Every achievement I’ve been proud of in my life has been the result of countless small, trivial, and seemingly easy actions taken over the course of days, weeks, months, and years to create the grander end result.
Each keystroke, sentence, and paragraph of this book I’m writing has been easy to type so far, but together they’re turning into something I’ll be incredibly proud of. Every minute of the months I spent in high school teaching myself to do a backflip went by without thinking too much, but to this day it’s one of the challenges I’ve enjoyed most. The emails I sent and the conversations I had that secured this marvelous opportunity I have to work at GitHub weren’t especially challenging on their own, but the positive impact this job has had on my life has been remarkable.
These are a few of the things in my life I’m incredibly proud of, but I’m not sharing them to brag. I’m bringing them up because I think they point to a useful lesson that anyone can harness for themselves. All significant achievements look challenging, daunting, and nebulous when thought about in aggregate. When you deconstruct the individual daily actions each outcome actually requires though, what’s there? Not much. Just a few simple actions that stack up on the ones from yesterday.
What’s interesting is that the exact same thing can be said about all the times I’ve wound up disappointed at the outcomes I’ve created for myself. Equally countless, small, trivial actions taken each day can result in you becoming entrenched in behaviour patterns that keep you miserable and frustrated. Losing your physical fitness happens one day at a time. Becoming resentful about your job can happen one email at a time. Finding yourself in crushing amounts of debt can happen one credit card swipe at a time. Winding up with a blog that never gets updated happens… you guessed it… one day at a time.
Even little things that don’t appear to have tangible cumulative effects will sneak up on you. Hitting the snooze button on your alarm like you did twice this morning didn’t hurt anyone, right? Well, that’s debatable. If you start every day for 30 years with the mindset that you’d rather be unconscious than face the first hour of the day, that will definitely have some kind of effect on the direction your life takes. It’s probably not a net positive.
Hitting snooze is easy. Swinging your feet over the side of the bed and standing up is also pretty easy. The individual actions are easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy, either way. What’s hard is to stay aware of the direction your daily actions are taking you, and to be deliberate about which set of easy actions you decide to take. Moment to moment, it all matters.
It’s important not to make yourself feel guilty or ashamed of the times when you’ve made decisions that haven’t helped you get where you want to go. Making yourself wrong isn’t helpful. Instead, what’s helpful is to focus your energy on what you can control. What are the easy things you’re going to do today to get you where you want at the end of the week? What easy things are you going to do today to put you in a great position at the end of the year? What can you take action on today in a small way that will move you closer to where you want to be in five years time?
Whatever your definition of success is, it’s easy to become that. Whatever your definition of mediocrity is, it’s easy to become that too. It’s the decisions you make about which set of easy actions you take that will make the difference.
You’ve already made a number of decisions today that are taking you somewhere. Are you happy with that direction? If not, what are you going to do about it?