Are you always looking for the lazy solution? Do you try to find “one and done” solutions to the problems in your life? Today I want to talk about how most progress is not just about knowing what to do, but about doing it consistently.
“How do you move forward? One step at a time. How do you lose weight? One kilo at a time. How do you write a book? One page at a time. How do you build a relationship? One day at a time. In a world obsessed with speed, never forget things of real worth and value take time.”
The other day I was talking with my therapist and she mentioned how some of the issues that I’ve been struggling with were things that I knew and could do, but are things that I needed to be better about continually applying what I already know. As we discussed it a little further, the thought occurred to me that most things in our lives are not about a big breakthrough idea, but the consistent application of things we already know. It’s about personal maintenance.
This kind of maintenance is something that we all need to do, but is not easy to because it feels like they’re just small things that we have to do over and over again. But, it’s kind of like showering – it might be annoying that we have to do it regularly, but if you don’t you really notice it.
But we often just want the easy solution or we want something that we just do once and never have to do again. There are very few things in life that are just one time things that once they’re done you never have to work on them again. As I was working on this episode, I struggled to think of anything in life that falls into that category.
I mean take for example, when you have a kid. When the is born it’s not like that’s the end of it. In fact, that’s just the beginning of a whole endeavor of bringing up a kid to adulthood.
When we have this kind of mindset, then it makes it challenging to make progress because we’re too focused on just getting through whatever it is that we want. This creates a feeling of impatience because we place our satisfaction on the end goal.
When we get too focused just getting through to the end of what we are doing, then we are often unhappy while we’re doing it. We want the outcome so bad, that we miss the journey. When we can learn to appreciate the process of what we’re doing then we can really enjoy it, and since life is all about the process of living, we can apply it to anything in life.
“Progress is not achieved by luck or accident, but by working on yourself daily.”
I think the biggest thing that comes to mind is that we are never done with personal improvement. You never reach a place in your life where you can say that you are done growing, learning, or improving. And for me this is a beautiful thing. I love the idea that we always have space to grow and to learn.
In fact, when I was a teenager and the Mormon’s talked about how when you die and go to heaven, if you have been righteous enough that you’ll be perfect and be like god. This always troubled me because I realized that if I knew everything and was perfect, I would get bored because I have such thirst for learning. This was actually terrifying for me. I get a dopamine hit when I learn something new and interesting. When I have those moment when something clicks for me on an interesting idea, it’s like a rush. It’s honestly a big driver for why I do this podcast.
Doing > Achieving
Because we live in a goal oriented and achievement based culture, we need to be careful with making our happiness dependent on our accomplishments. When we set our worth based on outcomes, we are putting our happiness and worth on things outside of our control. This could be something as basic as needing to own a certain size of house or model of car as a symbol to show others our value.
Often, we get stuck in the idea that we need to be achieving and accomplishing things in order to feel like we are a productive human. And while accomplishing our goals is good, our goals should be the things that we aim at because they are the things that will help us create processes in order for us to grow. But let me state this clearly, we don’t need to accomplish anything to be a good human. We use goals to set a direction for us because we know in the process of trying to achieve that goal, we will grow and learn.
Now, just because I said we don’t need to accomplish anything to be a good human, most of us feel better about ourselves and about our lives when we are contributing to something. We don’t have to have massive achievements. We just need to be contributing to something in some way. We want to feel useful.
Big Effort, Little Maintenance
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
— Lao Tzu
Sometimes we do need to take big actions to get things to where they need to be. That may be a project at work, a personal breakthrough, or some other big a change in your life like getting married or having a child. While the big event took a lot of effort, after the big event, there are usually things that need to be done on a continuing basis.
For example, when you get married, it’s not like you suddenly live happily ever after and never have to work on your relationship again. I know from my own experience and discussing this with friends that it’s really at that point that things are going to be a lot more challenging as you work to create a healthy and supportive relationship. It takes daily effort to help the relationship grow, and even then people can grow in different directions and desire different things in life. But for there to be a chance that the relationship can grow and be beneficial for both people, it takes every day work.
Another example is that I just spent a few weeks getting my house ready so that I could put it up for sale. It took a lot of effort. I had to get rid of a lot of stuff that I don’t need anymore. I had to organize areas of the house that I had let slide, and make repairs that I had put off.
