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:
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.