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Maintaining Passion

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The case for delayed gratification

What’s going to be special about 2016? You’ll be taking yourself with you, so it’ll be much the same as last year unless you make it different.

I often fall victim to the massive annual to do list. I clear my desk in late December. Then I create a whole new rod for my back with an impressive forecast of things I am going to achieve in the New Year.

There are two problems with this. One is obvious. The list is so long that I’m already tired by the end of the first month. It clutters my head, making me easily distracted rather than focused.

The second is my head. With so much on my mind, I keep thinking about the outcomes – rather than just taking the first step and getting on with it.

There is a lot of ego in this. Once I have made the plan, I can skip to how great it will be when it’s implemented. I start milking the gratification before I have actually done anything.

Having already enjoyed the result, there’s now less gratification to go for. Not surprisingly, my passion begins to wane.

What’s more, my vision of the outcome is always perfect. That makes bumps in the road even harder to climb over and closes my mind to alternative strategies that might yield better outcomes.

These are all good ways to turn something exciting into a hard slog.

What can you do about it?

Try starting with a broad idea instead of a detailed game plan.

One year, I decided to do just one big thing. It wasn’t irresponsible. I do most of the smaller stuff anyway. At first it was going to be a book but that was too big. I decided instead to just write a chapter.

I left everything else to the universe. It didn’t matter if it turned into a book or not. I didn’t worry about whether it got published or not. I just tried to write a really good chapter.

By the end of the year, I’d written 52 chapters and by then had found a literary agent, who in turn found an excellent publisher, who in turn published the book. I never planned any of that.

Surprise yourself

It was an unusual year for me. I often have so many things on the go that a lot doesn’t get finished. But in that year, somehow more stuff got done.

There’s nothing really new here. There are two actions that are generic to any advice on getting things done.

1. Whatever you want to do, work out the first step and take it.
2. Forget the outcome. When you've done the first step, work out the next one. If it makes sense, take it. 

It turns out acclaimed author, E.L. Doctorow, said something similar: “Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

It doesn’t only apply to writing novels. It works for running a business too, not to mention running your life. It can take you places you might never have gone.

Try it in 2016.

Reader Comments (1)

Nice reminder. You suggested this a couple of years ago. Tried it. It works.

January 24, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterBob McKinnie

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