My unsuccessful attempt at learning the guitar thought me a powerful lesson in life – the importance of slowing down. How can an unsuccessful attempt help, you might wonder? Here is how.
A few years back, I decided to start learning the guitar out of nowhere. Let me clarify, I was not a huge music fan in the first place. I had a few favorites like Fear of the Dark from Iron Maiden for one. Impressed by the skills the rockstars had, I made up my mind to become a guitar pro.
I researched a little and purchased a guitar right off the bat. Thankfully, some sweet soul on the internet had written that a beginner should learn the acoustic guitar first. Had I not read that advice, I would have an electric guitar in my house today.
Anyway, once I had the guitar and my new found love for the strings and notes, I started practicing. I even joined a nearby class to speed up my training. I managed to make some progress but I was far from being an average guitarist, let alone a rockstar.
As the weeks went by, my desire turned into frustration. I was annoyed because my skills were developing as slowly as a tortoise trying to run a marathon. So after a few months of my musical career, I stopped altogether.
So here was my guitar journey summed up in a line.
I started suddenly -> I tried a little -> I saw slow progress -> I gave up
I wondered why did I give up when I have achieved other goals with slow progress. I could have continued with the guitar too, but I did not. To be honest, I was not terrible. I was able to play a fair bit for the amount I practiced.
Amidst silent pondering and connecting the dots, I understood the two important reasons why I gave up.
- I wanted quick results
- I was learning guitar because it seemed cool, not because I cared about it
- 1. The importance of slowing down
- 2. Having a strong reason to chase a goal
- Example Scenarios where you expect results too fast
- How to slow down in a fast-paced world
- 1. Identify your why
- 2. Keep your expectations realistic
- 3. The effort required must be sustainable in the long term in terms of time
- 4. The change must be enjoyable and sustainable in terms of motivation
- 5. Have modest targets and a plan
- 6. Persistence over talent
- 7. Do not aim for goals you do not care about
- Conclusion: Why we need to slow down
1. The importance of slowing down
Because I expected results at lightning speed, my interest turned into restlessness. I was trying to shortcut the path to the results. Not only did I want the skills of a Jimi Hendrix but I was craving for them in 6 months. My results and my timelines were unrealistic.
When you set any goal, the same logic applies.
The line in between indicates the time required to achieve the goal. If you set an easy goal, the length of the line does not matter.
The problem arises when you set a long term goal and expect to hit it within a short timeframe. The shorter the line, the higher the chances of giving up.
Your goals and the time required to achieve them must go hand in hand. You cannot expect to bake a cake in 10 minutes no matter how skilled of a chef you are because that is simply not enough time.
I went through the same experience with my guitar endeavor. I had to put in years of effort to develop good guitar skills which I was unwilling to. And why did I not put more effort? Well, that brings me to the second reason.
2. Having a strong reason to chase a goal
I did not have a strong “why” behind learning the guitar. My only reason to learn the guitar was that rockstars seem cool and it would feel nice to strum and hum in front of a few people. I had zero passion for music. The only time I would listen to music was when a group of friends gathered for a few drinks. When the effort to master the instrument looked strenuous, my “why” was not strong enough to keep me going. So I chickened out.
Consider the difficulty of your goal and the strength of your why as two parallel lines. The smaller the distance between two points, the more likely you are to achieve your goal.
For example, losing 2 pounds is not a very difficult target. So even without a strong reason, you can drop those extra pounds with simple exercise or healthy eating. But if you intend to turn as ripped as Hugh Jackman in Wolverine, you better have a strong reason why. If you chase the goal because Hugh Jackman looked hot and you want to woo some ladies, well well, you will give up before you flex your muscles.
Example Scenarios where you expect results too fast
You might think you do not expect quick results. If you look enough you will notice them happen right under your nose in day to day life.
1. Working Out
When a new person tries to workout he tries to go all guns blazing like Arnold Schwarzenegger. He spends 10 minutes to warm up followed by 20 minutes of cardio, an hour on weights and another 30 minutes on HIIT. In similar instances, people enter a challenge and try to work out for 2 hours every day.
