“Insight doesn’t happen often on the click of the moment, like a lucky snapshot, but comes in its own time and more slowly and from nowhere but within.” – Eudora Welty (One Time, One Place, 1971)
I woke up, as usual, at daybreak. Lacking the resolve to run the hill behind my apartment, I opted for an easy lope along the Tiber. This was going to be my last bit of exercise in Rome. After six weeks of working from a makeshift office in Trestevere, I would be coming home.
On the run out, I thought about what I like most about this city. (See below.) On the run back, I found myself thinking about the big things: family, friends, health, wealth, etc. It was an accidental rumination, but it resulted in an important decision: I’m going to live the rest of my life in a Tuscan monastery.
My homeward trek ended with the decision to reset my life priorities. The first of my four main goals would drop to fourth place, and the fourth goal would rise to No.1. This simple flip has already made a big difference. It gave me a new way to organize my day, a new sense of what’s important, and a fuel tank full of fresh emotional energy. It also gave me a great opportunity to consider the ETR goal-setting program — to assess how it has helped me and consider how it should be helping you.
Are you following the program? Have you chosen four “life goals”? Do you organize your day to accomplish specific objectives that relate to those goals? Do you give priorities to the most important ones?
If so, you’ve seen results. For me, the program has been life-changing. I am now doing about a dozen things that I’d been “meaning to do” for years and years. I can thank the program for what modest capabilities I have as a dancer, my more modest knowledge of Italian, and my surprisingly OK Jiu Jitsu skills. The program was entirely responsible for the little movie I made last summer, the stories I’ve written, and the journal I keep. All these things are important to me. None of them would have been done without the discipline of this program.
If you’ve been following the ETR program, you’ve had the same experience.
It’s a good program — and today, I’d like to make it better. We can do that by reworking your life goals a little. The basic idea is that you should have four main goals and that each should represent a very important dimension of your life. Specifically, I recommend that your life goals be broken down as follows:
1. one about health (without which most of the others don’t matter)
2. one about wealth (which was once my No.1 objective)
3. one for yourself (your intellectual and artistic pursuits)
4. one for others (your friends, family, and community)
This recent reassessment of my life goals started when I realized that health has to be my top priority. At my age, I can no longer rely on my body to bounce back every time I assault it. If I don’t start taking good care of myself now, I could wind up in a very unhappy position — one in which ill health would deprive me of the chance to pursue any of my other life goals.
Once wealth was toppled from its perch, it fell hard and fast. It now rests in fourth place, out-prioritized by every other important life goal. That doesn’t mean I don’t intend to get richer — I certainly do. But it does mean wealth won’t be the goal for which all other pursuits are sacrificed. The goal that involves personal and social responsibilities rose to second place with this reconfiguration. And this, in turn, changed the position of the others.
I’m hoping you will spend some time today reviewing your life goals. Consider if and how they fit into the four categories listed above. Ask yourself what you are doing to:
* stay healthy
* get wealthy
* expand your mind/heart
* help your neighbor
The specific life goals you choose will depend on your specific circumstances: your age, your interests, your resources, and your responsibilities. If, for example, you are under 40, you probably don’t need to make yearly prostate or breast exams part of your health plan. Instead, you might want to focus on losing a few pounds.
Keep in mind that staying healthy is not about being muscular or fit. In the sense I’m speaking of today, good health means living an active life free from pain and disease. Anything else you want — being extra strong or fast or handsome — should be relegated to the personal-development part of the program.
I’ll speak more about the details of this new insight tomorrow. For now, I will be happy if you commit to this idea of balance. If you give yourself one big goal to get you healthy, another to get you wealthy, one to make your life rich and rewarding, and another to make sure you are surrounded by people with whom you want to share everything.[Ed. Note. Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]