The 3 Pre-Reqs to Progress

Cory Mazure | 19 Mar, 2023

There is only one word standing between you and a better future, progress. By definition, progress is a forward or onward movement towards a destination. It is clear as day that we need to progress, but have you ever taken the time to think about why it is so hard to do what we know is right? 

In my own life I know that once I am up and running it is easy to sustain progress:

  • 5 minutes into a work out and I can cruise for another hour
  • 10 minutes into a new slide deck and you can consider that finished
  • 2 T-shirts on hangers and the rest of my laundry will be done no problem

If you are anything like myself, your issue is not executing while you are in the zone, it is getting yourself into the zone. It does not matter how you perform 5 minutes into the workout if the friction you experience 1 minute prior is so severe that it prevents you from even starting. 

Friction is the number one thing standing in your way from the life you desire. If you are a consistent reader of this content, you know the life you want to live. You have a desired destination, but are struggling to make that forward movement to get there. I have driven myself mad watching friction unfold in my own life. I have procrastinated on projects, missed opportunities to network, and continually convince myself it is okay to miss the gym. I know my life would be better if I persevered through the friction, but struggled for so long to determine how. 

After years of facing the same friction induced problems, I decided to get serious about fixing them. I dedicated a great deal of critical thought to understanding the problem at hand. I wanted to conceptualize what adds to and reduces friction so I could leverage these cause and effect relationships to unlock quicker and more sustainable action in my everyday life. Through my journey, I have identified 3 concepts, which when applied properly, can dramatically reduce the friction you experience every single day. Throughout the remainder of this article, I am going to take you through how I reduced the prominents of this problem in my own life, with the hope you can apply these principles as well.

Re-Stating The Problem

To begin, let us return to our problem. We need to make progress to succeed, but experience a force that prevents this progress. But what do we know about this force? What are the properties that drive its function? How does it behave overtime? Through self reflection and experimentation, I was able to derive a few insights about the behavior of friction. It was clear to me that friction dissipates through action and is the strongest prior to taking the first step. I wanted to narrow my focus on what is happening within the mind just prior to engaging in that which you know you should do. 

As I analyzed my mind right before high friction activities, I started to see some commonalities. For one, it appears that friction exists on a spectrum. Essentially, it is more present for some activities, while others it barely exists. I learned that an activity like going to the gym was easier for me to start than my college thesis, but why? 

Well, for starters I was more knowledgeable with the gym than the thesis. I have gone to the gym far more times than I had written a hundred page manuscript involving complex engineering problem solving and discoveries. Because I knew what I was supposed to do, it was far easier for me to stay focused while doing it. It was obvious what I needed to accomplish in the gym and all of my workouts were intentionally designed prior to ever stepping foot inside the gym. Opening up a blank word document and being told this was a necessity to get my degree made me overwhelmed with the possibilities of where to start. In addition, I could easily convince myself to exercise because I believed I would benefit from the fruits of my labor. There was far more ambiguity with the writing, and a high probability of my time being wasted as a consequence of this. On top of all that, I also enjoyed myself far more in the gym than while writing the thesis. The gym would energize me and I would leave with an improved mood from the endorphin release. It was something aligned with my passion for improved physical health, while it was far more difficult to relate writing a thesis to any of my passions. 

Through my reflection there appears to be 3 big insights which reduce friction: 

  • Knowledge of what needs to be accomplished will direct focus to accomplish it 
  • Belief in your abilities reassures it is worth trying to accomplish what lies ahead 
  • A connection of the activity to a passion leads to more enjoyment while engaged in said activity

No matter the activity I analyzed, I found this to be true. I could ask myself 3 questions and gauge how much friction is to come as a consequence of my responses to them

  • Do you know what needs to be accomplished?
  • Do you believe that you can accomplish it, and will be rewarded for doing so?
  • Do you expect yourself to derive positive emotion from this activity? 

Take a moment and ask yourself these questions. Try to reflect on a project you are struggling with, and identify what is the bottleneck. Are you suffering from a lack of knowledge, belief, or passion? 

