Vinod Kurup

Hospitalist/programmer in search of the meaning of life

Time Is the Most Powerful Force in the Universe

Thanks to Mala’s inspiration, I’ve been running a lot more over the past month. Whenever I get into a good running rhythm, my mind starts to relax and I occasionally get bright ideas (believe it or not!). While I am running, these always seem Nobel Prize-worthy, but they seem to lose some of their glitter when the endorphins wear off. I still believe we could solve all the world’s problems if everyone was a runner.

On a recent run, I was thinking about how Einstein said that compound interest is the most powerful force in the universe. (Turns out he probably didn’t say that, but let’s pretend someone did.) It occurred to me that really, it’s time that is the most powerful force. Compound interest is a function of time and possibly may be the most efficient way to turn time into money, but time is what makes compound interest powerful. Compound interest over the course of 10 days isn’t very powerful. Any activity repeated over a long period of time can be a powerful force, even if each individual activity doesn’t accomplish much.

Spending a few minutes a day over the past few weeks has made a significant difference in my life. I’ve started a Habit spreadsheet to track some habits, specifically, brushing my teeth at night (wanted to start with something easy), writing, pushups, running and meditation. Each day’s activity is miniscule, sometimes to the point of seeming pointless, but over just a few weeks, I’ve seen tangible benefits. I’m writing more and therefore learning more about myself. Sure, I’ve also written some really bad stuff, but I know if I continue these sessions, my life will improve because I will know more about what I really want out of life. That small amount of time, compounded over days, weeks and years will make such a huge difference. The kind of difference where, in a year from now, I’ll be able to describe it better than “such a huge difference”.

I am probably in better shape than I’ve been in since college because I’m running, doing push-ups and playing more with the kids. I ran 40 miles last week, which I haven’t done since my marathon training days. It felt easy and most importantly it’s been giving my mind some time to relax (and generate blog posts like this!) Finally, I’m meditating daily and while that has felt like the least useful of the new habits I’m forming, it is the habit that I think has the most overall potential to improve my life. Having more control over my thoughts and my mind will have positive implications for all parts of my life. My mind has just been very hard to settle down during my sessions so far. (Any tips for a beginning meditator would be appreciated!)

I also started working on my website again and I found that I was able to pick up commands and bits of knowledge that I thought I had forgotten. Little pieces of web scripting and SQL just seemed to come back to me even though I haven’t actively used them in a couple years. Since I had put in so much time learning them before, I picked them up with much less effort now. Same with running. I find it impossible to run on days that I am working, so I have to wait for my “stretches off” to run. It used to be really hard to get to a decent level when I had taken time off, but now I can take a week off and still run 5 miles without feeling bad. Maybe that’s because I run so slow.

When I think about the huge benefit I’ve gotten in a few weeks with such a small amount of daily commitments, I just can’t wait to see what will happen in a few years! Thinking that far in the future used to seem ridiculous because I always wanted results now, but the older I get, the more I’m willing to wait. Paradoxically, stretching out my time-frame for results makes it more likely that I will see results sooner. When I was always trying to make things happen now, I would ignore the little self-improvement things in the name of efficiency. Now that I take the time to do those things, the benefits compound with time and I may end up seeing results even on the things that have nothing directly to do with the habits I’m performing daily.

I also thought about how I’ve been trying to simplify my life and I wonder whether it was worth it. As a general rule, simplifying is a great idea. Try to drive less, spend less, eat less. Those are all good things. But I also found that I limited the time that I spent developing my website. I moved it from OpenACS to a static template solution. There were steps in between, but each step since leaving OpenACS has been in the name of simplification. OpenACS (like all active free-software projects) was changing and I couldn’t keep up with it while also being a dad and a doctor, so I thought it would be better to outsource (Wordpress) or simplify (Jekyll/Blogofile). While that seems to make sense, it also means that I’ve spent less time on my website and one of the joys of my life became smaller. So, I am going to take a more active role in improving my website because I love doing it. I’m not going back to OpenACS, because I do think it was more complex than I needed. I’ve reimplemented google analytics and adsense because watching those numbers gave me some satisfaction.

Final thought for the day. I’ve gotten so much accomplished over the past few weeks because I’ve become more physically and mentally active. I used fatherhood as an excuse to avoid running and self improvement. I said I didn’t have time for it. That lack of activity just reflects poorly on everything else in life. I know that’s too dramatic, because life truly has been good for all of us. But, I guess my lesson to new parents would be to make time for exercise and self-improvement. It will make you a better parent.

Lessons from this run:

  1. Time is the most powerful force in the universe; using it to do meaningful things is never a waste.
  2. Don’t simplify things that you enjoy doing!
  3. Take care of yourself first.