Success is about putting in extra focused hours and this can only happen if you devote yourself to specific goals. Life is then to choose moment-to-moment actions that work towards this goal. The difference between success and the average person is that success chooses to work where the average person chooses to procrastinate. This is the only functional difference. Over time, this will separate the diligent from the ordinary. Each time you resist procrastination, you become more diligent.
What does this mean for you? You have the choice, in every moment of your free time. Every time you decide to go on Facebook instead of working, you bring down your average, taking a step towards mediocrity, whereas every time you decide to put in an extra effort, you move towards diligence. What’s more, since humans naturally form habits, each action you take will bias yourself to act similarly in the future. Yes, downtime is important and all of us need breaks, but you probably waste a lot more time than you need to. It is this kind of inefficiency that need to be eliminated.
Obviously, there is no fail-safe method to becoming diligent, but, by keeping in mind that every choice you make matters, you will more often act in accordance with your long-term desires. That is, you will act such that later on, you don’t regret how you spent your time and that is the essence of reflective happiness.
It is important at this stage to list three common impediments to diligent goal-accomplishment and some ways to overcome each obstacle.
- Not enough time or energy: Like all of us, your daily schedule is packed. If you put something off because you don’t have enough time, what you’re really saying is that that something is not a priority. That can be okay—you will have more success in what you do if you don’t take on too many projects. But, don’t use this just a lame excuse. With better time management, chances are you have some spare time lying around.
- One-time exceptions: Once you’ve decided that a project is worth your time right now, you may be inclined to make one-time exceptions (“I just had a test today,” “I stayed up late last night,” “I’m feeling under the weather”). These are the worst enemies for your goal, and they are exceptionally easy to fall prey to. If you’ve decided that a project is worth your time, then I would be extremely critical of any one-time exception excuses. If you allow even one of these, it opens the door for future excuses, and before you know it, you never go to the gym anymore or you realize it’s been two months since you’ve picked up your new book. One-time excuses will kill your goals.
- Discounting the value of future goals: People tend to perceive rewards in the present as more valuable than rewards in the future, even when the present reward has a lower actual value. This is a phenomenon known as hyperbolic discounting, and it partly explains why you might go on Facebook now instead of beginning your assignment or why you might stay in bed and snooze your alarm instead of getting up on time. Discounting is closely related to one-time exceptions. Since people have a natural tendency to give less weight to future consequences, it is important to consciously remind yourself of the future impact of your present actions.
Hyperbolic Discounting in practice – Suppose you have a final assignment due in a month. You know it would be bad for your grades if you begin your assignment a few days before it is due. However, due to discounting, those consequences are dulled at the moment, paling in comparison to the small entertainment value of, for example, surfing the internet. To compensate for this discounting, you can remind yourself of the specific impact your actions in the present will have on your future. If you procrastinate now, you will be really stressed at the end of the term. If you get a bad grade, you will probably be very unhappy with yourself. Are you really willing to risk that outcome just to go on Facebook for a few minutes?
It’s hard to be diligent, and that’s partly because of human nature. Hopefully, by being aware of the specific psychological weaknesses that humans have, you can make a conscious effort to resist them and ultimately succeed in achieving your goals.