There’s something irresistible about arbitrary deadlines. We know we could start writing our book today, but our brain loves the idea of starting in the new year. So, we do resolutions.
Me? I am notoriously bad at sticking to things, even small ones. I get passionate about something, I do it until I get tired (1-2 months,) then I quit it completely. Then I find something new again, rinse and repeat. So I know I wouldn’t stick to something for a whole year.
I’ve been living with this “condition” for a long time. So I wanted to see what would happen if I asked the Internet for tips on sticking to things like resolutions, projects, hobbies, etc. The response was great. Tens of people replied to my post on Hacker News with insights I had never even thought about. In this post, I’ll summarize them for you, so that you can be armed to stick to your resolutions and projects throughout the new year and more.
Trust your old self
Three months in, you’ll want to drop your thing. You’re sick and tired of writing, or going to the gym, or learning game development. It’s at this point where you need to stop what you are doing and start trusting your old self.
Your old self got into the resolution for a reason. Your old self did some research and thought it’d be worth to stick to X for a while. Why don’t you trust yourself? Give your old self the benefit of the doubt.
Be aware of the horizon
When you start something new, you can only see up until the horizon. You see the road to get there, and you know you can get to the horizon relatively easily. It’s what’s beyond the horizon that you must be prepared for.
Before the horizon is the land of high dopamine, high motivation, and endless curiosity. After the horizon is the land of the unknowns, the obstacles, and low motivation. Before, you didn’t need discipline: you were motivated to do things on your own. After, you need to just commit to doing it regularly, no matter your level of satisfaction with it.
You want to stop doing X not because you fell out of love with it, but because you crossed the horizon. When starting, be fully aware that what you see before you is but 1% of the whole thing, and the rest is beyond your current knowledge and motivation level. You will be unmotivated, and there will be obstacles.
How on Earth was I able to stick to trms for half a year now, when normally I context-switch every 30 minutes? It’s because I know you are reading, and about a hundred people are half-expecting a new post and email every Friday.
A surefire way to stick with something is to make it embarrassing to fail.
One of the reasons why we quit is that we stop winning. Our “goals” look like they are moving further away, and we haven’t hit a significant milestone in ages. Not winning is demoralizing. So start winning again.
If you’re creating a game, set yourself the goal of working on that bug for at least 3 hours this weekend. If you’re writing a book, tell yourself you’ll write 1000 words by Sunday. All doable stuff. Then crunch it and win. Once you got this first win, you’ll want to get another one. And another one, and before you know it, it’s an avalanche.
Know what you want to get out of your projects
Why are you starting the new project? What do you want to get out of it? If you are in it just to explore, it’s ok to drop it quickly. If, instead, you are looking for something bigger, prepare yourself to weather through some storms. Don’t feel guilty for dropping something quickly if that was the intention from the start.
Know what you want, period
Are you doing these things because you’re genuinely interested, or because you think that you should be interested in them?
I’m still fuming at this commenter, because they hit an open nerve on their first try. Are you actually interested in these projects, or are you projecting a version of yourself that should be interested in them?
It’s worth spending a good chunk of time looking at yourself and thinking about what you actually like to do. It’s not as obvious as it seems. Figuring it out will save you a good amount of time later on. If you have trouble sticking to things, it might be because you don’t actually like them, and you didn’t even realize it.
Bonus: Reading Recommendations from Commenters
The Dip will outline this idea of keeping at it as things don’t really pick up right away.
Atomic Habits gives some great ideas on structuring things to make them habits. Setting your environment up to make it easier to get started etc.
Reading Finish by Acuff RN (was recommended in an earlier post). Absolutely recommended.
Earlier this year, a newer version of Driven to Distraction was published, ADHD 2.0, written by the very same authors and featuring a lot promising new strategies backed by recent research. Definitely a recommended read.
I think you might benefit from reading this series of short articles: https://mindingourway.com/guilt/ (note that you have to read them in order).
I still feel pretty bad about this and have a lot of guilt by not pursuing my projects, however I recently finished reading “Refuse To Choose” by Barbara Sher and it was a game changer, I still feel bad about it but I see now a different perspective and it has given me hope and made me realize that perhaps I’m not as broken as I thought I was.
Read all the comments here.