What do you want most in life?

Anytime a client tells me they want to “focus on the things that matter most” and “stop wasting so much time,” I ask them that question. If they can’t tell me what they want in the distant future, they can at least tell me what they want right now.

While they’re usually prepared for the first question, they’re almost never ready for my follow up:

Then why don’t you act like it?

I’m not trying to shame them, I mean the question sincerely. Why do you do things you know don’t add value to your life?

Almost 100% of the time, it’s not because they’re lazy or unfocused — in fact, most of my clients are the most ambitious and focused people in the world. They believe they lack discipline because they occasionally watch a movie on a plane, instead of reading a book, but they’re actually missing the root cause.

If this describes you — someone who is ambitious, driven, and focused, yet can’t seem to stop wasting time — you need to understand one thing about yourself:

You’re building your life in a way that will never make you happy.

A miserable today isn’t the set price for a successful tomorrow. Even if you think this is the formula for happiness, your brain instinctively knows it isn’t. That’s why you waste time on indulgences — your brain is desperate for something to cheer it up.

What Is The Formula For Happiness?

I teach all of my clients a tool I call The Formula. It’s a way to say, OK, you have all these amazing ambitions and long-term goals, and an expectation of how amazing that will make you feel, so, why don’t you just feel more that way today?

Really. We know our brains think we need to get that thing or success or partner or respect or whatever to feel that way, but, if you want, you can just choose that now too:

  1. Celebrate your life today. No matter how much you might feel is lacking, spend time building up the gratitude and good feelings of what you do have.
  2. Get excited about your long-term vision. Look forward in your life, perhaps like a movie, all the way to the ending, and see your grandest vision for your life.
  3. Really feel it. Really. Really feel it. Feel what it is like for you to reach that most amazing goal of yours, and notice that, just by thinking about it in your head, you can feel this way now. This is your goal. It’s not “out there,” it’s not the feeling of having it that matters, it’s this feeling you get from creating this right now.
  4. Infuse your joy into today. Look forward to even just the smallest actions you are taking today that move you towards your grandest vision and infuse this feeling into the actions you are taking today, and every day.

The Formula on its own is incredibly powerful for changing how you feel and getting yourself to take the actions that are consistent with what you want. But when you use it as a part of a system for focusing your time on what matters to you, that’s when you really see the magic.

5 Step Process For Focusing On What Matters

The Formula matters because in order to manifest success you must be able to get yourself in the right state of mind for taking the actions that drive results. Yet, even if we’ve got ourselves beyond any resistance and we’re taking great actions, often we find ourselves avoiding those tasks that truly matter to driving success.

A hedge fund manager we met with was too busy running his team and managing the desk that he was failing to make time for the work that would truly drive results. While that might sound like a time management problem, really, it’s a problem of emotion. The bad feeling of doing work he found hard and “scary” was dictating his time.

Here’s how you get clear on what matters and align your time:

1. Start at Night

However you want your day to be starts the night before. Of course if you down a bottle of wine at night you’ll feel it the next day, but, also, if you go to bed at night imagining tomorrow being your most amazing day, well, then, it more likely will be.

So, just imagine that. For a few moments before you go to sleep, imagine you waking up, and using your day exactly how you like. Of course in your wildest dreams you might not want to be at work, but so long as you are, how do you see it going fantastically?

2. Bounce out of bed, get moving

We’ve all had too many days where we laid in bed wishing we could keep hitting snooze, but imagine how amazing it will be to wake up and bounce out of bed. Not because you’re some type of perma-grin looney, but because whatever thoughts you keep feeding yourself keep you more enjoying your day.

If you’re serious about focusing on what matters, bounce out of bed like a person intent on doing it.

3. Get in touch with Why

Everyone talks about the power of why, because, well, it’s extremely powerful. Starting in the am, and during the day you want to constantly remind yourself of what you’re doing and why this matters to you.

It’s like Michael Ovitz showing up in the early days of CAA, turning the keys to the door and thinking about how he’s driving revenues today. What is your why today?

4. Set clear goals

The night before bed you saw yourself breezing through your day, feeling how you want, getting done the things that matter to you, and early in the day, you want to get clear and specific on what this means.

I suggest that again you visualize your day, seeing it play out as you imagine. And, then, every morning, you lay out a schedule by key blocks of time your goal and stretch goal for what you want to achieve in that time frame.

It’s helpful here to also look back on yesterday and see where you could have improved. Really hone your skills here by asking the hard questions like, Where did you waste time on things that didn’t relate to your most important uses of time? And see how today you’re doing it differently.

5. Infuse Joy and Absorb

If you come back to where we started on The Formula you see that whatever you’re doing today isn’t about your goals. It’s not about your grand vision. It’s not about your goals for today. It’s just about one thing:

Your day. And what you are now doing right now this minute of your day. So, take that feeling. That amazing feeling of why you’re doing what you’re doing and how it feels to look back having had an amazing day, and simply absorb in what you’re doing.

The Future Is A Lie

You open your eyes at the beginning of the day, and close them at the end. The in-between is the only life you are ever going to know. Even in the future, you will only ever experience one day at a time, really, one fleeting moment to moment.

The future is a promise you tell yourself to justify today, but ask yourself, how do you feel using The Formula that you’re living it all right now today?

Originally published at medium.com