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Doing the Next Thing

user profile picture Chris Martenson Aug 06, 2013
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The whole reason we spend our time looking at where the world is going is so that we can position ourselves to have as prosperous, joyous, and fulfilled a life as we can, while leaving behind a better world for those who will follow us.

Today I can say with complete sincerity that I am a better, more fulfilled, happier, and healthier person than I was ten years ago.

The greatest asset any of us have is time. Which is why the Crash Course framework illustrates that there's some urgency in making the right choices today, centering on three big questions:

  1. What new things should I start doing today?
  2. What old things should I stop doing?
  3. What important things should I continue to do?

The answer to each is simple: Find those things that serve us as we align our daily lives with the larger realities of where our world is likely headed, and drop anything that does not serve us.

Easier said than done, but that's what makes life worth living. I find it exciting to try new things out and experiment with various configurations as I seek more balance, health, and pleasure in my life. I recently encountered this as a principle stated as everything is an experiment which comes with the footnote …as long as you remember to collect the data.

So I try new things, collect the data, reject some things and keep doing other things, and weave in any new practices that seem to work for me. Of course, this is not a perfect and linear process; I cycle through various things as I keep re-discovering that they no longer serve me (still!), which means that I am human.

Mark Sisson, of the Paleo Diet fame and podcast, holds the same principle. When working with clients, he shoots for 80% success in the adoption of a new eating regime, not 100%, because perfection always fails and causes people to quit. Better to keep mostly at it while moving in the right direction.

This is my entire approach to fitness, which I am pleased to report has evolved from a program of weight loss into one of maintenance. It's summed up in just two simple phrases: (1) eat what my body tells me to eat, and (2) exercise every day.

Of course I flub those simple rules quite regularly, but I think I'm safely in the 80% zone of adherence. And the results are happily favorable to me. If exercising 'every day' sounds like a complete stretch, let me explain what I mean by that.

In my office, I have a floor, a chair, two dumbbells, and an exercise ball. After writing for a while, I'll get up, stretch briefly, and then do a single circuit of curls (using dumbbells), dips (using the chair), crunches (on the floor), shoulder presses (dumbbells again), and then core balancing and strengthening (using the exercise ball). All of that takes me about 2 minutes.

I might do one, two, or even three of those circuits per day. But even if I do, that's less than 10 minutes in total. From that, I receive far better results than I ever did being a far more time-dedicated gym rat much earlier in life.

The same principle applies to eating. The smallest of adjustments in portion sizes and food choices made each day is far better, results-wise, for me than trying an entire complicated new diet or eating plan.

The same thing holds true for the resiliency projects around my house. Sure, I do some big things every so often (like plant an orchard), but the majority of gains come from simply doing the next thing. How does an entire property, or life, become transformed? By a progression of 'doing the next thing.'

It's a Marathon, Not a Sprint

In our recent seminar at Kripalu (which was just a fantastic experience for all of us on the Peak Prosperity team, as well as the participants, based on the 100% 'excellent' ratings on their feedback forms), people really opened up about what it was like to be living with the sense of leading two lives, one being the life they were actually living, and the other one being the one they really thought they should be living.

While the audience certainly spanned the continuum from being 'almost there' with respect to living the life they wanted to be living, to 'not even close (yet),' everybody wanted to learn more about how to move closer to their goal of living an integrated and authentic life.

As we have for years, we took the time to emphasize that all of this will resemble a marathon more than a sprint. Ready or not, the world has already begun the long process of adjustment, and changes are coming to every country and every culture on earth.

The best advice I know how to give when it comes to getting where you want to go is simply to do the next thing. That's it. Just do the next thing.

And remember to pace yourself, and have moments of rest and recovery along the way, and check to be sure that, whenever possible, you are nourished and energized by your efforts, not depleted.

My 'Next Things'

My favorite nourishing activity comes from all of the plantings I am tending on my property. After investing a bit up front to ensure that I would never again need to weed a pathway, or help a tree fight off grasses from its base root area, or have to spend time watering everything, I now spend about 10 minutes a day keeping everything weeded and happy. This is usually done first thing in the morning with a coffee cup in hand.

When it's time to harvest something, more time goes in, depending on the crop. But the basics of keeping everything weeded, pest-free, and watered consumes very little of my time. And I love what little time I do spend on these tasks. Instead of being a gardener, I feel like I am in a relationship with the plants and soil, and that makes what I do seem more like a subtle conversation than a set of chores.

The plants very clearly tell me when they are stressed, need feeding, or some other form of tending, and about half of the time I know just what to do. The other half of the time, I admit to still getting stumped by some new condition, off coloring, or pest that I have not seen before, or forgot what it was.

Here's the garden from a different angle:

The draped bushes in the front are blueberries, now their third year and yielding nicely.

I have a sense of what this place will look like in twenty years, and that drives my decision about 'what to do next,' along with the time I have available for new projects.

This year saw three big new additions, with the most relational and fulfilling of those being bees.

With some prompting from Adam, who got bees a few years before I did, I just up and bought the hive bodies and then ordered bees. Then I got Beekeeping for Dummies and started reading.

