I went through a stage in my early 20s where I'd lay in bed late at night, riddled with guilt about all the things I'd failed to achieve that day, and read life advice.
Part of me wanted to believe that if I just read the right quote then maybe I'd stop sleeping in and scrolling through my phone and procrastinating and letting my room get so messy I'd start hyperventilating.
And so I searched for inspiration. As though the right quote might irrevocably shift my mindset and then suddenly everything would become easy. At 2am I'd find myself overcome with this surge of motivation - to exercise and eat better and maybe even change the world - and then I'd go to sleep and find myself fumbling through another messy day where I failed to be the person I wished I was.
None of those quotes, usually a few words or a sentence long, say much about self discipline. And how ugly that is. Nothing worth achieving can be done with just a rush of motivation. You need a plan. A routine. And to do the thing on the days you truly don't feel like doing it. And some days you’ll fail but that doesn't make you a failure. Unfortunately, none of that is the stuff of profound quotes you stick above your desk when you decide one night you’d like to write a book.
But the greatest piece of life advice I ever learned was buried in a Reddit thread. For anyone unacquainted, Reddit is "the front page of the Internet" where people from all over the world communicate about news, relationship problems, fun things they've learned and just about anything else you can think of.
A few years ago, one user posted that he just didn't care about anything anymore. He wrote about being stuck in a pattern where his marks were falling at university. He felt like he was failing at the bare minimum and was stuck in this cycle of letting himself down.
"I have lots of things I want to learn and do with my life, but I can't even bring myself to do what I'm required to do...
"I hate feeling like this, but not even enough to do something about it."
And then Ryan from Canada left a comment.
His advice, which has now attracted more than 10,000 'likes', revolved around four simple rules:
- Have as many 'Non Zero Days' as you can.
- Be grateful to the three yous (Past, Present and Future you)
- Exercise and read books. (You get endorphins and exercise your mind)
The idea of 'Non Zero Days' particularly resonated.
"There are no more zero days. What's a zero day? A zero day is when you don't do a single thing towards whatever dream or goal or want or whatever that you got going on. No more zeros," Ryan wrote.
"I'm not saying you gotta bust an essay out every day, that's not the point. The point I'm trying to make is that you have to make yourself, promise yourself, that the new SYSTEM you live in is a NON-ZERO system. Didn't do anything all day and it's 11.58 PM? Write one sentence. One pushup. Read one page of that chapter. One. Because one is non zero. You feel me?
"When you're in the super vortex of being bummed your pattern of behaviour is keeping the vortex going, that's what you're used to. Turning into productivity ultimate master of the universe doesn't happen from the vortex. It happens from a massive string of CONSISTENT NON ZEROS. That's rule number one. Do not forget."