A few years ago I started learning Japanese. With the time I was willing to invest in it, I could learn 10 words a day. At that pace, it would’ve taken me years to reach fluency. After realising just how long it would take, I quit. After all, it would take years to become fluent! The years passed anyway, except now I don’t know Japanese.
This has been a recurring motif throughout my life. I quit doing something because the progress is too slow, and a few months or years down the line I think “I would’ve made so much progress if I had just kept going.”
Don’t Give Up
“Patience is waiting. Not passively waiting. That is laziness. But to keep going when the going is hard and slow — that is patience. The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.”
— Leo Tolstoy
When you don’t get immediate results, it may be tempting to just give up. Especially in this modern age in which 100 different apps and sites are constantly fighting for your attention, choosing the path of delayed gratification is unimaginably difficult. Why work hard now for a possible reward in the future when you can open social media and get a dopamine surge now?
It is important to realise that pleasure for which you didn’t have to work does not make you happy in the long run. What makes you happy is having achieved something. Playing video games may give you more temporary pleasure than arduous hard work, but in December, when you look back at the year, what would you rather see? A year of hard work towards your goals, or a year of lazing and indulging in instant gratification?
It is important to realise that any real reward always takes hard work. If there was a way to live a truly happy life without working, everyone would do that.
There May Be Better Options
You can do anything, but not everything.
Hard work towards a goal — any goal — is always better than not working at all. That said, sometimes there are better goals to be working towards. If you need to get to your destination, walking is better than not going at all. But why walk for days when a car can get you there in a few hours? Or even better yet: find a destination closer to you. Why go to a grocery store on the other side of the country when there’s one around the corner?
However, most people who quit working towards their goals don’t do so because they have better options. Even if you know what you’re doing isn’t optimal: keep doing it until you know what the better option is. Riding a bicycle is faster than walking, but if you don’t know how to ride a bicycle, keep walking. Don’t stand still simply because walking isn’t the best option.
Also, don’t work hard without a goal. Working a dead-end job for 10 hours a day is hard work, but if there is no goal, no destination that you are working towards, it’s not going to move you forwards in life. If you don’t have a goal, finding one should be your highest priority.
Time is a currency you can only spend once.
One of the biggest mistakes I see many people make is that they think time can somehow be “saved”. They see that a skill they desire takes a hundred hours to learn, so they don’t learn it, thinking that they somehow saved a hundred hours. No, those hundred hours weren’t saved, they were simply allocated elsewhere. And usually “elsewhere” means YouTube, social media or video games.
If you don’t want to spend your time on one thing, before deciding not to do it, first ask yourself: do you have something better to spend your time on? Unlike money, where not buying something means you can buy more later, time can never be saved. You either spend it now or you lose it. Imagine if your bank account emptied itself every day: that’s what time is.
I think the main takeaway is really that time can not be saved. You have a certain amount of hours every day that can be spent, and once the day is over those hours are gone. Not doing anything costs just as many hours per hour as studying, or working, or reading, or working out.
Maybe you don’t want to read a book because it takes 10 hours to read. Do you have something better to do those hours? Because in the evening, when you’re done with your day and want to unwind, you’re probably not going to be very productive anyway. If you don’t read, you’re just going to end up browsing social media or watching television.
The time will pass anyway. How you use it is up to you.