We couldn't be happier with that decision here at Martenson Central. At first cautious about this whole new thing to learn, the entire family is now utterly hooked on 'our girls' and have a rapidly growing appreciation for these gentle, social, and complicated creatures.

In the picture above, I am showing a wider frame to illustrate that we live in bear country and have to have an electric fence around the hives. A closer view would show that the hives consist of stackable boxes in which frames of pre-formed beeswax honeycombs sit, which the bees then 'draw out' and fill with larvae, pollen, water, and/or honey.

My youngest, allergic to bees (but not honeybees), has taken to suiting up and loves to handle the hives during inspections, feedings, and cleanings. Every day, we see 'our girls' out in the garden, on the clover in the lawn, or inspecting us as we sit on the porch (they are curious).

Again, this feels less like 'keeping bees' than being in relationship with them. They get something, we get something, and both have to respect the other. Over time, we'll get to know each other better, such as learning that they hate the hive being opened when certain weather is coming.

Another addition this year was hazelnuts, a shrubby to low-growing tree that makes wonderfully protein and oil-rich nuts. Seen circled in green, each of these four new entrants to the landscape will become as large and well-formed as the crabapple seen to the back left. They are creating a miniature grove out of an otherwise nondescript patch of lawn.

I'll have to prune them carefully once a year to ensure that they become small trees instead of shrubby bushes, but that won't take too much time. In five years, the basic shapes will be established, and in twenty years the project will come into its fullness. I'm imagining a set of chairs and a table underneath them, where, in spring, we can listen to the bees above us gathering pollen and nectar from the crabapple while the wind pollinates the hazelnuts.

A third and exciting 'next thing' was planting eight elderberry bushes, the fruit of which we turn into an extract that is absolutely wonderful at mitigating the impact of cold and flu symptoms. For those with a Western medicinal inclination, there are lots of peer-reviewed, double-blind studies that confirm our anecdotal experiences. Here's one.

These little bushes will grow to be 8-15 feet high, and we have them scattered all around the property. They are attractive, easy to grow (they do like 'wet feet,' so watering often or planting near water really helps), and provide us with medicine if needed and wine making materials if not. Otherwise, the birds will happily enjoy whatever we do not use.


As I wrote earlier in the year, I'm grateful for these broken financial markets (where stocks only go up and nothing important ever seems to happen), as well as frustrated and bored with them.

But, on balance, I am more grateful than anything. This has been an excellent period to recharge, button down the little things, make various nips and tucks to the homestead, and delve into the deeper and meatier aspects of emotional resilience.

This gift of time, which may persist for a while or might not, has allowed us to settle into the new realities that we are each creating in our own lives. Some are further along than others, and some have yet to really begin the physical activities necessary to manifest a new life. But we've all had the opportunity to emotionally integrate the implications of living within a flawed system that seems destined to operate somewhat normally until it doesn't.

None of us know what the trigger will be to launch us into the next phase, where the larger body of the culture finally figures out that if there ever was such a thing as 'normal', we're not going back to it anytime soon, if ever.

Perhaps the trigger will be a failed harvest. Or a credit crunch that scythes down a number of systemically important entities. Or even just simple exhaustion of the print-your-way-to-prosperity concept.

Because we cannot know when or what the trigger will be, the best and most successful strategies for living that I know of include doing the things you love that also happen to bring resilience into your community and alignment between your thoughts and actions.

That way, no matter what happens or when, we are living as well as we can, growing, and improving ourselves with age as opposed to being worn down by living the lives we are 'supposed' to live inside of a careless culture.

I reserve my deepest gratitude for the people around me, those conscious and living consciously in my community, who allow me to live openly with all my thoughts and ideas no hiding! and allow everyone the luxury of making mistakes as we experiment with living new lives, with new rules and boundaries and expectations than the ones we were handed at birth.

My most important asset besides time? The people around me!

Included in this description is the gratitude I have for this community here at Peak Prosperity, where I learn so much and have become close with intelligent people of goodwill and passion whom I have never actually met in person. Despite the virtual nature, the connection is there; and finally meeting the 'screen names' at seminars and presentations is always a big treat.


Among what I consider to be my most important traits are the ability to see what I wish to create, and to then apply the daily persistence to just 'do the next thing.'

That's my personal secret to life creating what I wish to see and it keeps me nourished and vital. I happen to think that it also keeps me safe and resilient, as well as engaged, and those are all important. But the motivation comes from seeing how everything I do is relational, and that's something I am just wired for and fed by.

Of course, once upon a time, I was motivated by urgency and anxiety about the future. And though I still have my moments of concern, that frame of mind was conducive to sprinting, and I had to learn to find a way to pace myself for the marathon to which we find ourselves conscripted.

That's how I learned to combine what I love doing with creative action in the natural world. For me, that centers around nurturing living things bees, plants, chickens, people. For others, it might be something entirely different such as music, building things, systems engineering, or community organizing.

It really doesn't matter what it is, as long as our best gifts come out and help re-shape our future together constructively. But it does matter that your daily actions fulfill and energize you, because that way you have the best chance call it 80% of just doing the next thing.

~ Chris Martenson

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