The Biggest Lie We Tell Ourselves But The Easiest To Overcome

Believe it or not, the Infantry isn’t all about training for war every single day. More often than I’d like happen, we are tasked with details that can take numerous Soldiers away for a day or even weeks. Soldiers become sick and can be on quarters. Soldiers can be gone for schools, or at times not have the proper number of Soldiers assigned to a unit to fill the ranks. The higher up you get in the ranks, the heavier the administration tasks become. These include numerous meetings, writing monthly or yearly performance evaluations, or being the leader in charge of a detail. These small and simple examples are prime situations that I have seen leaders use as excuses to not, for whatever reason, do their job and what they are assigned to do, myself included. It’s the excuse of “I don’t have enough time.”

     Our time is obviously one of our most precious and valuable things. We frantically and meticulously plan out every second of our day because we have to get all of these “tasks” done and accomplished. When I was deployed to Kandahar, Afghanistan in 2011, I had a conversation with a village elder while out on patrol. I was young and still learning principles of being a leader and really being a professional. I knew I had a timeline to hit that day and I kept checking my watch. The elder, who wasn’t wearing a watch, asked me “Do you know why many of us don’t wear watches in Afghanistan? Because we have time.” It was amazing for this 25 year old American Soldier to be presented with this unique concept of time, when in the United States we use the excuse that we never have enough of it. Why do we have so little while another part of the world has plenty? Is this a fair conclusion? If so, what can we draw and learn from it?

     Let’s peel back the layers and talk about not having enough time. Let’s see if we can honestly say, and be confident that without a doubt, we have ruined ourselves in this country. We have so much to do that we take short cuts because time is limited. Here’s the first question I’ll present to everyone: What time do you wake up EVERY morning of every day? What disciplined routine do you have to start your day? For those who don’t believe this next statement, confirm it with the wife, but I wake up every day at 0500. Even on days I’m off work. How taboo is that in this day and age? Only old people go to bed early and wake up early, right? WRONG. People who have a purpose and a disciplined daily routine wake up early. People who say they are swamped and don’t have time should wake up early. Hopefully I don’t go into “rant mode” like I sometimes do. Let’s look at what waking up early accomplishes. 

     First off, waking up at 0430 or 0500 at the latest should be followed by a workout. You don’t want to get out of bed? Make yourself GET OUT OF BED. You don’t want to go to the gym? Make yourself GO TO THE GYM. Don’t want to lift the weight? Then LIFT THE WEIGHT. Don’t want to start hammering out that project? Guess what? HAMMER OUT THAT PROJECT. When you’re exercising and eating right and being healthy, you feel better when you arise early. When you’re awake that early, who is there to distract you and to turn your attention on other things? Maybe the kids. Just throw some cookies out and they’ll be good. You get a significant jump on the day when you wake up early. But, you have to do it every day. It has to be a disciplined effort to change your habit. DISCIPLINE EQUALS FREEDOM. When you start your daily errands, chores, or gym time late, and by late I mean like 0900, you leave the possibility of the boss keeping you later in the day to disrupt your plans. There will always be those unpredictable tasks that get thrown on. Emergencies happen. You begin getting tired and frustrated as the day goes on and you just want to go home, and any other example we can think of that disrupts our day. If you honestly assess that you don’t have enough time, that’s the simplest answer. Go find yourself an alarm clock. Find yourself. Wake up early. 

     Listen I get it. Rome wasn’t built in a day. I was 30 years old before I really started understanding time management and getting my mind right and getting after the things that slowed me down and stood in my way. It is a process, but it’s attainable. When you set out for a goal, whether it’s a short- or long-term goal, assign sub goals to accomplish it. We’ll use waking up early as an example. The goal is to wake up at 0500 every day and not go back to sleep. Some sub goals would be, go to bed earlier. Make your bed every every morning. Get dressed. Have a plan for your first 30 minutes awake. If we are being honest with ourselves, what productive things are we accomplishing past 9 PM when we talk about going to bed earlier? Are we harassing people on Twitter and Facebook? Are we moving down that dangerous path of YouTube videos where you looked at how to do proper pullups for your workout tomorrow and now you’re watching videos on what would happen if a rainbow entered a black hole? Are you four hours into that new TV series you started? If it’s Game of Thrones, that’s about the only exception I’d be willing to accept. Are you trying to level up on Candy Crush or whatever the new fun game? The point is, assess your nightly routines and how it’s affecting your daily routine. You wake up early. Start your day. Get your stuff done. Leave time for those hobbies that you like. Finish the day. And go to bed tired. If you aren’t going to bed absolutely exhausted to where you can’t even have a coherent conversation with your spouse or cat or whatever you have, then you missed the mark for the day.

