If you ever want to feel small, try climbing up a mountain. It’s during times like these that I feel like my journey is huge, almost impossible.
When I’m at the bottom, the mountain feels insurmountable, its peak rising in the air so high that it towers over the rest of the area. At the bottom, there’s a slight fear present. Can I do this?
Whereas at the top, I now feel insurmountable. I’ve conquered the mountain with my own two legs, and it feels incredible. Furthermore, the fear I had at the bottom seems ridiculous. Of course I was able to climb the mountain!
But it’s the journey between these two states that is so interesting. How did I go from two very extreme states of emotion? What changed as I climbed the mountain?
The answer, it seems, is that I broke my journey down into smaller steps, and then got to work. I didn’t look up to see how much climbing was left to do every minute, nor did I look backwards to admire my progress. I didn’t lose sight of my micro-goal: putting one foot in front of the other. I put my head down and got to work.
That’s how you accomplish these kinds of big goals. It’s not through looking at the big picture, but through focusing on the small steps, concentrating on completing those before worrying about the big picture.
And when the big picture is revealed, it’s a wonderful shock to the system, because you weren’t expecting it. You’ve gone from bottom of the mountain to top of the mountain in one go, which creates a sensation of euphoria.
Therefore, the key isn’t to stand in awe at the immense grandeur of your journey. Instead, it’s to buckle down and do the work, letting yourself appreciate it afterwards.
By taking small steps towards your goal, you’ll soon find that you have climbed the mountain.
We are packets of movements, repeated every single day. In essence, we are periodic, operating on cycles that make us beings of habit.
Think about the things you do daily that are automatic. You wake up, maybe make yourself some breakfast, and check your news feeds. You don’t only check your news feeds, and you never do it before you make your breakfast. Every day, it’s the same movements, the same habits, in the same cycle. One action leads to another, without you having to think about it.
Wake up, make breakfast, check your feeds.
Here’s another example: as a student, you’re studying for an upcoming exam. However, you find much of the content dull, and so you’re prone to drifting off with distractions. However, these distractions aren’t random. As soon as you’re on your computer and you get bored, you’re typing the words of your favourite site before your brain even realizes what it’s doing. Even worse, your mental energy is so depleted that you don’t even stop yourself from continuing.
These two examples illustrate a tendency we have, one of unconscious dominoes. We don’t do activities in isolation. One leads to another, and they become inextricably linked from the repetition of doing them together. As such, they act as dominoes. Doing the first primes the mind to do the next one, and so on.
Furthermore, the more that dominoes are lined up, the easier it becomes to go through the motions of our days without thinking about our actions. You’re living on autopilot. When more actions happen as a consequence of another, it is easy to just “go with the flow”. Before we know it, we have so many dominoes lined up that our actions for the day are basically pre-determined. Not in some “destiny is written” sort of thing, but in the sense that our habits become more and more difficult to deviate from.
This in and of itself isn’t a bad thing. Essentially, this piece sounds a bit like having one’s day completely planned. However, the crucial difference is that having your day planned means you most likely thought about it. The unconscious dominoes are just the opposite: patterns you don’t notice and only execute because they are familiar and easy to complete. By living out of habit, you’re letting yourself to the whims of your tendencies, which may or may not be good.
What is good though is to use this tendency of unconscious dominoes to construct packets of movements and habits that align with what you want to do with your life.
Most days, I run in the morning. It has gotten to the point that I have a whole “ritual” in the morning from the moment I get up to the time I’m out of the door.
My routine looks like this:
- I wake up
- I dress in my running gear
- I do twenty squats
- I go downstairs and eat my breakfast (always a banana and a bowl of cereal) while reading some news.
- I put my watch outside to get signal, and use the bathroom.
- I do my warm up stretching and flexibility.
- I put any extra gear on, tie my shoes, and go out the door.
The time this takes me? About thirty to forty minutes. I’ve refined this routine so that I waste little time. Each movement is linked with the next, introducing the domino effect to tasks I want to get done quickly.
The beauty with these “packets” of habits is that they remain there even if they don’t get used for a while. Since I start school early, I cannot always run early in the morning. However, when I do get a chance to go for a morning run, my brain has learnt the habits needed for me to efficiently use my time in the morning to run. Therefore, these packets persist over time.
