It is time for me to grow another year older, and since I wrote last year’s birthday thesis late, I decided to write this one early. Sometimes you have thoughts going through your mind so strongly, you have no choice but to write them down at that very moment.
What is a birthday thesis? I figure I should explain, as this is my third one. I originally took the idea from Buster Benson — where he would write a yearly report with a central concept. I really enjoy the idea, but haven’t done it very well so far. I have a rather good central idea this time around, although it is candid and dark, but I believe there is no other option but to write it.
Understanding discipline for doing difficult tasks.
Awhile has past since my last post on Medium, I’ve been contemplating what I think is important, and what’s important to write about. This post is more of a reminder to myself — a reminder of why I do what I do, especially when I don’t feel up to it.
1. Hard Work
First, how do you make hard work starting working? How can essential tasks transition from unlikeable to exciting? Personally, the answer to this question came from the revelation that life is work. There is no way around this. Trying to put things off, in reality, only adds to the amount of work that will need to be done in the future.
Many people enjoy waiting until the last minute to begin — narrowly avoiding a deadline can build pressure and be motivating — but what if there’s a task with no fixed date? What about all the things in life you want to start, on a mental level, but never do because you get so preoccupied with what you need to get done in your day-to-day.
This is where balance is essential.
The neuroplasticity of our minds only diminishes with time. Our ability to learn new things declines with age. Each day we waste is a day we cannot gain back. As cliché as it is, you cannot wait for someday to arrive. You need to begin today.
“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” — Chinese Proverb
You may have been putting a lot of things off. You may have wasted a lot of time so far. That’s okay. The worst thing that people do is harbor guilt and self-deprecation due to the fact they’ve been neglecting to start what they’ve always wanted to do.
Shake off the dust, and start right now. Time is an arbitrary thing — it’s irrelevant if today is — the important thing is you start today. You figure out what the first step is and you take it.
This doesn’t mean you immediately plunge head-first into something new, as tempting as that might be. We are creatures of habit, and as such, we fall back into our regular routines after the novelty of a particular stimuli diminishes. The faster you try to commit to larger things, the faster you will inevitably burn out and become demotivated once again.
This is where balance is essential.
So begin today, but start small — baby steps. Think of what you can do not just today — but what you can repeat doing tomorrow, and the next day. What’s an activity that would only take fifteen to thirty minutes per day?
The hard part is doing it every day, the task itself gets easier, but you still need to do it every day. That’s what remains difficult.
3. Lack of Purpose
There are many of us alive today that have a radical amount of freedom, the kind that would be unimaginable to most people throughout history. As glorious as this can sound on an idealistic level, the reality is that most people find anxiety with this radical freedom, and will distract themselves from it.
People often create arbitrary restrictions around their life to avoid the lack of comfort there is in having so much choice in navigating it. With this freedom, they are also rarely prescribed any sort of purpose — or in other words, any sort of reason to do hard work in the first place.
We are all Sisyphus — forced to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only for it to roll back down at the end of the day, for us to start our work again tomorrow. With this, I choose happiness, out of spite for the task ahead of me.
Any motivation, or purpose, for doing hard work can be ever-fleeting. You may never get the deserved recognition or money, you may never even become that good at something. But if you find peace with doing a task simply for the sake of doing it, you’ll be unstoppable. No amount of lack of results, or exhaustion, or criticism will be able to deter you, because it’ll all be irrelevant.
THERE’S A BATTLE within all of us. I try to detach for a moment, and recognize the duality — the two distinctive wants that battle for majority attention:
The want of difficulty, and of seeking betterment for ourselves. Doing the right thing for the long-term, no matter how much hard work is needed.
The want of ease, and taking the path of least resistance. Doing the easiest thing no matter how detrimental it might be long-term.
Biologically speaking, human beings have evolved to favor ease over difficulty. Though, our prefrontal cortex — the most complex and cognitive part of our brain — has the ability to want more than just what’s easiest, and tries to combat our more primal and sluggish behavior.
Often times, this is a battle we lose, and a vicious circle is created. When there’s a feeling of guilt after wasting the day away, which only demoralizes and causes further laziness.
In my opinion, the most effective way to defeat laziness within one’s self is by utilizing two different tools: momentum and mindfulness.
I believe there is good reason why ‘morning rituals’ are so largely talked about in the field of self-improvement. (1, 2, 3) When you start the day on a good note, it’s far easier to continue it. An object in motion stays in motion.
But a good day is only a good day — there needs to be a larger picture. That’s where the idea of not breaking the chain comes in. The idea that you must commit to doing something daily without allowing yourself to slip.
