“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how,” wrote the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. When we are feeling confused, troubled, or out of sorts, our days often dissolve into suffering-focused atrophy. Structuring daily routines around meaningful acts can be key for mental health. Another philosopher, Jim Carrey put it this way: “You can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.” Taking a chance on passionate work and purpose requires focus, but even more importantly: routine.
The other day I happened upon a video by Lex Fridman outlining his daily routine. Now, I’m not suggesting we should all be living our lives in this particular way. But one thing that is very clear is that here is somebody who feels they are living a fulfilling life, and there seems to be something connected to his structured routine.
One way of thinking about it is that we could set up each of our days as a kind of three act play in our minds. Each act needs to be meaningful and connect with different values and aspects of our lives that we consider to be truly important.
Lex’s Three Act Play For His Day & Life
ACT ONE: Wakes up after 6-8 hours of sleep – Goes through a spoken mantra reflecting on: Rules and constraints around addictions like social media, and other aspects of his life that cause or promote suffering – Gratitude and the idea that today could be his last day alive – Brief reflection on the 5-year goals he wants to achieve – Nearer term goals for the year ahead – Visualizing getting all his tasks done successfully that day – Drinks 1 liter of water and makes coffee followed by a – 4-hour deep work session focused on: – One single difficult task requiring intense focus – No interruptions except short breaks for water/bathroom – Uses standing desk and ergonomic keyboard – Works on coding mobile app with TensorFlow
BREAK: Exercises for about an hour (does a run followed by David Goggins’ Nickels and Dimes workout)
ACT TWO: Second 4-hour deep work session focused on: – Continuing to work on the same difficult coding task – Removing all distractions and focusing mind – No eating, just water and salt pills – Powering through even if frustrated, waiting for breakthrough – Standing desk, ergonomic keyboard – Feels like a “sprint” and big accomplishment
BREAK: Breaks 18+ hour fast with large meal of meat & vegetables
ACT THREE: Another 4-hour, more flexible block: Goes through emails for up to 1 hour – Does video editing and podcast prep for 2 hours – Finishes up coding task from earlier (1 hour) –
WIND-DOWN/FUN: Academic paper reading (1 hour), focused – Thinking deeply about implications beyond the paper – Setting timer to stay focused – Literature reading (1+ hour) – Currently reading Dostoyevsky novels – Alternates between desk and bed – Listens in original Russian at times – Nightly gratitude reflection – Continues reading in bed until falling asleep
In some way, the three act play day also mirrors our whole lives, as each day is a microcosm of life itself. We emerge out of oblivion – the oblivion of sleep in this case – into consciousness. And then, whether we like it or not, we are awake until we drift back into oblivion.
The first act might be seen as that part of our lives leading up to what we call middle-age, which often involves education, career building, and family. The second act is what we live until retirement, dedicating ourselves to work and passions. And the third act is our later years, the unwinding and winding down of life until its end.
Similarly, Lex structures his day around three meaningful acts. His first act is a morning routine where he focuses his mind, sets rules and goals, and prepares for focused work. This is analogous to the first act of life, where we ready ourselves for the productive years ahead.
The second act of Lex’s day is deep, distraction-free work on his hardest projects. This middle portion dedicated to meaningful work mirrors the second act of life, where we devote ourselves to career and purpose.
Finally, Lex’s third act is an evening wind-down with lighter work and reading literature. As with the third act of life, this creates a transition to rest and reflection as the day comes to a close.
Of course, we need not follow Lex’s exact routine, which would be impossible for many of us. But the concept of structuring one’s day, and even one’s life, into three meaningful acts focused on purpose provides a template for fulfillment. The acts bring routine, while the focus on meaningful goals and values within each one brings a sense of purpose.
So in the end, perhaps a life well-lived is one crafted around three acts, whether they be morning, afternoon, and evening, or childhood, adulthood, and old age. If we want fulfillment in our lives (and who doesn’t), we might want to write and then live our own unique three-part play and strive to act it out on a daily basis.