Thursday, April 10, 2008

Commentary: "I Am" Vs "I Do"

Imran Rahman has a superb post at Dream Manifesto entitled “Two Simple Habits for a More Fulfilled Life”. It starts with a great quote from Aristotle: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” The entire post is a must-read, but I think Rahman’s core concept is crucial. There is a difference between “I am” , which can be almost anything: a lie, an inflated self-concept, self-deception, a relic of misplaced, overindulgent parenting, or a vow that is not ever meant to be kept, and “I do”, as in “I pretty much do the same productive (and hopefully not unproductive) things day after day, week after week, year after year”. “I am” is waiting to be proved or disproved, "I do" is petty darn obvious to anyone who has known you for more than five minutes.

For instance:

I do… perform a Weekly Review every..well..week, thanks to David Allen’s Getting Things Done.
This has led to much more serenity in my life. I know where things are filed. I know what is coming up for me next week, next month, in 6 months, etc. I know what my projects are, and what is the most important project to be doing right now.

I do... have a “Mindfulness List”, which I read every morning. Things to keep in mind. What I should be eating (and not eating). How I should be exercising. Reminders to try (sigh) to stop judging people so much. Reminders that “peace” is more important than winning an argument (sigh, again).

I do… Use checklists. Since I do a lot of trading, it is important to get it right over and over again. Exactly right. Some of what I do is very sequential and I have often got the steps wrong. The checklist is a lot better than my memory, and the results of the procedures are very satisfying.

I do… (thank-you Mathew Cornell
) keep a giant Personal Information Manager spreadsheet with every important site that I may want to revisit someday, or that I may want to refer a friend to. This has been extremely helpful.

I do… "debrief” myself after a particularly jarring trading experience, and I re-read these debriefs on a monthly basis, adding them to a “Lessons Learned” file. Thank you “Murph” Murphy .

I do… Write up monthly and yearly “Highlights” so I remember what worked, and what didn’t, reminding myself that assertiveness works and anger doesn’t, that praise always works and criticism never does, and, very often, reminding myself (with some surprise) that life is pretty good, and that I am truly blessed with wonderful friends and family.

These items have progressed from being what I do to being what I am. Five years ago I was not doing these things, and, thanks to this blog, and my intention to learn and grow, now I am doing these things. Aristotle was right. I now “am” these things as much as any other description of myself. And I like these things because I chose them. I chose them and I choose to keep doing them. Perhaps choice is partially the difference between the “I am” and the “I do”. Between “I can’t help what I am” and "I CAN help what I am". Of course, these actions I repeat so often are all means to an end, but they are also a “carving out” of the self. A rejection of entropy. A stand against chaos. Out of all the things I could be doing: sleeping, watching TV, engaging in “pity parties”, eating chocolate sundaes, I CHOOSE TO DO THESE THINGS INSTEAD. These items separate me from mere impulse. From unconsciousness. From drift (hah! Not enough). They make me who I am. They are who I am.

Who are you?

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Matthew Cornell said...

Thanks for the link, and for the pointer to Rahman's article. Great stuff. I really like that you track what you've learned and discovered about yourself over the last year - something I continue to strive for too.

Lisa Alvarado said...

Totally with you on taking responsibility for one's self and one's attitude. My 'mindful list' is also one of appreciation for those things given, and I try to carry some kind of connection to that during the day.

We must, however part company on the chocolate sundae question.

Lisa A,