The promise vs the actual

So often the promise of a thing is huge and covered in bright lights; exciting and life changing and altogether wooo.

Marketing does this, social media does this, and our natural response is amygdala-like: “shit man, I gotta get me one of those!“.

The vision presented by the PR of The Thing is powerful.

Examples that are in my mind right now:

  • Exercise: you can be that ripped guy! Live to be 100 by doing these 5 things!
  • Meditation: you can find meaning! Download this app and find peace!
  • Entrepreneurship: follow these simple tips and you can be a gazillionaire!
  • Wisdom: read X books a year, be incredible!
  • Money: do this! Make a fortune!

What we miss is that the actual activity is almost always slow, and will almost always take quite a lot of time. There’s literally no exercise that will get you from overweight and unfit to ripped in 24 hours, there’s no meditation course that moves you from mindless to mindful in a week, and there’s no business knowledge that makes you a multi-millionaire overnight.

Every single one of these things requires incremental activity: tiny, slow, gentle movements in the right direction, a nudge, a slow but insistent pressure. Getting fit is about doing something aerobic regularly, meditation is about sitting on a daily basis, running a business is about the grind work of just chipping away at an idea or a product until you start to gain traction.

All of these incremental activities feel like nothing when you’re doing them. How can a 1 mile run ever culminate in a half marathon? How can a 5 minute meditation sit change your life? Things often feel inconsequential, but it’s this gentle, quiet, persistent trying that is almost always what leads to the big, life-altering changes. It’s like a process of erosion – those tiny pieces of sand swirling away are the ones that make whole cliffs disappear.

Leave a comment