Be your hero!
What is success? Well, it’s a lot of things. To those of us who have only dreamed about it, it’s a snapshot, a finish line, champagne and glory, praise all around. But it’s not so simple. Success isn’t a moment, it’s better defined as everything that came before that moment.
Want to know what success really looks like? Getting home from a 9-5 and still finding the energy to go the gym — for three years straight. That’s success. Working a job you hate just to stay afloat enough to support your dream of writing a novel. That’s success. Preparing your weekly meals in advance because you know you won’t have the time later. That’s success.
Continue with this train of thought and you’ll quickly realize that it’s struggle, not success, that matters. And now for the big question, how much are you struggling?
How many of your days are zero days?
What’s a zero day, you ask? A day where you don’t commit a single action that moves you closer to achieving your goals, whatever they may be. Zero days should be avoided like a gym that gives out pizza on fridays. They cement bad habits — they don’t just halt your progress, they often lead you farther away from your goal.
Zero days are a decision
Make no mistake about it. Every zero day is the result of a decision. A decision to not prioritize, a decision to let your dreams down, a decision to not care.
Bad habits don’t come with milestones or markers, you wake up one day and wonder how you got there. Life isn’t about talent or ability, it’s about decisions. Some decisions are obvious and others more subtle. You’re likely to be conscious that in deciding to skip the gym, you’re failing yourself — but what about when you’re in the gym?
“About 99 percent of the people who start marathons in the United States finish them. That's an astoundingly high number considering the pain and turmoil that every marathon runner faces. What each runner has in common ... is that they hit a wall where their mental resources are exhausted. At this point, sheer physical will maintains their strength — and this is the will that everyone has, but we seldom know how to tap into it.”
Too often, we convince ourselves that we’re either too busy or too tired. We rarely push ourselves to the limit because we’d rather draw a line in the sand in front of us and stay comfortable.
Remember, you’re competing against who you were yesterday, not anyone else. You either choose to compete or not. A bad decision is a bad decision even if you’re the only one thats knows about it.
Do things for yourself. When no one else is watching, when no one else knows or cares, do it for yourself. Your mind can do amazing things, and it can sabotage you. You know when you’re at your weakest and most prone to excuses, so, as with anything else, you need to have a plan, an ace up your sleeve.
You need a hero
In his 2014 Oscar acceptance speech, Matthew McConaughey revealed more than a run-of-the mill list of influences and mentors, he gave an honest glimpse into the life of one of the most successful contemporary actors and, most importantly, an easy-to-remember blueprint for chasing dreams that can work for anyone.
Your hero could be you in ten years, five, or twenty. You need something to chase, something that occupies a grey zone between the real and fantastical. It has to be both real enough to actually merit being pursued (not some imaginary, big rock candy mountain), but also evolve and grow in a way that renders it ultimately unattainable.
If this sounds a lot like signing up to trick yourself, it’s because it is. Of course you’ll never meet yourself in ten years, just like you’ll never actually see tomorrow. You’ll never reach the top of this mountain, and that’s the point.
Another brick in the wall
A hero is a masked motivation, an intentional caricature, something that seems greater and above reality, larger than life — a strong inspiration that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
What’s worth keeping in mind is that so strong a symbol of motivation should not be called upon lightly. Imagine your future self as the foundation for your dreams, you can’t turn to it ten times a day — it cheapens the image and weakens the foundation. We already know what success is, and it’s not a snapshot. The snapshot can help you get yourself out of a slump, but it can’t be your daily bread. It just isn’t sustainable.
Take the construction of a skyscraper:
When building, you can’t turn to the blueprint before every single single brick you lay. Sure, the building looks great on paper, and, sure, you’re ‘just making sure’ it’s the right place to place that brick. But the building will never get built at that rate. A builder turns to the blueprint only when he needs it, and spends the rest of the day actually building the thing.
Call upon your future self only when you absolutely need it.
But what about day-to-day motivation? How do you go from one brick to another without losing your motivation, ambition, destiny? You change your perspective. Laying a brick is no longer a triviality or something you just want to get over with, it’s a small victory.
This is the logic behind this Navy Admiral’s advice to always make your bed every morning:
Small victories feel good, they serve as an affirmation of your efforts and your talents. They keep you going.
But small victories don’t arrive by themselves.
The moment you open your eyes in the morning, ask yourself what you want out of that day; just before you close them at night, go over your day and see what you did right and where you fell short. Keep yourself accountable about the little things, and you’ll start to notice that the little things become more exciting.
Your days make your years. Every zero day that goes by takes a chunk out of your potential, of that person you could be. Don’t be impatient, don’t underestimate the progress of a baby; don’t put the snapshot on a pedestal and make sure your hero is just out of reach but always in sight.
You’re not there, but you’re closer than you were yesterday. As you change, so do your goals, and that’s the point. Enjoy your victories when you can, but always stay hungry.