Life is two days, and the first we spend waking up

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Life is two days, and the first we spend waking up.

This phrase from a Portuguese song I loved to listen to in the 90s sums up one of my favorite mantras, and like any good chorus, it's worth repeating:

Life is two days, and the first we spend waking up.

When we become aware of this, what do we do?

Do we finally express what we believe and start writing our own scripts, or do we  keep trying to meet other people's expectations?

How can we live more fully and more positively  in this world?

These are the kinds of questions I ask myself.

I'm probably halfway through my journey; I feel alive, and awake, and I’m embracing the freedom of this constraint.

What exactly do I mean? Well, at my age–roughly mid-life–I see a lot of people around me lamenting the lost day they spent “waking up.” They feel they’ve wasted time and they carry this attitude into their futures creating more of the same.

If you have got one day left, are you going to waste it lamenting the day that is gone?

What if you looked at having only one day as a constraint that brings freedom?

Yes, constraints can bring freedom.

If you’re in the productivity world, then you’ve probably heard about Parkinson's law, the idea that work expands to fill the resources available for its completion. We see this play out very clearly with deadlines. If the deadline is three weeks from now, we stretch out the work. If the deadline is three days from now, we get the project finished in that time frame.

A very precise and clear time constraint can be a great antidote to procrastination, perfectionism, or paralysis by over-analysis. No more postponing it into the next day–we just get it done. No more unrealistic standards that keep being updated as soon as we almost reach them. No more overthinking everything, gather all possible information in the universe before you start to implement it.

Deadlines are extremely effective because wanting to meet them forces us to manage our anxieties, plan our schedules accordingly, find the courage to do the work and push it out into the world.

When we realize that we have spent half of our lives half-awake, we can choose to be more daring and use the limited time we have to do what really matters most.

And yes, there are other constraints besides time – money, skills, materials, space, laws, geography, technology, health – and they also can be used to make things happen more effectively and creatively.

As the saying goes, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Or limoncello 🙂

In the corporate world, the Theory Of Constraints or TOC is a well-known management paradigm. It argues that any goal-oriented system has constraints that can be identified and used to improve the overall results. And, many would say that the underlying power of Theory Of Constraints flows from its ability to generate a strong focus on what really matters most.

To get back to our lives, we can transform constraints into growth and freedom. Constraints don't necessarily limit us; in fact, they can expand possibilities. More often than not, the problem is not the constraint itself, it’s our reaction to the constraint that results in what seems like a contracted choice.

That said, when we learn to change our mindsets around constraints, we can also learn to press the pause button, and choose our response more purposefully. As the quote that Stephen Covey attributes to Viktor Frankl, so well says:

“In between stimulus and response there is a space, in that space lies our power to choose our response, in our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

Back to the chorus:

Life is two days, and the first we spend waking up.

If you are like me, maybe you wonder, I have had several awakenings in my life, then I find myself awakening again. Don't I ever learn?

Be gentle with yourself.

We are always learning and hopefully always awakening to new possibilities–new opportunities to press the pause button and choose growth and freedom.

I like to see our continuous awakenings from the perspective of an ancient story called the Dichotomy paradox. This is one of Zeno's conundrum that goes something like this:

Suppose you want to walk to the end of a path. Before you can get there, you must get halfway there. Before you can get halfway there, you must get a quarter of the way there. Before traveling a quarter, you must travel one-eighth; before an eighth, one-sixteenth; and so on.

This argument is called the “Dichotomy” because it involves repeatedly splitting a distance into two parts, and you can carry it on until the infinite and not moving at all. Thus this paradox led Zeno to argue that all motion must be an illusion.

Is your head spinning a little? Good. That's what paradoxes do. Tons of philosophers, more clever and knowledgeable than I am, have engaged on this paradox, and trust me, their arguments would make your head spin even more.

I like to apply the dichotomy argument differently.

If life is two days, and the first we spend waking up, the next day can be split into two parts, allowing us time for a new awakening and time to apply what we learn and repeat this formula until our last breath.

Why not?

We are always awakening to new possibilities–new opportunities to press the pause button and choose our response more purposefully.

Are you with me?

Resource links:

Zeno's paradoxes

Theory of Constraints

Parkinson’s Law: Get More Done by Giving Yourself Less Time to Do Things