Work hard, then let go

Setting the stage

These days playing the sandbox game Minecraft is only an occasional indulgence. I play with a modification that allows me to automate many of the resource-gathering tasks by training villagers who work as my serfs. I enjoy automating routine tasks, as it allows me to explore further and build more intricate and sizable structures.

To get started with training villagers you need to do research at a research table. It required a lot of paper. In the game, paper is obtained from sugarcane. I luckily found some growing in the wild some distance from my house and replanted it near my front door.

I was hasty to start automating and I was frequently harvesting the little that had grown and using it to conduct research. I was also replanting some of it to increase the speed at which I was producing. Then I felt frustrated by the slow progress. I planted everything that I had and then did other errands.

A few Minecraft days later I came back to find that I had more than enough paper. From then on I never lacked and could merely go out and harvest whatever I needed.

The Analogy

Habits and life change also work like producing paper in Minecraft.

In the first stage, you spend a lot of time and attention on your new habit. It does not seem to be helping, but you persist and start seeing the seeds of progress.

In the second stage, you start reaping the rewards, but it is not enough and it feels like you expended more effort than is justified by these few rewards. You keep going for a while and then shift your attention to something else.

Between the second and third stage, your subconscious works on the problem and finds solutions to apply. Conscious effort becomes habitual action.

In the third stage, you return your focus to your habit to find that your effort has paid off. It has become automatic and now adds abundance and joy to your life. You think back with amazement to the time when you found it hard and a struggle. You know you have progressed and start thinking of the next challenge to pursue.

More

Me and most other people start something may even struggle with it for a while. But if it doesn’t soon show progress then we abandon it to dabble in something else. Or we go through the hardest part and because it seems easier than the hard times that we experienced in the beginning, we stop working and backslide. Having to start again from square one we feel despair and hopelessness. We then give up completely.

Sometimes things really aren’t working and we should try something else. However, most of us have completely unrealistic expectations for how long something takes. We expect months instead of years. We expect days instead of weeks. Most of us should just persist a little longer with things we honestly expect will eventually work. Most of us quit too easily.

I don’t know how to distinguish between something taking time and something not working. I think a useful heuristic would be to persist longer with new things, and quit faster with old things. Things that have been around for a long time and still don’t work probably won’t unless you do something radically different.

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