Four Thousand Weeks, Justin Veenema at Unsplash

Four thousand weeks

If you knew you had 4 thousand weeks to live, what would be your reaction? Some people seem to think that is a huge amount, but the few I have approached in the last few days were a bit disheartened with the shortness of it all. So if you really only have 4 thousand weeks to live, how do you choose to live it?

“That’s all you get?”

I have reflected before about how would you curate your life if you were given the choice. What would you bring to it, what would you leave out? The concept here is somewhat similar but it is not exploring what you choose, rather that you will have to choose. The author is a former productivity guru turned enlightened realising that the only reason we try to control time is that we don’t confront our mortality and the finitude of it all.

Whenever I read these books I am always worried about having a big enlightenment myself that will make me realize how wrong I am living my life. Luckily, not this one yet, though it most certainly helped me think deeply about a few concepts. I won’t spoil the book for you as it is worth reading but wanted to bring up 3 points the author explores and that left me thinking a bit.

The Problem with Rest

Since the dawn of synchronized work (such as factories), rest was created in a structured manner that changed society. But ocium time is not new. From ancient times there has been a recognition of how important it is. However, the evolution of society meant we also start to dictate rest time. It became a new way of living, to “use” your rest time with a purpose. Run because you are practising for a marathon. Learn a new language. Read a self-development book. We have developed a need to fill our time with purposeful things. It is like relaxing means not doing work but most certainly doing something else.

I mean, I can’t claim the higher moral ground here. I am guilty as charged. But I recognise it very clearly. I relax by doing charity, writing, podcasting. And whilst that does give me energy, one must recognise that is not really relaxing, is it? In a world where we seem to avoid relaxing at all costs by working extended hours, one can’t help but think:

“What are we avoiding to feel?”

The Reality of Finitude

One of the things that can help us deal with life in a different way is to just accept it is finite. Whilst that may come as a scary feeling no doubt, and one that we rather not think about, it will also make us very easily see that there is just no way we can do all the things the world has to offer us. I understand the first reaction may be the opposite – OMG if I only have 4 thousand weeks then I have to start now doing all the things that I want to do to live a “good” life. But if you were to really sit down and write those down, you would soon realize they don’t fit.

Finitude also reminds you that this is it. There is nothing you ought to be trying to get out of life. There is nowhere to take it to. Life is here and now, and the realization of that is precisely what can create the so famous mindfulness. It is only when we stop trying to be mindful with a purpose, and just be, because the now is what matters, that we can truly be in life. For someone who has difficulty in being in the present and not worrying about everything, it does seem a daunting feeling, that there is no future. Not being morbid here, I still assume there is a life ahead of me. But there is a limited one and the only way I can really make the most of life is not through a series of small steps that take me somewhere, but rather about each step mattering to the here and now along the way.

Consolidate your caring

That leads me to the final concept I wanted to share that comes as part of the 10 recommendations at the end of the book. The only way in which you are going to make a difference in the things you care about is if you focus on them. So you need to know what they are. And not overdo it. Because the focus is precisely what it takes.

The author brings a good reminder to the story of the rocks, the pebbles and the sand that the teacher asks the students to put in a jar. And whilst the concept of the story is still accurate – focus your time on the rocks first, there is a fundamental flaw with it. We just have too many rocks in our lives these days.

I faced that struggle myself recently as I was going to a particularly difficult moment of overwhelm. I have gotten really good at identifying pebbles and sand and giving them a different type of attention or none at all. But I still have more rocks than I can fit in my jar. So I can’t possibly continue the belief that all will get done. I can choose to focus on some at each time and leave some out of the jar at other times, but other than that, it is just not realistic. So you really need to be brutal about deciding what you will not do.

Next time you feel overwhelmed, maybe stop to think that you really don’t need or can do all that is in front of you. Make a list of what you have actually done. And think about what your rocks are. Are you spending time on them now?

Photo by Justin Veenema on Unsplash

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