I’m a pretty efficient guy, yetI’d bet 15% of my life’s work has gone into projects I didn’t bring to fruition, projects that therefore amounted to little more than “a learning experience.” 15% is about four hours a day.
I don’t waste more time regretting that lost 15%, but I’d like to harvest all the learning I can from it. Here’s some harvest:
1. They say don’t bite of more than you can’t chew. Perhaps more important, don’t bite off what you only have appetite to half chew and therefore will end up spitting out.
2. Know thyself so you know your appetites, aptitudes and opportunities. That way when you have a sudden impulse to launch some campaign of self-improvement you’ll be able to assess whether you’ll have what it really takes to fulfill it.
3. Soberly assess the means before venturing toward the ends. Who wouldn’t like to launch a shiny new venture? Who wouldn’t like to complete it with flying colors? Those are the easy questions to answer with an enthusiastic yes. The real question is whether you want to do all that hard work between launch and completion. Many more people would like to have lost weight than would like to lose it. Many more would like to graduate from college than want to study. Many more people would like to have written a book than would like to actually write it.
4. Don’t count on will power to see you through. If sink-or-swim circumstances force you to change, chances are you will change far more reliably than if circumstances accommodate you as you are, and all you’ve got for motivation is your will power. Will power is a weenie. It rarely sustains a campaign of personal change. You can will-power your way into sink-or-swim circumstances that could change you, for example will-power your way into some sink-or-swim boot camp that’s hard to leave. But being your own bootcamp? It rarely works. Self-motivation often leaves us with a slouch for our motivational coach.
5. Don’t believe the training montages in movies. They’re shorter than the real work involved in getting good at something and the background music is always more thrilling than the music you’ll hear during real training.
6. If you’re in a routine that’s working, don’t tamper. Maybe it’s not the ideal diet or training program, but the fact that you’re sticking with it is reason enough not to wonder if you could upgrade to something better. It’s hard to find a groove you’ll stick with it. If you find one cherish it, if only for the way it holds your attention.
7. Perform triage on your dreams. Some of your personal growth campaigns have taken on a life of their own. They’re already fulfilling, and therefore demand no more motivation. Some of your personal growth campaigns can survive, but only if you double down on them. And some of personal growth campaigns are still on your wish list but will never really make it to your to do list. They can’t be saved. Let these dreams die so you can free up the motivation to double down on the savable dreams.
8. Get good at gently and politely dismissing the mootivational impulse. Mootivation: Motivation to change something that won't change. The impulse to address a moot question, to launch a moot campaign. There are all sorts of things I’ve tried and given up on learning. Still, sometimes I’ll feel pangs and inspiration that stirs me to consider trying again. I’ll see the writing on the wall: If you don’t learn this or that, you’ll never succeed,” and I’ll be brought back to the question “Should I try again?” Well of course, maybe I should, but the older I get the less I should jump to that conclusion. Instead, I should see if there are work-arounds that employ what I’m already good at to better effect. At least with the writing on the wall, I should read its fine print. Sure I’m motivated to launch and complete the campaign that will yield me greater success, but the slog through the work in between launch and completion? If I’m not going to make the full effort required, it’s a moot question, I’d be better ignoring.
9. There are only three ways to add something to your already stuffed to-do list:
10. Wisdom to know the difference. The only thing as bad as the serenity to accept what you could have actually improved is the courage to improve what you can't improve. Both are opportunity wasters. This article was only about one of them, the courage to change what can't change. Of course, the other one is important too.