When trying to make progress in our lives, normally people look at key moments or situations as the deciding factor of whether we succeed or fail. Goals are created as something we want to achieve in the distant future, and there’s a set amount of time to wait before we can be “tested” by life. We typically look at life as one giant panoramic view, cramming together the past, present, and future into one reality. But the only place that life exists like that is in our heads. The past is gone and can’t be recaptured. The future lies on an intangible plane and can’t be seen. The only thing that matters right now is the present moment. Success or failure is very rarely obtained in one big moment. It is determined by the normal, seemingly unimportant decisions that we make on a daily basis, compounded over time.
The Daily Grind
Ask any successful person or anyone that has overcome remarkable adversity how they got where they are, and chances are they will tell you “hard work”. They won’t give you a date or time frame where there was a make or break it moment. I think far too often in our culture we only focus in on the “big plays” and forget the daily grind that success requires. Instant gratification goes into that- we want success, and we want it now. In my life, I find myself constantly creating new, lofty goals for the future, but forgetting to do the little things today. I suffer from social anxiety and would really be more comfortable spending my life in isolation. But I’m at the point now where I may be comfortable and safe, but I don’t have true happiness. My goal of overcoming social anxiety may not be possible for months, but the choices I make right now in the moment determine the future. Sometimes I forget that. I use excuses like, “Well I really want to get better, but I don’t feel very good today. I’ll make sure and work on it tomorrow. One day of avoiding the places I don’t want to go isn’t going to hurt.” The reality is that these excuses never just last one day. We decide to sleep in instead of being productive. We blow off a portion of our diet. We put off things for tomorrow that we planned on doing today. The list could go on and on. But success is not something you can procrastinate studying for and cram the night before the test. Success is a test that is given every waking moment as a series of minuscule quizzes. We are constantly being tested between taking the easy road and the hard road. Just because these decisions don’t seem to drastically impact your life, doesn’t mean they don’t over time.
Using the Microscope
Going back to the large, panoramic view that most people have on life, I like to think of using a microscope to focus in just on the present moment. It is the only thing that matters and the only thing we have control over in the whole scope of life. While this may seem like a simple and obvious concept, it is one that I (and I believe a lot of others) struggle with. Many times I am determined and motivated to meet a goal, yet still can’t seem to quite reach it. It’s not that I don’t care or am flat out lazy. It’s that I am distracted by the future, thinking that there is always “later” to do what needs to be done. I still want to achieve a goal, but want little breaks here and there, thinking that they don’t really matter or that I am not really cheating myself…but I am. Every time I give in and take the path of least resistance, it only gives me the excuse to use it again and again. Quitting my workout five minutes early suddenly becomes my new routine, just because I gave in one day. We rewrite our goals every time we are faced with a seemingly small decision. Do we choose to continue following the road we set out on, or make a short detour when things get difficult?
I only bring this up because I think there is the misconception that there are successful people and then there are lazy people. I don’t think that’s the case. There are large numbers of people who want success, but just can’t seem to stay on track. There’s always the stories of New Year’s Resolutions that were never kept. But do people’s goals change half way through the year? I don’t think so. Of all the times I have failed in my life, I can’t think of a single time when I quit or decided my fate in a single moment. It was decided over days, weeks, and months. Too many small, daily failures eventually compound into one large mistake. We are constantly looking for the secret formula to conquer the huge problems in our lives. The formula starts by focusing in on the present moment and doing the small things right. Hard-work and dedication will always be the ingredients needed for success. Success starts by putting those ingredients into action this very instant, not when we feel like it.