There is no such thing as “free time.” Every day I hear, “Everyone is so busy today.” I utter those words myself when I’m shaking my head at our society’s epidemic of what boils down to a lack of commitment. The Four Agreements, which when followed really do lead to a happier, more peaceful existence, start with Agreement #1: Be impeccable with your word. I am often dismayed by how much we break this agreement (yes, me included) – canceling engagements or not showing up in the first place, because we are all “so busy.”
So, when it comes to adding in new positive activities which will hopefully lead to healthy habits, our tendency is to decide to assign them to our “free time.” I will read during my free time. I will exercise during my free time. I will build my home-based business during my free time. I will meditate during my free time. I will write down my goals during my free time. I will connect with loved ones during my free time. I will pray during my free time. I will prepare healthy meals during my free time.
There is no such thing as free time.
Nature, the universe, abhors a vacuum, even more than my dog does. If something isn’t occupying a void, the universe steps right in to fill the void. If you don’t believe me, swap out your handbag for a model twice the size you currently use. Only fill it with the items in your current, smaller bag. Watch how quickly it fills to the brim. Of course your new bag needs an extra water bottle, protein bars, and a new small insert to keep everything organized!
If we don’t intentionally create space for what we really want to do, the space will not open up. If we do find ourselves with a void in our schedule, or a space that was once occupied by that habit we are trying to get rid of, we need to immediately decide exactly how we will fill that void. If we are dumping a lousy partner, we need to fill the void before the next jerk steps in. How many of us know people who go from one negative relationship to the next? If they had built on the momentum started by taking the positive step of letting go of a negative person, by turning their energy toward a fulfilling hobby, joining a club, working on their own personal development (issues) – there would probably not have been the space for the next loser to come knocking.
This applies to other self-destructive relationships we have. When I quit drinking several months ago, I didn’t leave a vacuum open. I immediately started new habits and activities to replace the rewards I was seeking through a glass: I drink delicious teas and healthy supplements; I knit; I connect with individuals and communities who are on the same wavelength as me. Even mentally, although I don’t usually miss the alcohol at all, at the beginning of my alcohol-free life, I still had the habitual thinking at certain times of the day or week or month when a pour was a soothing, celebratory ritual. So, I began to immediately redirect my thinking to something positive and motivating: the fact that what I now drink improves my skin rather than ages it; that my body is grateful to no longer have to spend resources on processing all the toxins from alcohol; that my brain is going to retain most conversations; that I am completely available to my loved ones and I am less likely to break my commitments. Yes, even the brain needs vacuums filled (this has nothing to do with being an airhead) – and if we don’t intentionally think about stuff that is helpful and health-full, we will end up right back where we started.
So this is what I suggest you do: read my previous column, about Burning Desire. Then, create space in your head and in your day or week, in which to engage in the tasks and activities needed to achieve those goals. Finally, fill all the “free time” and headspace with these positive thoughts and activities. Note: please do not confuse this with constantly having to do stuff. If your goals include improving your health, you may need to prioritize more sleep. This may mean, scheduling earlier bedtime, which may mean earlier log-off time, which may mean simplified social schedule. You may need to download an app or recruit an accountability buddy, to make sure you schedule regular “appointments” with yourself to meditate, workout, pray, write in your gratitude journal, build your business, etc. Be intentional, and set yourself up for success by proactively filling the vacuum.
Don't let the universe fill your vacuum.
For my 40th birthday a few years ago, I treated myself to my first ever Ironman triathlon. I remember in my 20s seeing something about Ironman on TV and thinking, those people are f-ing nuts, I would never do something like that. Then I did my first little sprint triathlon at the age of 35, still with no desire to do any of the longer distances. Eventually, the distances became a little longer as I learned what my body and mind were capable of doing, I enjoyed the sense of accomplishment, and my innate curiosity kept me pushing the envelope.
As if doing the full Iron distance, which is basically a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike, followed by a 26.2 mile marathon, all in the same day, wasn’t nuts enough, I also decided to do it knowing I only had 2.5 months to train. Clearly I wasn’t aiming to qualify for any awards, I simply wanted to finish (you are considered an official finisher if you finish in 17 hours or less). Not only did I finish it, but a couple of weeks later I signed up to do it again. I again gave myself 2.5 months to train. I again pulled it off.
I often think of this time, when I was in the 10 weeks of high intensity training for each of these Ironman triathlons. The experience taught me that the human body is truly amazing. I did not grow up the way so many kids do today, involved in structured sports all year around. I was active, taking ballet classes once or twice a week, and then splashing in the pool and hitting tennis balls and periodically playing competitive badminton with my dad (I grew up in Mexico City). I went to the roller skating rink a few nights a week and did some races. I did one stint on the high school track team and dropped out after 2 weeks. My nickname was Tortuga (Turtle) because I was pathetically slow. I totally relate to underdogs, which I guess is why I would much rather coach an underdog than a type A athlete whose self esteem hinges on a PR.
