If the number one dream killer is “doing what works,” then the number one life-killer is preparing to live.
Think about it. We spend endless amounts of time in preparation for some future event.
We’re constantly trying to improve to have a better life. But the better life never comes. Why? Because there’s always more improving to do.
We mask endless improvement-seeking as a venture of growth. But all it really is is fake growth in a shrewd disguise. It’s not real growth. Real growth is alive, not contrived.
There are examples in every area of life:
- Constantly seeking to improve your relationship (trying to seek the perfect relationship that will solve all your problems).
- Chasing more and more money that you believe will someday give you freedom (preparing for a day when you can finally relax at ease and know you’re taken care of).
- Searching for the right fitness program and training in a way that’s always preparing you for a new level (you’re training a lot, but rarely are you ever really just moving or doing the thing you trained for).
- Trying to gain knowledge and information through books and degrees without applying them (hoarding ideas without using them is a shame, and another trap of endless preparation).
Let me share an example with you from my own experience with gymnastics strength training.
For a long time I’ve been caught in a trap of spending a lot of time training my body, without every really just moving or using my training. It’s the equivalent of practicing martial arts, but never really sparring or fighting. Or like learning a new language, but never going to the country of origin and interacting with the people.
I spent a lot of time trying to prepare for certain skills, and about zero percent of the time doing the things I trained for.
What a waste!
Ido Portal (a movement legend in his own right) explains this common phenomenon beautifully in this interview:
And again, Thich Nhat Hanh sums up our problem in this quote from his book, Peace is Every Step:
We are very good at preparing to live, but not very good at living. We know how to sacrifice ten years for a diploma and we are willing to work very hard to get a job, a car, a house, and so on. But we have difficulty remembering that we are alive in the present moment, the only moment there is for us to be alive. —Thich Nhat Hanh
So, why is it that we spend so much time in preparation for living, and such little time just being, flowing and getting ourselves caught up in adventures?
This question has riddled my brain for the last decade and until now the answer eluded me.
Here’s what I think the problem is:
We’re terrible at discerning our desires that come from our always-on-a-quest-to-survive-and-protect ego and those that come from our true, liberated self.
- The ego believes in a world of separation and limited resources. Therefore all actions and desires are to improve to become better than others, to get yourself ahead and leave others behind, and to compete for limited resources. Our ego tells us that the (seemingly) competing desires of acceptance and growth can’t coexist. Acceptance is dangerous. It equates to complacency.
- But our liberated self knows that we are all connected, and that we are the source of all that we desire. There is no need to compete because there is always enough to go around. Our deeper self sees acceptance as reveling in the beauty of what has unfolded, and the desire for more and more unfolding as an exciting adventure. There’s no need to choose one or the other.
The question, then, isn’t should you grow and fulfill desires, but where are those desires rooted in in the first place. (My friend Danielle shares a great example of avoiding the fear-based desire trap here.)
Are your impulses rooted in your small, separate self that is always trying to one-up everyone else?
Or are your desires founded in a deep knowing that you can create whatever you want and that you are that which you seek?
I’ve been asking myself this a lot lately. It’s a great way to filter whether you’re doing what you are really pulled to, or if you’re just following the template.
Please, tell me what you think and comment below:
Have you ever caught yourself in the trap of preparing to live?
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Bruno Coelho says
Fantastic work Jonathan!
I don’t think I ever caught myself preparing to live but I did caught myself “deprogramming” myself or “unhypnotising” myself from what the World around raised me to be: no one.
That’s why when I watched your Trailblazer webinar last year, your message resonated with me a lot when you said that “it wasn’t about finding your passion but about reclaiming your passion”!
I also remember that you said that we shouldn’t be like the naive quitter and if we really want to be a Trailblazer we should know the territory like the back of our hand.
I guess that we must always be ready to face the truth and see if we’re preparing or if we’re stalling. The key that your article and the video gave me is to turn the training into something that’s part of your Life. It’s not something you do but something you are!
This is even more important when you still have a day-job: every day is one more step that you make on your No-End-Path towards living a worthwhile Life!
Thank you for sharing this with us!
We could all use a healthy amount of “deprogramming.”
Hm, maybe you could be a deprogramming coach? :)
Dustin Lee says
I’m better at actually implementing knowledge in some areas of my life than others. Although I’m pretty decent at actually using skills in real world ways in my work, in other areas I’m not as disciplined.
Fitness is a huge area I need to apply this concept more. I’ve spent hundreds of hours running on a treadmill. But only a handful actually enjoying running and hiking through nature.
