Don’t Disperse Your Energy and Intelligence

If you think it’s a good idea to stop working during times of crisis and “schedule a half-hour at lunch and 20 minutes in the late afternoon” to “focus on the news,” I have news for you.

First, you shouldn’t be watching that much television. Period.

Second, you shouldn’t be spending 50 minutes of your working day focusing on non-work-related issues. Do take a five-minute break when your shoulders cramp up, but let’s be serious.

The most important point is this: You shouldn’t spend your valuable time worrying about things you have no control over. You probably know the saying: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

If you want to be truly successful, you can’t disperse your energy and intelligence. You must devote your time and attention to a very limited number of things that you really care about. By “limited,” I mean no more than four major life goals. I have developed a program that can help you organize and achieve your goals. To learn more about this

You can’t change the situation in Iraq. Yes, you can vote. Yes, you can get involved in politics. And if that’s what you want to succeed in, fine. Spend eight or 10 hours a day working on that.

But if you want to be a successful executive, artist, or businessperson, you shouldn’t spend a lot of your time worrying about abstractions.

Yes, I’m going to argue that the situation in Iraq is an abstraction. And you may not like my saying so. After all, Americans are dying there. And Englishmen too. And Iraqis to boot. It’s not an abstraction to them. And if you have a friend or relative there, it is not an abstraction to him or her either.

But you are here. Not there. What you know of that situation you get from secondhand and tertiary (see “Word to the Wise,” below) sources. Some of it is real. Some is fictional. None of it can be changed by watching CNN.

This leads me to a broader and more important point. If you want to be both successful and happy in life, you must strive — as best you can — to live in the world you actually live in. The real world.

Admittedly, intelligent people (and I count you as an intelligent person) are sometimes attracted to abstraction. Why? Because they are good at it. And they were rewarded for it in school.

Abstractions can be useful, in analyzing problems, comparing situations, and so forth. But to spend your time worrying about problems that you don’t actually experience … or to worry about abstract aspects of problems you do (which would be the case if you actually knew someone in Iraq) … is both unproductive and depressing.

Studies show that happy people live in the here and now. They pay attention to the people around them rather than the people they read about or see on television. They deal with problems that physically confront them rather than those that exist — if they exist — somewhere else.

Successful people, as we’ve seen from countless examples, achieve the things they achieve by solving specific real problems and creating certain real products. When challenged by something highly unlikely or far in the future, they tend to reply, “Why don’t we handle that if and when it happens?”