To put the idea in front of your eyes as soon as possible, winners take the first step.
If you’re just clicking around for discipline advice, there’s one single take-away for you. But if you’re serious about improvement over the long term, and you want specific strategies and ideas, read on.
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The first step is taken with no regard to how many steps there are in total. It just doesn’t matter at this stage. It’s best to blind yourself to the fact that there are other steps past that first one, if for no other reason that you don’t want to get overwhelmed. That’s deadly at this stage.
A lot of good people have good ideas about how they’re going to spend their time, deepen someone else’s, or improve their situation in some way. But these ideas go to the couch to die. The couch and the graveyard are the two most valuable places on earth because that’s where a lot of abandoned dreams and visions that would have turned into something valuable and meaningful go and are never heard from again.
BEFORE YOU READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE:
Don’t just skim this piece once and then forget everything you’ve learned. Please don’t do that. Instead, write down the things you want to remember, and then refer to your list as often as you need to. Repeated exposure to ideas is part of what makes them stick, and you have to return to the ideas in this article that have been helpful to you if you want them to become a part of your life. So please, take notes of your own and then review them from time to time. It will help tremendously!
SOME HEAVY PHILOSOPHICAL STUFF
The tragedy of the human condition is that we are all condemned to death, and the universe only answers us in silence when we ask what it’s all for. It’s a big universe, and it all seems pretty empty when you’re up alone at night, looking for answers.
Erich Fromm has said that love is the only rational answer to the problem of human existence, and I think that’s true. But that being said, you and I have specific discipline issues and we can’t just “love” our way out of them. Not directly, anyways.
So where does that leave us?
It leaves us in a spot where we have to create our own meaning, and shape our own lives depending on how we want them to turn out. We need to take the first step because no one else is going to do it for us.
In effect, we have to save our own lives.
Taking the first step is powerful beyond measure, and most people never get that far. As Goethe implores us:
“Whatever you can do or dream you, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!”
THERE’S TOO MUCH COMPETITION FOR AVERAGE
You see, there’s this huge competition for average in this world, and not a lot of people are competing to be the very best. A lot of people are fighting to be the best out of the mediocre ones, and not a whole lot of people are fighting to get to the higher echelons of achievement.
In absolute number, sure. There are lots of people competing for dominance in their respective fields. But when you look at the number of people who won’t settle for anything less than the very best, you’ll see that that is a very select group.
That represents a second tragedy, because we have no idea of our own limitations until we test them. Potential is meaningless if it’s unrealized, and that’s what people are allowing to have happen. That’s what we need to stop ourselves from falling into.
So it happens that taking the first step is what separates the winners from the people who had “potential” to be winners.
Anyone who settles for less than what they can be is living one of the hollowest of existences, and frankly, I want better for each of you. It’s very easy to let potential slip away, and it’s difficult to keep in mind how tenuous a hold we really have on life itself.
Do not, I repeat, do NOT let this happen to you, my reader.
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WHERE DO YOU DIRECT THIS NEW-FOUND DRIVE?
Alright, so having made the case for breaking into the world of the doers and the winners, we now have to decide what to dedicate our lives to. Or what to dedicate our lives to becoming. This one article is not the definitive source for answers concerning this question. It can’t be. But rest assured I talk plenty about this elsewhere.
I have a very clear vision of what I am becoming, and the steps I need to take to get there. I also have a very clear idea of my very first step. And I’ve taken it. Then, a new first step appears before me. And I take that.
My clear vision is that of a spectacular police officer, a human rights activist who guides millions from death into life, a mentor that changes the lives of every single one of his clients, and a very healthy and strong man who fills his life with pleasant and sensational experiences.
So how do I become that?
By taking the first step, and realizing that the rest of the way has not necessarily gotten easier, but has partially illuminated itself before me. I know what I have to do; I know where I’m going. And like I’ve said elsewhere, compassion fatigue doesn’t affect me. I’ll never stop caring.
Basically, I have a plan. I plan my work and then I work my plan.
You know why?
Because hope is not a strategy.
None of what I do just falls together without me consciously designing it. And you have to be intentional as well about what you are going to do and how you’re going to do it. Nothing less will suffice.
That being said, there is no such thing as false hope. All hope is real.
Hope is a feeling, and feelings are never wrong. They’re something that your body is telling you, and you need to always listen when your body is speaking. I’m not convinced that there’s much of a difference between you two.