I’ve recently started taking long walks through a huge reserve near my home. But now I’m motivated to actually enjoy it more. Run, climb things, wander off the trail a bit.
Inspiring post and congratulations on #300!
Christine Yole says
I spent a number of years in education, Bachelors, Masters etc. and may years in competitive athletics. With all of that I had the point of view that with enough preparation, I would ‘succeed’ or achieve a good or positive result or outcome. That philosophy actually ‘works’ quite well in the world of academia and competitive athletics. At some point I realized that I was trying to apply the same philosophy to my life afterwards. What I was doing was actually pulling away from life, or essentially hiding in books, modalities, philosophies etc. thinking that if I figured everything out, and resolved my past that that would ensure that when I did start living, it would work out well. So the question I ask is what have we bought the preparation would give us? Is it actually providing that? I realized that it’s actually through living dynamically, and being present with what is, that allows me to be, do, have and create more. By being in tune with this living, breathing, system I can see what’s available and continue to move with it. That’s the adventure for me. Thanks for the post.
This is a very timely post for me as I consider applying for a Masters degree. It’s given me some serious food for thought. Am I doing this just to have another qualification or is it genuinely to broaden my knowledge and experience in a way that I can use to help others? Pursuing this study will leave less time for enjoying other parts of life like having time with my little boys or having free time for relaxation. Thanks for the thought-provoking post.
Glad you’re thinking about this carefully Niamh.
Happy 300th post, my darling. What an achievement!
I think I might be getting the hang of this “blogging thing” now…
Yikes! This is what I have been doing for the past 3 years!
I am finally moving forward in my personal journey, yet for my business I need to live in the moment better! I really want my business to meld with my personal journey naturally…. Not sure if that is realistic or if it makes sense.
I find myself telling everyone right now I will be in action after I get settled in my own place… Once my personal life is structured. Yet, I am truly hungry for increasing my income today, right now!
The concern that comes to the surface for me is I do not want to disappoint new clients by not communicating my time properly. I have in the past, implied I will do XYZ in less time than I have available for them. I am always fine tuning details instead of just moving forward confidently. My ego tells me I should prepare better before it’s actually deliverable.
Why is it so hard to let go, live in the moment and move forward?
Kyla Houbolt says
Congratulations on post #300. It’s a good one. My practice involves a very similar view, checking in always with the deeper core self, not letting stagnation of any sort spend much time in my company. Thanks for bringing this into sharper focus. Finding how life itself wants to live, rather than accepting externally imposed conditions, which usually translate quickly into fears and self doubt packages, is how I work with this. Sometimes it requires stopping in my tracks, if I’ve gotten off course, find my mind spinning, or agitation arising. Then it’s a matter of stopping and listening, usually to the body.
Thanks again, great post!
Glad to be of service Kyla.
John Korchok says
Jonathan does not make clear distinctions between “preparing”, “fantasizing” and “worrying”. True preparation includes activities like practicing music or clarifying your client’s expectations. Preparation is vital unless you’re a schlub who thinks that any effort is good enough. The activity he mentions as an example is an effort based on fantasies or anxieties. His weight-training obsession may have been based on a body-image anxiety. Or perhaps he kept going with it because he physically felt better and enjoyed the activity itself. Nothing wrong with that. But he doesn’t examine his mental processes in depth or in detail, so he throws all planning aside as useless. Living in anxiety or fantasy are not useful and it is helpful to let go of that and live in the moment. But planning and preparation for real-life events is necessary and useful. Make the distinction and avoid the hyperbole.
You can address me directly rather than saying “Jonathan” :)
I’m not saying that all preparation is bad. I think there is a time and place for it and certainly to reach any significant goal a good amount of preparation will be required. What I’m referring to is an endless state of preparation without actually using and enjoying that preparation. That is bad.
In the example you gave about music there’s also a difference between endlessly practicing music (and not really showing up fully and enthusiastically) and never actually just PLAYING, and practicing from a state of aliveness, curiosity and presence.
great post, Jonathan, and congratulations on #300.
And I gotta put a plug in for Alan Watts, who also talked about this phenomenon:
No valid plans for the future can be made by those who have no capacity for living now.
Love me some Alan Watts.
Clayton Elliott says
Great post Jonathan! Too many people spend time getting “ready” and never pull the trigger. It’s possible to think oneself into a state of perpetual procrastination. I often throw myself in situations where i have no idea exactly how I’m going to get out of it, just so i can find my way out of it.
