3. Expecting Immediate Results
How is your life?
If you’d measure if you do good or bad, how would you start?
I’d check if my daily actions are aligned with my long-term goals. But also if my long-term goals are aligned with what I value in life.
You see, we’re complicated beasts, not knowing ourselves too well. It’s worth spending some time learning about what you are.
To improve life, if it doesn’t adhere to your standards, you must change what you do. Because plans and goals are abstract. They’re about finding love or finding love in the next 5 months. Even planning to get 8k steps. Don’t get me wrong, it’s all great. But you can only get what you want when you have a specific action to take.
Do you want 8k steps? Go for a walk. Then, step by step, get to 8k. Do you want to find love? Ask 10 women for the time. Then, ask them for a number. You can do that on Tinder.
Those specific actions are your habits.
You should understand this equation: habits = life as “what I do daily is my life.” Simply because doing something daily (or often) takes a proportionate part of your life.
Seeing life as a series of daily actions allows you to spot how to introduce change.
Changing life means changing your daily actions. But the road is packed with traps. Mainly because people want to get rich fast, and they write bullshit they never lived through. I was no different.
Below, you’ll find 5 mistakes I made that slowed my progress. I was my biggest enemy. Now I’m my friend.
Check out my mistakes, and use my experience to drive your progress. Have fun.
1. Doing Everything at Once
When you do everything, you can’t enjoy anything.
Each second you could spend building one worthy habit, you waste on thinking, is this the right one. Maybe you should start another one? There is a lot of noise in the self-help world. They advise us to do everything.
Starting from sleeping to drinking or not drinking coffee through meditation and waking up at 5 a.m.
Those are not wrong. Most of them help you build the life you want. The catch is in the last part. “The life you want” means you have a rough idea about what that is. If you don’t and start another habit, you waste energy.
It’s wise to build habits to deliver your goals.
That’s what James Clear is talking about in building systems. You go from the level of plans and goals to daily actions. It’s not about building more and more habits. It’s about building the ones that give you what you want.
Then, your plan will no longer be that empty shell you don’t care about. It’ll become a list of habits you must build to become the person you want to be.
Sounds simple. But you stand in the way.
How do you get out of the way?
Select some goals.
Choose the ones that are important to you. The starting point can always be analyzing which areas of life need improvement. Get through the basics:
Give each of them a number 1-10. Then, the lowest one is the right candidate.
That’s the advice if you have no idea what you want. If you do, your job is to focus on that. Align your actions with your goals. It doesn’t matter that there is another toolkit for writing or another meditation course. Your job is to write and meditate.
Only when you practice you truly learn.
For me, the biggest switch was deciding on my own what I wanted. And I don’t know if I gave myself the right answers to what I wanted. But the results are better, so I’m on to something.
There is a beautiful side effect of acting on what you decide, and it’s the feeling of meaning.
Try following your goals for a while and get that one feeling that justifies the pain of showing up every day without seeing results.
2. Starting with Too High Load
When you go big, you usually end up quick.
For some projects, that’s fine because they last for days. But for others, like your life, it’s not because it lasts for years. Starting big is risky because it makes the process harder.
What’s the trickiest part of doing something?
Starting. Quitting procrastination and planning. But that’s hard when you start big because it’s a synonym for starting perfect and knowing everything. The thing is, you never know everything. You never will.
So, let’s accept how things are, that we’re lazy and quit when things are hard.
Now, when you know what you are, you can use it to your advantage. Instead of going big and burning out fast without achieving your dreams – start small with the end in mind. The end can stay as big as you want. But the start gets as small as possible. Make it so small you can do it now.
Four years ago, I avoided walks.
I thought of them as a useless waste of time. Luckily, someone on the internet convinced me that walking equals thinking. I’ve started. But with the usual approach: high motivation, big load, quick burnout.
In practice, it looked like this:
- the first week, I walked everyday for over an hour
- the second week only a couple of days
- in the third week, I quit
Then, I encountered the idea of small steps.
I understood that I quit things I could have loved because I wanted them immediately. That’s why you start big – you want it now.
I didn’t want to go for a walk – I wanted the benefits. So, after a week of walking without seeing results, I started burning out.
How to start a habit?
Conversely, when I did implement small steps, I never stopped walking.
The idea is to go for a small walk, one that doesn’t make me feel bored. Five minutes, let’s say. Take a package from the shop nearby and go back home. Then, if I feel fine, I’ll go for another walk in the evening.
For me, there is no better way.
How small should you start? Until you need no willpower to do the thing.
3. Expecting Immediate Results
How often did you feel satisfied after getting something immediately?
I wasn’t satisfied often.
