Small steps to happiness

September 14, 2018

The more I'm creating, the happier I am. But, unfortunately, having the world's information and entertainment at your fingertips can wreak havoc on your ability to be productive.

If you are like me and get grumpy when there is a lack of progress on your side projects or your workout schedule is inconsistent, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength is a great read to get you started on the right path.

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.

I learned to stop diving into new projects, from fitness to mathematics, to another side project. Only to find myself demotivated because I had nothing to show for my efforts. A kitchen full of half-finished meals, a lot of effort to make, but all still unedible.

This book guides you on how to change this behavior. Focus on small steps, but make sure to 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. The lesson is, consistency beats intensity.

Paying attention

Context switching is costly. It may be common knowledge amongst us developers, but we still spend our attention as it is infinite — Slack, Twitter, and answering emails interrupting our deep work.

There are many lessons to be learned when looking at the 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 entirely goofy to admit), I'll write with earplugs in — even if it's dead silent at home.

I started using the Pomodoro technique to get into this habit, dividing my time into twenty-five minutes of undivided focus. Slowly I kept increasing the time, and after a while, I no longer needed the tomato on my desk.

Willpower is a muscle

This book emphasizes willpower being a muscle. The more you lift, the lighter it gets. Once you are consistent, maintaining that consistency will be easier. Consistent practice becomes a habit, and habits are easy to continue doing.

Discipline will also seep 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, and soon it will be in many aspects of your life.

Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength was a great read. By doing small, incremental steps, you can keep that consistent feeling of progress. So start small, be consistent in your efforts, and you will be amazed at what you can accomplish.