Has this happened to you?
You’re traveling to work. Suddenly, a wave of dissatisfaction hits you. You feel unhappy with life. Something has to change, you tell yourself. You dream about an audacious goal. It makes you feel good.
Next, you start planning steps to achieve this audacious goal. You find many ideas on the internet. They appear solid. But they also appear like a lot of work.
Thank you, but no thank you.
When the day began, you aimed for the stars with your life-changing goal. By the end of it, you’ll settle for the roof. By the end of the week, you’re okay with the way life is. Sure you’re miserable, but so is everyone else. Misery loves company. There’s nothing you can. Well, you can feel like a brave victim of nature’s evil schemes.
I know how it feels. (Didn’t I tell you misery loves company?)
I’ve encountered this feeling far too many times for my own liking. I’d browse the web and feel a surge of unhappiness. I’d plan to address it by writing more, getting serious with music, connecting with interesting people, and so on. I’d draw elaborate plans in my notebook and feel proud. But by the end of the day, the motivation was… well… gone.
By the end of the week, the dissatisfaction was gone too. And I was right back where I started.
I sometimes encounter this feeling even today. So one day, I sat down and did what I do best: I thought. I wondered why I did nothing to improve my quality of life, to make it better. It led to the discovery of some amazing insights which I want to share with you.
Why Motivation Goes Missing
Motivation pushes you from a state of helpless suffering, to resolving to take action. But beyond that, motivation does little to keep you going. Especially when you plan to take life-changing action.
Imagine you’re piloting a 200-ton Boeing 747 which is in a state of nosedive. Just 10,000 feet below you are the threatening Alps. The alarms and sensors are going crazy. The autopilot is barking instructions you can’t understand. You’re wrestling against gravity to keep the plane in the air.
When you depend only on motivation, you keep telling yourself, “I’m motivated! I’m motivated! I’m…” CRASH!
This Boeing is your mind. You are the pilot. The controls and sensors are the amygdala, the part of your brain which controls the fight-or-flight response. The terrifying Alps are the factory settings of your mind — the state of inaction.
When you aim for the stars, the amygdala sets off alarms and restricts your access to the neocortex, the thinking part of the brain. Or worse, the amygdala shuts it down. As a result, your mind refuses to take action at all, and motivation goes AWOL.
Then what is it?
Before fire trucks and pressure hoses existed, people would douse fires by forming a human chain. They would pass a bucket of water from one person to the next until the person closest to the flame threw it onto the fire.
It was vital to keep the chain unbroken. If chain broke, the water would spill and not make it to the fire.
To trick your amygdala into not activating, you need a chain. This chain has a more popular name — habits.
Your mind doesn’t feel dissatisfied because of money or relationships. Those are mere means to distract it from the real issue. Your mind craves for a challenge. It wants to feel stimulated, to be pushed. When you multitask, or when you keep doing what others want, your mind doesn’t feel stimulated. On the other hand, when you shoot for the stars, your mind feels overwhelmed and shuts down.
What you need is a path in between – the path of consistent improvement. The path which makes you one percent smarter each day.
To get on this path, you’ve got to keep the chain going. You must follow three crucial habits with diligence. They are:
Habit 1: Focused Work
In today’s ADHD-affected culture, your ability to produce at a high level — in terms of quality and speed — will set you apart. If you don’t, your audience will look at other alternatives from among the vast options out there.
To be able to create at a high level, you must be able to master hard things fast. That ability, in turn, depends on your intensity of focus.
Build your ability to focus for extended periods of time. Lock yourself up in a room with the items you need to finish your task. Block off social media sites and turn off the internet. Put your phone on silent and keep it in another room.
“But Vishal,” you ask, “what if I have to use my smartphone as part of this work? Can I keep it in the same room?”
No, no and no!
Any work you do on your smartphone — emails, social media, instant messaging, phone calls (if you were born before the ‘90s) — is not focused work. It’s a distraction which pulls you away from what you must do. Bringing yourself back to task at hand after this is like wrestling an 800-pound gorilla. Is it surprising that we miss most of our deadlines today?