Studying for life in preparation to live can help to build strong hypotheses, but the only way to know anything for certain is through experiencing it firsthand. And whether that experiencing leads to the desired outcome or not, it is still a valuable learning lesson to glean from.
Shannon Lagasse says
Have I ever been caught in this! Haha.
I used to live my life totally just preparing for the next step. I’ve been the epic sitter, waiter, and planner. That’s changing as I start to embrace living in the moment. I’ve found that the most important thing for me is to be present. In terms of work, it’s been about doing what most needs to be done and not worrying about the 5,000 other things I could be doing to reach more people and get more clients.
Wonderful post today and congrats on your 300th… quite the accomplishment.
The post today resonated with me. I loved the sentence “you’re training a lot, but rarely are you ever really just moving or doing the thing you trained for”. I can’t agree with that more – “The credit goes to the man who enters the arena”. We can train all we want for life but without living it is all for naught. (side note I am officially competing in the 2013 CrossFit Games Open which starts tomorrow).
The post also really came at a great time because I feel in – as Seth Godin calls it – “the dip”… I have been so busy “Creating and Training” that I have bottomed out a bit. I recognize this on a head level but on a heart level it’s at times not a fun place to be.
What I do know though is that YES I am what I want and that YES I’m creating what I seek and that’s good enough for today.
I like that. Enter the arena.
I love this post Jonathan! I decided my big plan for 2013 is just “do all the stuff I’ve known I’ve wanted to do for years” – and I gotta say it’s powerful and effective! There are so many things I’ve been wanting to do . . . and waiting for some magical future to make them happen? I’ve started a new policy of just going for it wether or not I feel ready and I have to say it’s working out.
you go, Laura!
Hell yeah. I’ve learned that thinking and weighing options can become a trap. Sometimes it’s better to stop thinking just do it.
Great post Jonathan, I think I have been trying to solve life lately, Instead of just living it fully and in the moment.
I plan alot, and run in circles doing so. I am a poker player, which is very stressful at times especially when your on
a losing streak. I think living in the moment and in the now will help me to be all that I can be.
I just started writing again, about my own personal journey in the hope that maybe I can help others.
As well as writing, traveling and playing poker, I think I am being led to be an inspirational and motivational coach.
People tell me that I inspire others, with my story because I refuse to give up.
But is through my friends, mentors, coaches and people like you that give me the motivation I need to keep going,
hope in the end I can pay that forward.
you’re already doing that by sharing your story – keep it up!
for me, It’s been alot more about intentional refocusing on the important things (not just the urgent things), moreseo than preparing to live.
in practice, this means becoming comfortable with not responding to everything and everyone all day everyday
great post. really enjoyed reading
Glad it hit home for you Kola.
Sarah Russell says
Weirdly enough, this is something that’s been on my mind a lot lately, as I have a number of relatives currently at different stages of the dying process. Some at the end of lives incredibly well lived and some that are occurring far earlier than any of us want them to – the end result in my life is that it’s got me thinking a lot about how I want to live my own life. (That might just be the pregnancy hormones, too… This s***’s crazy!)
For me, though, the bigger issue is in business. I have no problem with “preparing just to prepare” when it comes to hobbies – I love taking hip hop dance classes, but I’m never going to be good enough to perform and really have no interest in doing so. The enjoyment comes from the doing, even if there’s no eventual end result in mind.
But when it comes to careers and business growth, I think it’s hugely important to consider what we’re working towards and how all of the different activities we undertake serve these goals. It seems so easy to coast in both of these arenas if there isn’t some overarching goal guiding our actions – really, to the detriment of everything we could put into play. I can “prepare” all day long, but if that preparation doesn’t eventually result in action or publication, it’s a huge loss for me and for everyone who could benefit from what I have to share.
Beautifully said Sarah. I love the way you put it into context of your mission and purpose.
Akshay Nanavati says
Awesome post Jonathan. This really resonates as well and reminds of a passage I recently read in the book flow. I think a lot of the reason why we are conditioned in this mindset is from a young age we are always pushed to worry about the future. One of my little cousins is told to volunteer not for the simple act of volunteering and doing good, but to do so in order to get the hours to go into college. From a young age, we fail to appreciate experiences for what they are and as such, we constantly look to the future for the source of happiness. In “Flow,” Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says there are 5 characteristics the family environment could create to foster this experience of living in the now, they are: clarity (clear goals and feedback), centering (perception that parents are interested in what children are doing in the present, in their current feelings and experiences), choice (children feel they have many choices), commitment (trust that allows a child to let go of defense mechanisms and be free to be themselves) and challenge (parents provide increasingly complex opportunities for action).
