Dream Big but Start Small

Dream Big, but Start Small

I’m dreaming of a huge article.

That’s the end of my introduction.

What a start! Phew.

“3 MAX AT THE SAME TIME, WOULD HIGHLY RECOMMEND ONLY 1”

This is something I wrote in my previous article. Many people sent me emails and comments about that and… Ok, lying. Nobody cares about what I write. So let me write some more.

There’s a reason why you should target only 1 to 3 big conscious changes in a day.

And that reason is willpower.

Straight to the point! I like it.

Next paragraph.

WHAT IS WILLPOWER?

You’re slouching on your couch watching some soap opera on the telly but you know you’d rather be out for a run in the sun.

The amount of energy you need to move your big fat ass is willpower.

A baby girl (who else?) is crying behind you all along your 12 hours plane trip to Ouagadougou and all you want to do is high kick her ugly nose.

The amount of energy you need to NOT do that is willpower.

Basically, willpower is the power required for you to do something you know you should be doing but which still requires a conscious effort to do. Or the opposite.

In another one word, self-control.

I think that’s actually two.

THE CHARACTERISTICS OF WILLPOWER

Studies on willpower showed many things (like who killed JFK), but there are 2 specific characteristics that we can leverage for a better quality of life:

1. Willpower is finite

How the fuck is that good, would you ask me politely? Well, this is what it is. Willpower is finite, it’s a fact. Now that you fully accept that, you can understand one thing.

Like time, there’s so much in a day. So just fucking use it fucking wisely.

What do I mean? I mean that you have to pick your battles. You cannot treat every little thing with the same importance, and you cannot treat every single person the same way either. You have to learn to discard things and people who don’t matter (to you).

Because each time you argue, each time you try to prove something to someone, each time you spend energy on making a decision that doesn’t matter, it’s less energy for the things that actually do.

2. Willpower is trainable

Yes, we are all born different. Yes, when I don’t shave, I’m uglier than Brad Pitt. Yes, Elon Musk is probably the natural born king of willpower. This guy cofounded Paypal, built the best—and craziest—electric cars around and is now also doing weird stuff with space rockets. WTF man.

Still, everybody can get more willpower. Leaving the couch doesn’t have to feel like the Normandy landings for life.

GIMME THE WAY TO GET MORE WILLPOWER

Willpower is like a muscle. I know I always use this analogy but it’s because it’s true. And also I love muscles.

To grow you need to go out of your comfort zone. You need to push your own boundaries, you need to expand your own limits. So to grow your reserve of willpower, you have to do 2 things:

  1. You deplete it. Yes, again, like a muscle. You use it completely. How? You force yourself to do things that require conscious efforts (and that are obviously aligned with your long terms goals and dreams). It could be going for a run instead of crashing on the couch. Or eating some fresh carrots instead of a chocolate bar at teatime. Now how do you know when you’ve hit rock bottom? Well, if you’ve high kicked the crying baby plane in the face: Congratulations! You’re definitely out of willpower. Or if you end your day in Häagen-Dazs land while you’re actually on diet, you know it’s time to go to sleep.
  2. You rest. That means you spend time relaxing. You do things that don’t require much conscious thinking, like something where you can be completely focused but without frying your brain. (Carving wooden penises would be a great example.) But the most important: you get a good night sleep.

When you break your arm and it doesn’t get stimulated for 2 months, your arm muscles atrophy.

If you spend your days not doing anything mental but just consuming shits, your willpower atrophies.

And you become a lazy fuck.

START SMALL

So let’s say one of your big project this year is to become physically healthier. That would mean you stop smoking, you start exercising and you eat better.

Sounds familiar? These are the most common New Year’s resolutions, at least in the US.

And the success rate is a whopping… 8%.

How is that possible?

The issue is that most people try to make everything happen at the same time.

Think about it.

You’ve just recovered from your 3 days New Year’s party hangover. A new week is approaching and you feel like it’s time for a new start. It’s decided, you’re a fighter and you’re going to implement your new resolutions on Monday.

If you start that Monday by waking up earlier than usual + skipping your morning bed cigarette + going out for a run before breakfast + getting a salad for lunch instead of a greasy burger then, by 2pm, you’re going to punch people in the balls.

All you did in the morning just required so much effort that you’re going to be dead by the beginning of the afternoon. And you’ll dread the next day!

Too much and you’re overwhelmed. You’ll give up before even understanding why.

That’s why at the beginning, 1 conscious change a day is enough. For example if you smoke 20 cigarettes per day, you can start by focusing on reducing by 1 a day, or by 1 a week. Once you’ve made up the habit of smoking less, then you can focus on a new change like going for a run. And only after that, stop eating MacDonald’s. If you wish.

When we have no willpower anymore, not so good stuff happen.

When we are tired we easily get angry, frustrated, or upset. We make stupid choices. We have a hard time controlling ourselves.

