Tuesday, July 3, 2012


I would say that the most common significant mistake made when beginning a new endeavor is the projection into the future of the time, effort, difficulty and discomfort required in the present. 

You start a new workout program and everything hurts the next day. You think, "I can't keep doing this if I end up not being able to walk the next day."

After eight weeks of practicing every day, you finally play a song on the piano. You think, "At this rate I'll never be able to play an entire concert."

You stumble through a simple sentence in French, pausing at nearly every word while straining to think of the next. You think, "This is just too difficult! It takes me five minutes just to ask where the bathroom is; how am I ever going to sustain a conversation."

After quitting smoking, you spend the afternoon trying not to hit someone. You think, "My gosh, I don't know if I can take this every day for the rest of my life."

We do it all the time. We assume that something difficult, something uncomfortable or painful, something that takes more time than we have, will always do so. 

So we quit.

Yup, happens all the time.

This is one of those cases where the data are correct (the pain is there, the challenge is there, the time is there), but the assumption is wrong. 

It get's better. The pain and discomfort can diminish. What is impossible can become easy. What takes forever can take no time at all. What requires all your focus and concentration can become a reflex.

They can. 

Thing is, you have to stick with it.

Importantly, you have to stick with it without ducking the hard parts.

If you start a diet, your body will go through an adjustment period. Your stomach will return to a smaller, more natural state. Your metabolism will adjust to the new types of foods. You'll experience a sense of withdrawal from items you've eliminated. All this means: D-I-S-C-O-M-F-O-R-T.

It'll pass.

However, if you try to avoid the discomfort, (e.g., eating high volumes of low-calorie foods to keep your stomach full, or, consuming lots of fat and sugar substitutes to avoid the sense of withdrawal), you compromise your initiative. You may lose weight, but you won't fundamentally change your relationship to food. You become dependent upon all the props required to keep you on your diet. In the absence of those props or when you finally get tired of all the overhead required to maintain them, diet over.

Spend any significant time learning to play guitar and the tips of the fingers on your left hand will hurt.

It'll pass.

However, if you try to avoid the discomfort (e.g., playing only until you start to feel a twinge of pain, or, switching guitar strings until the tension is so low that you barely feel them), you compromise your initiative. Your fingertips don't develop calluses as quickly as they might or not at all. You don't develop the strength and dexterity required to play well. Your guitar makes no sound and you can't easily play just any old guitar. You get frustrated with your progress and, guitar over.

If you stick with it (all of it), it gets easier because you get faster, you get stronger and you get better. However, here's the really cool part. The faster, better and stronger you get at anything, the faster, better and stronger you get at everything.  

There's this really cool cross-talk phenomenon wired into our neurology. You learn to play guitar and somehow you become better at geometry. You learn to cook without recipes and somehow you become better a improvising comedy. You learn to lift weights without hurting yourself and somehow you become better at woodcraft. 

Even if you've never done geometry or comedy or woodcraft, you get better at them. If you were to start doing geometry or comedy or woodcraft, you'd have a head-start.

All this compounds over time. The time from way-too-hard to way-too-easy gets smaller and smaller, even for things you've never done or thought about doing. 

But wait, there's more! 

There's a feedback loop from the things you're learning to the things you already know how to do. You buckle down and really learn geometry, dedicating so much time to it that you don't practice guitar for six weeks. After your geometry final, you pick up the guitar anticipating a getting-reacquainted period. 

However, as you play, you have a new awareness of the fretboard and the strings, one that you can't account for (after all, you haven't been practicing.)  Even though you haven't played in six weeks, you've somehow become a better guitar player.

The faster you get, the faster you get at getting faster. The better you get, the better you get at getting better. The stronger you get, the stronger you get at getting stronger.

That is, if you stick to it.

Happy Tuesday,

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