Aside from a deep appreciation for the human body, I think what my Ironman experiences really showed me was the intense power of having a burning desire. When I decided to do the Ironman, and I told my coach that I was all in, I would do whatever he said, no questions asked, I became determined to do this. I became hyper-focused. For 10 weeks, if you were not standing in front of me, swimming, biking or running alongside me, or under 4 feet tall and standing in my kitchen clamoring for attention, you were pretty much not on my radar. I did what was needed in order to keep clients satisfied, and family cared for, but any “extras” in my life fell by the wayside. Non-urgent emails, casual conversations with friends and acquaintances, drama of any kind, deleted or on hold. The family had to step up and help a lot more round the house. Every opportunity that would mean a time commitment of any sort, was passed through a filter: Is this something a driven athlete has time to do, and finds helpful? No? Then the answer is, Sorry, not now.
What is your burning desire, today? Is it to lose 20 lbs? Do your first triathlon? Fix your marriage? Be more present with your family? Get out of debt? Here’s the thing. Most of us have these sorts of dreams and aspirations, but if we are honest with ourselves, we are motivated the day we make that decision, but then we start to drift. And it’s because we don’t have a burning desire for it. We say, I really want to get out of debt and make some nice spending money so I’m not so stressed all of the time, and yet our actions show that we are much happier being like the average American who loves reality TV, complaining about presidential candidates, and searching for the next quick fix. Burning desire, especially to us women, seems selfish, especially if it is related to something we consider vain (weight loss/appearance) or greedy (making lots of money).
We need to get over that.
The main reason you are not living the way that God wants you to live – with purpose, passion, intensity – isn’t because of your DNA or what street(s) you grew up on. It’s because you haven’t been taught that 1) you need to have a burning desire to achieve a certain goal or live a certain way and 2) you aren’t clear on what that is. And the thing is, if you don't do this, the universe will do it for you. If you are unhealthy, going from one crisis or drama to the next, on some level you are living in a way that draws negativity (read this book today!).
Most kids are taught that you need to go to school, follow the rules, do your best, comply. Then when you get out of college you get a job, and work your way up, marry someone nice, have a few kids, pay your bills. Sure, all this stuff is important, and I am bringing my kids up that way to some extent. But just the way that we supplement their education with ballet and piano lessons, hockey and soccer teams, extra academic help – we also need to supplement their upbringing with character development lessons that tap into the reason God created all of us – to use our gifts to live with joy, to create abundance, and to make every day count. We are not here to be on autopilot, to make excuses, to make the creators of reality TV shows and fluff novels rich.
This week I had the honor and pleasure of spending an entire day and evening with Randy Gage, the bestselling author of several books including his latest release, Mad Genius. Randy was an addict, he was shot and nearly killed, he spent time in jail, he teetered on bankruptcy. Now he's a multimillionaire, practices clean living, and teaches millions how to do the same. He was accompanied by Erick Gamio and Luca Melloni. Erick left a very successful job in the corporate world because it was killing his spirit with the long, stifling hours and culture that went against his deepest desire – to practice his creative gifts as a musician. He is now extremely wealthy and happily sporting long hair and practicing his music and spending time with his family, every day. Luca was broke and overweight and miserable, and is now a multimillionaire and an Ironman athlete, while spending loads of time with his wife and two kids. The “3 tenors” were visiting as we are in the same company, which is launching in the US, and they included my town on their pre-launch tour. If you want to know how to get out of your financial/professional rut, pick up Randy’s books. Email me if you want.
One of the points that each of these men made at some point throughout their time with me and my team, is that most people won’t do that. Most people who are coasting along in blah mode or mired in their problems, will not pick up a helpful book, and actually read it. They will not then act on what they have learned – and if they do, most people won’t continue to act on the steps consistently and over the long term. But really, that’s how simple it is. Just like training for an athletic event of any sort. My Ironman journey did not begin with me deciding at age 35 that I was going to do an Ironman. It started with signing up for a sprint distance triathlon and taking the daily steps, small at first, to be at the start line four months later. I showed up, I crossed the finish line (3rd in my age group!), and signed up for the next one. And so on.
1. Find your burning desire and obsess about it.
2. Take small, daily steps.
3. Commit to the long-term.
Your kids and the world need you to ignite that burning desire to be the best version of yourself.
Motivational coach, athlete, mom, entrepreneur. I love helping people mindfully reboot their health & joy.