The nr 1 priority when committing to long term projects

Length: 1500 words (pretty short)


This article deals with the issue of honoring long term commitments, when constantly bombarded with new options

Executive conclusion: Unless you’re driven by pure passion or natural myopia, my best advice is manufactured single mindedness as well as disregarding the “long” altogether:

Find a good enough top priority project, like college or a start-up. Then just take it one day at a time until you’re done. Meanwhile, treat the alternatives as if they don’t even exist – don’t even glance at them. They are HIV/AIDS.

toad project

This toad is your long term commitment


I’ll teach you the best road map to committing long-term

Are you a quitter? I myself often feel like somewhat of a quitter, and I often think I just as well could have been on multiple occasions. However, my actual track record speaks differently:

  • I was a hedge fund manager at the same firm for 15 years, and I never thought twice about it (sure, I did mull the idea of quitting the industry altogether, but I was going to stay at Futuris or do nothing).
  • I have a masters degree in financial economics from Sweden’s most prestigious business school
  • I’ve been going to the gym for 30 years straight
  • I was in a relationship for 10 years

I admit that’s hardly conclusive evidence. But, for the sake of it, let’s assume I have something to say about committing.


The difference between long and short term focus

In my view there are two forms of commitment.

  1. Short term, i.e., being able to filter out distractions for minutes or hours, but less than a day, and focus on a certain task at hand, e.g., reading or thinking – doing deep work.
  2. Long term, sticking to a project like a job, a start-up, a relationship, studies for years or decades without being side-tracked.

Deep Work = learning short term focus

I’ve written about short term deep work before (here).

You can sum it up with one word: practice

Begin with a couple of minutes and slowly increase your deep work sessions over the course of a few months up to 60-90 minutes or more, only softly interrupted by walking around a few minutes every 30-60 minutes. In time you’ll probably be able to perform several 90-minute deep work sittings per day, several days a week (if not all days).


True grit = how to stop being a quitter

Long term persistence or grit might be more difficult to master than deep work. It’s hard to say though, since you don’t get that many shots at it. Trial and error, or deliberate practice on decade long endeavors aren’t easy to perform.

I had the luck of 1) having Aspberger’s, 2) being a bullied outsider, 3) having a computer since I turned 10, back in January 1982, and 4) immense patience (albeit possibly a result of combining 1+2+3)

Lesson one

The long, lonely days and nights trying to learn programming on my own as a 10-12 year old and a young teenager was like a never ending boot camp for deep work, patience and grit. I guess lesson one for you is to find a hobby or project you find worthwhile and immerse yourself in it. Don’t give up until you have mastered a certain level, be it programming (preferred coding languages discussed in the comment section), playing an instrument or lifting weights. The process of getting there will teach you something about deep work, deliberate practice, grit and mid term commitment.

However, that still doesn’t tell you how to commit to 4-5 years of college studies, without letting other majors, friends, parties, travels or internet steal your attention and postpone or derail your plans.


Passion or myopia equals natural grit

For me long term commitment comes naturally, since I don’t even think of it as long term commitments – except for right at the beginning. And hardly even then. This is how it works for me:

Right when I think school’s out, somebody informs me: “You’re supposed to go to college

Me: “Alright, I’ll choose this one“, casually noticing it’ll typically take 3-4 years to finish

(and then never again raise my head to think about how long time I have left, only putting one foot in front of the other, dealing with whatever small task is right in front of me).

Then I’ll just go through the daily and weekly motions of buying books, preparing for lectures, handing in papers and writing exams, with no real thought about the potential alternatives. During my entire time at business school (Stockholm School Of Economics), I never even considered skipping an exam, dropping out, taking a sabbatical or any other version of not following the standard schedule.

In my mind (not that I thought about it even once), college was a fixed thing that you either do or you don’t, and I had already commenced the “do” version.

TINA

-the mating call of evil and retarded bankers, peddling overvalued stocks; “There Is No Alternative”

I think the lesson here is to disregard alternatives altogether. Just as you’re supposed to when on a diet; don’t even look at a cookie, candy bar or bacon. Definitely don’t have “just one” or “a little bit”. Don’t look at it, don’t buy it, don’t contemplate it, don’t consider doing a little and then compensating; just don’t do it at all.

If you are one of those having trouble committing for the long term, you need to try to achieve a mind-set of “there is no spoon”; there is no alternative – it doesn’t even exist. You are at college, study damn it! There are no parties, no travels, no part time jobs, no “just for a little while”, no “but perhaps it would be better to”. Those realities don’t even exist; so you can’t even think about them. Just make the best of one day, week, paper, month or exam at a time.

Some introverted people actually need the opposite advice, to get out more and meet people IRL, but I’m not addressing them in today’s article.

Place your bets and relax

For me, long term commitment comes naturally, since I don’t think about it as a long term commitment. I just begin, and then the alternatives fade away and disappear; and I’m left with a series of scheduled short term tasks arriving at my doorstep every day.

