Precautions Before Beginning a Self-Improvement Program

[This is taken from Arnold Bennett's How to Live on 24 Hours a Day.]

Now that I have succeeded (if succeeded I have) in persuading you to admit to yourself that you are constantly haunted by a suppressed dissatisfaction with your own arrangement of your daily life; and that the primal cause of that inconvenient dissatisfaction is the feeling that you are every day leaving undone something which you would like to do, and which, indeed, you are always hoping to do when you have “more time”; and now that I have drawn your attention to the glaring, dazzling truth that you never will have “more time,” since you already have all the time there is—you expect me to let you into some wonderful secret by which you may at any rate approach the ideal of a perfect arrangement of the day, and by which, therefore, that haunting, unpleasant, daily disappointment of things left undone will be got rid of!

I have found no such wonderful secret.  Nor do I expect to find it, nor do I expect that anyone else will ever find it.  It is undiscovered.  When you first began to gather my drift, perhaps there was a resurrection of hope in your breast.  Perhaps you said to yourself, “This man will show me an easy, unfatiguing way of doing what I have so long in vain wished to do.”  Alas, no!  The fact is that there is no easy way, no royal road.  The path to Mecca is extremely hard and stony, and the worst of it is that you never quite get there after all.

The most important preliminary to the task of arranging one’s life so that one may live fully and comfortably within one’s daily budget of twenty-four hours is the calm realization of the extreme difficulty of the task, of the sacrifices and the endless effort which it demands.  I cannot too strongly insist on this.

If you imagine that you will be able to achieve your ideal by ingeniously planning out a time-table with a pen on a piece of paper, you had better give up hope at once.  If you are not prepared for discouragements and disillusions; if you will not be content with a small result for a big effort, then do not begin.  Lie down again and resume the uneasy doze which you call your existence.

It is very sad, is it not, very depressing and sombre?  And yet I think it is rather fine, too, this necessity for the tense bracing of the will before anything worth doing can be done.  I rather like it myself.  I feel it to be the chief thing that differentiates me from the cat by the fire.

“Well,” you say, “assume that I am braced for the battle.  Assume that I have carefully weighed and comprehended your ponderous remarks; how do I begin?”  Dear sir, you simply begin.  There is no magic method of beginning.  If a man standing on the edge of a swimming-bath and wanting to jump into the cold water should ask you, “How do I begin to jump?” you would merely reply, “Just jump.  Take hold of your nerves, and jump.”

As I have previously said, the chief beauty about the constant supply of time is that you cannot waste it in advance.  The next year, the next day, the next hour are lying ready for you, as perfect, as unspoilt, as if you had never wasted or misapplied a single moment in all your career.  Which fact is very gratifying and reassuring.  You can turn over a new leaf every hour if you choose.  Therefore no object is served in waiting till next week, or even until to-morrow.  You may fancy that the water will be warmer next week.  It won’t.  It will be colder.

But before you begin, let me murmur a few words of warning in your private ear.

Let me principally warn you against your own ardor.  Ardor in well-doing is a misleading and a treacherous thing.  It cries out loudly for employment; you can’t satisfy it at first; it wants more and more; it is eager to move mountains and divert the course of rivers.  It isn’t content till it perspires. And then, too often, when it feels the perspiration on its brow, it wearies all of a sudden and dies, without even putting itself to the trouble of saying, “I’ve had enough of this.”

Beware of undertaking too much at the start.  Be content with quite a little. Allow for accidents.  Allow for human nature, especially your own.

A failure or so, in itself, would not matter, if it did not incur a loss of self-esteem and of self-confidence.  But just as nothing succeeds like success, so nothing fails like failure.  Most people who are ruined are ruined by attempting too much.  Therefore, in setting out on the immense enterprise of living fully and comfortably within the narrow limits of twenty-four hours a day, let us avoid at any cost the risk of an early failure.  I will not agree that, in this business at any rate, a glorious failure is better than a petty success.  I am all for the petty success.  A glorious failure leads to nothing; a petty success may lead to a success that is not petty.

So let us begin to examine the budget of the day’s time. You say your day is already full to overflowing.  How?  You actually spend in earning your livelihood—how much?  Seven hours, on the average?  And in actual sleep, seven?  I will add two hours, and be generous.  And I will defy you to account to me on the spur of the moment for the other eight hours.





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