Anything big can be broken down. Big dream, big goals…it’s not that they’re out of reach precisely, as is you’re far away. It isn’t always that they’re pipe dreams, ones too grand to happen, but sometimes you hold the goal too close to be able to look clearly at the pathways you need to get there, and for that you need distance (perspective), persistence (grit) and work (action) to close the gap.
Grit can be sourced from many things. From positive (belonging to a supportive and encouraging group of friends or family, having a goal you’re really invested in) to grey-negative (Out of sheer, seething spite to show people up, for instance.) Grit varies from person to person.
And for distance and work to work, you need to notice time. Pay attention to the way you habitually spend your time, and you’ll get a clear view of what you are or aren’t doing to get your goals realized. As much as we can say about what’s important to us, an actual record of what and where we spend our time on is a much more reliable indicator of what we prioritize.
And one very small, very powerful way to close the gap is the power of good habits.
You’ve probably heard this a lot from action flicks: “Slow is fast, fast is good.”
- Slow is Fast and Fast is Slow (Nancy Hagan, Effective Day)
- Slow is Smooth, Smooth is Fast: What SEAL and Delta Force operators can teach us about management (Joe Indvik, LinkedIn)
We tend to think of habits as things we do automatically, without thinking.
In a sense, it does work out that way a lot of the time. Some habits can grow organically. The good ones we deliberately build up, however, require a lot more attention and repetition before they get to stick. Tracking the repetitions helps you get on track. That’s the slow part. Once you get used to it, it’s a matter of paying attention and staying on it until the repetitions become the new ‘automatic.’ You get from slow, to smooth, to fast.
Habits — good ones — are an investment.
Bad habits are easy. That’s just you getting used to doing something, and with the way our brains are wired to take short-cuts and taking it easy, unconscious habits can be annoying, at the very least. Leaving things at the last minute leaves you scrambling at the last minute, for example. Or constantly starting late.
Good habits are the ones you get used to on purpose, even when —especially when– they’re hard to do so at the start and the middle. A good habit doesn’t end, it helps you evolve. Good habits open up more choices for you.
The investment comes in the conscious choice, the deliberate, purposeful action, and the blocked out, mindful time you take to do it. The investment also comes with the discomfort that you have to get used to if you want the habit to work. The more you invest, the more the habit becomes ingrained until it has its own momentum.
Go back to “Anything big can be broken down.”
Big can be scary. Intimidating. Big things loom, crushing down confidence by their very presence and their implied weight
But how did big things get here in the first place? Other people — an organized group, more likely, or even a disorganized mass — built something and left it behind. Patient work and group effort, a hive-mind, a shared vision — there are countless historical examples we can point to that are Big Things built by ordinary people. The Great Wall of China. The bridges we take for granted on our commute. Airplanes.
How do you make a big thing small?
You get higher up — get a different perspective from a distance to see the whole picture. A long time ago somebody important in China saw a need to build fortifications. Every day, engineers monitor the ways and means to get people to cross rivers safely, and even more engineers work on keeping large, ungainly metal cylinders with wings functional and flight-worthy.
You break down the big thing, the big idea — like cutting up the picture into jigsaw pieces, each one slotting naturally in the area where it fits. Say you use your vivid imagination to time-travel forward in your life and then look back, you can use the shift in perspective to see what you could have done better in the past (your present) to arrive at a better place than you have in the ‘present’ (your future.) Are you following along?
Good habits are a mind game and a mental exercise at the start. If you don’t mind, it’s easy to slip into habits that don’t help in the long run. If you sit down and think about it, you can make the change to create habits — create, introducing a new thing into your life — that will help you live a better life. It’s that simple, and that complex.
It starts in your head, and goes out your hands. First you think, and then you ponder the possibilities. It’s in the actual doing that habits are made. That takes up resources from several areas:
All of these are finite. Good habits are investments that will tap into these resources heavily at the initial phase, then less so as time goes on and the new exercise — yes, exercise can be a habit too — becomes, you guessed it, habitual. You become acclimatized to a new stage, and pretty soon, it would feel weird, say, to not floss daily, or clean up your work station when the day is done, or review your day to plan for a solid next day’s work load.
Habits are behaviors. Your routines can help support or hinder those behaviors. Adjust your routine to support your good habits. Routes and routine, see, these are passages we take in our day to day lives that help us go about doing what we do. And they can easily turn into ruts.
Go take the eagle eye view (or the time-traveler view) to take in the big, the really big picture. Where are your routines taking you? Many routines are system specific. They only work at home, or with friends, or with work. Other routines are systemic, in that they’re a certain way of thinking and of doing things.
Rhythm also takes a part in routines. Is the current rhythm of your routine in harmony with the rest of you — your goals, your life-dreams, your work, for example– or do you go each day trying to ignore or at least compartmentalize the disharmony rattling your cage?
Go back again to “Anything big can be broken down.”
You have a goal. To make good money. To sell things well enough to live off of. To run a marathon. Something big that you haven’t reached for before, and you had your reasons.
Now you want to be the person who made those things, had those things, did those things. Note, past tense. To make something in the past tense, you have to have been doing something in the present. You can’t get from here to money, to a marathon, to a business, without going through the in-between. The space is too big. The goal is too big. You’re too small.
Then break the path down into small steps, and do them every day.
When you make a mistake — a missed take — focus on how it happened, and watch out so it won’t be a problem next time. When you go for the hard way here, it’s to make things easier for you to do the new thing. Keep it up long enough to make it normal for you, and you won’t help but notice how something you choose to do, on purpose, opens your life up to better choices.
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