Big things are not achieved, they are grown, like a tree. You cannot just try harder and get a tree immediately. It will always take time. 9 pregnant women cannot produce a child in 1 month. You cannot get to the top of the metaphorical staircase without taking each step at a time. Maybe two at a time if you’re really impatient and needing a workout. Really big, scary goals can be intimidating. Looking up from the bottom of the staircase, how can you set yourself up for success in your goals when they seem impossible?
The more you extend that metaphorical staircase upwards, the longer the run to the top, the more you will need to pace yourself and the less progress you will feel you are making with each step.
Like running towards the horizon you will never seem to get closer.
I want to take a second to make a distinction between goals and expectations. Goals are things you make happen by doing things, expectations are things you believe will happen without changing anything about your situation or behaviour.
Expectations are made by extrapolating the current pattern of your life. Goals are made by turning that trajectory upwards. The reason this is so important is that setting a goal as an expectation will never set you up for success. It takes a lot of work to turn that trajectory upwards. Both emotionally, with bearing the constant risks of failure. And physically, to put in the hard work and focus needed to maintain the required cadence of personal growth.
When you set a goal as an expectation you are saying to yourself that you should improve without changing what you do. That all things being equal, this will occur. This is certainty, which is calming at the time, but ultimately breeds complacency. Which in turn… breeds inaction.
Words matter, they inform your thoughts, convey your reality.
What’s in a name?
Motivation is what a lot of people rely on to live to their values. Trying to do the actions that the ‘person’ they are in their mind “should” do. Defining how they “should” act. You hear it constantly, “I don’t feel motivated, I’ll do it later”, “How are you so motivated?”, “Don’t you ever run out of motivation?”.
The answer to the last question is a resounding, “Absolutely yes, constantly”. Motivation is so unsustainable it makes fossil fuels look like a sustainable energy source.
Motivation is a rush of hormones, it’s adrenaline to power you up and cortisol to motivate you through stress. Like pressing the rocket thruster button, you take off. The problem is it doesn’t take one thrust to escape the Earth’s gravity. It takes sustained acceleration to overcome gravity and not crash and burn.
Gravity is the status quo, as we established before, we live in an equilibrium that requires not just one movement to change it forever, you will always return to the equilibrium without sustained positive force.
Relying on motivation is like jumping into the air and expecting to fly.
Flapping your wings
Discipline is a very different beast. It is not a one-off rush of hormones, it is going to the gym when you don’t feel like it, it is writing those 100 words a day you promised yourself, it is calling your mother when you’re busy, it is turning down those flirtatious advances from a coworker when your relationship isn’t doing so hot, it is taking the more difficult path because it leads where you want to go. Discipline shows its face everywhere.
It is a pattern of behaviour that cannot be broken by simple tricks. It provides that constant force, that impetus for improvement. That 1% everyday that over 1 year is over 37x better.
Imagine putting in 1% more effort everyday and not just doubling your output by the end of the year, but doubling it over 5x repeatedly. If you had sat at the bottom of that hill and looked up at it the summit would have looked impossible to reach. But really it was just one step at a time. People overestimate themselves in the short-term with impatience, but underestimate themselves over the sustained long-term.
The new theory of relativity…
Confirmation bias is repeatedly jumping up-and-down on the spot and being convinced that humans cannot fly. If they are sure of that fact then they cannot be upset when they never get to see the rest of the world. Meanwhile the Wright brothers make daily incremental progress towards their impossible goal of manned flight. If they can do that, you can begin by writing 100 words the first day, 101 the second, 102 the third, by the end of the year you will be writing 3700 words a day. The power of compounding. By improving just 1% a day.
The difference from day 1 to 365 is like night and day, but each morning it’s only a slight change to the day prior. Difficulty is a game of relativity.
Try starting to prioritise consistency over immediate output. Stop burning yourself out trying to create a step change in output and just become consistent, do you think you can manage 1% improvement each day? How about 2%?
Discipline is true self-love. And it can make the impossible just seem like “easy” but over a longer period of time.