By the time I got everything done for the house to be ready to show, I was exhausted, but having done that it’s been pretty easy to keep it clean and tidy. Now it’s just maintenance work. It’s simple things like just wiping down the counters after a meal. It’s making my bed when I get up in the morning. It’s putting clothes away rather than letting them sit by the side of the bed.
With personal maintenance it’s the same thing. It takes work to get to where we make a breakthrough, but after that it’s just being mindful and being consistent. It’s about creating systems or processes to continually apply what you have learned.
Do It Well
“How you do anything is how you do everything.”
— Ancient proverb
One thing we can do to help us maintain what ground we’ve gained, is to continually do something well. If we can appreciate mastering something simple and doing it well, then we make it in to something greater than just the task.
An example of this is a Japanese tea ceremony or chadō. Doing something as simple as making tea is done with a sense of mindfulness, elevates it from the mundane, to something beautiful and artistic. When we can find ways to be mindful and present with what we’re doing, it’s no longer just something to get done and out of the way, but can be thought of as a practice of how to do something, anything, well.
The reason why we should practice this with normal everyday tasks is that when you have a mind to do simple well, it becomes a habit in everything else you do. It’s more about developing the skill of discipline than simply improving the skill you’re practicing.
It also turns something you’re doing as a practice in mastering something, and for me, the feeling that comes from having done something well, even if it’s something trivial still feels good. As silly as it seems, this is why when you see those videos of people tossing a water bottle and landing it feel so satisfying. Applying this kind of thinking to other seemingly trivial tasks can help develop a work ethic of excellence. Need to prepare dinner? Can you find a way to make the process into a performance? Have to do the dishes? Do them like a dishwashing guru.
Do Hard Things
“There is no better way to grow as a person than to do something you hate every day.”
— David Goggins
I’ve often spoken on this podcast about doing hard things or things that are uncomfortable and there’s a reason for that. In our culture of convenience we get too comfortable. We reach a point where we only do things that are easy or pleasurable. Life is not always pleasing. Life has a lot of hard challenges that plenty of people avoid. If you want to make progress, you have to do things that are hard or uncomfortable. The more willing you are to push yourself, the more progress you’ll make.
In my own case, as I’m working to create a mastermind group and work on finding coaching clients, I have to do things that are new and uncomfortable for me. I have to stretch myself in ways that I’m not used to, like creating a social media calendar or recording videos. But I know that if I want to be successful I have to do them. I have to work on being more organized and follow up coaching clients. I have to try things that haven’t tried before.
Doing all the small things we need to do can sometimes feel very challenging, which is why sometimes we just need to have the courage to push through. Usually we find on the other side of it that it wasn’t nearly as scary as we thought it would be.
“It is not daily increase but daily decrease, hack away the unessential. The closer to the source, the less wastage there is.”
One of the best things that we can do to help us be more effective, is to reduce what we do. There is so much in modern day life that can take up our time. Trying to remember to do all the things we need to become who we want to be can be daunting. There are plenty of thing in our life that want our attention, but don’t really bring much value to us. When we take the time to figure out what is truly essential we will also get a lot more done on the things that truly matter.
Are there things you can remove from your life because they bring little value or take up your energy for other more important things?
What holds value is totally up to you, but for me, things that help you physically and mentally, or help you connect with or serve others are things that should be a priority. For example, as much as I enjoy video games and shows on Netflix, I make sure that I don’t waste too much time on them so that I have energy to work on the things that are really important to me.
So the real question is, what are you doing each and every day to apply what you know? Are you practicing meditation and writing in your journal? Are you aware of the thoughts in your own mind and recognizing when you fall into thinking traps like catastrophizing or all or nothing thinking? Are you being mindful about how you treat other people? It’s creating systems that help you achieve these small things that you do every day that lead you to a better life.
Just as wiping down the counters or making your bed or vacuuming the floors helps keep a house tidy, it’s the little things that keep us on the path to improvement. It’s being aware of your moods. It’s making sure that you are taking care of your health. It’s practicing mindfulness and making intentional choices each and every day that helps you progress. The little things are far more powerful to improving your life over the long term than grand gestures.
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