How much time do you really have? Map it on a grid with Charles Assisi
New year resolutions are a routine reminder of the good news: We know what we must do to make our lives better. The bad news: We’re wasting time.
It amazes me each year, the endless optimism that drives year-end revelry, the sheer hopefulness of a species that will make new-year resolutions each year, vowing to shed the past and begin work on themselves anew.
It’s a tempting philosophy, and a noble aim worth chasing. But by this time in January, studies have shown over and over, resolve begins to weaken. Between the last week of February and the first week of March, about 80% of people who made them will completely give up on their new-year resolutions.
Interestingly, most of these resolutions, around the world, dwell on the same few goals: A healthier lifestyle, more time with the family, fewer needless purchases, better use of leisure time (this one used to involve things like “take up the trombone again” or “start painting”; now it’s just “stop doomscrolling”).
Even if the resolve doesn’t usually last, I think the fact that people make new-year resolutions indicates something vital: we know what we must do to improve our lives. The intent is there. What’s missing is the perspective on how to go about it.
Why blame people for that? There are simply too many demands on our time today; too much to do, keep pace with, try out, form an opinion on. In a simpler, slower time, perhaps resolutions worked better (at least for men, who have tended to have greater control over their use of time). A blacksmith might wake up on January 1 and decide to take up wood-whittling. That very day, after his shop is closed, he might sit by the fire and get started. Over time, he might become that man in the village who has the blacksmith store and a wonderful collection of wooden figurines.
For us, in our information age, the urgent and seemingly urgent conspire to overtake the significant. Is there a way out?
Pointers to interesting answers come from a thoughtful email sent out by R Sriram, co-founder of Next Practice Retail. As part of this annual tradition, he shares reflections on the year about to end, and passages from things he’s read over the previous 12 months.
Sriram is the kind of person one takes seriously, because he has a knack for sifting through noise to see what is essential. His 2022 note contains a pointer to an essay by Tim Urban that was first published as a blog post in 2015. In The Tail End, Urban starts by working off the hypothesis that he will live to be 90. At 34, his age when he wrote the piece, the question on his mind was: how much time does he really have?
In an effort to represent this kind of measure, he created the grid alongside. Each circle represents a month. Take a look at where you currently stand on it.
This is the kind of image that can strike one in the gut. It brings home the true absurdity of all the ways in which we waste time every day.
I turned 50 a few weeks ago. Assuming that I will live to about 75, I’ve lived over two-thirds of my life. On the chart alongside, it’s clear that I don’t have as much time left as I’ve already spent here. Another 25 New Year’s Eves. I want to be more careful about what I do between them.
As a first step, I have left the cacophony of Mumbai temporarily, to spend time with my mother. She is now in her mid-70s and each year with her feels like a bonus.
But humans are wired for optimism. I have about 300 months left; 1,300 weeks; more than 9,000 days. It’s a heck of a lot. More than enough time to get things done — my next book, more conversations with my favourite people, perhaps finally a triathlon. I’ll keep you posted on how it all goes. My custom-built bicycle arrives later this month, or next.
(Charles Assisi is co-founder at Founding Fuel & co-author of The Aadhaar Effect)