What’s the last thing that you’ve done where every single part of the job was difficult?
Where the next simplest action you could take drained all the energy and willpower from your being?
My guess is that you’ve never experienced this, although it can seem like you live through this every day of your life.
What’s needed is an attitude adjustment.
You’re not going to think about the whole task as a complete entity any more; what you’re going to do is to break it up into small pieces (like every productivity expert tells you to do), and you’re going to take an honest look at yourself. You’re going to ask yourself whether you’re ACTUALLY not up to the task, or whether each individual piece of the whole is ridiculously easy.
A lot of times we build up tasks and projects in our minds and make them out to be far more labor-intensive than they actually are.
And the result is the literal death of our productivity.
We decide to do something easier, and sometimes we never return to what we had originally set out to do.
The things that are easy to do are also easy NOT to do, and sometimes they are weighted more heavily in the one direction than is actually necessary.
How difficult is it to send one important email?
Sure, there are steps involved:
- Open your email program
- Find the right email address in your contact list
- Outline roughly what you’re going to say
- Give your email a subject line, if necessary
- Type out your rough outline in the body of your email
- Quickly review for spelling and clarity
- Hit “Send”
Ask yourself, “What part of that process is so difficult that I’m unable to deal with it?”
You will be embarrassed to answer.
There is nothing so difficult that it cannot be broken down into smaller steps and then dealt with in a systematic way. Lao-Tzu realized this 2,500 years ago, and some people still need to learn this.
And if you’re wondering about me, teaching is how I learn. I’m not the perfect role model, and I literally help myself learn by teaching this stuff to others. I could often use a reminder about breaking tasks down and asking myself whether each individual step is difficult or not. I’ll be working on this for decades.
AS SIMPLE AS POSSIBLE
Einstein said that a problem must be made as simple as possible, but not simpler. It’s a different way of saying what Lao-Tzu said.
You have a problem reading ten pages of a good book every day? Well can you open the book and read a paragraph?
What about a second paragraph after that?
And a third?
From this point on, you no longer have to be overwhelmed. David Allen is right when he says you can’t “DO” a project, but you can do the next simplest action.
In Lao-Tzu’s terms, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
(The Tao Te Ching is where that phrase originated, by the way)
So what does that mean for you?
Well I’m going to break down exactly what it means for me in my own life, and we’ll see if this helps you.
MY POLICE APPLICATION
I am in the process of submitting my police application with one of the Canadian police services. It’s important to me because I’ll be able to work one-on-one with even more people who need my help, and the increase in income will help finance my non-profit initiatives. I love my job now, but I can’t afford to do as many things for others as I want to do.
I’m not sure if you’ve ever submitted a police application before, but if you want to be considered, you have to spend a lot of time making sure everything is just right.
There’s a polygraph, hearing test, vision test, high school and university transcripts that have to be turned in, security clearance, references, and on and on.
It’s designed to intimidate you. At least I think.
But how difficult is it to schedule a hearing test?
You just pick up the phone, Google the number for the closest hearing clinic, and dial.
In fact, I just did it, went, and passed. Now that part of my application is done. And what’s more, the results tell me that my hearing is fine and I don’t have to give up the death metal that I love so much!
And have you ever had to go and ask for your old school transcripts? It’s not difficult.
You call the school, ask them to prepare it for you, and then they ask you to come in and pick it up. Nothing difficult there so far.
The pre-polygraph questionnaire is probably the hardest out of everything because they ask you a TON of questions about every little illegal and not-quite-illegal thing you’ve ever done in your life up to that point.
But you don’t have to do the whole thing in one sitting. If you wanted, you could do one question every day and in four months you would be done.
Nothing is difficult.
Everything is simple.
Life wasn’t meant to be a struggle.
There’s nothing to achieve, or to strive for, or to attain.
The whole purpose of life is to be fully aware of it as it’s happening, and to be fully present at each moment.
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You can’t do that when you’re trying to think of every single step of an entire project all at once. And you definitely can’t do that when you’re living someone else’s life.
If you really care about what you’re doing, then you need to be involved at every stage of its development. You can’t excuse yourself from life at any moment.
That means mindfully approaching every task that life confronts you with, and furnishing an answer to life’s question. It’s asking if this task is going to break you. If this task is too much for you. If life should give your task to someone else because you’re not strong enough to handle it.
I think we both know the answers to these questions.
This will give you the energy, the perspective, and the discipline you need in order to see the project through to its completion.
Living two steps ahead isn’t helping anybody.
Go from simplest next action to simplest next action, and you will see your results compounded over time. Just as an oak tree starts off in the acorn, your life starts in the present moment, with the simplest next action.
Lastly, you can now download your free copy of my OWN book, The Godlike Discipline Handbook, by following this link HERE.
It features 13 concepts that are absolutely critical to achieving superhuman self-control, and gives 64 specific, actionable strategies to help you master self-discipline and willpower.
May your discipline become godlike.
All the best,
Matt Karamazov is a human rights activist, boxer, and writer who reads at least 100 books every year and throws 300 punches per minute. His website, Godlike Discipline, is 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.