Don’t wait, start now

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”
– Chinese Proverb

Now can either be a new beginning, or a moment of regret sometime in the future – the difference is just some emotional labour and a willingness to get going.

We need to remember that how we feel now isn’t how we’ll feel forever and the choice we make in this moment, will fundamental change our experience in the moments to come.

We’re making a choice about the state of our brain chemistry in another time. We can choose dopamine now, or serotonin later.

We can snatch up the money in front of us on the table, or we can play the long game. But to play the long game, we have to commit to moving at least one of the pieces that are in front of us right now.

Leaps are lies

The great leap forward is a myth.

If you notice that someone has leapt, they were actually just taking tiny, single, baby steps, one at a time. They were just doing it while you weren’t looking. Between your glances, they covered more ground than you expected – hence the leap.

We’re always looking for leaps, but to do that is to focus on the wrong thing. All we have to find are the tiny marginal gains – and then take those steps.

Just one more step forward.
Then another.
Then another.
Then another.

The trick is to keep going – no matter what.

While others hesitate, or get bored, or quit, we just keep putting one foot in front of the other.

And they will look up at us and say “wow, they’ve leapt forward”.

Just start with being good

“your purpose is to be a good human being” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 8.5

We’ve all got a lot going on and it’s easy to lose sight of what’s really important.

It’s easy to get caught up in politics, in deadlines, in family spats and forget that everything should start from a single point: be a good person.

If we don’t start there, the rest just doesn’t matter.

It doesn’t matter what else you’re contributing if you’re an arsehole while doing it. You’re netting out any benefit by being a dick – and the world has quite enough dicks at the moment.

Start with being good – not just as a guide, but as your primary purpose.

Make it your mission, your raison d’être.

Because if we don’t intentionally work at being good – we won’t be.

If we don’t put it at the centre of what we do, then good will fall by the wayside.

We’ll focus on being right, or fast, or cheap, or done.

They might be important, but they’re not fundamental.

They’re not good.

Good is too important to be a tertiary concern.

Good should be our first principle.

Words to be written, not read

I’m caught in that moment when you want to get something out of your head but you can’t find the words to unlock it. It’s like they’re tied in a knot and will only come out in a particular sequence. But where do you start when you can’t find either end of the string that’s tied in the knot?

Each weekend I sit down to write, to let all the pent up creativity out of my brain and into the computer. It feels, during the week like it would gush out in a raging torrent.

But then I carve out some time, from the sheer rock of a jam-packed existence and suddenly not even a drop will come forth.
It’s not that the pressure isn’t there, it’s that I can’t unlock whatever is holding it back.

It’s like there is the energy, but not the vehicle with which to move it.

And so I get distracted and frustrated, trying to find the key, the code, the sequence which will unlock the fucking ideas. I trip down hundreds of rabbit holes, chasing one end of the knot.

If only I can get it out, then I won’t feel this crushing pressure, this burden of potential, boiling inside my head all day.

This is The Resistance that Steven Pressfield describes.

This is a manifestation of my fear of failure. My fear of creating something unreadable and mediocre. My fear of not having enough time to get out the ideas worth sharing. My fear of not contributing anything worthwhile. My fear of not living a good life.

It’s crazy that something as small as wanting to write a short story could so quickly be traced back to an existential purpose (and crisis), but it’s true.

There is no cure for this except to write. I know this in my heart of hearts. To just sit down and pound out words. They don’t have to be on point or purpose, they just have to be words on screen or paper. To start the process of testing keys in the lock, of feeling the knot for one end of the string.

Just write anything.

Adrian Calear told me that when I can’t think of anything to write, I should describe the inside of a ping-pong ball. “Faced with that prospect,” he said, “ideas will suddenly step forward.”

That is in many respects what this post is. It’s just an exercise to get the fingers moving. They are words to be written, not words to be read. I’m sorry if you’ve gotten down this far, looking for some other meaning. There is none to be found.

No other meaning except that you just need to do the thing you’re trying to do. Run, write, cook, read, fix, draw, glue, sew, compose. You just need to get the words out. The only way you’ll feel the string at the end of the knot is to undertake the task itself. Sit down and start doing. It ok for it to not be right.

When you’re paralysed by choice, it’s not important to make the right choice, it’s important to just make any choice.

So to answer your question, yes, it worked. This sentence is going to finish and I’ll be starting another sentence in another document immediately.

557 words written, just to unlock thousands more.

The value of a non-binary outlook

We’re binary creatures who like to think in absolutes:
Yes / No.
Black / White.
In group / Out group.

It’s an easier way to think about the world. Once we categorise something, we tend to fix it in position. That way, we don’t have to spend time and brain resources re-classifing it each time we encounter it.

If that plant is safe to eat today, let’s assume it will be safe to eat tomorrow.

If our Alice is trustworthy today, let’s assume she will be trustworthy tomorrow.

Since there are only two options, there has to be a pretty fundamental shift in circumstances for something to switch. And we’d notice something that fundamental. Wouldn’t we?

A binary outlook helps us to reduce the ongoing burden of thinking, but that comes at a cost. It means we fail to account for the fact that most things exist on a spectrum. And they shift. Constantly.

That plant isn’t always safe to eat.

Jill isn’t always trustworthy.

Having a binary perspective also blinds us to lessons which we need to relearn.

We “know” that family is important.

We “know” that exercise is good for our health.

Our binary outlook would tell us that these are things we know, principles we value. But our actions might betray a deeper truth. We know something intellectually, but we haven’t yet realised that knowledge. We haven’t put it into practice. We haven’t made it real.

Or, more likely, we’ve been overtaken by circumstance and have forgotten what we “know”.

The pressure has mounted at work and the importance of family or excercise or eating well has receded into the background.

It’s easy for us to get caught up in the moment and for our knowledge to become difficult to access. When pressured or stressed we can forget what we know and act out of character.

This is why it’s important we keep a non-binary view of our knowledge and beliefs. Because our knowledge (like most things) exists on a constantly-shifting spectrum. Because there are lessons which we need to re-learn over and over and over again. Because knowing something is a continual process, it’s training.

We need to remind ourselves of things we already know. We need to re-learn lessons and move our knowledge up the spectrum towards being realised.

The more we can adopt a non-binary outlook, the more successful we will be in navigating a world which refuses to conform to fixed binary notions of black and white.