When I was in my early teens, I read The Gallic Wars, in a great translation with annotations that made all the terms crystal clear. I loved this book, a first-person account of Julius Caesar’s campaign in Gaul. It’s a unique book, that gives you a direct window into Caesar’s thoughts, his problem-solving approach, his daily life. It’s his P.O.V., precisely documented.
His mind is like a knife, as the book makes abundantly clear – slicing through obstructions and rolling on relentlessly towards its goal. He has real vision; every problem in his life he turns over, examines, and then divides into pieces he diligently resolves. It may sound easy enough, but he is unbelievably thorough, his energy never flags, and he never quits or even seems to stumble. He has total emotional control and routes around obstacles as soon as they appear.
When the average person zigzags into his path, it’s very clear who is going to win. Towards the end, it seems almost superhuman, and you feel pity for the people in his narrative who are on the other side.
That approach was inspirational, and, ever since I read it, it’s been a kind of ideal that I try, in my way, to approximate.
In my own case, I’m getting better at organizing.
It started simply enough, as I see it. Years ago, I began running. That gave me the discipline, over years of stops and starts, to take up a project and persist with it. It also tames your self-indugence, by building up the motivation to repeatedly do something that is often less attractive than the early-morning alternatives.
This was step one.
Then I started recording my days in a calendar, the daily events, a few years later. At first I’d just update my week to show the major events once every few days; then, as my practice picked up steam, I added details, and finally expanded it to be, in essence, a long-term diary. More generally, it also established a practice of reviewing my life at regular intervals, recording it, and, as a result, broadening my awareness of my movement through life, leaving no stone unturned.
This was step two.
A few years after that, I started meditating. This gave me the mental clarity and the ‘eagle-eye view’ I needed to survey my life, and make effective top-level decisions. On a less glamorous, more mundane level, it also cleared out the emotional clutter that made true productivity possible. In other words: focus.
This was step three.
I’m starting to see the marginal advantage that comes from organizing like this, and the edge it gives you in life. It’s one thing to bluster and say, I’m very focused, I plan things out, I’m at the top of my game. It’s another thing entirely to grind out all of these practices, one day at a time, and slowly collect the benefits they give. Any one diary, calendar, or organizational entry is not, by itself, very much; cumulatively, however, they are very powerful, and you start to notice that you are more ready, more able, more prepared than your peers in the same situation.
It’s very hard to get a grip on life, on what, really, is your own experience; the natural tendency is for it all the mush together, in a jumbled blend. All of the above – the writing, plus the concentration, even the physical exercise – gives you the ability to isolate objects in your awareness. You can pull out some parts of your personality, expand them, and contract others. It’s like you have more levers to push and pull, and more levels on which you can work. You can build this ideal of yourself, hold it in your attention for longer and longer periods of time, and then grow into it, making fine-tuned adjustments through the feedback loop of your writing and atttention the whole time.
And that reaps benefits – more, the longer you do it.