This time of the year is prone to a very peculiar phenomenon: people flocking to the entrance of the gym lost in excited conversations and wearing the fancy new gym suits they got for Christmas.
Many of the outsiders who observe this phenomenon, often go about with their lives thinking that this pack of anxious human beings is composed of nothing but terribly deluded individuals.
But I dare say these individuals, contrary to popular belief, are the living proof that there is one thing that can sustain our lifelong pursuits: the ability to imagine a better future.
In other words: hope!
But, does hope only work for some people?
From the thousands who flock to the gym at the beginning of the year, only a few surviving souls will still be trying to get fit by the end of that first month. But make no mistake, some of these excited and seemingly hopeless individuals will succeed in the endeavor.
Some of them will reach the end of 2020 dropping all the undesired weight they brought with them to the gym at the beginning of the year. Some of them may even surpass their initial expectations.
What gives these people hope to keep dreaming even during the darkest of seasons?
What renews these people’s will and helps them endure pain?
For those of us who start our year strong but fail to keep up with our resolutions, these people seem to us like the heroes of the stories we so eagerly devour. They must have something different!
But they don’t.
You know that as well as I do. You know that these heroes are often not the brightest, fittest, the most capable nor the most self-confident. Heroes are often tortured souls who chose to stand up and persist through the harsh circumstances of life.
That sounds interesting. You think. But you’ve heard it a hundred times before, yet, here you are, burning your precious time away, welcoming the distractions, pretending not to care.
Did you know most heroes start their journey just like you?
But then something happens, their lives get tossed and turned, they lose their North and have to learn how to fight to get it back.
We all have defining moments like these in our lives too. Some of us wished those moments involved bearded wizards and promises of future enrollment in a certain witchcraft and wizardry school. But, inevitably, in the real world, these defining moments are made of losses, changes, and pain.
The type of pain that reminds us that life can end in an instant. One day we’ll have the world at our feet and an entire life ahead of us. On the other, we’ll feel deep within our bones that we’re coming terribly close to the summit of our life. One day, we’ll wake up and feel the vertigo of our anticipated downfall. We’ll understand that our life is already rushing downwards, each day bringing us one step closer to the end.
These wake-up calls can become real turning points if we let them.
Mine happened a few years ago.
I was a workaholic at the time. I missed family reunions and late-night meals with friends. I reject it all to the point of almost total and irreversible social isolation. And the saddest part was, that the dream and hope that kept me going, weren’t even mine.
And then one day it happened. Someone I cared about, died. Her life extinguished in an instant. This friend was one of the most energetic and positive human beings I have ever met, she was a catalyst of change, a force of nature, and a brave human being.
When her light disappeared, I realized how foolish I had been. Postponing my life for the meager promise of a new degree. And then what? I thought to myself.
Then I realized there was no dream to sustain me past the moment I would earn the degree.
There was no future past that victory for me.
What does this have to do with keeping up with resolutions?
In order to keep up with our resolutions, we need to feel that they are important and urgent on a deeply personal level.
That is why most resolutions don’t stick. They are generic: I want to get fit! Instead of deeply important and personal: I want to run a half-marathon by the end of the year because running was something important and something I did together with my friend who passed away. Running that distance would be a way of celebrating her life and the good moments we shared.
I did run a 10k in January 2019, in case you’re wondering.
I also recaptured my love for writing because I understood the why behind my dream. I talk about it in my latest article on The Ascent:
Generic resolutions always fail. They are like bad premises that fail to keep the readers engaged in a story. Thus, if we want to accomplish something extraordinary, we need to find that special engaging premise that will keep us going in the long run. We need to prepare the foundations of your story in a way that we’ll want to keep turning those pages.
Don’t disregard this step. Stories are important. Stories will keep you going, even when nothing else can.
This sounds very interesting. But it won’t be nearly enough.
Write and print your WHY, stick it on your wall, read it every morning. That is the perfect recipe for getting lost in wishful thinking and doing nothing about your dreams.
Knowing your personal reasons is important. But it is only the beginning. The real work starts now. And it will be the hardest thing you’ll ever do.
One of my favorite people on Quora is Mercedes Lackey. She made me realize there is absolutely nothing magical about writing that book I dream about writing.
