A man tightroping while playing violin.
A rags to riches story.
A huge weight loss success.
A 100 mile run.
These success stories are extraordinary, the pinnacle of human achievement. But here’s a secret: great feats are not nearly as difficult as they first appear. Before the tightroping violinist gets mad, I’ll clarify.
For each person, every conceivable challenge is currently impossible or doable.
I talked with Bronkar Lee—a juggling beatboxer and entertainer—after his show at the South Carolina Fair last year. His juggling skills were unreal, and he juggles in rhythm with his beatboxing. As expected, he told me he’s been practicing for a long time (I can’t remember the exact number, but I think it may have been more than 10 years). It’s this type of dedication to practice over time that makes “impossible” skills and dreams possible. Here’s a video of Bronkar’s juggling:
A Single Day’s Progress Isn’t Impressive, But It’s Essential
Great accomplishments are relatively easy because they’re made from small, doable steps. (tweet this quote) For your current dream project or skill, you don’t have to do it all today. And if you try to do too much, you’re unwisely setting a precedent you can’t match consistently. One day is never enough, so don’t be ashamed to do a little bit, be happy about it! Here are just a few things you can’t do in one day:
- Build Rome
- Learn to tightrope while playing violin
- Master a sport
- Write a great book
- Lose 35 pounds (I hope not!)
- Change your life
- Nearly everything else of significance
If you isolate any single day that contributes to a major success, it is always underwhelming. But days are all we have, and when these underwhelming small parts combine, they bring
Captain Planet huge results.
Are You Making This Thinking Mistake?
Skyscrapers blow my mind. How are humans capable of building such massive structures? I’ll look at one and think about the millions of individual components that form it, the number of people who built it, and the number of work days it took to complete it. These numbers are as overwhelming as the building. But when I focus on what one workman might accomplish in one day helping to build the skyscraper, it no longer seems unfathomable to build such a building, because it reframes the process into something my brain understands is possible.
Your brain needs you to break things down for it. If instead, you’re showing it this huge picture, it says, “I don’t know how to build a skyscraper right now.” That’s not an action you can take, but you can drill a hole or hammer a nail. You’ll feel overwhelmed unless you focus on feasible, actionable-right-now tasks. (tweet this quote)
I have even experienced this with groceries! Have you ever paused, trying to figure out if and how you can bring in 12 grocery bags in one trip? It’s often faster and easier to bring in what you can and quickly return for a second trip. The lesson is to always focus on what you can DEFINITELY do in this very moment. Don’t worry if it isn’t impressive—it’s not supposed to be! For example, I’ve revised this article 44 times over a few days because it’s a process of doing what I can and improving upon it incrementally.
3 Important Truths About Great Accomplishments
1. To the person doing it, it’s normal, not extraordinary. What the woman does in the video below seems absolutely impossible to me. If you have no experience balancing sticks, this will seem impossible because it is impossible without practice and training. But for her, it’s something she could replicate—I’m guessing here—7 out of 10 tries, and maybe more. She’s doing what she knows.
The audience is thinking, “wow, she is amazing and talented.” But she’s probably thinking “that was amazing.” They see the end result; she sees the full journey, including the thousands of times in practice she had to try again when her structure collapsed.
Think about what your accomplishments. When everyone else is focused on your accomplishment in the moment, you’re thinking about the challenges you overcame to do it. We innately know the pleasure in a successful result is that it makes the entire journey a success. We emphasize the journey in our minds because it represents 99% of the work. But I have a point here: we need to think about this when viewing the successes of others.
What if someone only saw the very end of The Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King? They’d say, “So what? The guy dropped his ring into a volcano. Anyone could do that.” Frodo’s journey is what made that moment special.
2. The most impressive part is NOT the end result. The world loves the end result: a talented football player, a best-selling book, a perfect body, a delicious meal. A great result indicates that you put in work prior to it happening. It’s the consistency and dedication to train until you achieve mastery that’s rare; this is what’s most impressive.
If more people understood what was possible with small, easy, consistent steps, the world would be a better place. That’s why I wrote Mini Habits.
3. The world doesn’t show us reality, it shows us highlights. The world is like one big fashion show. We throw up in private and come out smiling for the world to see how great our image is. Other than crime reports on the news, our personal failures tend to stay personal, hidden from the general public (if at all possible). People who are in the midst of failure don’t prefer to announce it (though I did).
Problem: our human tendency to hide failure from each other distorts everyone’s perception of reality. We see so much success around us, but in reality, there is a lot more failure we’re not seeing. The main problem with this is that we like to learn from each other, many times modeling our plans after the success of others. If people only show us the post-production version of success, it can only deceive and hurt us.
Rather than taking the usual angle of asking for us all to be more honest and vulnerable with each other (which is important), I want to implore us all to interpret the successes we see with honest eyes. People are always going to present their “best selves” to the world, as opposed to their “true selves.”
Know that every person who holds the greatest trophies of life, also possesses battle scars and less glorious moments. This is empowering, because when you see reality—great results aren’t exclusive to “perfect” people—it’s not so intimidating anymore. You’ll think, “I can do that too!”
Being Realistic Means Giving Yourself A Chance
A realistic perspective of accomplishments is warranted in life. Others’ great accomplishments look impossible sometimes, but they’re relatively easy compared to their appearance. Consistent, focused work chips away at “impossible” goals.
Focus on the same behaviors. Aim small. Make consistency your top priority. This simple formula will help you master a skill or reach a distant dream.
photo by charlieishere