What’s the point?
Everyday, I make a pont of taking the stairs whenever the opportunity presents itself (just for the record, I consider five flights of stairs in a building to be a borderline opportunity, while twelve flights is just a co-worker that stinks up your office). Whenever I have a choice between getting in my car to go somewhere and bussing, I try and take the bus. I look at the back of different products I’m buying and I choose the one that has 1% less sodium than the other one.
Over a decade ago, when I lived with my good friend Graham, I had mentioned this quirk of mine. Graham stared at me blankly before asking, “What’s the point?”
Sometimes it’s the most innocent questions that deserve the most analysis. So what is the point?
What Graham was really asking me was why bother with these small things when it was the big steps that would really move me to achieving my goal. 1% of sodium really isn’t going to make a big difference in the long run right? It’s a common attitude that if you really want to accomplish a goal, you’re better suited to doing something big (in my case, this would have been not helping Graham polish off a box of ice cream sandwiches off in two days – those things are delicious).
Many of us fall into this trap, marginalizing the power of small changes, and operating with the false impression that if something doesn’t move us closer toward our goal in a giant step, it’s a waste of time.
The reality is that few of us even think about the process of setting goals. Fewer still actually think beyond the initial point of stating the goal and actually asking themselves what achieving that goal would look like. If your goal is achieving financial independence, I’m sure that you have a vision for what that looks like when you have finally achieved it. it probably involves a boat, lots of women in bikinis and a mansion. No wait, that’s this guy:
But what does the process of achieving your goal look like? You have an idea for what the destination looks like, but do you know what the journey looks like? If you aren’t able to derive small increments towards your goal like the ones we’re talking about, you’re going to have a hard time moving yourself in a particular direction.
What is the point? The point is that you have to start somewhere. If you aren’t willing to cut back on 1% of your sodium intake, how are you ever going to achieve your goal to eat a healthy and balanced diet?
If you aren’t willing to take the stairs, how are you going to achieve your goal to lose twenty pounds? Now, you may have other ways of achieving these goals, but the point here isn’t that you start taking the stairs – it’s that you be aware of how important moving in increments is.
What’s the point? The point is that you have goals you want to achieve, and you’re human. Figure out the next, smallest (new) action you can take toward achieving your goal and start doing it.
Bonus section where I draw connections to various diffuse subjects
Ah, you stayed for the bonus section! Welcome. Today we’re comparing software development and psychology.
Software development is ultimately about crafting algorithmic solutions to problems. Because you’re generally better off innovating than you are re-inventing the wheel, there are many common solutions that have been documented that provide good ways to solve a similar set of problems. These abstract solutions are termed patterns.
A real-world analogy might be that you have a common problem where you want to keep people away from your property, but want to be able to access it easily yourself. The “pattern” to this problem is a door, with a lock that can be used to let only specific people in. The “door and lock” solution is a pattern and can be applied to a wide variety of similar problems (such as your house, your car, a briefcase, etc.).
Patterns are very useful, and allow programmers a convenient way to talk about possible solutions using a single word to convey a broader and more abstract concept. However, patterns also have a counterpart, termed an anti-pattern.
Anti-patterns are common solutions to problems that are actually bad solutions. Anti-patterns generally catch on because they seem intuitively correct or present a quick solution to a problem that doesn’t seem problematic until some time has passed (usually enough that further development has occurred and it’s much more complicated and expensive to redo the original solution).
“What’s the point?”, and it’s companion thought, “Goals are only achieved in large steps”, is an anti-pattern to achieving your goals. Don’t fall for these anti-patterns – iterate in small increments toward that which you desire.