I would never have gotten through business school or managing a hedge fund for years on end, if I had ever thought about the entire project. However, just one more course, month or quarter was always conceivable.

Thus, the trick, if there is one, is to just forget about there even being any alternatives. Place your bets on the roulette wheel and then just sit back and relax.


Every Day Counts

-never wait for the next day to happen; live in this one

Here’s a thought: most projects aren’t about choosing the optimal project (college, job, travel destination, girlfriend) anyway. It’s about participating and living fully in whatever situation you happen to choose. Consequently you should just do it, just choose something good enough and then stick to it.

However, if something truly better comes along, that’s impossible to filter out, you need to be able to break out of your homeostasis and go with the obviously superior alternative. In such a case, however, there won’t be anything to think about. You’ll know right away (though you may be too afraid or stuck mentally to change).


Ozzy

Talking about commitment, I went to a Black Sabbath concert last Saturday. Ozzy Osbourne is still their lead singer after 47 years (although he was fired in between). He’s cheating though, since he’s driven by passion, or possibly poor cash flow.

The best part of the concert for me, was to engage, a handful of times, in the spontaneous mosh pit, where I was standing close to the stage. Despite it being a pure “shoving-only and no fighting pit” I got a nice adrenaline rush out of it every time it got going and I jumped right in. I also enjoyed the opening bands Rival Sons and not least Volbeat.

toad project

Don’t just stare at it. Eat it!


Summary

  1. Practice short term deep work to lay the foundation for high quality work
  2. Make a long-term choice and stick to it. The value doesn’t lie in making the absolutely optimal choice, but in commitment and execution. Again, it’s not the choice, it’s the commitment that bakes the cake.

don’t look at the entire ugly toad every day

Don’t treat your project as long-term; don’t look at the entire ugly toad every day dreading how it’ll taste, just nibble a little from it every day for several years until you suddenly notice it’s gone.

Find your prio 1 and then stop looking

Sure there may be better priorities out there but you’re doing yourself a disservice if you spend your entire life mentally scattered, constantly actively searching for ever better activities, friends and partners. Find a good enough prio 1 and get going.

For perspective, to start a 30 year gym career all you have to do is go to a gym and lift some weights. It sure beats spending weeks, months or years looking for the theoretically perfect workout routine before starting.

I’ve found the perfect routine at least ten times during those 30 years, and counting.

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16 Comments

  1. I am going to read this article after a couple of days again to make sure I absorb everything I can. The main point for me seems to be to focus on the day-to-day activities, since thinking about the end goal is often overwhelming. I am sure this will help a lot of readers who struggle to cope with commitment; it does not come for everyone naturally.
    Thanks!

  2. Mr.Syding you are right and I really appreciate this article.For many years in my life,before I came to my scenses,I used to combine reading,surfing the net,eating etc together and at the end of the day I couldn’t have anything to say I gained be in knowleage or anyting.Your article also gave me further tips for the betterment of my life.Thanks

    • Just keep at it. And on my side, I’ll try to keep writing useful articles.

      Best of luck!

  3. Hi Mikael,

    I want to ask you something about learning how to code.
    Do you think starting with a simple HTML/CSS combination is fine before moving on to “more real” sort of languages like Python and C is fine? I’ve always enjoyed logical puzzles like Jane Street’s monthly puzzles but found learning python a bit too detail oriented for me(lol maybe it’s just my laziness).
    Or do you think it’s really a question of having the grit you mentioned in this post?

    • Grit. And breaking it down to simple details.

      Start with Python if that’s what you think you want to learn. Don’t aim too high in the beginning, overtrain the simple stuff, like you did counting from 0-10 or learning the alphabet. Then try to build really simple stuff that amuse you.

    • Cool video. Kind of disturbing for an introvert like me, but a good shake-up.

    • Yes

      Sorry

      Not my forte or priority. But, still… will get around to it some day.

  4. So … on a completly diffrent side note … how are your positions holding up?

    Would be intresting with a short blog post or twitter message about whats happening.

    Last time i cheaked you where invested 87 % in Bear Certificates. Since then the SP500 has reached new ATH of 2170 and the OMX is not lagging far behind at least for the last week.

    I never fully understood the need to go long bear certificates. Why just not sit on the side line with cash until we REALLY reach astronomical index heights – read year 2000 or above.

    The thing is the SP500 could actually go to 2500 or higher when the US 10 Year bond goes negative. Imagine a world where US 10-year bonds would trade at German or even Swedish levels. In an enviroment where US 10-year bonds reach under 1 % or as low as 0,5 % the valuation of housing and stocks could litteraly go through the ceiling.

    So how are the new ATH on the stock market affecting you?

    • Positions are ok. Gold, silver, certificate trading, small caps (incl Opus) making up for losses on base pos i bear certs.

      No NEED to go long BEARS. Your choice. I see it as a hedge to my home.

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