There comes a point in every long project where you’re too far from the beginning to stop and too far from the end to go on.
You have a plan. You work to execute your plan and somehow you’re still no closer to that distant goal you set. You’re tired and more than that, you’re discouraged. Is it all going to be worth it in the end? You’re not sure any more.
Finishing a novel, hitting a target weight, or remodelling a home are examples of long term endeavours that are definitely worthwhile. Yet many of us run out of steam, part-way to victory.
I found myself in this position with my writing goals. Ideas ran dry, motivation deserted me, and facing the blank page morphed from exciting possibility to anxious dread.
I needed something different.
By knowing the large you know the small; and from the shallow you reach the deep.
Miyamoto Musashi, The Book of Five Rings
It might seem at first sight that the simplest tasks are very different from complex ones. But even making a sandwich involves weighing alternatives, assessing and acquiring materials, and execution of linked processes. The difference is that success is practically assured and most importantly, within easy reach.
Large and small share the same DNA.
So turn away from your big project and do something small, trivial even. It must be easy to complete and yield a tangible result. By completing a task with a finished product, you reinforce feelings of competence. A small win becomes the building block for a bigger effort and a bigger win.
This isn’t procrastination. Procrastination is unfocused avoidance. This is deliberate. This is trimming the rudder, a small action that points you more directly at the goal. The process of achieving a minor win makes the large win more likely by boosting your confidence.
The Future Looks Bright
How does this work in practice? Here are two examples from gardening and writing.
When we moved to our current home we acquired a large grassed space at the back. I wanted a garden. But even planning the garden, let alone executing all the changes needed, was overwhelming. And we had no money and limited time.
So instead I planted flower bulbs, five or ten at a time. This small job fitted between childcare and working and cost little. It was a microcosm of the larger space in planning, preparation, feeding, and planting.
Long form works often grind to a halt, perhaps more so if you’re a pantser like me. I’ve written about ways to get moving again if you’re truly exhausted, but sometimes you just need a little boost.
At this point with my novel, I’d write something else. Song lyrics and poetry, haiku if I wanted a really quick win. A short story for my writing group which ended up in our anthology. Some of these pieces have never been shared, but that isn’t the point. The point is to recalibrate, compress the task of writing into a smaller space and to reach the end.
So go and write your haiku. Plant some bulbs. Sweep the yard.
Find your win.
When you taste a drop of victory, you’ll believe the whole bottle is within your grasp.