Slow Gains

Practical ideas for mastering your habits

Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day

You don’t have to build everything you want today.

John Heywood was an English playwright who lived hundreds of years ago. 

Today, Heywood is known for his poems, proverbs, and plays. But more than any one work, it’s his phrases that have made him famous. For example, here are some popular sayings that have been attributed to Heywood…

  • “Out of sight out of mind.”
  • “Better late than never.”
  • “The more the merrier.”
  • “Many hands make light work.”

And there is one phrase from Heywood that is particularly interesting when it comes to building better habits:

“Rome was not built in one day.”

Just Lay a Brick

Typically, people use the phrase “Rome wasn’t built in a day” to remind someone of the time needed to create something great. 

And it’s true. It takes time — sometimes years — to master a skill, craft, or habit. And while it’s good to keep perspective on your dreams, I think it’s better to remember the other side of this story:

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Rome wasn’t built in a day, but they were laying bricks every hour.

The problem is that it can be really easy to overestimate the importance of building your Roman empire and underestimate the importance of laying another brick.

It’s just another brick. Why worry about it? Much better to think about the dream of Rome. Right?

Actually Rome is just the result, the bricks are the system. The system is greater than the goal. Focusing on your habits is more important than worrying about your outcomes.

Of course, there’s nothing necessarily impressive about laying a brick. It’s not a fantastic amount of work. It’s not a grand feat of strength or stamina or intelligence. Nobody is going to applaud you for it. 

But laying a brick every day, year after year? That’s how you build an empire.

You can start small. You can focus on improving 1 percent each day. You can simply put in another rep.

You don’t have to build everything you want today, but you do have to find a way to lay another brick.

 

James Clear writes at JamesClear.com, where he shares ideas for using behavior science to master your habits, improve your health, and do better work. For more ideas on how to increase your mental and physical performance, join his free newsletter.A version of this post originally appeared on JamesClear.com.

James Clear is a writer and travel photographer in 20+ countries.
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