As we get older, we inevitably age. It's true; it has been happening to me!
Aging means we can do fewer things. No matter how much we watch our diet, be vigilant about our posture, and keep doing exercises for our mind and body, we slow down. You can't avoid it.
And yet many things that are fun and rewarding in life need us to devote our bodies and minds to them. They're taxing and take a long time. How can we do it all?
One option, confronted with this dilemma, is to panic. Another is to give up, and just go chill. But I prefer a third: To be a little systematic about things and to optimise my life for discomfort, letting me do all the things I want to do.
When we subtract the time we need just to continue living and providing for our loved ones, there's actually very little time we have available in our lives. Take away snacking and sleeping, and many would be in the negative!
How do we make the most of our time? I believe it's by understanding everything we have to do in our lives, and then planning out our lives so we can physically do them all.
How Time Makes Fools of Us
I'm in my forties now. While I'm still pretty fit and able, I've noticed that my body and mind are both slowing down.
For example, I'm not as quick as I used to be. I box and wrestle with kids half my age, and it's amazing how much faster they can move and react.
I also find it harder to memorise words. I'm working on a few right now (including Korean and German), and while I don't find it difficult, and I can distinctly remember it not being this difficult twenty years ago when I was learning Spanish and French. I have to be a lot more organised about how I memorise things.
And finally, as I live on the road, I'm finding it more and more difficult to tolerate bad beds. I long more for soft mattresses, not to mention hot showers and warm meals.
So yeah, I'm getting weak and soft. But what this makes me realise is that I need to do the hard things now before my body and mind no longer want to keep up.
As I get older, I'll have to trade hard things for easy ones. Learning languages will be just speaking and using them. I'll swap my sports motorcycle for a cruiser. And contact sports will become tai chi. That's all fine, because I'll have had my fun.
In fact, I look forward to doing the things that an 80-year-old does. I'll stay in one place, with my dog, play my guitar, paint, and hopefully still write.
But if I don't do the things on my life's bucket list that are uncomfortable now, while the opportunity is available, I may never have all the memories I'll want to reflect on.
So here's how I currently think about organising my life: doing the things I want to have done, optimising for maximum discomfort as early as possible, while I can handle it.
The Other Benefits of Discomfort
There's good news here, too. Aside from helping you get to your passions in life, there are other reasons for which you might want to optimise your life for discomfort.
The first, and most obvious one, is that discomfort is a necessary step to getting good at anything.
If you want to be good, first, you have to suck for a while. If you're a natural talent, that might be a short period. but most of us are not natural talents.
Want to race motorcycles? You start off in the beginner group. Want to play the piano? Get ready to learn scales. Want to learn German? You will learn how genders and cases mix together, and never get it 100% right in practise.
It's much easier to be a beginner when you're younger. It's almost expected. Of course, I've found joy in being a total noob, as well.
Secondly, being uncomfortable is cheaper.
It's really easy to stay in a five-star hotel, and it's very nice, but it's also super expensive.
If you want to do something like travel around Europe or the US, you can easily do so in luxury. But most of us can't afford that and don't want to spend a lifetime saving up money (only to be thwarted by something like a family illness, war, depression, or other life-changing emergency).
However, you can also go travelling right now if you do it on a shoestring. You can camp, live in hostels, couch surf, and make friends. In the process you're likely to build a bunch of memories.
And that comes to the final reason...
Thirdly, being uncomfortable is more memorable.
This may not apply to everyone, but when I think back across my life, it's the times that I was uncomfortable that I can most easily remember.
Times when I had to sleep in an airport or in a tent (sometimes not out of choice), navigate my way around a city with little knowledge of the language and less money, or make a meal with almost nothing and no stores open, are some of my fondest memories.
It's comfortable but not memorable to show up to a gym every day and do a routine. But it's uncomfortable to take up a new sport about which you know nothing. You'll always remember your first lesson.
One of my fondest memories is having to share a sleeping bag and sleeping pad with my partner, because one of us forgot our sleeping pad, and sleeping directly on snow was not an option. I can still visualise the stars that night, as well as remember the sharp shocks when I accidentally rolled onto the snow!
Anecdotally, I've heard people often express when they're older that they wish they did certain things when they were younger. Well, those are the things I'm trying to prioritise doing now.
How to Optimise Your Life for Discomfort — a Simple Three-step Process
To make sure you can get through all the things in your life, you need to optimise for discomfort.
You do this by:
- Make a list of the things think you'll have to do in your life. It might be a long list. (You don't have to add everything other people want to do on to your list).
- Sequence them into two sections: Things you can do now (because of physical ability), and things you can do later.
- Start doing them!
It's important to try to realise that you don't have to do everything just because it's "cool".
For example, sky diving is cool. But I don't really want to do it, and wouldn't regret never having done it. So it's not on my bucket list. It might be on yours, for the opposite reasons.
On the other hand, there are things on my list that most of my friends think aren't cool, like riding sports motorcycles. I want to take a BMW S 1000 RR and fling it through Germany. My riding audience will sympathise, but you may be surprised how few fellow riders I know in real life.
Here's a quick version of my list. I have other things on my personal list, but this is just for illustration.
I know that if I get to 80 (or even 50) years old and I still don't know Russian and haven't been to Russia I'll be annoyed with myself. But later in life, it'll be hard to learn to speak Russian as my brain is able to do fewer things. So it's high on the list — even though it's quite a challenging language to learn and will take at least a year of focussed effort.
I also know that I want to spend at a good while travelling around this great brown land of Australia. But having spent a few nights in our camper, I already know that it's getting harder as I age. My body (and my relationship) demand more comfort!
Other considerations — Money, Difficulty, and Time
There are other prioritisations you have to add, of course. For example — money and time required, and you have to consider how important any item is to you.
I really want to fly a plane, but it's expensive and not that important, so it's not really on the list. But I really want to learn Russian and then spend most of my life having learned Russian and speaking it, and it's cheap, so it's important I do it now.
I had to do a little pre-emptive retrospection. I had to think "When I'm 80 (or 100), what are going to be the things I'll wish I did in my life?"
Once you've made your list and prioritised it, start doing the things that you can do right now.
I actually started writing this article years ago. I never published it, because I thought "I really need to get started learning Russian." I did get started. Three years later, I'm still far from fluent, but I'm glad to be on the path of learning.