How To Make Boring, Unsexy Progress

When people speak of others being overnight successes, what it boils down to is the fact that all of a sudden, everyone is talking about that particular person. In today’s language, these people became viral in a good way.

Breaking the phrase down, ‘overnight’ and ‘success’ hits all the sweet spots in our hindbrain.  ‘Overnight’ appeals to the part of us that want things fast and easy. ‘Success’ gets us to imagining what it’s like to be admired, or wealthy, or famous. Or all three.  Witnessing an ‘overnight sensation’ also works in the same vein — ‘sensation’ taps into the feel-good mechanism in our brain, which lights up whenever we get a hit of something that pleases us or makes us feel good about ourselves. “If they can do it, I can too!”

It rarely matters to the public how hard or how long someone’s been working on whatever it is that helped them become a success; When somebody becomes a star, being in the spotlight can cast a deep shadow over the work done behind the scenes and throughout the years. All the audience can see is how flattering the lighting is, and how put-together and happy the star of the show looks, and how inspiring the story is.

And aside from sound-bytes and maybe a short montage,  you don’t usually get to see the frustrations, disappointments, wrong turns and stubborn grit it took to get them to the point where they finally caught the public’s attention. The editors and technicians see to that.

The thing is, the way ‘overnight’ comes across, and adding the temptation of ‘sensation’ into the picture, that all glosses over one small principle that gets overlooked and yet can help us become successful to ourselves and for ourselves.

‘Get-rich-quick’ and ‘get-famous-quick’, or ‘overnight success’ can sometimes end up as ‘one-hit wonders’ and ‘flash-in-the-pan’ phenomena. Consistent and steady progress makes for meaningful, solid work that lasts.

Steve Carell’s break-out role was as the star of the movie, “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” but he worked steadily as an actor for at least a decade before it happened — and now it’s like he’s been around forever.

And maybe you’ve already seen that infographic detailing how people started out late in their lives and became successful at the things they’re famous for.

Did you miss the clue yet? Consistent and steady progress makes for meaningful, solid work that lasts. ‘Overnight’ happens by the public’s attention. ‘Success’ and ‘sensation’ are seen through the public’s eye, and what a mass of anonymous people can build up they can also tear down. Just look at the comments section on any hot-button topic currently taking up the front page. What comes from an external source — accolades, recognition, fame, applause, positive attention — can also be taken away without warning.

‘Consistent’ and ‘steady’ are boring. They don’t make the news, or get the hits, or page views. Being consistent and steady comes from an internal push, a source of grit and focus that keeps you going through mistakes and make your own course corrections to continuous improvement, no matter what others think or say. When you make consistent, steady actions towards a goal, guess what happens? You get there.

It may not be celebrated with trumpets, fanfare, and the keys to the city, but you get there.

What do you do to get there, though?

Get on the move. Keep moving.
The hardest step to take is the first. Anxiety and procrastination often play a part in dithering, but if you choose to keep pushing through and ignore what the worries voices say, just start and keep going for ten minutes. Just ten minutes of earnest action, and then stop.  At the end of ten minutes, you got something done. Ten minutes of action can be enough for the nervous energy to dissipate, and for you to keep going.

Be gentle with yourself, and be the guide to your inner six-year-old.
Who you are today is the result of years of habitual choices and actions. It will take time to retrain yourself to do something new, so be kind but firm. The six-year-old doesn’t get to drive, you do.

What you do trumps what you say you’re going to do. Every time.
Saying something doesn’t make it true. Saying you’re going to do something doesn’t mean it’s as good as done already. Words are just the start. Action and accomplishment are the real touchpoints as to what is finished. Be a person of proven action, not one of empty words.

Wake up. Every choice, no matter how small, tells you what your real priorities are.
If you say one thing and your actions prove another, then you’re not paying attention to your own life. Wake up. Pay attention. You have a role in responding to the things that happen in your life.

Do something to change what you keep complaining about.
Conserve the energy you use for talking, and divert it to making a difference, no matter how small, in the way you do things.

What you know doesn’t matter as much as what you do with what you know.
Don’t mistake knowing information for taking action. A shelf-full of diet and exercise books doesn’t make you a fit and healthy person. A subscription to online coding classes doesn’t make you a web developer. A special planner full of notes and timelines doesn’t make you organized. It’s what you do, consistently, with what you have that makes the real difference in your life.

Is it a milestone or a detour?
Whatever you choose to do to make yourself a better person — more skilled, more capable, more  learned — make sure the steps you take to do it are taking you in the direction you want to go.

What you chose to do has to work for you where you are.
Be honest. If you set up something that takes you out of your way to make it happen, how many times will you go out of your way to do it? Any changes you make or steps you take has to be able to work in your current set-up and environment.


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