If you zoom in enough, any curve can look straight.
Think about being on a curve that traces a circle. You’re at a specific point. Now, imagine just moving a little bit along that curve, taking an infinitesimally small step. You’ve barely moved. In fact, it may look like you’re not going to move in a circle at all. It may seem like you’re just moving straight, that you aren’t turning at all.
This is the trouble with zooming in too far with your goals. By analyzing one effort after another, it can seem like you didn’t accomplish much at all between yesterday and today. It can seem like you weren’t on a curve at all, but just a straight line.
However, that’s not true at all. You are moving, albeit slowly. From day to day, it doesn’t look like much. But as you put in the work every single day, you may suddenly look back and notice that you’ve moved along the curve much more than you thought. Just like the sense of surprise you feel after climbing a mountain for an hour and then turning around and looking where you came from, the change is gradual. It doesn’t happen in one go. Instead, it’s the culmination of hundreds of tiny efforts, all building up to the craft you want to master or the goal you want to achieve.
The key is to do the work, and trust that you’ve moving along the curve. Looking too closely at your effort from one day to the next will only disappoint you.
The most powerful work is done over a long time, until it’s just too good to be stopped.
When we are pressured, we go back to our defaults. It’s something that we do both physically (such as in sports), and in our daily lives.
Therefore, it is of utmost importance to create defaults that are what we deem “good”. These are the things you’re going to fall back on when life gets hectic and you can’t add anything more.
During these times, you’re going to unconsciously move to your defaults. If you’re defaults are good, you can rest assured knowing that you will continue making a bit of progress in your craft.
The challenge, then, is to figure out how to change your defaults. The answer can be seen from sports, expressed as such:
If you want to get better at badminton, don’t shoot free throws.
Put another way: specificity is key. The more you practice your craft, the more the habit will become ingrained. Furthermore, the way in which you practice your craft will become habit as well. This is what your defaults will become.
Every day, you have a choice in the things you do. By taking the time to create better defaults for yourself, you’re gaining an advantage. Instead of being at the whims of your defaults when the stress in life is at a maximum, you’ll be content with what you do.
Avoid the Surges
When you first begin working on a goal or a habit (both after a break, or if you’re starting a new one), it’s tempting to do a lot. This is true for the beginner (once they have tested their abilities) as well as the veteran (who knows their ability far exceeds their modest comeback). Both want to push their abilities in order to challenge themselves. After all, who wants to be patient throughout a slow buildup when they can jump straight to the difficult things?
However, it’s so, so important that you don’t fall into this trap. It’s seductive to begin doing more immediately, but you must remember that the goals we set are achieved over a long period of time. You cannot “win” by doing everything in one day. Developing lifelong habits don’t happen that way.
Worse, trying to do a lot in a short amount of time is a surefire way to create a state of burnout. While you may feel great about your goal on the first day (and super motivated to accomplish it), how will you feel a week in? Two weeks in? A month in? As time moves on, the initial enthusiasm will fade. This may sound grim, but it’s the reality that everyone faces. Even the most committed people in the world don’t have a huge amount of motivation every single day.
Therefore, there is no use to “spend” all of one’s motivation during one day. In the subsequent days, there will surely be a dip in motivation, causing a questioning of the goal itself. By doing a lot, too soon, it makes for a large barrier to overcome during the next days. After all, we don’t want to start doing less than what we first did, right?
Fortunately, there is a solution to this problem, although it isn’t easy to execute. When you have a huge burst of motivation, you need to ignore it. Do what you were going to do anyway, and then stop exactly where you planned to. Chances are, you’ll still be teeming with motivation. This is good. From here, you need to use this extra motivation as a means to fuel your next session.
By making yourself wait, you’re creating a craving. In this instance, a good one. By the time the next session comes around, you’ll be incredibly excited to go ahead and start again. Plus, you can repeat the same procedure every day, allowing you to prolong your motivation. On the other hand, if you use all of your motivation up on one day, there’s a good possibility that you’ve done too much, and your excitement for the next session will likely diminish.
If we want to achieve our goals, there’s no reason to do everything in one day. On the contrary, our goals are long-term, which makes our best approach to them long-term as well. Therefore, we need to spread our motivation over the season that spans our goal, not just the day-to-day sessions. As the saying goes, doing too much, too soon, leads to failure.
Be smart about your training sessions. Don’t try to “win” the goal within one session. It’s a process, which means you want to sustain your motivation throughout that process.
If you can do that, you’ll be set up to achieve your goals.
If you zoom in on a curve enough, you can convince yourself the line is straight. Similarly, if you only look at the average value of a sine or cosine curve, you may mistake the functions for constant functions going through the horizontal axis, when they are anything but constant.
The problem lies in what we are observing. When we look at functions the wrong way, we miss information that could be vital to what we are searching for. Since our perspective isn’t optimal, we lose that potential insight.
The key, then, is to actively search to improve our perspective. If we aren’t checking that we are looking at a problem or task at the right angle, how can we possibly know we are getting the best perspective? We can’t, so we need to analyze our situations in various ways to make sure we understand it to the best of our ability.
If we want to be accurate in our assessment of situations, we cannot simply analyze in one way. That is too simplistic, and could result in thinking that a curve is straight when it is actually not.
Don’t fall prey to false slopes. Check your work.