There’s been a lot of talk about the nature of the self here, but perhaps none of it has been presented more beautifully than in this video from The School of Life. Do yourself a favour, make yourself comfortable, and hit play. Mind-blowingly good.
When we set goals there’s a tendency to adopt a “Go big or go home” mindset. Goals should be difficult, lofty, ambitious.
Setting goals like this can certainly help us to achieve great things, but that doesn’t mean that it’s the only way to be successful. Here, Stephen Guise argues that big goals can be counterproductive to reaching our full potential.
Because of the psychology of smaller goals, you are more likely to adopt a limitless mindset. Not only are you accustomed to overachieving your initial aim (the fundamental idea behind limitlessness), but you lack that upper limit goal that tells you when to stop.
Large goals are an end. Small goals are a beginning.
With my 50 words a day mini habit, I’ve written more than 5,000 words in a single day. (If you knew how lazy I am, you’d find that more impressive.) But I would never had done that much with a larger goal of say, 2,000 words a day. Once I hit that magic number, I would feel immense satisfaction and stop for the day.
I’ve always found that small “hyper-achievable” goals work better for me than larger, more demanding ones. When the goal is so easy that I have no excuse not to do it, I’ll do it, and then I’ll do more. There’s never a time when I’m tempted to make an excuse because the effort required not to fail is so low that’s easy to get started. Then, once I’ve started, it’s easier to keep going.
Success is often about overcoming that initial inertia and small goals are super effective at doing that. String enough of them together, and the sky tis truly the limit.
Before we get started, can we just appreciate the honesty of this video’s intro?
Let’s be honest, you’re probably procrastinating while watching this video. And because of this, I’m going to keep this as practical and concise as possible.
Procrastination is the greatest scourge on our civilisation. Without it we’d already have solved world hunger, cured all disease, and built the flying cars that we’ve been promised for so long.
Common reasons we procrastinate are that our goals aren’t meaningful enough to us, we don’t have a clear enough plan for how to achieve them, or both.
If the goal isn’t important, we’re obviously not motivated to start, especially when there are more entertaining options available. If we don’t know how to achieve our goal, we’re overwhelmed by the size of our task and find something easier to do instead.
But the most important reason, the reason the video zeros in on, is what the goal is, and why it’s been chosen. The ideal goal is one that benefits you and simultaneously benefits those around you.
You are motivated to achieve your goals because you will gain personally, and your social environment supports you because they will benefit too.
There are many goals which fit these parameters, and best of all, the other two obstacles to procrastination are also alleviated because the people around you will help you fill in the gaps.
Sometimes you procrastinate because you’re feeling lazy, or because there’s something more exciting on offer. But if you find yourself procrastinating too often, try asking yourself who is benefiting from your goal.
One of the things we need most right now, as a society, is the willingness to say “I don’t know.” The ability to admit that we aren’t experts on every issue, to recognise that our feelings are often wrong, and to be willing to hear new evidence instead of sticking our fingers in our ears.
Why is this so hard? Because we always think we’re right. In the face of our obvious correctness, under the weight of al of the evidence we feel that we have, how can any other argument possibly hope to stand? And everybody else thinks the same, and nobody ever agrees on anything.
Mark Manson brings us a deep dive on some of the most common biases which lead to this problem. He sums up the entire problem so perfectly in his introduction that I was hooked:
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “How are there so many idiots in the world who can’t seem to see what is right in front of them?” You’re thinking, “Why do *I* seem to be blessed (or cursed) with the ability to see truth through a torrential downpour of bullshit?” You’re thinking “What can I do to make people understand? How can I make them see what I see?”
I know you think this because everyone thinks this. The perception that we understand life in a way that nobody else does is an inherent facet of our psychology. That disconnect we feel is universal.
Discourse is truly a “be the change you want to see in the world” issue. If we want other people to think more deeply, we have to think more deeply. If we want others to listen more, we have to be willing to listen. If we want our perspective to be understood, we have to recognise that there are perspectives out there other than our own.
Seth Godin on the importance of digging down to the root of a disagreement or dispute.
If someone keeps coming back to an irrelevant, urgent or provocative point instead, they’re signaling that they’d rather not talk about the important thing.
Whether in the business world, a personal relationship, or a moment of self reflection, the tendencies to avoid the elephant in the room. There are always a thousand other things we can quibble about. But we should always be trying to figure out what the most important thing is.
If it’s difficult to talk about, that’s a good sign that we’re getting close.
Most of have a great deal of confidence in our subconscious mind’s ability to make decisions. And rightly so. Every day we subconsciously make hundreds, if not thousands of decisions which keep us safe, help us to navigate our relationships, and keep us happy.
But there’s one area where it lets us down more often than we realise; rational thinking:
The unconscious mind is amazing. It can process vastly more information than out conscious mind by using shortcuts based on our background, cultural environment and personal experiences to make almost instantaneous decisions about everything around us.
The snag is, it’s wrong quite a lot of the time. Especially on matters that need rational thinking.
This video from the Royal Society explores how our subconscious can lead us to judge people and situations unfairly. As it highlights, all of us are guilty of this, it’s a normal aspect of human psychology. But by becoming more aware of its existence, and its influence on our decision making, by resisting the temptation to make snap judgements, questioning the reasoning behind our decisions, and questing cultural stereotypes.
Again, there’s nothing wrong with the fact that our brains do this any more that there’s something wrong with the fact that our taste buds prefer ice cream to vegetables. What matters is that we engage our rational minds, so that we can make healthy decisions more often.
There’s a persistent notion that meditation is always supposed to be a wholly pleasant experience. That feeling calm and peaceful is the point. But meditation isn’t a mental massage. Meditation is the act of spending time quietly with your thoughts. And depending on what your thoughts are, this can be difficult and even uncomfortable experience.
The point is illustrated neatly in this story from Mindful.org about a meditation teacher’s experience with giving their students more space to sit with their thoughts:
I guided the meditation with fewer words, leaving ever more space. The air seemed to crackle with restless silence. Afterwards, several students said they prefer more guidance—otherwise, they felt they were floundering. I grew curious and asked the group, “What’s wrong with floundering?”
There will be times when there’s nobody to guide you through the difficult moments in life. There will be times when there’s nobody to guide you through sadness or loneliness or pain. There’s no shame in relying on the support of others, but it would be a hame if that was the only lesson learned from a meditation practice.
Life is full of moments when we flounder. There’s no escaping them. But what’s wrong with that? The important thing is that we’ve learned how to right ourself when we do. The job of a teacher is to help their students find solid ground when they first encounter difficulties. But eventually, the job becomes allowing them to find their footing for themselves.
Procrastination is almost synonymous with a feeling of being overwhelmed. Because there’s too much to do, we lapse into a kind of paralysis and end up not doing any of it.
The Ivy Lee method is an effective way of overcoming this problem: You list the most important tasks for the day, start with the most important, and don’t move onto the next until you’ve finished it. It sounds simple, because it is, but this method has been used by countless businesses and entrepreneurs to boost productivity.
In fact, the Ivy-Lee method is perhaps most famous for helping the president of Bethlehem Steel Corporation, Charles Schwab, turn his failing business into the second largest steel producer in America.
Instead of charging an up-front fee, Ivy-Lee told Schwab to try his method for three months, and then pay whatever he thought the productivity gains were worth. Schwab paid $25,000, which was a lot of money in the early 1900s, but given that Schwab himself amassed a personal fortune of over $200,000,000, Ivy-Lee should probably have asked for a percentage…