Do you remember when you were working on a mathematics problem in high school, the advice from the teacher was: If you’re stuck on a problem, don’t sit there and think about it; just start working on it. Even if you don’t know what you’re doing, the simple act of working on it will eventually cause the right ideas to show up in your head. Do something. The answers will follow.
This advice can also be applied in life. Action isn’t just the effect of motivation, it’s also the cause of it. Most of us commit to action only if we feel a certain level of motivation. Only when we are motivated, we feel enough emotional inspiration. It’s not until a major emotional life event occurs that you can generate enough motivation to get off the couch and do something.
But your actions can actually create further emotional reactions and inspirations, and move on to motivate your future actions. So, in turn, if you lack the motivation to make an important change in your life, do something – anything, and then harness the reaction to that action as a way to begin motivating yourself.
When a novelist who had written over 70 novels was asked how he was able to write so consistently and remain inspired and motivated, he replied, “200 crappy words per day, that’s it.” The idea was that if he forced himself to write 200 crappy words, and before he knew it, he’d have thousands of words down the page.
When the standard of success becomes merely acting, when any result is regarded as progress, when inspiration is seen as a reward rather than a prerequisite – we propel ourselves ahead. Failure becomes unimportant and we feel free to fail. Do something. That “something” can be anything – take a trip, have a run, start a blog. This is often all that’s necessary to get the snowball rolling, the action needed to inspire the motivation to keep going. You can become your own source of inspiration. You can become your own source of motivation.
Action is always within reach. Simply doing something is the basis of success – even failure will push you forward. Life is about not knowing and then doing something anyway.
I will run my 32nd half marathon next Sunday. This year I’m heavily out of practice due to my extremely busy work life. I had planned to squeeze a run into the morning, lunch or after work, but all didn’t come true. As time is running out, started last week, I force myself to wake up at 6am and run for around 10km, 3 times a week. I keep this discipline last week and this week. I become sharper at work, but will start cracking up at around 3pm. By 11pm, I simply lose consciousness.
For many of us, our proudest achievements come in the face of the greatest adversity. Our pain often makes us stronger, more resilient, more grounded. Pain is necessary for our psychological growth. To deny that pain is to deny our own potential. Just as one must suffer physical pain to build stronger bone and muscle, one must suffer emotional pain to develop greater emotional resilience, a stronger sense of self, increased compassion, and a generally happier life.
Our most radical changes in perspective often happen at the end of our worst moments. It’s only when we feel intense pain that we’re willing to look at our values and question why they seem to be failing us. We need some sort of existential crisis to take an objective look at how we’ve been deriving meaning in our life, and then considering changing course.
Pain is part of the process. It’s important to feel it. Learn to sustain the pain you’ve chosen. When you choose a new value, you are choosing to introduce a new form of pain into your life. Relish it. Savor it. Embrace it with open arms. Then act despite it.
When you encounter a group of people on the street staring at the sky, you will peer upward also. At the end of the presentation, someone begins to clap and the whole room will join in. When you pay your bill over the counter and saw a tip box with notes and coins, you will leave a tip as well.
This is called “herd instinct” or “social proof”. We believe we are behaving correctly when we act the same as other people. The more people who display a certain behavior, the more appropriate this behavior is judged by others. In other words, the more people who follow a certain idea, the truer we deem the idea to be.
We always copy others’ behavior. When the fire alarm goes off, you will follow others to escape from the building. When you are in a foreign city, you will pick a restaurant that’s full of people. Comedy and talk shows insert canned laughter at certain spots, inciting the audience to laugh along.
This is, of course, absurd. So be skeptical. For example, when a company claims its product is better because it is “the most popular”. Ask yourself, how is a product better simply because it sells more units? And remember English novelist W. Somerset Maugham’s wise words:
“If fifty million people say something foolish, it is still foolish.”
When Pablo Picasso was an old man, he was sitting in a café in Spain, doodling on a used napkin. He was nonchalant about the whole thing, drawing whatever amused him in that moment. Anyway, a woman sitting near him was looking on in awe. After a few moments, Picasso finished his coffee and crumpled up the napkin to throw away as he left.