DEVELOP A SENSE OF URGENCY…NOW!!!
Regardless of whether you feel hopeful about a particular outcome, I urge you to develop a sense of urgency. Operate with a sense of urgency at all times because you have a very limited time available to you.
We all do.
So you need to be intentional about how you use it, and you need to use that sense of urgency to move you along faster.
That’s not to say you can become sloppy. Build things you’re proud of, and build them often.
But try to do as Seth Godin advises: “Ship”.
Build a minimum viable product and move it out the door. Perfectionism will kill you. Getting something out the door is the hardest thing to do for most people. I would venture to say, for all of us. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be done.
And then improve on it if it’s something you’d like to improve. Always keep asking yourself whether the activity that you’re about to engage in is worthy of your limited time.
As Marcus Aurelius says:
“At some point you have to recognize what world it is that you belong to; what power rules it and from what source you spring; that there is a limit of the time assigned you, and if you don’t use it to free yourself it will be gone and will never return.”
AND NOW I TALK MORE ABOUT DEATH
Believe it or not, there will come a time when the opportunity for action will have passed you by.
Sigmund Freud said that we never actually believe in our own death, and I think that’s true. Just try to imagine your own death! Don’t you always somehow “survive” in your mind as an observer?
Regardless of what you believe about life after death, it won’t be anything like what you’re experiencing now. Even if you do end up keeping your brain and all your memories, you won’t be in the same place, and you won’t have the same opportunities.
So take that first step!
I think it’s actually very healthy to try and remind yourself of both your own mortality and what proportion of the world you actually make up. It keeps you focused on what’s really important.
It’s removes from your path everything that’s stopping you from taking that first step.
THE TOUGH CHOICES JUST GET EASIER
But wait….there’s MORE good news!
With every tough choice that we make, the next one gets easier. We will have proven ourselves capable. We will have given ourselves a reference point for what we are capable of. And that’s worth investing the time in making these tough decisions.
The reality is that tough decisions don’t tend to go away. You’re going to have to face medical decisions, relationship decisions, career decisions, and decisions about what you want your one and only life to be about.
It’s a lifetime commitment.
As the existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre observed, we are condemned to be free. Condemned to make choices for ourselves and those we care about. And one of the most important choices, indeed one of the most necessary choices, is to take that first step.
The question now becomes: “What will your first step look like?”
ONE QUESTION…IS THIS IMPORTANT?
A task is important or unimportant based on whether it matters if it gets done or not. Use this to guide your decisions. If it’s not carrying you towards your ultimate goals, let someone else do it.
As another great philosopher, Homer Simpson, once said: “Can’t someone else do it?”
There are people who spend their entire lives making someone else’s vision come true. These people built the pyramids, they worked in factories during the Industrial Revolution, they built the Great Wall, they continue to slave for the sake of their companies and leaders.
There is nothing inherently wrong with that, unless you have a different vision for your how you want your life to look.
In that case, there is something very very wrong.
If you have a dead-end job that you hate, consider this:
*You will spend 40 hours per week, for 48-52 weeks of the year, working at this job
*That’s between 1,920 and 2,080 hours per year, for say, 40 years
*40 years of 2,080 hours and you have spent 83,200 hours working on someone else’s dream
DO YOU SEE HOW WASTEFUL THIS IS?!?!?!!?
Why do people do this to themselves?
In my early twenties, I took a security job that allowed me to sit down and read books all night. If it takes me 6 hours to read a book and take notes, that means that during the course of my working life, I would have been able to read 13,867 books.
Maybe this isn’t your dream, and maybe you have more people to support than I do. But a life is a terrible thing to waste, and you can’t afford to throw away 83,200 of your life doing something that isn’t bringing you joy. It’s a crime against the universe.
Here’s a simple rule that I won’t spend a lot of time explaining. You’ll probably understand this right away, but you actually have to start DOING it.
Here it is: Never do a “B” task when you have an “A” task left undone.
If there is something very important that you have to do, never do anything else first just because it’s easier or more convenient.
This is where your sense of urgency needs to come into play. You won’t live long enough to be able to perform any “B” tasks and still reach your goals. Everything needs to be bringing you closer to the realization of your dreams. It sounds simple, but some of the best advice usually is.
Simply put, we all need to do what is hard and necessary, rather than what is easy and unimportant.
Is it possible that some “B” task will turn INTO “A” tasks once you have completed the first “A” tasks?