Hope these 5 tips help shed a little bit more insight into this topic.
But I am curious about your opinion Jonathan, what do you think is the balance between planning for the future and immersing ourselves in the now? What is the space for the liberated self to live fully while continuing to grow and create room for a more enlightened future?
Thanks Jonathan. Love your work!
Sufian Chaudhary says
This post is really inspirational. I love the video. You are absolutely correct with the “What the hell are we actually training for?” question. From working out and going to the gym 6 days a week with regimented diet plans and maximized workout plans for effectiveness, to just about any martial arts, all the way to University Degrees and higher education. I even know people who have been hanging around the Uni scene for the last 10-15 years and never leaving the bird’s nest and launching their career either one way or the other. Its indicative of this preparation in every possible sense mentality. We seem to be training (mentally and physically) for “something”, preparing for some kind of point of ultimate realization, where the sad reality is that we will never reach that hardcore point where we suddenly think “This is it! This is where ALL of my training for the last 20 years– all those hours for extra tuition, all that time working my ass off saving my money– is finally about to come to realization!” This fictitious Hero’s Journey is cycling an entire population of false hope to try and justify why we are wasting our time doing things that can be seen as completely unnecessary. Sure, every other guy hits the gym to try and look like they just walked off the set of the movie 300, but on a subconscious level (besides the “I want to feel healthier” objective) who can actually answer the the question of what they are preparing for? Could be one of the greatest pitfalls of mankind to be so heavily invested into trading on the unknown. The “What ifs” that never come to fruition. The justification that defines the reason we are alive today. This is an amazing article. Thank you for writing it.
Chris Hufnagel says
Inspiring as always and congratulations on post #300.
I have been a web designer for a long time and have had many different clients. Just recently I noticed that the clients I really enjoy working with are the ones that are truly passionate about what they do (like Ido Portal in the video, I was reminded of this when watching).
It is so tough to stop trying to one up and be better than someone else. I have been struggling with this for a while now and it will probably be a continued journey. I think the important part is that people realize it is time to stop planning, and actually live!
Aaron Morton says
I have been a victim of preparing to live and on the other hand i see the value in preparing for the future and having a loose path in getting there. Being present has enormous value and is currently lost in a large percentage of the population. I do think however talk of being present does cloud the fact our brain is capable of future planning and to disregard that trait is as unfortunate as the disregard of being present.
We, as humans beings are skilled enough to be proficient at both; be able to prepare for the future (whatever peoples living might be) and have moments of being present.
Nice article Thanks You,
Jonathan, not sure when this article was posted, but the timing of me reading this makes me wonder… I JUST signed up for Ido Portal’s training because I was realizing the same thing. I wanted more than just being fit, so I took the plunge and now I’m training under him. Pretty stoked. Sometimes we just need to take the plunge.
Paula's work... says
This surely does resonate with me, it’s at times when I am stressed that I need to stop myself and remember that I don’t need to worry. And it’s not worrying for me it’s worrying because working for someone else. Its the ‘time’ issue and wanting to be somewhere now rather than living in the present time. But I am only wanting to be somewhere else now because of someone else’s pressure on me. Jonathan I recently signed up for Trailblazer , I am so excited I know that what I want just need a little ‘back up’. Cheers for this and more, i love that you also understand. Than you
Brandon Cook says
Excellent insights Jonathan! We have to stop waiting to live and start living by being present and doing the things that we want and desire to do with our lives. It’s SO easy to fall into the trap of endless preparation and never taking action on the things we KNOW we should be doing… the actual THINGS that we are training for or reading to learn more about in the first place. Let us awaken from these illusions that cloudy our perception…. THE FUTURE WILL NEVER COME… it’s only this moment in which life must be lived.
Hi, Jonathan, great post and very interesting video, both inspiring a lot! It touched an opened wound as I am of those who are preparing for life. Can we give this fault for parents who want us to be responsible people? :D I have a BA I never used and joint other university for another BA, recently spent hours of reading about blog creation and never had one of myself :( but I am improving and decided not to waist my time any more: it is one of the most valuable things we have and decided to quit the last BA courses and about to launch other project in September :) MOVE MOVE MOVE… I learnt more things in the last year practicing them then in the past 5 years all together getting ready for it!
Someone told me I should, “Live in the moment.” Now I know why this entity would say such a thing. And why this is more a reflection of that entity’s own problems than it is of mine. In the moment, I am motivated to be happy, irregardless of the future consequences. Working hard does not make me happy, but unfortunately, the present is not sustainable.