People overestimate what they can do in a year. And underestimate what they can do in ten years.
I must be getting older and wiser, but I do find that my need to rush at things, blast through them, get them done… is mellowing.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m still impatient, I still get frustrated at every little delay to my schedule. The café that takes an AGE to make my coffee, the people on the escalator who won’t get out of the WAY, the current legal transaction in my life moving at a GLACIAL pace and so on.
But I have raised my head up above the parapet recently and started to take a different look at the lie of the land. The long-term view.
Things that feel impossible in one big go: you know, big goals, magnificent aims – things like paying off the mortgage; writing a trilogy; sitting a degree.
I’ve begun to realise that it’s much better to think of them in chunks, steps. Break it down, baby, break it down.
For the mortgage – over pay just a little one month at a time. For the trilogy – draw up the plot, write the first chapter, then the second. For that degree – study one module at a time, and study it well.
A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step and all that. Begin… and then continue.
When the unexpected happens, keep your focus
Obviously unexpected and terribly sad things can happen, but let’s assume you have the luxury of living in good health to the age of 80. So don’t look back and wring your hands about how much time has passed and how much you wish you’d done, and if only blah blah blah… look ahead at how much time is left and how to make it as interesting and fruitful as possible. Line up your most important goals. Focus on just two or three at most. Really focus on what you want to do.
What helped me take a longer-term view? Well, believe me, I have worried A LOT that I’ve not had a book out since 2013. My angst was all around – no one will remember my last books, it will be like starting afresh. All my readers will have gone. They’re probably all reading someone else by now. Boo hoo! And woe is me!
And I was walking down Byres Road, in Glasgow, and I happened to glance over at where a café I loved used to be. (Heart Buchanan, if you remember it!) And I thought: I still miss that café, even though it closed down years ago. And it was a little lightbulb moment, because my next thought was – well what about all those people who spent time reading my 18 books and getting in touch with me and asking for the next one? You know, some of those thousands of readers, at least, would probably be pretty pleased to hear a new book is coming. And that cheered me up. And spurred me on. And, my dear friends, the new book is nearly there. And another idea is also forming. And before I know it, I’ll be right back in the swing.
If you’ve got some really difficult and seemingly impossible task ahead of you. I’d urge you to just start. Whatever it is, just take the very first step. And then take another little step. And if possible, get someone you really care about or respect to help you. Or at least encourage you from the sidelines. They have to do this gently. Very gently. No sergeant majors, no timetable, no Key Performance Indicators, no criticism if you fall behind. Just gentle, loving encouragement . We all need so much more of that. Be kind to everyone who is trying to do a difficult thing. (Amazon one-star reviewers please take note.)
There’s lovely advice that if you want to take up jogging in the mornings, start on day one by getting up and moving your trainers to the front door. That’s it. Job done. Goal achieved. Next morning, get up and put your running clothes and trainers on. Again, that’s it. Achieved. Next morning, clad in running clothes and trainers, step out of the front door, breathe and come back in again. The morning after that, run just a few gentle steps. And pat yourself on the back. Build very, very slowly from there.
It’s a lovely approach. Encourage yourself in your efforts, whatever they are, with tiny, teeny baby steps. (In fact think how much we encourage a baby who is learning to walk. We are delighted over every tiny totter, whenever the baby falls, we rush to them up again, encourage them to give it another go. It takes as long as it takes, we don’t set a timetable.)
The long-term view
Don’t set yourself up for a fail. Take little teeny steps towards your big goals. Encourage yourself always.
Imagine if you were planning an amazing garden. Yeah, you could work pretty hard in year one and not see much progress at all. Years two and three might be quite similar. You’d have done all that digging, weeding, added all the dung. But your soil still has to grow healthy. Your plants are still small, your plans are still vague; the tiny trees are still new and tender. And then prized specimens will die off. It won’t go to plan. The rain won’t come, and then too much rain will come.
But by the time ten years of gardening effort have passed, you’ll have learned so much and you will be walking around your own personal paradise.
Whatever it is you want to do, give yourself a proper amount of time. Don’t rush it. Build it good, slow and solid. How far can you get, not in one year, but in ten?
Ten years from now… what do you want to have done/ achieved/ built/ created?
Ten years from now – how are going to have surprised yourself amazingly?