But they won’t become important until you do everything that is actually important at this moment.
How many days off should you take?
THE POWERFUL COMPOUND EFFECT
When you work on your goals every single day, the power of compounding goes into effect and your efforts will build on each other. You’ll enter into a virtuous cycle where all of your efforts feed into each other and you’ll start to make accelerated progress. But miss too many days in a row, and you’ll find that the compound effect no longer supports you.
Darren Hardy has written a very handy little book about the compound effect. Guess what it’s called?
Even Albert Einstein said that the most powerful force in the universe is compound interest.
If you’re going to fit it into your days, it has to be scheduled. What gets scheduled gets done, and this is especially true for your most important work.
I’m busy, just like you.
I don’t always have 4 hours a day to block off and crank out my best work. But I usually have at least one. And I make goddamn sure that that time is used to the best of my ability.
Be like the Tao. 2500 years ago, Lao Tzu said “The Tao does nothing, and leaves nothing undone.” Sure, he’s talking about the universe, but you’re part of that same universe. Over the course of your day, leave nothing important undone. Simply and quietly go about your work, just like the universe that supports our very existence.
Again, do what is hard and necessary, rather than what is easy and convenient. You’ll change your life that way.
If it helps, let out a crazy yell and dive right in.
I’m not sure if I’d ever admit this to someone face to face, but sometimes, I just yell crazily (to myself, or mouthing the sounds) and sit down in my chair to work. Sometimes I’ll keep the yell going until I open all my files and get everything set up around me.
And I don’t have any problem admitting that this works. I just don’t let people see me do it!
THE HERO PERSISTS FIVE MINUTES LONGER
Have you heard of Joseph Campbell? At the time of this writing, I am just starting one of his most famous books, called “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”. It’s about how all of the myths, religions, movies, books, and stories in the world follow the same basic structure. He calls it the hero’s journey, or the “monomyth”.
It’s an amazing read! And George Lucas has said that it is one of his favorite books. He read it twice before writing Star Wars.
Well in the beginning of the hero’s journey, he must accept the call to adventure.
Taking the first step is tantamount to accepting that call to adventure in your own life! You can be a hero, and all you have to do is stick it five minutes longer than most people ever do.
You see, most people quit and go home. That’s why there is so little competition for the very best. Everyone thinks that everyone else is way ahead of them and that they’ll never amount to anything.
So they quit and go home.
This is your biggest opportunity! If everyone else thinks that they can’t, and you think that you can, then you’re both going to be right, and you’re going to win.
As Marcus Aurelius would say, “What we do now echoes in eternity!”.
When everyone else in your corner of the universe is telling you to pack it in, it takes more than everyday courage to proceed.
Take that first step, and then the second, and then the third. Winners all over the world are doing this, and you have every right to be one of them.
It’s called having an “internal locus of control” and it means that you feel as if you are in control of what shape your own life will take.
You believe that you are in a unique position to guide the trajectory of your life, and let me tell you, that that is a very advantageous attitude to take. Take solace in the fact that almost everyone else won’t be doing this.
Almost no one else will actually be taking this first step, although many of them will be thinking about it. This is your advantage, should you choose to accept it.
As I wrap up here, always keep in mind who you are about to become. This will push you forward into that place where you are just uncomfortable enough to make a difference.
Place in your mind a vivid picture of who and what you are about to become, what important work you will do, and how you will behave. And then act in accordance with your vision.
Winners aren’t this mythical species walking among us. They are you and I. Forward motion is how you bridge the gap between where you are now and who you wish to become. If it sounds obvious, that’s because it is.
But you know how obvious can sometimes look like the most dangerous step you can take.
May your discipline become Godlike.
All the best,
NOTE: Godlike Discipline is entirely non-profit. Matt Karamazov raises money through his writing and mentoring for organizations such as Doctors Without Borders, and Human Rights Watch. If you’re able, even if it’s difficult for you, please support the cause for universal human rights and equal opportunity for all. You can save a life today, and by so doing, you help to save your own.
Matt Karamazov is a mentor, boxer, and human rights activist who reads 200 books per year and throws 300 punches per minute. The website, Godlike Discipline, is his most deeply felt project, dedicated to raising money for causes like Doctors Without Borders, and Human Rights Watch, among others. It’s also dedicated to helping people tackle their biggest willpower challenges. He also like death metal, and so, consequently doesn’t get many second dates. Here he is on a horse.