My biggest fear in retirement is morphing into a teat-sucking layabout—that is, a lazy slob. Work, for all its faults, adds structure to your life. It gets you up early and out of the freakin’ house (or in my case, down the freakin’ stairs).
But I no longer have the spur of work. Sleeping late won’t get me fired. Binge watching Breaking Bad won’t threaten the household’s finances.
So what to do? How do I force myself to exert myself when my brain knows I don’t have to? Yes, waking up at 5:30 in the morning and doing something constructive will do wonders for my soul. But sleeping to 9 or 10 feels so damn good.
To avoid becoming a teat-sucking layabout, I devised the following strategy. It’s certainly tailored to my needs and circumstances, but I think the average reader will find it quite advantageous as well. Let’s begin.
Industry Begets Industry
Aristotle believed that to become a just person, one must repeatedly do just acts. He was an early proponent of the notion that habits are destiny. So if we take this wisdom and apply it to slothfulness, our remedy is simple. In order to avoid being a teat-sucking layabout, one must not waste one’s free time ensconced on a couch or glued to Facebook. One must get off one’s arse and do something constructive. Industry begets industry. Here, then, are four anti-teat-sucking constructive acts you need to do every day.
Clean something. If you have stuff, there’s something to clean. If you have a car, your own place, and a pet, there’s even more to clean. So clean something every day. Mrs. Groovy and I have a cleaning schedule for our house. Every day, we each hit a different part. Today I dusted, wiped the top of the refrigerator, and cleaned the microwave. Mrs. Groovy cleaned the stairs and the toilets (poor Mrs. Groovy). And your cleaning doesn’t have to be a deep cleaning. Just engage in 15-20 minutes of moderate effort. That’s all you need to do. Your stuff will never be immaculate. But it will be tidy, and you’ll begin the process of turning constructive acts into habits.
Exercise. Every day Mrs. Groovy and I walk two miles. On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I do my pull-ups and squats. Make exercise a part of your daily routine. And remember, exercise needn’t be grueling or time-consuming. Start out with 10 push-ups, 20 squats, and one minute of jumping up and down. Just do something physical. That’s the point. Less sitting and more moving.
Perform a random act of industry. Today, while I was walking past the kitchen sink, I noticed it contained a few unwashed dishes and utensils—the remnants of Mrs. Groovy’s breakfast. So I washed them. And while I was washing them, I noticed that our soap dispenser was getting low on soap. So I added soap to the dispenser. There, in five minutes I performed two random acts of industry. This is a great habit to get into. If you see something that needs to be done, do it—immediately. Don’t worry if it’s not your responsibility. Who cares about that. Remember, your goal here is not to become a teat-sucking layabout. And the more constructive acts you do in a day, the further you’ll be from being an actual teat-sucking layabout.
Learn something. Every day I do five Duolingo Spanish lessons. I also try to watch at least one Butterfly Spanish video on YouTube. Y mi español es todavía mal! Of course I want to become conversant in Spanish, but I know that might be a rather far-fetched goal at this point in my life. No, I humble myself daily with Spanish for two different reasons. First and foremost it’s another constructive act. And the more constructive acts you can cram into your day, the better. Second, I have an extreme bias toward learning. If you ain’t learning, you ain’t living. So please heed me on this one. Find something you want to be better at and practice it. Want to learn the piano? Play the piano for 30 minutes every day. Want to learn how to create your own widgets for your WordPress blog? Spend 30 minutes on wpbeginner.com every day. Want to learn personal finance? Read the three newest posts on Rockstar Finance every day.
There are only so many hours in the day, of course. And if you work or have kids, performing the above four constructive acts every day might not be feasible. But let’s say you’re an anti-teat-sucking-layabout rockstar. You not only perform these four constructive acts every day, you’re looking for even more to do. Well, if that’s the case, here are two bonus constructive acts for you.
Declutter or organize something. Do you have closets? Do you have kitchen drawers? Do you have a garage or attic? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you surely have something to declutter or organize. I currently have a basket stuffed with bills and medical records sitting on top of a file cabinet. My goal is to attack this basket for 10 minutes every day until everything is filed. Then I’m going to organize the cabinet beneath my kitchen sink.
Fix or improve something. Last week, Mrs. Groovy and I went around to every room in our house and made a punch list of things that needed to be done. Haven’t attacked the punch list yet. But that smudge on the bathroom wall that glares at me and mocks me while my arse is parked on the toilet will be painted over by Friday. So help me God!
Discipline Over Motivation
Motivation can only take you so far. When I worked in uptown Charlotte, a co-worker and I used to lunch occasionally at a Chinese restaurant that occupied a storefront right next to a mega gym. And every January 1, my co-worker and I would make note of how every stationary bike, treadmill, and, elliptical machine visible through the window was occupied—probably close to a hundred. We would then make note of how many were occupied on February 1. Invariably it was less than half. By March 1, only a handful of those machines were occupied.
Your best defense against the scourge of laziness is discipline, not motivation. So schedule your constructive acts for a set time every day, preferably in the morning. I wake up every morning at 5:30, and by 8:00 I’ve done my Spanish, my cleaning, and my exercise. Not exactly fun, but it’s a great way to make sure I have a good shot at “winning” the day. Remember: industry begets industry.
Another way to harness the power of discipline is to boycott television until a certain hour. There’s no hard and fast rule here, but if you can refrain from watching television until at least 9:00 pm every night, including the weekends, you’re very unlikely to become a teat-sucking layabout.
But a Little Motivation Never Hurts
Although you can’t depend on motivation for the long haul, it never hurts to have a little of it. It’s putting the “spring in Springfield,” so to speak.
To get my fix of motivation, then, I have two go-to podcasts: The Art of Manliness, hosted by Brett McKay, and The Tim Ferriss Show. Brett and Tim are both whack jobs, but in a good way. They both focus on how to become better human beings, and they’re not afraid to challenge conventional wisdom or take things to the extreme. And I especially like their podcasts that deal with mental toughness. Here are two recent examples of that.
I also get my motivation fix from YouTube. I’m fascinated with habits and willpower and how I can use these tools to my advantage. If you’re interested in this as well, I encourage you to YouTube the following people: Brian Johnson, Kelly McGonigal, and Charles Duhigg. Here are three great clips to get you started.
“I spent most of my money on booze and women, and the rest I wasted.”
I don’t know who said this, but I used to love this quote when I was a younger man. But now I have second thoughts. Is being a complete libertine really the answer to a fulfilling life? Perhaps some can pull it off. But I think most who try it will end up being broken down sots with vile STDs. And that doesn’t strike me as very appealing.
No, to me, a fulfilling life is an active life—where one endeavors to create or build, where one is a hero to his or her family and community, and where one is curious about the world and eager to explore it. After all, why were we bestowed with such exquisite brains? So we could just eat, sleep, and rut?
Okay, groovy freedomists, that’s all I got. What say you? Is my strategy for avoiding the perils of laziness sound? Or am I missing something. Let me know what you think when you get a chance. Peace.