Studies showed for example that people who are on a diet are more likely to cheat on their spouse! (And now you have a good excuse.)

We get overwhelmed and we lose motivation.

And we definitely don’t want that.

The point is for us to have a better quality of life, not to ensnared ourselves into self-imposed inflexible rules.

START EVEN SMALLER

But there’s more. Now that you know about doing less, it’s time to learn about doing smaller.

How do you do that? By splitting your big dreams into little tasks.

Because we also get overwhelmed when the mountain seems too big.

The journey of a thousand miles beings with one step. — Lao Tzu

It is true. You begin with one step, you add a second one, and a third… And before you know it, you’re at the top of the mountain.

So just break your big dreams into little steps, and walk one step at a time.

It is better to make a single small step every day than being overwhelmed and stressed and not doing anything for 10.

When I started this blog, my idea was simple: I read and write for myself and I love it, so let’s share what I’ve learned with others, contribute to people’s lives, and sustain myself on the way.

That is a big dream, I believe.

But just the idea of starting this website was so overwhelming. There were piles of things to do even before just being able to publish my first article.

So I cut everything into little pieces:

  • Study the different CMS available and make a choice
  • Brainstorm about the design of the site and implement
  • Decide whether to build my own server or pay for one online
  • Review and choose a server provider to use (I decided to pay online)
  • Define a target audience
  • Reflect about a name for the site
  • Select a registrar to take care of the domain name
  • Setup the server
  • And many more…

And the truth is that most of those pieces were actually cut themselves into even smaller ones, up to the point that I could check them off my todo list without saying goodbye to my willpower for the day.

Currently, for each article, this is how I’m able to keep writing while having a full-time job:

  • One day I brainstorm and select a topic
  • One day I write a shitty first draft
  • One day I rest because I hate the first draft
  • One day I rewrite most of the parts, and add some “fuck” and “shit”
  • One day I rest again
  • One day I polish
  • One day I find a picture and write an excerpt for Facebook and Twitter
  • One day I publish

If I just sit there staring at the blank page and thinking about getting a new full article online, I start panicking and I convulsively open Facebook and 9gag pages non stop.

Sounds familiar?

HOW TO ARRANGE YOUR DAY

Studies showed that we have the most amount willpower when we wake up, that our peak of productivity is 2 to 5 hours after, and that everything depletes after along the day.

Studies also showed that the color of the underwear you’re going to wear tomorrow, if you’re the only one taking it off at night, doesn’t matter. But if you have to think about it, it’s still going to use your reserve of willpower.

There’s many articles about the different morning routines of successful people. But there’s one thing in common in all of these routines: from the time these people wake up to the time they start working on what matters to them, everything goes without the blink of an eye. What to do, what to wear, what to get for breakfast. All is habit.

I took a second shower today in the afternoon after a heavy workout (3.5 pushups). When I left the shower my mouth smelled like mint. I have no memories of holding a toothbrush…

Brushing my teeth in the shower is such a habit that I do it unconsciously. And that’s how I want my whole morning to be.

You know, before attacking the real stuff.

So try to get all the things that don’t matter in automatic mode from the time you wake up to the time you really have to make important decisions. That means prepare as much as you can the previous day: what you’re going to wear, what you’re going to eat for breakfast, how you’re going to get to work, who you’ll say hi to and who you’ll give the middle finger.

Then do your important stuff for about 3 to 4 hours.

And then enjoy the rest of the day playing and doing things that don’t need your brain because anyway, you don’t have one anymore.

A peaceful morning, much less frustration, much more acceptance and total awesomeness.

THE RULE OF 3

I’ve heard somewhere, many times, about the rule of 3. Maybe it was just in my head but still, it’s been something very useful to me.

Because we can’t handle too many things at the same time and 3 seems to be the sweet spot for most people, the rule of 3 says:

  • 3 big projects in a year
  • 3 conscious choices in a day, in relation to your 3 big projects

If the number 3 seems rather low to you, don’t get fooled. This appears to be the correct number for a right balance between productivity and quality of life.

Of course, you also have to judge accordingly.

Losing 2 pounds is not considered a big project, certainly not worth a year time. But starting a new career might be.

Brainstorming about when to apply for holidays probably does not require a lot of energy (except if you dread holidays but in that case I would recommend mental hospitals), but updating your resume might be a daunting task.

Practicing meditation might be one of the conscious choice you make today, and for as long as you still need to remind yourself to practice.

The point of the rule is not about doing less, but actually the opposite.

It’s about escaping procrastination. It’s about managing our personal time and energy efficiently. It’s about working on what matters to us, getting our priorities right, and taking a better care of ourselves.

It’s about being productive and feeling fulfilled, rather than pretending to be busy, getting stressed and feeling not enough.

It’s about the right balance between moving forward to build the life we’ve consciously decided for ourselves, and taking a few step backs to see the whole picture and enjoy our lives along the way.

Day by day. Moment by moment.

Worth a shot? Let me know how it works out for you.

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