“Think of your many years of procrastination; how the gods have repeatedly granted you further periods of grace, of which you have taken no advantage. It is time now to realize the nature of the universe to which you belong, and of that controlling power whose offspring you are; and to understand that your time has a limit set to it. Use it, then, to advance your enlightenment; or it will be gone, and never in your power again.”—The Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
Pop quiz: what do Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Arnold Schwarzenegger have in common? If you said ‘being Austrian,’ you only get half a mark, smartarse. There’s a famous quote from Mozart about his method of composing that goes:
‘Provided I am not disturbed, my subject enlarges itself, becomes methodized and defined, and the whole, though it be long, stands almost finished and complete in my mind, so that I can survey it, like a fine picture or a beautiful statue, at a glance.’
Intuitively it might make sense that a man who started intensively studying music – under his famously dictatorial music-teacher father – at the age of three might actually be able to sit down and think out something like Symphony No. 41 without even needing a quill. But here’s the thing: it isn’t true. That quote comes from a letter that was supposedly written by Mozart but was actually a forgery. Mozart rewrote his music just as much as anyone else does, with the possible exception of T-Pain. What I’m saying is, you might be able to write Take Your Shirt Off in one sitting, but putting together a genuine work of genius is another thing entirely.
Consider also: Arnold Schwarzenegger’s early training. He didn’t walk into a gym and start doing the ridiculous multi-set arms/chest/back split that everyone associates with him and wants to try. According to his book, The Education Of A Bodybuilder, he started out by training in the woods:
‘We did chin-ups on the branches of trees. We held each other’s legs and did handstand push-ups. Leg raises, sit-ups, twists, and squats were all included in a simple routine to get our bodies tuned and ready for the gym.’
Afterwards, he got stuck in the army, and so he’d get up at 5am and work out next to his tank, hammering his muscles with as many different exercises as he could. Was he doing everything exactly right, or following the advice you’d get from most personal trainers today? Probably not, but it started him along the path that would eventually lead to him successfully air-arm-wrestling Carl Weathers. If he’d sat around debating time under tension and forced reps before he did any press-ups, he’d never have done any press-ups.
Here’s the point: nothing you do is going to be perfect the first time. If you’re waiting for the perfect lightning bolt of inspiration to strike, it isn’t going to happen. If you’re hoping that someone will eventually create a workout perfectly tailored to your body type, stop hoping. If you’re expecting science to one day agree on the single diet that’s more effective than anything else ever devised in the history of the planet, you probably don’t understand how science works.
Depressing? No. Because here’s the good news: you can start anything you want to, right now, with the tools you have available. You might not know all the characters’ motivations for your novel, but once you start writing the plot outline you’ll see where things need tightening up. You might not know the perfect set/rep scheme for your fitness ambitions, but doing 20 pressups is better than doing no pressups, and will give you a better base for whatever else you start doing further down the line. You might not know the perfect macronutrient ratios for your body type and activity level, but you know that crisps are bad. You can experiment with the other things afterwards – once you’ve started your book, workout regime, diet, or other masterpiece, you’ll start to see what’s wrong, what works, what needs to be tweaked. Whatever you want to do, you know how to start: everything else is just details.
Do what Arnold and Amadeus did. Start now: fix it later.
HOMEWORK: Pick a project you’ve been avoiding, and pick the simplest possible step you can do today that starts it. Throw out your fizzy drinks, do some squats in the living room, start typing the book. Don’t join a gym; don’t order another book about plot structure. Do something that starts right now. Otherwise, you won’t be able to fix it later – there’ll be nothing there to fix.
“Probably not. I’ll bet you’ve done the bare minimum required all day. You’re fucking reading Reddit right now, thinking that you’ll just be on the computer a little longer and then you’ll get things done.
But you’ve done that before haven’t you. You sat on the computer for hours, and then thought, “fuck it.”
That’s cool man, keep it up. Weeks will go by, months will go by, years will go by. And then you’ll feel like a motherfucking time traveler from the planet of uselessness, and realize that your productivity was at 10% at best. You could have gotten SO much done, but you didn’t, and for no good reason.
Think about that feeling you get when you know you’ve had a productive day.
That guy you want to be more like? He got all of his shit done hours ago, and now he’s fucking that girl you like.
You fucking pussy.”—
“For all of the most important things, the timing always sucks… The universe doesn’t conspire against you but it doesn’t go out of its way to line up all the pins either. Conditions are never perfect. “Someday” is a disease that will take your dreams to grave with you. Pro and con lists are just as bad. If it’s important to you and you want to do it “eventually,” just do it and correct the course along the way.”—Tim Ferriss
I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.
“The world takes us at our own valuation. It believes in the man who believes in himself, but it has little use for the timid man, the one who is never certain of himself; who cannot rely on his own judgment, who craves advice from others, and is afraid to go ahead on his own account.”—
“It is astonishing," says Dr. Theodore Cuyler, "how many men lack this power of ‘holding on’ until they reach the goal. They can make a sudden dash, but they lack grit. They are easily discouraged. They get on as long as everything goes smoothly, but when there is friction they lose heart. They depend on stronger personalities for their spirit and strength. They lack independence or originality. They only dare to do what others do. They do not step boldly from the crowd and act fearlessly.”—
“I don’t do more, but less, than other people. They do all their work three times over: once in anticipation, once in actuality, once in rumination. I do mine in actuality alone, doing it once instead of three times.”—
“Perhaps the most valuable result of all education," it was said by Professor Huxley, "is the ability to make yourself do the thing you have to do when it ought to be done, whether you like it or not; it is the first lesson which ought to be learned, and, however early a man’s training begins, it is probably the last lesson which he learns thoroughly.”—
“Only by continued, strenuous efforts, repeated again and again, day after day, week after week, and month after month, that the ability can be acquired to fasten the mind to one
subject, however abstract or knotty, to the exclusion of everything else. The process of obtaining this self-mastery—this complete command of one’s mental powers—is a gradual one, its length varying with the mental constitution of each person; but its acquisition is worth infinitely more than the utmost labor it ever costs.”—