The essence: This article focuses on what makes us engage in (what seem to be) long and difficult tasks. The difference in small and big tasks and how it impacts our choice whether or not to tackle them.
There is this philosophy snip from Alan Watts – who was a western philosopher and theologian influenced by eastern culture “before it was cool”. You can also find the same philosophical principles from psychologists such as Jordan B. Peterson. In a way, here is what it’s all about:
Looking at the mountain makes us quit the climb
Every-time we set out to accomplish something major, or at least something that can’t be done in 1 one day, we find ourselves contemplating the enormity of our task. We attempt it as far as our will allows us, but ultimately we see the fatality of things and we quit.
Our tasks, long-term goals, bad habits etc. – can seem more or less difficult depending on the perspective from which we look at them.
For example, we have decided to quit drinking or smoking, perhaps we have a book that we need to read, or a project that we must complete. Perhaps we want to go to the gym for a year, or we just need to wash that big dirty pile of dishes…
What is common with every one of these examples, is that as soon as we decide that we need to do a task, the devil inside us reminds us of the enormity of the task.
- “To quit smoking” becomes “can I imagine not smoking for years?”
- No more drinking – In our mind becomes no more alcohol, ever!
- I have to read 300 pages?!
- Working full-time means from 08:00 to 16:00, every day – and possibly more.
- The project will take at least 50 hours to complete…
- I need to go to the gym at least 3 times a week for 4 months to lose a bit of weight?!
Immediately we think of the insurmountable picture and thus we demotivating ourselves, or give up by accepting the first excuse that comes to mind.
Calm waters carve the stone
There is a way however, to trick the devil in ourselves. We only need to change a little bit of our way of thinking.
Instead of thinking “I won’t smoke for 1 whole year” Think “I wont smoke this cigarette“, instead of “I need to read 600 pages” Think “I’ll read this page, then I’ll see how I feel about the next one“, instead of “I need to go to the gym 3 times a week” say “Hey, I’ll go to the gym today“. This simple change, makes a lot of difference.
With this little change of thinking we will move our attitude towards starting our tasks. And as soon as we start a task by focusing on one-step at a time, the effect “snowballs” and we find ourselves having fewer reasons to quit, and more reasons to persevere. Thus, we will ultimately manage to complete even the task that we once thought improbable to finish.
The contrarian’s corner
Now, “it isn’t this simple” – you might say. And you are right, it is not. But, it is a start, and one of the best starts you can have when dealing with what might seem to us as a life saga, or a difficult task.
Further down the line we get to pick our battles, and we should pick wisely. There is an argument to be made about picking the difficulty of the task – are we going to pick a task in which we are successful 70%, 50%, 90% of the time? Are we going to encounter learned helplessness when dealing with extremely difficult tasks, or are we going to just be wasting our time when picking relatively easy tasks?
We choose our challenges based on our skill and surrounding conditions, going at it one-step at the time is just the way to “get it rolling”.