An excerpt from Joshua's upcoming book -
Many years ago, I was sitting in a café enjoying a cup of coffee. At the table next to me, a young boy was doing his homework, groaned loudly and said something that changed my life. He said, "I just don't get nouns!"
I quietly made a little joke to myself, "That sure is scarcity thinking!"
Silly though it was, it made me realize, I don't get nouns either. I flipped the script to abundance thinking. I realized I may not get nouns, but I do get verbs! I don't get to control other people, places or things. I do get control of my action. I get verbs.
Over the next few days my thoughts became consumed with the idea of what a life meant focused on verbs might mean. How might that shape my future? Interactions with others had new meaning. That little boy had thrown the gauntlet and challenged me to grow as a human being. I had to examine my life and motivations in a whole new way.
There are so many things that drive my actions, and many things that keep me from acting. So many fears, feelings and thoughts that either truly, or falsely require my attention and action. But what does that really look like? In a lifetime, how many actions do I really get? Is it a lot? Is it a precious resource? It was time to do some research.
According to researcher Ze Frank who compiled data from the American Time Use Survey of The US Department of Labor -
You will live roughly 29,000 days.
You will be asleep for 10,000 of those days.
Making food and/or eating it will take up 2,000 days.
You will be in work or at school 4,000 of those days.
You will spend 2,500 days commuting or traveling from place to place.
2,500 days will be spent watching TV and movies.
Chores will take up to 4,000 days.
Caring for others will be 700 of your days.
800 days will be used up grooming, bathing and other bathroom related activities.
You will use 900 days engaged in community activities like church, clubs and sports.
What all of this means is, that for the average person, that leaves only 2000 days to focus on our own personal pursuits.
We ideally would spend that time giving our attention to things that fulfill us. With so many other things that require our attention, it would be great not to waste it on feelings, thoughts and actions that are unproductive. What we focus on becomes our actions and that in turn becomes our reality. If we could live our lives using our attention like a concert pianist strikes keys, without a single note misplaced, our life should be incredible. But how? More research was needed.
If attention were tangible, it would be in the unit of measure psychologists use for attention called, “bits”. To read a sentence like this one, your brain has processed about 200 bits of information. Your brain handles basically 60-100 bits of information per second. This then becomes part of your awareness. Have you ever noticed how hard it is to focus on a conversation with several people talking at the same time? We just don't have enough bits to handle that.
While reading uses the majority of your bits, there are some leftover, keeping your attention attuned to the environment around you. Any actions throughout the day draw from this same well. Engaging in a mindless activity such as flipping TV channels or doing something creative take about the same number of bits of information for your brain to process. Which do you believe to be more meaningful?
I was told as a kid I had attention deficit disorder. That’s kind of funny since a deficit could imply that I didn’t get enough attention. Maybe that need for attention is why I became a circus performer.
The reality is, that I wasn’t lacking attention. I am born with the same amount of bits as anyone. It is more like I had trouble knowing what I should or shouldn’t be giving my attention to. I tended to give my attention to everything. I allowed my mind to run free noticing everything around me all the time, reading every word I saw. My eyes would fly from newspaper headlines to the back of shampoo bottles. I heard every bird singing in a tree, noticed every person that walked by. It played hell on my brain when the internet introduced pop up ads.
It isn't completely a defect though. Without my brain working that way, I would have never overheard that young boy's pronouncement in the cafe, that he doesn't "get nouns".
A human being can attend to roughly 5-7 bits of information at a time. A bit of information is any idea, interaction, feeling or other piece of information that enters your consciousness. When we are talking about “at a time” we are referring to 1/15 of a second.
The average human mind running at full capacity of attention will max out at approximately 100 bits per second. This information leads psychologists to reason how many bits of information a person can handle per minute, per hour, per day, and per year. Based on the average human lifespan of 79 years or 29,000 days or 2,500,000,000 seconds, the total amount of bits we each get is 150 billion.
I know that seems like a lot. It really isn’t that much when you realize that I am talking about everything you will ever do, say and think. You will use up 150 billion bits no matter what activity you are engaged in. Whether it’s being stuck in traffic, checking our inbox, playing a board game, in line at the grocery store or telling someone "I love you".
No matter how you frame it, you have a limited number of bits. Here is where you realize, 150 billion isn't that much. I know. It’s a bit of scarcity thinking. There is a plus side. You may not be able to purchase more bits on Amazon, but you can learn to use them wisely and then it is like having more bits, abundance thinking!
Let’s get back to the statistics from the beginning of all this. Some of you are checking my math, and have realized, with only 2,000 days for yourself, you don’t really get 150,000,000,000 bits. You get more like 10,000,000,000.
Don’t you think you should be a bit choosier about where you spend this precious capital? Do you find that your mind is often crowded with thoughts and feelings that don’t propel you forward? Wouldn’t you like to align your mind, focusing only on what you value? Your bits are precious. They should not be spent frivolously. They should only be spent on things that support your wonderful humanity.
That is not to say that you should only do what you want when you want. We live in a society that functions because we all sacrifice parts of ourselves to coexist. When we work at our jobs, we trade our bits for money so we can maintain our needs and afford the things that bring us security and happiness. Keep in mind though, there are invaders at the gates. These parasites sneak into our mental storeroom with glowing promises of fulfillment and but leave us feeling empty. These transactions give us a great deal of discomfort that we didn’t bargain for.
I am on a mission to live a verb filled life. I have found no security or happiness in thoughts and actions that are wasted trying to control others. There are no bits spent dwelling on the past that have propelled me forward towards my future self. I have gained nothing from actions focused on forcing myself to be something I'm not, solely to please others.
The key to a fulfilled life won’t be found watching the video of a guru on some 2-minute Facebook popup. It is found in successfully managing the 150 billion bits that we get to spend while we’re around. The life we are looking for takes effort. Living a verb focused life begins with action and ownership. You can’t imagine yourself doing 100 push-ups and get stronger, believe me, I have tried that one.
To be clear, I recognize my imperfection. I am not even perfect at following the guides I have created for myself. I recognize I am engaged in a process. So far, it has yielded great rewards.
Here is the process in its barest form:
I am choosing now, to use my bits to help people understand this concept, so they can focus their mind on who they want to be. This in turn reminds me to stay on my own path. All of this, that you have now spent approximately 25,000 bits on, is compiled from my own personal debrief notes. This is my process. It really works.
I hope you will join me.