What’s the least you can do?

I’m not ashamed to admit it, since it’s the honest-to-God truth: I give up really easily. On most everything. Usually without realising I’m doing it.

I’ll be all into an idea, how cool it will be when it’s finished, how fun it’ll be to sink my teeth into, and then at the very first thought of resistance – the slightest hint that everything might not turn out perfectly from the get-go – I abandon ship.

Of course, I rationalise it by saying I’m being strategic, or that I need more time to explore the idea-space, or whatever creative, nurtuting, bullshit phrase I’m into that week… but really, I got scared. And I bailed. I couldn’t handle the heat so I got out of the kitchen.

Most hilariously – keeping this culinary analogy going – I often haven’t even set foot in the kitchen yet when I give up. Just the thought of the kitchen can be enough to derail me.

Over weeks and months, the cycle goes on and on. Occasionally I do finish something that stretches over more than a few days because I, despite myself, managed to somehow break on through to the other side, past the resistance. But more often than not, the flame is extinguished a brief moment after it was lit.

A weird thing I’ve noticed about life – a dirty secret, if you will – is that when you break things down small enough, nothing is really that difficult. It’s the chunking together that makes it seem so. When people talk about “hard work,” what they’re actually talking is relatively easy work, sustained over time.

When you look back on things you’ve achieved, you’ll find that – with the odd exception – the individual actions that got you there weren’t generally very difficult at all. What was hard was commiting to a direction, and then seeing that commitment through in the face of resistance – not the actual actions themselves.

The things worth having in life require consistent action over the long-term – they require perseverance. You could almost say that the only thing they require is… not giving up.

So if not giving up is all that it takes, and you’re someone – like me – who gives up incredibly easily, what to do? One question I find really helpful to combat this baked-in tendency of mine to is:

“What’s the least I can do?”

The problem, you see, is that most of the things we want to do cannot be done in one fell swoop. And yet we tend to think of them as one big thing that we must accomplish. No wonder we feel stress, pressure, and a sense of futility. No wonder we buckle at the first hint of resistance. No wonder we give up.

But the truth is that no matter how large the goal, it will only ever be accomplished by performing a series of small and doable actions, consistently, over time. As Lao Tzu said “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

If you know which direction you would like to go in, then all you need to do is think of some incredibly small and mundane action, and then do it.

That’s what I’m working on, anyway.

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