“The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time”
This is a quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln, and I have two takeaways from it.
The first is that you can’t do everything at once. If you have a goal, you have to make patient and consistent progress towards it on a daily basis.
The second is that most goals that seem very far away are actually more achievable than they appear. The analogy of climbing a mountain is helpful in explaining this.
Specifically, when you’re at the bottom of a mountain, you can’t see its peak. With each step of the climb, you see parts of the mountain that were previously inaccessible to you. To get to the peak, you must traverse through these intermediate parts. You can’t climb further than your reach at any particular step allows.
Similarly, when you first start working towards a goal, it’s difficult to envision achieving it. By making steady daily progress towards the goal, you unlock new levels that take you closer to your goal, until you can eventually see yourself achieving it.
And just like when you’re climbing a mountain, there’s no short cut. You have to go through certain places before you can get to other places.
What you achieve in life can be thought of as the distance that you progress. Distance, in turn, is speed times time.
Speed is how fast you’re progressing, and time is how much time you put in.
This is why you’ll make more progress if you’re working on something that you’re naturally good at, by working with a capable team rather than alone, and by raising external funding rather than relying on internally generated profits. These are examples of ways to increase your speed.
It’s also why you’ll make more progress if you’re spending the majority of your time on one goal rather than pursuing multiple goals at once.
Progress is a repeated cycle between two actions, one internal and one external.
The internal action consists of developing a thought about the way the world works. For example, this can consist of engaging with a person who you believe will make you happier, developing a habit which you believe will make you more successful, or building a product feature which you believe will increase user engagement.
What follows is the external response to your internal action. You see whether the person does indeed make you happy, whether you can stick to the attempted habit and whether it increases your success, and whether the new product feature increases user engagememt.
While the internal action is peaceful because everything makes sense in your mind, the external response is often disruptive as you discover that things aren’t exactly as your mind imagined they would be.
You then internally revise the way you believe the world works before putting it to a new external test.
Progress comes from realizing that a disruptive external response is just part of the cycle. When you see things this way, you’re able to repeat the cycle without giving up, at a fast pace, simultaneously across multiple domains. The end result is that your thoughts about the way the world works become more realistic each day.
When you’re thinking, you internally articulate some of your thoughts in full while leaving others unfinished.
The ones that you articulate in full, you learn from and use to guide your actions. You should therefore fully articulate as many of your important thoughts as you can.
However, leaving a thought unfinished isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You can anticipate the conclusion of some thoughts without having to fully articulate them, and others just aren’t important enough to warrant full articulation.
The danger lies in those thoughts that you leave unfinished despite knowing that they’re important, and despite not knowing their conclusion. When you do this, it’s often because you’re trying to ignore the reality that you anticipate a fully articulated thought will show you in order to protect yourself from short term pain.
But it’s exactly those thoughts which, if you force yourself to fully articulate them, enable you to achieve the greatest progress after fighting through the pain.