Focusing will be tough in the beginning. You’ll find your insides at war between the need to do what’s important and the desire for instant gratification. But you must fight this war instead of fleeing the battlefield.
When you do, your quality of work will be the absolute best you’re capable of at that moment. Alongside, you’ll keep improving. To thrive in today’s world, focus is a must.
Few people today even think about developing the habit of focus. On the other hand, deep work is becoming an increasingly rare yet increasingly valuable skill. Hence, the ability to focus deeply gives you a colossal advantage over everyone else.
Habit 2: Reading
But reading a book is even better. Here are some benefits:
- It reduces stress. A 2009 study by Sussex University Researchers showed that reading can reduce stress by up to 68 percent.
- It helps you sleep better. Reading a book just before bed relaxes you more than punishing your eyes in front of a screen, which is proven to hurt your sleep.
- It increases your intelligence. Nobel laureate and psychologist Daniel Kahneman describes intelligence as “not only the ability to reason; it is also the ability to find relevant material in memory and to deploy attention when needed.” And recent scientific studies confirm that reading and intelligence have a relationship so close it’s symbiotic. Thus, reading makes you a sharper ‘connect-the-dots’ kind of person.
- It increases empathy. Research proves that reading literary fiction (not pop fiction) supports and teaches us values about social behavior including the importance of understanding those who are different from us.
Safal Niveshak founder Vishal Khandelwal told me he enjoys in a non-linear reading pattern. He chooses any book from his personal library and reads 3-4 pages from it. Then he repeats this process for another book. This makes him connect the dots faster than if he read a single book from cover to cover. An interesting technique, don’t you think?
For 2018, I intend on rereading books which have impacted me deeply. Once I extract more wisdom from them, I’ll read the books which the authors referenced in their literature. I hope to understand a topic in depth, which I want to prioritize over breadth.
Two different techniques for two people. You might find a third one which works for you. Read anything you want as long as it makes you think. Quora writer Hannah Yang’s dad taught her that books are a worthwhile investment in the person you want to become. Nobody can oppose that lesson.
Habit 3: Reflection
How often do you ask yourself what you did, and why you did it? What excites you? What did you do well during the day? What could you improve on?
All day, your mind races over tasks which help you pay the bills. Or it harbors negative thoughts about yourself and others. But deeper questions make your mind clearer about what matters. The resulting clarity about what matters provides clarity about what doesn’t.
When you reflect on what you did and what you read during the day, you go deeper within yourself. You identify patterns and develop sharper self awareness. You figure out what will benefit you in the long run, what you should do and what you can avoid doing.
You can learn a lot from the ideas you put into your mind from the external world, but you can arguably learn even more by breaking down and better making sense of the things that are already roaming around in your head. — Zat Rana
Before going to sleep at night, spend ten minutes reflecting on your actions on that day. Maintain your thoughts in a journal to refine and streamline them. Ask yourself one difficult question and give yourself time to deep-dive into it.
Growing one percent smarter each day doesn’t sound like much. But imagine your improvement at the end of the year. No, it’s not 365 per cent. Applying the compound effect law, it’s a whopping 3,678 per cent!
Commit to the process of consistent self improvement instead of a specific goal. Keep you goals fluid, adjusting them to match your current level. Push yourself each day to move to the next level.
There’s no princess waiting to be rescued, or villain to be killed in life. There’s just the next level. There’s no ‘game over’ either (unless you’re dead).
Grow smarter. Grow faster and better. You’ll feel happier, calmer and in control of your emotions. You’ll make better decisions and witness steady growth in your personal and professional life. You won’t depend on motivation for it.
Take control of your plane. Fly it with the finesse which makes the autopilot toe in line with your decisions. Making good decisions over and over again is the hallmark of a smart person. And it’s an ability which no artificial intelligence can defeat you on.