Acknowledging Reality

There are a variety of generally acknowledged “success habits” – waking up early, some amount of regular physical activity, meditation, journaling, morning/evening routines, etc. Success gurus routinely proclaim these and many other things to be the key to results on their podcasts, their books, when giving keynotes, etc. They’re often correct, but there’s a few issues that are worth noting:

  • How many people follow these routines and get nowhere?
  • How many people live horribly dysfunctional lives and yet achieve success?
  • How many people achieve “success” and then paper over their rambling past to create a cohesive narrative and sell books based on it?

There’s plenty written about this sort of thing (both success habits and survivorship bias), so I won’t pollute the air more. I’ll instead briefly discuss my own findings with success habits – and where they fail.

Since around graduation of high school (~7 years ago), I’ve considered any shortcomings in the above listed success habits to be a fault of my own effort and virtue. I didn’t try hard enough, my willpower was too weak, etc. Not getting up early enough, forgetting to journal – this was my fault and I needed to fix it. This is, in a literal sense, correct. I’m responsible for my actions. But in a pragmatic sense, it’s not always useful.

In the past year, I’ve become a lot more attentive to my general tendencies, and tried to set up habits that align with them, instead of conforming my tendencies to fit someone else’s prescription for success. There’s a balance to be found here, because there’s generally some benefit to conforming yourself to some other idea that isn’t always comfortable. Getting up early, meditating, journaling – these are not immediately pleasurable activities, but generally pay off over time. However, there is a point (to be determined individually) at which one says “well, this clearly isn’t going to work for me”.

As an example, I always want my bedroom to look like something out of a Pinterest board. Immaculate, everything put away, really pristine. However, once this ideal meets reality, I end up with a desk littered with paperwork and TODOs, my wallet and keys constantly sitting on my table or dresser, and so on. In the past I would have chalked this up to personal laziness and resolved to just be better about staying clean, but lately I’ve been more amenable to leaving out dedicated container and shelves for the inevitable paperwork or document that I need to keep on hand for a week or a month before throwing away. This is a small example, but I’ve been doing this sort of thing a lot:

Instead of forcing myself to look at Mint every week to manage my finances (inevitably doesn’t happen), can I just use Apple Wallet to keep a general handle on my spending?

Instead of constantly researching and tweaking my gym routine and diet, can I find a coach I enjoy working with who will provide me with structure?

Instead of trying to get up early and then wildly oversleeping, can I just acknowledge that I can’t get up early effectively, and set a reasonable sleep/wake time that will work every day?

(The answer to all these questions is yes)

As I switch from personal guilt tripping to leveraging my strengths, I’m enjoying life a lot more. However, I think a lot of past self guilt tripping has been very useful. I’ve had a lot of growth the past few years, and it wouldn’t be honest to look back and say “oh, that was all so dumb”. It got me to where I am today, and I can’t go back and change it. There’s a lot of benefit to pushing yourself to grow and try new things… you just have to know when to stop.