Whether you like it or not, these unconscious dominoes are there. You are using them for at least parts of your life. The challenge is to first find them (make them conscious), and then evaluate if they have a place in your life. If they do, keep them there. But if they don’t, think about other packets of habits that can affect your life in a positive way, and try to introduce those into your life. At first, it will be difficult and somewhat awkward. However, as you repeat them more and more, they will begin to revert back to your subconscious, becoming unconscious dominoes.
The trick is to place the dominoes in a way that they knock themselves over in a configuration that you like.
The Kill Shot
There’s always a way to burn away your passion for your craft.
I don’t care if you’re an Olympic athlete, or a weekend warrior. You can be the best at your craft or mediocre at best. No one is immune to this.
Just like a food you once loved can suddenly become nauseating after a traumatic incident, you can push yourself hard enough that the craft no longer has any appeal. It’s not easy, but it can happen if you aren’t careful with how immersed you are in the craft and the amount of pressure you place on yourself.
On the one hand, that pressure can help you improve. On the other hand, you may begin to equate your craft with a lot of pressure, which naturally induces stress. A delicate balance, then, is needed if you want to see improvement without pushing yourself away.
This is why it is vital that you set goals that are realistic for you. More importantly, the progression you set for yourself needs to be appropriate for you. As soon as you start comparing yourself to others and adjusting your progression accordingly, you’re putting the life of your passion in the hands of an external source. If this is alright with you, then feel free to continue. However, it is likely that avoiding burnout is high on your list of priorities.
This is why you must be weary of what I loosely think of as the “kill shot”. It’s the time in which you put so much pressure on yourself that you push yourself over the edge. Once that happens, the passion for your craft is lost, and it can be extremely difficult to get it back.
As such, be weary of advancing your training in your craft too fast. This can only result in placing so much stress on you that you lose the love for your craft. In this case, advancing slow and steady does win the race.
There’s no rush. Enjoy the journey in your craft, and take it slow.
You Don’t Have to Love Every Day
It’s a nice idea, but the reality is that this never occurs. While we may enjoy an activity and say we love it more than any other, the love for it is not constant. Instead, it’s like a wave, with crests and troughs that occur at various times. However, unlike a wave it is more random. At times, the love for an activity may be at a maximum and stay there for weeks. During other stretches of time, motivation may be at a minimum, to the point that others would quit.
The trick, then, is to find a way to persevere despite these dips and surges in motivation and love for an activity. We know that breakthrough performances don’t occur in bursts, but during extended bouts of concentrated efforts. Therefore, relying on those crests and troughs to fuel the fire for your passion is not a great way to improve over the long term. Instead, it’s much better to do an activity over and over, improving over the long-term.
In order to do this, we have to accept that an activity that we love may not always be enjoyable. It’s not that you may have days with low motivation. It’s that you will have these days, and your overall success depends on how well you can push through on those difficult days. Can you put aside the difficulty of today for the goals of tomorrow? Do you have the discipline to do so? These are all questions that will be asked over the course of practicing a certain craft.
Another important thing to note is that it is critical to stay patient on those great days. Often, we caution against the days where practicing your passion is difficult, but we forget about the troubles a fantastic day can cause. When we’re having an amazing day, we’re liable to take on more than we can handle. Consequently, we try to do more, thinking that we are “ready” to handle more. However, the truth is that your average day has to improve in order to think you can handle more. A peak is not indicative of the workload you can handle. Just as you wouldn’t lower the workload after having a bad day, you shouldn’t increase the amount during a good day.
Furthermore, the danger in a good day is that it can establish a new precedent. Then, there’s a certain pressure to do just as well as that great day during the subsequent days. Initially motivated, you may be able to ramp up the training. However, the inevitable lows combined with the fact that you aren’t really ready to take on more can lead to burn out and no desire to continue. This is the worst situation that can happen, and so we want to avoid it at all costs.
What we must remember is that there’s no requirement for us to love an activity every single day. Just because you love your passion does not guarantee every day will be easy. On many occasions, you’ll feel like you’re wasting your time with what you’re doing. But you must press on, for long-term goals are achieved by ignoring the day-to-day mood swings. Overall, the data can show a trend. However, by getting to granular, data becomes misleading noise.
If you have to fall in love with one thing, falling in love with the process of improving would be the best fit.
You don’t have to fall in love every day. Instead, you need to be willing to push forward on days that are tough, and be disciplined on days where it is easy.