“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now”
The word “progress” is one of those tricky bastards that’s both a noun and a verb. Used as a verb, it’s constructive – Let’s progress off the playstation and on to writing. However sometimes when people use it as a noun, instead of using it as a descriptor of what you’ve done, it becomes an object of what you want to do – I want to make progress learning piano.
The problem with this thinking is that the word ‘progress’ is a descriptor for a change of events. Something has happened in the past that has moved on to the future, and progress is how you describe it. When using this noun for describing what’s to come; your future and your aspirations, it’s lofty, unspecific, and sometimes, way too large to comprehend. So you don’t begin at all.
Be concerned with one thing and one thing only when it comes to your aspirations. Action.
Forward and future planning is great, whether that’s goals, aspirations or whatever. But spending too much time here is a great way to procrastinate.
Chances are, you’ve got some rough direction of what you want to accomplish in life, and rough is enough. If your rough aspiration is “I want to become a great photographer”, that’s fine. Yeah, sure, you could tear it apart and say “Hey your goal sucks because it’s not specific. What does ‘great’ mean? And what are you photographing? And when do you want to be ‘great’? And how are people going to see that you’re ‘great’? And how are you gonna measure success? By the amount of people who stop you on the street? By the people who clap for you as you enter a camera store?”. Going into detail here is nothing but procrastination at this point.
A better approach is to make a habit that gets you one very very small step closer to that rough aspiration. Start small. Very very small. Then build. Once you’ve worked out a habit, set reminder to get yourself to do it. For example:
Aspiration: I want to be a great photographer.
Habit: Take 1 photo a day.
Reminder: Set a reminder every day to take 1 photo. Make sure it alerts you. Put it on your to do list.
Sounds like nothing. And it is. That’s the point. But it’s your nothing. A small nothing is better than no nothing, even if that nothing seems like, well… nothing.
Stick with your nothing for a week. Then next week, build on your nothing.
Aspiration: I want to be a great photographer.
Habit: Deliberately take photos with your phone for 5 minutes. Set a timer when doing so.
Reminder: Set a reminder 5 minutes before lunch ends every day. Make sure it alerts you. Put it on your to do list.
Again, it sounds like nothing. Hell, you’re not even using a proper camera at this point. But the purpose is in the process.
The reminder part is important because over time, what will start to happen is you’ll start to see your reminders as absolute, and you’ll start to surrender to them. You’ll have to complete them. In psychology, they call this the Zeigarnik effect, and it’s far more effective when you’re a to do list person, but it’s great even if you’re not.
The other effect of doing something small over time is to get wins on the board fast. Even if they’re small, your biggest focus here is momentum. However small, small is better than nothing.
Now, apply this same routine to all the other parts of your life and make sure you stick to the regular times that you’ve set for them. Soon enough, things become easy – it’s day 4 of daily blogging and you wonder where the time has gone. Meditating for 15 minutes seems like you just sat down. You can’t even remember the last time you went to the gym except for some reason your body is sore.
You’ve made progress. Now you get to use the word as a noun. Yay!
Here’s what my habit schedule looks like every day:
6am – Wake up, shit, shower, shave. Instagram (bad habit. lol).
6:30am – Get dressed and ready to go.
6:35am – Lumosity. 5 brain games, around 15 minutes.
6:50am – Meditate. 15 minutes. I use Headspace.
7:05am – Journal. 3 minutes. I use the 5 minute journal (ironic, I know).
7:08am – Daily page of The daily stoic.
7:10am – Out.
7:15am – At work. (Boosted boarding to work is fun)
Do some work
10:50am – Gym. 1 hour.
Do some work and go home
6pm – Write. 30 minutes.
6:30pm – Edit 1 photo. 15 minutes.
8pm – Post blog.
9pm – Post image to Instagram (if I’m feeling like it).
And that’s it.
It’s mostly in the morning, but every single day, I’ll have the opportunity to sharpen my brains agility, meditate, journal, read, gym, write, edit a photo, and interact with you guys. The beauty of it all is that I can get all of that done – even if it is a small amount – in just an hour and a half (discounting the gym because I don’t do that every day).
By comparison to the 16 hours that I’m awake, 1.5 hours is nothing. But it’s my nothing. And it counts. Because sooner or later, and usually before you know it, it turns into something.
Small daily actions = progress.