Most of the time, I tried having more. That resulted in constant dissatisfaction with the life that wasn’t bad. Sure, that could motivate you to do more. But it can also make you suffer for no reason.
The problem of wanting everything now stems from years of conditioning. I remember the days when I played games and watched 9 gag all day. From time to time, I wanked to pass the time. The underlying issue is dopamine and its constant flow with those sources.
I taught myself that I could get dopamine instantly. So, getting it the natural way, with effort, looked boring.
The thing is, I couldn’t build a life from watching TV or playing games. Some might. You see many successful players on Twitch or YouTube. It wasn’t for me.
The initial idea that enabled my transformation came from online creators who shared their stories. All of them described the process as long and full of failures.
How do you deal with instant gratification?
Follow a dream that justifies patience.
Imagine that every action you take is directed at your goal. How powerful can you become when everything you do aligns with your goals? No one knows what is the limit of that. So, go on, try out, maybe you’ll become the hardest motherfucker on earth.
When you have a mission, and you’re the one who sent you on it, you create meaning for your life. Then, the process of building becomes the reward itself. Each step brings you closer to fulfilling your mission.
4. All or Nothing Approach
This screams “perfectionism” from the start.
Because it is. If you live by this rule, you’re stressed. More than you know. Your main motivation for doing the work is fear of not doing it. But that can push you only so far. At some point, you need a better fuel, one that is not you. If you don’t find it, you’ll burn yourself out.
When I write, I write every day. Without exceptions. Sounds virtuous? It’s not. It’s a compulsion to do everything according to the plan. And if life happens? Fuck life, I’m on the tight schedule.
The result is shattered nerves.
But that’s not all. Because from one side, I knew I had to write, but from another, it had to be perfect. I had to be caffeinated. I had to be in a quiet environment. I had to be energetic. Etc. You know the drill. In the end, I didn’t write. So I felt like shit.
I made the process so perfect that I was primarily focused on keeping it pristine instead of writing the fucking article.
How to deal with perfectionism?
Do the work, even if you know it won’t be perfect.
Every failure fertilizes the success. So, allow yourself to make mistakes. They’re proof of your efforts.
Use your failures as lessons by asking questions about them.
Ask yourself, how do you feel about the outcomes you got? Could you spot an action that could be changed to possibly improve results? Maybe you were too excited and, therefore, distracted. Take notes, gather data, and, you know, learn.
If you feel like shit, but you know you can do something, do something.
Instead of finishing the article, give it another read and edit two sentences. Think about the headline. Or prepare the tags.
5. Catching Up
Whenever I didn’t write, I had to do more the next day.
Because of that, the number of things piling on my to-do list always grew. It made sense to me. Ultimately, I wanted to do everything I had on my list.
But as usual, I missed the point.
Namely, it’s not about doing everything. It’s about doing what’s right. My approach made it ultra hard to enjoy any progress I made. Because it was never enough.
But there was help.
How to deal with catching up
The first idea that helped me was planning rest.
That’s for cheating my brain it’s another task. In the end, it is. It worked because my days were planned to the minute. So, there was no time to rest.
Next, a much more sophisticated approach is also more true and natural.
It relies on doing what’s right for me. The hard part is knowing what that is. But that’s a point for another story, for now, let’s go with this simple idea: ask yourself what you want.
Even the most forced answer is better than any you might have from society. Society influences your answer, but at least you’ll spell it out. That means a lot because from now on, it’s on you.
The main benefit of knowing what you want is the possibility of deciding what is the most important. Then, you simply act it out, leaving everything else out. Believe me, knowing what the critical task right now is and doing it is exactly what separates you from the existential crisis so many people suffer from.
Lastly, I learned to let go.
Even focusing on my priorities doesn’t always work. On some days, I do one thing from three. On others, I do five. I don’t do two workouts when I miss one. I don’t write for 4 hours when I miss one day of practice.
That frees me.
It’s like saying yes to life, to whatever happens. Catching up stills your mojo. Allowing life to happen is mojo itself.
Building habits is about building life.
Make it a pleasure, and your life will become a pleasure. Remember that how you live your average day is how you live it all.
Start small. Focus on one thing. Build it, get it, move to another.
The problem with progressing is not having too few things to do. It’s about having too much. Wasting energy to switch between multiple habits makes them harder to stick to. Your progress gets invisible because you progress a bit in multiple directions.
But don’t take my word for it.
Try it yourself. Do what you find important. Observe if you’ll feel better than now when you do everything at once.
Remember that you can change your life by changing what you do every day. That’s where your power lies – in specific actions, you can start now and continue tomorrow. To change the big thing that your life is, you must start with the smallest part, the bricks that build your life – your habits.
If you liked it, check my listicle about 5 Remarkable Mistakes People Struggle to Avoid On Spiritual Journey.