Taking Action

Once you have reflected on your current situation, how do you get out of it? It is quite simple actually, and again it relies on self reflection. If you do not know where to direct your focus, you can do one of two things. Firstly, you can try anyway. By telling yourself the simple mantra that action brings clarity, you can motivate yourself out of the friction state. The reason this phrase works is because it is true. By committing to the work, you will gain new knowledge which will serve you in establishing better direction going forward. I did not have the relevant knowledge to structure my thesis, but by committing to do the work I was able to find my path along the way. The second option you have is to ask mentors for help. If you do not know what to do, chances are someone else has been through your situation. They can guide you and establish a clear direction for you to take. Getting validation of a direction from a professional is sometimes the missing link between you and action. If you have never gone to the gym, hiring an instructor might be what you need to narrow your focus on the right movesets. For every knowledge problem you face, you can approach it in one of these two ways.

The next strategy for overcoming friction relates to your beliefs. You must be brutally honest with yourself if you believe you will be rewarded for your efforts. Oftentimes, I struggle to make progress at my full time job because I do not perceive the work I am doing to be valuable. The same holds true for personal projects when I do not believe the project has a high likelihood of success. Once you clarify to yourself your current beliefs, ask yourself what you can do to change them. In an ideal world, we would fill all of our time with activities that provide value to our lives. If you do not perceive your current actions to add value to your life, ask yourself how you could make it more valuable. What could you learn from this experience? What would you have to do in order to make it a success? Oftentimes what you will learn is that if you want to be successful you have to do the work. We all have limiting beliefs about our abilities until we prove ourselves wrong through action. I am sure there were many times where Elon Musk had doubts about Tesla or SpaceX success, but kept making action until it was all but guaranteed they would succeed. Here we get ourselves in a bit of a paradox. If you are struggling from lack of belief, it prevents you from acting, which makes it more likely that your poor belief is true. If you possess a strong belief you are more likely to act and you will act in such a way which makes your belief a reality. If you want to overcome your lack of belief, you need to prove to yourself through action that you have what it takes to benefit from this action. From this you should see that action will bring more belief in self, and with the knowledge that this is the case, you must have the faith to commit to action. If you hold the belief that your belief will change with action, that might be enough to motivate you to act. 

If you are still struggling from a lack of belief, ask yourself if it is your own belief, or one which you have absorbed from the world around you. Oftentimes we are perpetuating limiting beliefs we have adopted from our parents, friends, or society at large. Look around at the average person around you, they are full of limiting beliefs about what is possible. There is a culture of toxic skepticism which we have to be careful not to get sucked into. If you can recognize if your belief is based on empirical evidence or anecdotal comments from others, this can also help you realize that you should still act on your goals. 

Finally, let's cover passion. Without the fire that comes from engaging in our passions, it is hard to commit to work. We all have specific activities that speak more to us than others. For you it might be skiing or rock climbing, while for me I find the most fulfillment from golf. The issue is, these leisure activities make up very little of our days. It is hard to have the passion of skiing motivate you to complete an assignment in the office. We must change our perspective over what it means to be motivated by a passion. Passions are not simply activities we engage ourselves in for leisure. You can be passionate about anything, and your gauge for determining this is how engaged you get while doing the activity. You can find a passion in learning, helping others, watching movies, writing, exercising, etc. A passionate life is one where you find yourself fully engaged in the present moment. If you know that you have the potential to be fully engaged in an activity, it will be quite easy to convince yourself it is an activity worth doing. Passions are built over time by overlapping our curiosities. Because of this, if you are struggling to find passion in your work, start asking yourself what you are curious about regarding it. When looking at a blank piece of paper for my thesis, one of the strategies I used to string myself into action was to brainstorm questions I had about how to start. I took these curiosities and began to research them, solving my focus problem and also engaging my passion for learning. I would argue that we all should have a passion for learning. Life is full of learning, and if you are opposed to learning, then you will fail to grow throughout your life. Being stuck in your comfort zone and leaning away from learning is what leads to a life of unfulfillment. It is the exact opposite of making progress, which is exactly what this article is about! Engage your passion for learning by finding the flow channel between boredom and anxiety. The information you seek should be engaging enough where you are not bored, but not so difficult to the point where it induces a state of anxiety within you. If you are able to strike this balance, you will experience engagement in the moment and develop the passion that comes from learning. 

Closing Remarks

So there you have it, 3 specific concepts which stand between you and progress. As always, your vehicle for change is self awareness. Reflecting on your focus, belief, and passion will inevitably result in some sort of a direction for you to work on. Once you master these aspects of the self, you will be unstoppable in the pursuit of your goals.

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