The woman stopped him. “Wait,” she said. “Can I have that napkin you were just drawing on? I’ll pay you for it.” “Sure,” Picasso replied. “Twenty thousand dollars.” The woman was startled. “What? It took you like two minutes to draw that.” “No, ma’am,” Picasso said. “It took me over sixty years to draw this.” He stuffed the napkin in his pocket and walked out of the café.
Improvement at anything is based on thousands of tiny failures. If someone is better than you at something, then it’s likely because that person had failed at it more than you have. If someone is worse than you, it’s likely because he/she hadn’t been through all of the painful learning experiences you have.
We all fell and hurt ourselves when we were trying to learn to walk. But we wouldn’t think of giving up at that time. Avoiding failure is something we learn when we grow up. We can only be truly successful at something that we’re willing to fail at. Success is a lifelong process. Picasso lived into his nineties and continued to produce art up until his final years. This is what made that napkin so valuable.
The more something threatens your identity, the more you will avoid it.
– Manson’s Law of Avoidance
The more something threatens to change how you view yourself, the more you will avoid doing it. Anything that can shake up your comfort zone – even if it can potentially make your life better – is inherently scary. Manson’s Law of Avoidance applies to both good and bad things in life. Making a million dollars can threaten your identity just as much as losing all your money. Becoming the company CEO can threaten your identity just as much as losing your job. People are often afraid of success for the same reason they’re afraid of failure – it threatens who they believe themselves to be.
There are opportunities that we consistently pass up because they threaten to change how we view and feel about ourselves. They threaten the values that we’ve chosen and have learned to live up to. We all try to protect, justify and maintain our values. Even if we don’t mean to, that’s how weird we are. If I believe I’m a nice guy, I’ll avoid situations that can potentially contradict this belief. Years ago I tried to grow a team member to become the team lead, but it ended up with his repeated absence from work. This made him uncomfortable as he sees himself as always a team member. The belief always takes precedence. Until we change how we view ourselves, what we believe we are and are not, we cannot change.
Don’t believe you know who you are. This keeps you striving and discovering. It forces you to remain humble in your judgments and accepting the differences in others. When we let go of the stories we tell about ourselves, we free ourselves up to actually act and grow. We don’t need to protect our identities so we can give our dreams an honest go. View yourself in the simplest and most ordinary ways – a student, a friend, a partner, an employee. This world doesn’t owe you anything, you need to explore the unknown for any change to happen in your life. Being able to look at and evaluate different values without necessarily adopting them is perhaps the basic skill required in changing one’s own life in a meaningful way.
An African farmer heard that others had made millions by discovering diamond mines. He sold his property and traveled the continent for many years in search of diamonds until at last he was old, weary and discouraged, he threw himself into a river and drowned.
Meanwhile back at his old farm the new owner found a large brilliant rough diamond in the creek. A friend told him he’d found one of the largest diamonds ever. His creek was filled with such diamonds. The first farmer had owned free and clear acres of diamonds. He should have searched his own property thoroughly before moving on. He hadn’t even looked.
Each of us is standing in our own acres of diamonds at this moment. Explore the pasture you are in. Don’t run from one thing to another forever looking for the pot of gold. Stay where you are until you find what you seek. Let your mind thoroughly explore the possibilities in what you are presently doing.
There were good reasons why you chose your present job in the beginning. Find acres of diamonds hiding in your work. The diamonds of opportunity are there but they cannot shout. Our job is to find them. We must think of better ways to serve, right where we are. Leave no stone unturned. There are better ways to do what you are presently doing. Keep things stirred up. Overcome! Prevail right where you are. Stay and get rid of your problems. Think every day of a way to mine your own acres of diamonds.
As I was pulling into work, I was following this car. The sign in the back window says, “Learning stick sorry for any delay”.
Knowing this information, I was very patient with their slow shifting, and honestly they were doing pretty well for still learning. Then I asked myself: Would I have been just as patient if the sign hadn’t been there? I can almost definitely say no.
We don’t know what someone is going through. We don’t wear signs that illustrate our personal struggles. You don’t see signs taped to people’s shirts that say, “Going through a divorce”, “Lost a child”, “Feeling depressed”, or “Diagnosed with cancer”.
If we could read visually what those around us are going through we would definitely be nicer. But we shouldn’t have to see signs and have reasons to treat others with kindness. We should do it anyway, whether we know what is going on or not. Whether they deserve it or not.
Let’s give everyone an extra dose of patience, kindness, and love.