When I want to do something hard, I try to find my sweet spot: long enough to be impactful, short enough to be do-able.
My friend asked me about how to work on his relationship with booze, especially after the holidays. After a conversation, he’s decided to do a sober January: long enough to have a real impact on his health, his emotional coping skills and his relationship with alcohol… but short enough to feel do-able.
When I was writing my first book I was absolutely daunted at the prospect. So I tried to just write a chapter. But that wasn’t my sweet spot, still too daunting. Rather, at that point, my sweet spot was just a page. I could get through a page. And enough pages strung together makes a very crappy first draft! Win.
In general, I’m a big fan of 30 day trials as sweet spots. Sometimes thats too much, sometimes not enough, but its quite often just right.
When something feels like too much to tackle, search for your sweet spot.
Big enough to be impactful.
Small enough to feel do-able.
I know how to push. How to talk negatively towards myself. How to fear failure more than anything. How to just make myself do it.
I’m afraid I won’t be as good / go as far / be as successful if I quit pushing.
The tough news is that I might be right in the short term: I won’t be as successful if I don’t push. I can probably lose more weight on a crazy 4-day crash (read: push) diet than I could on a 4 day “pull” diet.
But successful long term change comes from pulling. From honoring your deep desires. Those same diets over a year? No competition. Pull will knock the socks off the crazy push spree.
And for even more honesty, there are times that we need a break from the push.
Pulling can feel like cheating. But, its hardly always easy. The hardest thing about pulling is making sure that you actively remember what it is that you really want.
I want to feel light and energetic more than I want this donut. I want to have extra energy, so I want to go weight lift today. I want to feel accomplished tonight, so I want to send this uncomfortable email now!
Its not always easy, but it is simple & effective.
When you want to go fast, push… when you want to go far, pull.
I strive to play the long game in life: I aim to pull myself towards my goals.
I use my ability to push as a tool to sprint.
It’s powerful (and smart) to use all the tools in your arsenal.
We all have our battles.
Many of which we fight time and time again.
I was reminded of this yesterday, as I perused the archives of this site. Over the years, despite my efforts not to, I’ve repeated several articles. Different words, same exact themes. The same battles.
It reminds me to keep fighting the good fights. And that I am not alone in repeating my battles.
You’re not alone either. Keep going. Keep practicing. Keep fighting.
Closely related to the skill of self-management, energy management is the foundation on which we build our lives. Its extremely challenging to build a great life on a shoddy foundation.
I think of energy curation comes in four flavors:
- Physical Wellbeing
- Mental Fitness
- Drive / Desire
A breakdown in any of these categories can kill productivity and even happiness.
I’ve been struggling with energy for a few years now, its been low and I’ve struggled to replenish even the small amount that I had.
I tried something new this weekend and its like I turned a on a light switch. I went from lethargic even after 8-12 hours of sleep… to waking up before the alarm, excited to get out of bed. If it holds up, I’ll share more about my experiences soon.
This drastic shift really helped to open my eyes about the importance of protecting and fighting for my life’s foundation. If you haven’t been feeling at your best, I highly recommend you do too.
To note — if you’re also feeling low energy, this article from Josh Kaufman might be useful for you. It’s not the solution that I came to, but it certainly gave me some motivation to fight.
One of the lessons I constantly find myself relearning is how to prioritize — and care for — your future self.
This may mean choosing salad over lasagna so your future self doesn’t fall asleep while trying to hit a deadline.
It may look like caring for your body by going to the gym three days a week, like my 94 year old grandfather! (3 miles on the bike + 5 weight machines — he’s an inspiration!)
It may mean working before playing, so that you can be stress free and enjoy yourself fully. Or giving yourself enough time to actually accomplish your goals (rather than set them so lofty that you inevitably fail).
This lesson is really a framework for living: Value your future self as much as your current self.
Sounds simple, but its certainly not easy.
Despite what you’ve been told over the years, practice does not make perfect.
Practice makes permanent.
Practice entrenches what you are doing through repetition. If you’re practicing perfectly, then, yes, practice makes perfect, but that is rarely the way it goes.
We may practice a lazy swing, or practice procrastinating to the last moment, or practice doing just enough to get the A. In time, that becomes permanent, that becomes who you are.
I offer you (and myself) two powerful reminders:
We are what we repeatedly do.
Excellence therefore is not an act, but a habit.
and, from Archilochus:
We do not rise to the level of our expectations,
We fall to the level of our training.
Practice like you mean it, the way you practice will become who you are.
I’ll start it on Monday.
I’ll write everyday starting next year.
I’ll start the project on the 1st of the month.
I’m guilty of employing this delay tactic a million times.
But, despite its rational roots, that is all that it is: a delay tactic. A way to feel good about your ambitions while procrastinating and not taking any action.
The truth is you should start. Take the creative energy you’re putting into fantasizing about the “perfect” start in the future and turn it into something concrete right now.
Your future self will thank you.
Einstein offered one of my favorite quotes, ever.
The intuitive mind is a sacred gift
and the rational mind, a faithful servant.
We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.
It reminds me to listen, carefully.
Every social situation has a baseline series of expectations.
In an interview at a bank, you’re expected to dress formally.
On a first date, you’re expected to have showered recently.
These expectations are often unstated and sometimes highly nuanced (for example, swearing is acceptable at some companies and shunned at others) — but when you want something, to the best of your knowledge, don’t screw with the baseline.
Breaking social expectations is a simple and easy out for someone to say no to you. Don’t give them that opportunity.
When times have been hard I’ve found a (nearly) universal cure:
The Light of Day.
When I’m most uncomfortable and ashamed of something, the best thing to do is share it. To bring those complicated, messy, painful feelings into the light of other people.
Here’s a real world example: in college I had a pretty nasty eating disorder (a combo of anorexia and bulimia). While I was eventually able to mostly break it in secret, I didn’t stop fearing it until I could comfortably share my experiences: until I brought it into the light of day.
I also know that if, on a tough day of procrastination, I find myself compensating by saying how great my day has been, I’m digging myself deeper in the hole.
The funny thing is, that in the moment, I believe that stating my day was great will motivate me to change or make me feel better. FALSE! So false. It makes me feel worse!
By being honest and open about my flaws, I find a well of compassion that enables me to move forward and drop the baggage about what’s happened in the past.
It may be uncomfortable, but the light of day is generally the best medicine.