy. To survive while expending as little caloric energy as possible — to take the path of least resistance. To do otherwise is to try to violate the thermodynamic property of entropy, that is not an easy task.

There is universal safety and comfort in doing what’s easy, and what provides short-term happiness. In avoiding the difficult work that comes with resisting our natural lack of innate drive.

However, there’s something about this that is never talked about. That this is not black or white. It is not, as some might want you to believe, lazy vs. productive. There is complex nuance to this. There are varying degrees to the amount of pressure we can put on ourselves.

We can easily place ourselves in the illusion of doing work easily. We can work out instead of playing video games. We can practice an instrument instead of scrolling through memes. We can get a job instead of being unemployed.

The above may seem confusing, maybe even uncomfortable to think about. The conventional idea of productivity is that it’s directly connected with bettering ourselves. Whether that means creating something with value or improving ourselves somehow.

But the value of what we create is not inherent, it’s derived from a market. And when we improve ourselves, it’s through the lens of what’s conventionally more accepted or attractive within society. Perhaps we do this in an attempt to strive for acceptance or proving ourselves to others.

When we do this, it’s supposed to feel better than “wasting time” doing something that, while we enjoy, does not improve anything within this system of acceptability.

Sure, we will most likely get praise for doing this work — and it might be a sincere necessity. But, if not properly meditated on, it’s just busywork. There is no simple remedy for this.

Best-case scenario, we make our bed first thing the morning, right? We check the boxes off, we spend hours in front of a textbook, we perform enough activism to the point where others think we’re good people, we get a job that will make our parents proud before they die.

Meaningfulness and authentic joy do not spontaneously arise by doing the right thing sequentially, for a long enough amount of time. Each of these actions are all just individual trees — you don’t even notice what forest you’re in. You don’t even notice when the forest catches on fire.

Ali Abdaal originally put this idea out, and I’m paraphrasing it here:

The One Year Rule is asking yourself the question: “Will I remember what I’m going to do today an entire year from now?”

It’s really helpful to think about doing a service to our future selves.

Why exactly did that hit me so hard? Because there are so many days I didn’t ask myself this question. Countless days that I’ve lived that I have no memory of, at all.

Mundane, thoughtless actions performed sequentially from morning until night. Regardless of if they were deemed lazy procrastination or productive habits, they were still not memorable. Regardless of if it was a good day or bad day. It’s essentially gone.

Sure, I can artificially add memorability with photos on Instagram, or words on Twitter, but when do I actually review and sift through these, beyond sentimentality?

It is extremely difficult to have such a meaningful, memorable day. Most are caused by things that are completely outside my control. But the ones that I do cause, is when I take true, terrifying action. When there’s real risk, real sacrifice, and real pain.

Clock at 8:00 by Eunice Lui

It is relatively easy to do whatever pressing work is right in front of you, particularly when demanded by others. And it’s easy to have lofty, someday-I’ll-try dreams and aspirations. The act of combining these both is near-impossible, and feels as though it requires transmutational alchemy.

There are those who do not have the luxury of privilege of time and energy that it requires to think deeply about this. Tragically, these are the people who’s voices and dreams are needed the most.

But, I promise you, there is always more time and more energy. Every single person is so much more capable than they realize. The one who is lost and dying from dehydration in the desert will, at times, collapse and feel like never getting back up, but they will eventually get back up and start walking again.

This innate sense of going onward by any means necessary, is paradoxically hard-wired within us just as much as our temptation to go the path of least resistance. That is the exact cause for the struggle I face. This constant and confusing search for genuine meaning and joy within my life. To forage a legacy of good work for myself.

As Ric Kausrud said on his deathbed, on the quote that lives on my wall: I will try just for today, for you never fail until you stop trying.