The same people show up to work out for a month or until the challenge is over and never step foot in the gym again.
Working out for 2 hours is not sustainable in the long run for a normal person. Unless you pursue a career in bodybuilding or modeling, aiming for such a tedious workout routine will lead you to stop working out altogether. Working out 45 minutes for 3-4 days a week over the long term yields far better results than an exercise frenzy of 1 month.
2. Healthy Eating
When an overweight person makes up his mind to lose weight, he cuts down his calories from 3000 to 1200 overnight. Speak about entering with a bang. What was earlier hamburgers and smoothies turns into steamed vegetables and green tea. Such a change is so drastic that the person gives up in a week and starts munching a pizza again.
Instead, if you cut one bad food item, you will find the change easier to stick on to. For example, if you only cut the smoothie the first 2 weeks and then cut a couple of burgers a week later, the new diet won’t bother you as much.
3. Making money
When a person looks at some rich individual leading a lavish lifestyle, he aims to become a multi-millionaire in a year or two. To make that immense amount of money, he sets foot into volatile investments and Ponzi schemes. What happens next? He loses the money he already had.
If you search on Quora, you will find hundreds of questions asking – What is the fastest way to become a millionaire?
People look at the result someone achieved over many years of hard work. They turn it into their own goal of reaching it in a few months with as minimal effort as possible.
If you read the answers to such questions on Quora, you will notice how successful people provide a piece of common advice – have patience and put in the effort. If you are looking for a shortcut to riches, you will only burn your fingers.
4. Becoming an expert
Just like learning a guitar, all skills involve a learning curve that takes time. You might want to become a top chess player, a hardcore programmer or a charismatic public speaker. If you want to achieve expertise, you have no choice but wait for the learning to sink in.
5. Startup growth
During my first business venture, we made good business in the first few months. We were into the web development market and we gained enough customers early where our plates were more than full. To have a shot at glory, I hired a bunch of programmers and tried to explode the growth. In a few months, the customers dried up and we had more employees than work. Left with no choice, I had to fire some of the same people I hired in a hurry.
Many other startups undergo a similar dilemma. When the team is small, the initial traction seems like a phenomenal response. Blinded by the early success, startups set foot into a path of rapid expansion. The move leads to the demise of many startups.
6. Multitasking at work
When you have a list of tasks queued up, you get going by working on many tasks at the same time. You try to answer pending emails, write code and make a few phone calls simultaneously. Such multitasking kills your focus. Your attempt at getting more done as soon as possible leads to wasted time due to a lack of concentration.
You would clear more items off your to-do list if you took a stab at one item at a time.
7. Targeting slow-paced goals at a rapid pace
Many domains need time to succeed. Whether you want to build a successful blog, climb up the corporate ladder, or become a mountaineer, consider the effort taken by the experts to get there.
Any segment which requires years to succeed will also take you roughly the same amount. Someone who claims, “look how I made 10,000 $ a month within my first 6 months of blogging,” is lying to sell a course. Even if that was the truth, you have no idea what factors caused such exceptions.
How to slow down in a fast-paced world
The first step to slowing down starts with understanding the importance to go slow. Going slow does not mean you should act lazy or procrastinate. Reducing your pace implies being realistic with your plans, efforts, and expectations. In fact, slowing down is one way to go faster.
Here are a few tips on how to take it slow.
1. Identify your why
If you want to pursue a difficult goal that will take you years to achieve, you better have a strong reason to justify why you intend to chase it. Without a reason to achieve a massive goal, you will run out of steam.
If you want to start your own business, you must have a better reason than money alone. If you target six pack abs you must have a stronger reason than impressing the ladies. If you intend to start a blog, you must have a deeper reason than fame.
In general, most gigantic goals gravitate towards money. Do not get me wrong, there is nothing wrong in going after money. I do too. But you run into trouble if you target a goal for money and money alone. If you do not enjoy the journey to the destination, the chances of triumph turn scant.
