Think about the last time that you wanted something. I mean really think about it. If you want to accomplish something, you have to have the ability to carry out that goal. But sometimes it feels like it’s too much. That you’re trying to accomplish too much. And it would be better if you just kept your passion aside to work on more practical things. Soon, you find yourself scrolling on Instagram and Twitter, wondering where your past 10 months went.
Recently, I was thinking about why some people accomplish the goals that they set out to do, and others do not. While it does come down to optimizing the strategies that they use for success, the first thing that matters is having a purpose. Without that purpose, it is really easy to get side tracked, distracted, or flat out quit.
To cultivate this mindset, you have to start off with the question, What makes a good life? and work backwards from there. Your mind doesn’t care about that test, that job, or any other abstract societal construct. You might have constructed, in your rational brain, an excuse for why studying for this test is worth it, but if your deep monkey brain, evolved from something more primitive, is telling you something else, then it is not worth it. You’re going to end up in the same place. On your phone, or on your computer, doing things that are comfortable and satiating. Something that your monkey brain thinks is worthwhile until something really pressing comes up—like a deadline.
Now that you’ve bought into the idea that your procrastination is a result of being at odds with what you think is a “good life,” you need a reorientation. If you want something, you have to have the desire, a clear path, and the ability to carry out that goal. In order to figure this out, write down what you think makes a “good life” good. Everyone’s answer will differ, but I think defining things that are important to your future life is a first step. For me, one thing that I would love to have is the free time to spend with my friends and family, and helping others. One way to do both of those is to master a hard skill so I can have more autonomy over my schedule. This is how I can justify the long and hard work that it requires to get a medical degree and go through a long residency in a chosen specialty.
Next, you need to have a clear path. If I decided that being fit and exercising was my key to a good life, then I would lead myself to have a clear path and goal to work towards that in life. At any given point, I would have a system in place to work out. This isn’t easy, and I struggle with this every day. To figure out why you want something, year after year, while striving for it, is a hard task and sometimes, feels impossible. It’s something that comes with constant self reflection and accepting that doing things good and fast requires a lot of effort, and will always be taxing work.
Once you have the desire and the clear path of why you want to do something, now comes the what. What strategies should you use to optimize your performance? How should you schedule tasks? How can you embrace challenges? When you spend time on hard things without noticing how hard they are, then you’ve hit the state that so many people call flow. This is when you embrace challenges and when you don’t care how much time something takes, you will grind to get it done. This ensures that you have the ability to carry out the goal that you envisioned. This is very difficult, if not impossible, if you haven’t defined why you want something in the first place. I think that without that desire, it’s hard to get the ball rolling anyhow.
Habits are hard. Sticking to them over time is even harder. You can only succeed at what you do by examining your life and making sure that it aligns with how you want your life to look like.