     Keep your head on a swivel. Look around and identify what takes your time away. Assess and overcome. Life will constantly lead you on the path of least resistance. The “easy way.” That path is the voice in your head that says “Keep sleeping. You can quit. You tried your best, now just give up. Not today. That’s too hard. Cut the workout short.” Be careful on that path. I promise the enemy knows our location on this path and will lie and wait and ambush you with those thoughts and destroy you. When you allow that ambush to constantly win, everything you cut short gets put off. It piles up. You lose your discipline and you are no longer free.

     In the military, when we pack our ruck sacks for foot marches, Soldiers make it difficult on themselves by saying “Eh it’s just one thing. It’s small. It’s not that much” when talking about adding items to their packing list. There’s a saying we have that says “Ounces equals pounds.” All those little things that are light in weight by themselves will eventually turn in heavier pounds later and will affect your performance. This is so true to our time management. All those minutes we don’t allocate correctly turn into hours and can pile on and turn into days. Every second counts.

     Sun Tzu, a Chinese General in the 500s BC who is credited with the military strategy book “The Art of War,” puts the importance of time like this. “Whoever is first in the field and awaits the coming of the enemy, will be fresh for the fight; whoever is second in the field and has to hasten to battle will arrive exhausted…Therefore the clever combatant imposes his will on the enemy, but does not allow the enemy’s will to be imposed on him.” Our time management, bad habits and bad routines are the enemy. You want control of the battlefield? Want control of the day? Attack it early. Be there waiting. Take the day by surprise. Getting better every day in our lives and changing habits is a campaign. Campaigns are complex. The end state changes often. How we maneuver through this campaign needs to be modified regularly. Each battle within the campaign that is won brings you closer to winning the war. And it’s my belief that arising every day at 0500 to not only be waiting on the field of battle, but to attack the day is the first step in gaining control of our time and completely eliminating the phrase “I don’t have enough time” out of our vocabulary. That time gained then gets put into the ones that we lead. We become better. The individuals under our command reap the benefits and are better for it. Discipline…Equals…Freedom!

2 thoughts on “The Biggest Lie We Tell Ourselves But The Easiest To Overcome

  1. We’ll explained Randy. It’s boiled down to priorities and why there YOUR priorities. Leaders use those task and trackers because they’ve lost their grit. Guilty at times. Guess what happens when your checklist is red or some trivial task doesn’t get complete?… NOTHING!! I’ve proven this time and time again by simply just not doing something that is a “priority”. By eliminating junk from my day I can focus on what matters. Taking that time to mentor a young person, go to your kids football game, eat supper at home, be there for things that matter. Guess what happens if I don’t take some time to show this young person how to shoot or take care of their feet, in a combat zone? People die! That’s what matters. Retirement here I come, Army call me back when you’ve rid those excuse makers from Army and we do what matters. Disciplined goals with realistic priorities is what matters. Thanks for stirring these dark emotions Randy!!! Love ya brother


    1. “Disciplined goals with REALISTIC priorities” is a great statement. I was listening to a podcast yesterday and they were talking about our cognitive reasoning. They were comparing the leader who needs all the facts layed out in front of them so they can make the best decision they can (which is great if that was always the case). A cognitive reasoning leader can not only do what I just explained but can take whatever amount of information given, even if some of it is contradicting and minimal and process that info given the circumstances and are able to make a decision quickly to initiate the movement. This is exactly what combat leaders do on the battlefield. There’s a term called your “OODA Loop” (Observe, Orient, Decide, and ACT). It’s that split second decision making that happens. Developing your OODA Loop is important for leaders. If anyone has never heard of it, it’s an interesting topic to understand and learn.

      I think we are losing the ability to use that OODA Loop decision making and using our cognitive reasoning in our culture. One thing I believe that affects this is the amount of information and people’s opinions that are available at a touch of a screen. This is ultimately a good thing if we know what to do with it. How may times have we talked to someone and it starts off with either “I just read. I just saw. I just watch. So and so said.” We are so consumed with other people’s opinions on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, News apps, or whatever our source is, that we allow their thoughts and opinions to become ours. Or we search high and low until we find that resource or outlet that coincides with out belief and thoughts. As before when it was just books, newspapers, and human being talking, we were required to make those decisions and develop our own conclusions on things.

      I’ll finish with this analogy I heard on organizing priorities. All priority tasks can be described as a ball. Either a rubber ball, wooden ball, or a glass ball. A rubber ball priority is the task that if dropped, it bounces back up into your hands and leaves no damage to anything including the ball. Has no affect on anything. A task that is a wooden ball is the task that if dropped, it may damage the floor. It will probably damage the ball some. It will have little bounce and if you’re fast enough you can catch it. The ball if still usable though. Lastly is the glass ball. This task is a legitimate priority that if dropped, it shatters to pieces and no one can put it back together. You and I were late bloomers on handling our priorities and getting them straight. But we Observed the issue. Oriented our priorities. Decided to change. Acted out those decisions. OODA Loop applied. Thanks for your insight and wisdom also brother. Love ya!


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