2. Keep your expectations realistic
People make a common mistake of expecting results of experts in a much shorter time frame. You can no doubt aim to achieve the same or even higher level of success, but do not discount the time the expert took to get there. When you are yet to take the first step in your journey, do not make an unreasonable comparison with the accomplishments of the specialist.
3. The effort required must be sustainable in the long term in terms of time
As explained with the working out example, do not go from a lethargic lifestyle to that of an elite athlete. Understand your limitations and pace accordingly. Even if you have a catalyst to work out 2 hours a day this month, ask yourself, “Can I dedicate the same amount of time for the next 2 years?”
If you answer with a no, you have set yourself up for failure.
4. The change must be enjoyable and sustainable in terms of motivation
As explained in the healthy eating example, if you cut down from flavorsome to bland food overnight, you lose the motivation to stick to it. Your body and brain must accept the change you are making. When you cut your donuts and replace them with broccoli, your brain will fight back. If you introduce more of such extreme changes, your brain puts on armor and pulls out the sharpest sword to retaliate.
Give yourself time and make the journey enjoyable. If you do not enjoy it, you will fail to stick to it.
5. Have modest targets and a plan
Warren Buffet explains how to underpromise and overdeliver. Again, keeping your expectations realistic has nothing to do with dreaming big. You should target humongous goals but also have a practical plan of getting there by breaking it down.
If you plan to become a guitar player like Eric Clapton in 6 months, you will end up hanging your guitar on the wall as I have. I have added the picture of my guitar as proof. Please note: I had to dust it off before clicking a picture.
When you chase a huge goal, break the journey into milestones. Write down what can you achieve in 2 weeks, in a quarter, in 6 months, by the end of 1 year, 5 years and so on. Any gargantuan goal without a well defined remains a goal forever.
6. Persistence over talent
When persistence and talent get into a hard-fought war, persistence wins 99 out of 100 times. If you have the patience to keep pumping in your efforts without distracting yourself from the goal, you will taste victory. People do not take the first step because they believe they do not have enough talent.
Nobody comes into the world with a bagful of skills. Expertise comes as an outcome of effort and discipline. If you have the interest, your innate talent only carries a small weight in your results.
7. Do not aim for goals you do not care about
Chase your goal only when you have a strong why behind your goal. Many a time, even if a goal seems cool to you, you have no reason which resonates with you to chase it.
I have pursued many such goals which were meaningless to me like being a gamer, a guitar player, a public speaker, and whatnot. I have given up on all of them because I did not have the time for everything. It’s only in recent years that I have realized I had only 24 hours a day even though my teachers taught me the same lesson when I was a kid.
When time availability turns into a limiting factor, whichever goal mattered lesser to you fades into the oblivion.
When you have to choose between multiple goals due to another limiting factor like time, energy or money, you will invariably pick the goal which matters the most to your heart.
On your journey towards your dream goal, you will face many fancy goals that seem like a tasty low hanging fruit. If you start jumping to pluck every fruit, you will take a long time to reach your journey or forget where you were headed in the first place.
Conclusion: Why we need to slow down
As human beings, we want results fast. You have reasons to slow down in life. If not it leads to consequences like:
- Burning out by pushing too hard
- Loss of motivation to chase the goal anymore
- Low productivity and diffusion of focus due to attention on many goals
- Making unnecessary mistakes because you did not have enough time to apply what you learn over the journey
Slowing down is important, so take a deep breath. When you slow down, you will know when you apply the brakes and when to push the pedal to the metal.
So, slow down!
Maxim Dsouza has spent over a decade experimenting and finding various time management techniques to improve his productivity. He strongly understands the fact that time is a limited commodity and tries to make every second count. He has extensive experience in leadership in startups, small businesses, and large corporations.
He has helped people of different professions and age groups gain clarity on their goals, improve focus, revise their time management skills and develop an awareness of their psychological cognitive biases.