I’ve noticed that whenever I start a project or define one of my dreams there’s always a couple stages I go through. Initially I’ll get an idea about something (this blog is a good example) and I’ll muse over it for a while. During this time I’ll do some research on it, discuss it with friends which gives me a really good grounding from which to work on. Then comes what I believe is the hardest part, which is actually getting off my ass and working on bringing this idea into reality. After working on it for a while something interesting usually happens, and this is what I refer to as “The Transition” whereby I’m no longer driving myself to achieve this goal, it’s driving me to completion.
More recently this came to me whilst doing my daily CrossFit work out. I’d completed the routine for the day and this is when I’d usually just pack up and leave. After thinking about leaving for all of 10 seconds I immediately thought I could easily do another 10 minutes and the best thing was I wanted to. Now up until this stage I’d been making myself do the workout of the day and not really adding to it, as per usual I was doing the minimum work required. That day marked a change in my attitude towards doing these daily workouts and the transition from me driving myself towards the goal and the goal motivating me.
What usually triggers the transition for me is when I start to see measurable results from the effort I put in. I find it hard to start anything that I can see immediate or short term results which is why I always split most of my long term goals up into smaller ones so that I don’t lose motivation. Some of the time though I’m lucky enough to discover something that doesn’t require small short term goals to keep me motivated, like my dream of becoming a pilot and eventually an astronaut. Although I’d class dreams as separate entities from goals, as they pose their own set of challenges.
But that’s a post for another day!
Show me a man who has nothing to do and I’ll show you a man with no ambition.
I’ve always wondered when people tell me they have nothing to do, whether it be at work or in their personal life, whether or not they realise what they’re saying. I’m one of those incredibly lucky people who’s been able to be focused on my goals for a very long time and it’s a quality I see in so many successful people. The common term used for this is ambition or drive, as a lot of successful people will tell you they just felt the need to achieve their goals. This idea came to me after a few weeks of one of my housemates telling me he had nothing to do, and I realised it was because he had no real ambition for any goal.
There are many things in life that can lead us to have a lack of ambition. I often find myself hitting road blocks in plans (like my last 3 week struggle with banks, brokers and lawyers ugh) that lead me to question what the point of it all was, and then throw my hands up at the situation thinking there’s nothing more I can do on it. Sometimes this is true, there are times in life when you can’t make any progress on a problem and the best thing you can do is leave it. What you have to avoid is the trap of never going back to address that problem as with time comes wisdom which can often be applied in ways you may not have previously thought of.
I’ve found the best way to keep myself motivated is to have 2 sets of goals. The first set is a set of small short term achievable goals that are mostly based on time invested. Something like this blog is a good example. It takes me about an hour every day to write a post and that’s something I can easily achieve without having to sacrifice anything else. I also have goals set for myself in the games I play (yes admittedly its World of Warcraft, but that doesn’t invalidate the idea!) and that small reward keeps me motivated for the rest of my activities. The second set are long term goals that I’m constantly working towards, like financial independence or getting my pilots license. It’s this combination of almost instantaneous gratification and long term prospects that keep my ambition going, and leaves me with few dull moments where there’s little for me to do.
The hardest thing about all this is finding what drives you, but once you discover what your passion is so many things seem to fall into place.
I’ve often seen people crushed under their own desire to achieve greatness. It would seem that when confronted with a large task or ambition instead of breaking it down into simpler and more manageable tasks we see each step we take as an exercise in futility. A great many self help books will describe such a process as making small achievable goals for yourself constantly, rather than work on what may amount to an insurmountable problem. Using this idea of small but constant achievement is something that I have used continually throughout my life and something that I more recently came to see the benefit of.
In my teenage years I was critically underweight, being around 185cms tall and weighing about 60kgs. From a BMI perspective this counts as “underweight” although that was pretty obvious if you were just to take a look at me. I didn’t suffer from any eating disorders I just didn’t put on weight no matter how much I thought I ate. When I turned 19 I started doing traditional Wu Shu and Tai Ji and after about a year I’d gained about 10 kgs. Whilst I didn’t end up gaining anymore after that (and stopping Wu Shu due to work commitments 2 years later) it did show me that as long as I kept at something and made small progress constantly I’d eventually end up where I wanted to be. More recently one of my friends (who I did Wu Shu with) put me onto CrossFit and after only about 3 weeks of regularly doing their work out of the day I’ve noticed significant improvements in my health and physique. They also encourage setting goals like beating your own personal bests and the like.
I think this idea came to me from my background in engineering. With any problem I was given whilst studying there was a heavy emphasis of breaking everything down into its most basic forms so that it would be easier to comprehend. I often found myself with assignments that looked so huge that I could never complete them, but after the first couple I got into a routine to solve them. It usually went something like:
- Open a new document and put the title down
- Fill out all the housekeeping bits
- Get the sections outlined
- Start work on the code/electronics
- Fill out a couple sections
Getting the title down always seemed to get me over that initial “its way too hard” hump and kicked me off in getting things done. We had quite a few assignments that were semester long and I wouldn’t be able to complete certain parts before we’d covered them, but having the framework down really helped keep me motivated to get it done a long time before it was due.
We all face challenges in our lives and no matter what kind of person you are there will be times when you feel like your surrounded by insurmountable tasks on all sides. The key is to identify what you can do to chip away at it because once you find that, your problem doesn’t look so big. I believe Lao-Tzu summed it up perfectly:
A journey of a thousand miles began with a single step.
This post is going to form the basis of a new category of posts here on The Refined Geek which I’m calling Ideals of Life. A couple years ago I made a habit of writing down one or two sentences that described a philosophical ideal that anyone could ascribe to every day just before I went to bed. These were often reflective of my mindset of the time and embodied one of the ideals that I unconsciously believed in. Writing them down reaffirmed my commitment to these ideas, and I’ll share one of them with you today.
Ever since I was a child I’ve been told that I was a dreamer. I can remember catching the hour long bus to my primary school and gazing out of the window endlessly contemplating the outside world. As I got older I never stopped doing this, I merely wondered more about specific topics, rather then having my mind wander aimlessly. During one of my nights of musing over my journal of thoughts I began to realise the importance of losing myself in something, whether it be gaming, thought or conversation. I summed it all up with this point
Let yourself get lost in something every so often. To experience life to the fullest, we must also escape from it.
It’s a twofold point deeply rooted in escapism. I’ve found that often get heavily focused on a few topics or activities at a time and that losing myself into something else from time to time gives me perspective on things that I might be missing. Initially this thought was confined to escaping through games as at the time I was playing through Dreamfall: The Longest Journey which dealt with ideals similar to this. However over time I found myself getting lost in other activities, such as research. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve looked up one article on Wikipedia only to find myself still researching the topic hours later.
I’ve also begun to believe that this ideal also encourages passion in any endeavour you might undertake. You can find many examples of people who are so engrossed with something that they lose their identity when they become involved in it. This is an amazing characteristic and it’s something I note in the truly altruistic individuals that exist in this world. Whilst I can’t remember the real source for the following quote I can attribute its paraphrasing:
I have no need to defend my ideals, they defend themselves. – Eamon Logue on the topic of Buddhism
This I feel embodies the essence of losing yourself. Eamon was no longer a man defending a point or a belief, he was merely manifesting the ideals of Buddhism through himself.
So become passionate, lose yourself in something every so often and gain perspective on your life. Once you find something that you can truly lose yourself in, the rest of your life takes on a new level of meaning.