Many people want to write books. Only a few succeed. And even fewer persist past that first book. Why? Because writing is hard, it requires sacrifices most people aren’t willing to make and a healthy dose of insanity.
It can’t be a sporadic engagement. It needs to be a consistent one. Because you need to build a momentum that will keep you going even when you feel you’ve completely lost your motivation.
When you apply force to a body, it will move in the direction you choose. If you keep applying force to that body and then you let go, the body will still move on its own, feeding on its inertia, bringing you closer to your dreams even if you’re too tired to try.
The law of inertia works both ways. It makes change hard. But, if you can move past your procrastination to create good habits, you can learn to use inertia to your advantage.
This gets better after that first initial push. That first step will be the hardest. Just make sure you continue to push until you’ve built the momentum that will carry you forward on its own.
Most people give up too soon…
Do you know how many books Brandon Sanderson wrote before he became successful?
How many rejections Stephen King got before he got published?
How many years Toni Morrison woke up at 5 a.m. to write before others acknowledged her talent?
How many times has Seth Godin been rejected?
These people had more reasons to give up than to continue moving forward. The scales never favored them. The stars never aligned. Until, one day, they did. But it took them years of uncertainty to get there.
Most people don’t realize how important it is to keep dreaming, hoping and imagining when there’s no wind in our sails. Most people don’t realize that immediate results shouldn’t dictate our choices. Common sense shouldn’t prevent us to keep moving forward.
If you give up now, you’ll never know where the currents might have carried you. If you give up now, you’ll never know what you might have achieved.
The practical side of things
Let me start this section by telling that most advice won’t help you.
You need to tread your own path, develop your own reasons, experiment with thousands of routines.
At this point, there’s nothing more precious and practical than failure to bring you closer to your dreams.
Failure will give you the knowledge you need to keep adapting your routines. If writing in the evenings doesn’t work, try writing in the mornings instead. If writing by an outline blocks you, try writing without one for a change. If writing an entire novel terrifies you, try writing short stories instead. If keeping your goals to yourself makes it easier to give up, try sharing your journey on your blog or on social media.
Failure forces you to adapt. It shows you what works and, more importantly, what doesn’t. Don’t take failure as a personal defeat. Take it as an opportunity to grow.
I’m consistently failing to become a prolific and good writer. I gave up on writing so many times before. I owned so many blogs. I started and abandoned the drafts of so many books.
But I finally feel I’m getting closer to understanding how to keep moving forward. I learned so many things during 2019, today I want to share them with you in the hopes they’ll inspire you to embrace your dreams too!
- Keeping a daily journal
Every morning and every evening, I document my progress. I used to monitor my small victories and failures on a digital journal, but I’ve found it works better when I write by hand.
Writing things down signals my brain that these things are important. And this small change is making a big difference in my life.
- Waking up at 5 a.m. to write
I noticed my writing improves when I choose to write consistently (preferably every day). I tried writing in the evenings, but most evenings I would either feel too tired to sit down to write or I would end up having a fantastic writing session followed by terrible insomnia because I couldn’t force my brain to fall asleep afterward.
I’d tested waking up early to write before. And found that my days were actually more productive when I got some creative writing done first thing in the morning.
Will this approach work for every writer? No, it won’t. I’m not even sure if it will work for me. But I need to test it for 1 to 3 months before making my final decision. And so far, things are going better than I expected.
- Sharing my journey with the world
For the past few months, I’ve started slowly sharing my progress and struggles on this blog, on Medium, and on Instagram. Sharing my progress makes me feel more committed to my goals.
However, doing this will actually have the opposite effect on some people. You need to understand that sharing too much too soon may either backfire or fuel your motivation, so chose wisely!
- Giving myself time
I could have written an entire book last year. I could have finished countless short stories. But I didn’t.
At this point, I have very little to show in terms of writing. I’ve written some blog posts, published some articles on Medium, self-published a short story… but that’s it.
If I think about it, I’ll want to give up again. It seems I don’t have what it takes to become a prolific writer. Instead, I decided to ignore my instincts and my common sense. Instead, I’m giving myself the benefit of doubt.
If I give up now, I’ll never finish that book. If I choose to build momentum instead, maybe I’ll surprise myself by the end of 2020!
I hope this article made you look at your failures under a new light! I hope it made you realize that failing may actually be a good thing, if you chose to apply that hard-earned knowledge to make better choices!