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.
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.
- 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.
- 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)
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.
-the mating call of evil and retarded bankers, peddling overvalued stocks; “There Is No Alternative” https://t.co/zENS64WT88
— Sprezzaturian (@TureMasing) 12 juli 2016
-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).
Every Day Counts
-never just WAIT for the next day to happenhttps://t.co/zENS64WT88
— Sprezzaturian (@TureMasing) 12 juli 2016
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.
- Practice short term deep work to lay the foundation for high quality work
- 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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