The more consecutive days you have going for you, the more momentum you build. The more you’re willing to fight to make sure you don’t break the chain and keep your streak going. But what happens if you fail?
When we find ourselves in the middle of a bad day, it’s easy to similarly continue on with it and dismiss trying to salvage anything good out of it. It’s easy to find excuses or lament after failure.
The best way to move on from this and redeem yourself is to realize that you’re the only one pinning yourself downward — the world does not care.
You’re under no obligation to be the same person you were five minutes ago. — Alan Watts
Do not try to hold onto your shortcomings and regrets, take the lessons you learn from these things then dismiss the rest of the negativity. It helps nobody, particuarly yourself.
It can be rather difficult to understand — let alone control — your emotions if you’ve let them run astray for too long. The stoic act of distancing yourself from the emotional, impulsive part of your mind is one that needs to be practiced.
CONCLUSION: If you want to use your time more effectively, and not waste it, work with improving what you’re already doing right, while also working on not being too hard on yourself. Hold onto the good, and let go of the bad.
How to effectively go about doing what’s truly important.
PART ONE: HAVING FAITH IN GRAND DREAMS Understanding the why of the work is the most important thing that’s needed when starting out. It’s so easy to become discouraged when you’re in the the thick of the weeds, when you need to do difficult or tedious. Motivation and discipline to do such work comes from having a bigger picture — a purpose.
This purpose comes from a place of realistic optimism and idealism. It’s a messy and bold goal. A tangible, yet implausible objective without conventional measure or perspective. There’s a lot wrong with the world — and a lot of people that will complain about it — but how can you improve it? What troubles are you willing to tackle head-on for the good of humanity?
It’s a lot to ask, to a point where most people don’t even push themselves to even attempt it. And those that doattempt to achieve something grand usually stop after failing only once or twice.
The reason so few people succeed in capturing the essence of a heartfelt purpose is a lack of faith. Having the faith in yourself that you’re truly capable of accomplishing that goal, no matter the obstacles, or opinions, or failures that you will inevitably face. It takes a fair amount of foolishness to ever succeed in accomplishing audacious.
Don’t back out of a goal as soon as it looks like it’s going to fail — have more trust than doubt. Many people discuss the learning opportunities that reside in failure, but the truth of the matter is that gritting your teeth and persevering and eventually finding success is a far more enriching learning experience.
It is important to understand the context of where you currently stand in history. Research your contemporaries that have similar goals — especially if they’re currently doing far better than you are. Research the great thinkers and creators of the past, as well. Having this contextual model will not lead you to achievement, but will guide you in the right direction, like a compass.
At the same time, you must not be rigid with your objectives, either. Do not let pride get in your way — redirect your efforts if you need too. Being agile is far more intelligent than abandoning your efforts altogether and starting from square one.
PART TWO: ELIMINATING EVERYTHING NON-ESSENTIAL Simply understanding what you want to accomplish will not allow you to actually get it done. The what of work is doing the technical and nitty-gritty, which is the contrary of the initial motivating and lofty goals.
They both outstandingly require one another. Being only an idealist thinker won’t get anything done. While being only a busy-bee worker won’t get anything meaningful done.
It doesn’t matter if you are clueless when you’re first beginning — that’s normal. Mastery of any knowledge or skill requires only deliberate practice and enough time. Be humble enough to absorb the knowledge of everybody around you. Learn to constantly ask critical questions. Be resourceful with the amount of information you can find both locally and online.
Figure out priorities, examine what work needs to be done as opposed to what’s just easy and non-essential filler. The next part is vital: look at your schedule and block out large chunks of time (four to seven hours) where you just work on what’s most important.
You cannot allow yourself to be interrupted by others, or distract yourself with the plethora of attention-grabbing media that’s currently at our disposal. This can be extremely difficult at first, but don’t be afraid to communicate with others that you’re busy with something and that you’ll talk to them later.
Similarly, push yourself to sticking to one tab or application open at a time. Stop yourself from constantly jump from one inquiry to another. Be mindful of how you’re using technology — take a break every once in awhile.
A lot of people say they simply don’t have the time in their schedules to devote themselves so deeply to something. But the truth of the matter is that even if you have other responsibilities, you can fit this work into your calendar by understanding and eliminating the time you’re currently wasting — because we all waste time.
CONCLUSION: I believe we’re all given the opportunity to achieve goodness in the world that’s beyond ourselves — whether it’s in small ways or big ways. We’re all born being good at something — technical or creative — and with an intense curiosity of the world we live in.
It is far too easy to veer off the path of pioneering, to instead be comfortable with letting life pass us by. I believe that we can make the conscious decision to change that — at any point in our lives — and instead aspire to greatness. All it takes is a little courage, and a lot of reckless abandon.