Small steps to happiness

September 14, 2018

The more I create, the happier I am. Having the worlds information and entertainment at your fingertips can wreak havoc on your ability to create, to be productive.

If you are like me, and you get down when there is a lack of progress on your side projects or your workout schedule is inconsistent, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength can be a life changing book.

Small steps

In a study looking at professors and their writing habits, the authors write:

The page-a-day folks had done well and generally gotten tenure. The so-called “binge writers” fared far less well, and many had had their careers cut short. The clear implication was that the best advice for young writers and aspiring professors is: Write every day.

Me, like a puppy who ate a bowl of meth, kept diving into new projects, from fitness to mathematics, to a new side project. Only to find myself demotivated with nothing to show for it.

This book — and a large amount of introspection — enabled me to change this behavior. Focus on small steps, but make sure that I take them consistently. Never miss a day and gradually build it up. It matters more where your trajectory is going than where you are right now.

Read a couple of pages each day, stick to that workout regimen. Consistency beats intensity.

Paying attention

Switching is costly. It may be common knowledge amongst developers, but we still spend our attention as if it is infinite. Slack, Twitter and answering emails are interjected in between high intensity work.

There are some interesting lessons to be learned when looking at productivity of writers, the profession most susceptible to distraction. In an interview, Nathan Englander, writer of short stories, tells us about his habits in an interview for the daily beast:

Turn off your cell phone. Honestly, if you want to get work done, you’ve got to learn to unplug. No texting, no email, no Facebook, no Instagram. Whatever it is you’re doing, it needs to stop while you write. A lot of the time (and this is fully goofy to admit), I’ll write with earplugs in — even if it’s dead silent at home.

To get into this habit I started using the Pomodoro technique, where I divide my time in around twenty-five minutes of undivided focus.

Willpower is a muscle

This book made me also realize that willpower is a muscle. The more you lift something, the lighter it gets over time. Once you are consistent, maintaining that consistency, will be easier as well. Consistent practice becomes habit, and habits cost less willpower.

This consistency also seeps into others areas of your life. Workout with a regular schedule and you will find that it’s much easier to keep your diet. Keep reading and you will keep writing. One enforces the other. Willpower is sticky, soon it will be on many aspects of your life.

Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength made a significant, positive impact on my life. By doing small, incremental steps, I can keep that consistent feeling of progress. I'm now able to create more, consume less, which makes me a happier person.