These days, it's so easy to get a lot of things instantaneously. We can get the latest news in seconds on your computer. We can reach our friends anywhere in the world as quickly as we can text them on our smartphones. You can order anything online and have it get to you in a day or two, even at no additional cost. Personally, I enjoy this convenience. But I also find it worrying in some regard because this immediate need can be addicting.
I notice it in many people as well. This addiction can manifest itself in multiple ways. You can find yourself getting annoyed if someone doesn't answer to your texts in what a quick manner. You might be upset if you want to buy something online and it takes over three days to arrive. Whenever you have a spare moment of downtime, you reach for your phone and find something - anything - to satisfy that need for entertainment now.
A more significant issue that this addiction to immediacy can cause is the need to want to build up a new skill or learn a new thing in the quickest way possible. It seems like everyone nowadays is looking for shortcuts for everything. If you search for terms like "time-savers" or "life hacks," you'll find tons of websites, books, and videos that promise to help you with any aspect of your life, including skill building.
By itself, finding tips to help isn't bad at all. If you can find ways to get to your desired outcome quicker, go for it. The issue is that more often than not, these tips are shortcuts that will eventually bypass essential steps in your learning process or skip parts that you need to know if you want to achieve any sense of mastery of your skill. It might help with less-important skills, but for bigger goals, it can give a false sense of accomplishment.
Let's take language learning, for example. On the Internet, there are a few prominent polyglots - people who can know and use multiple languages - who promise to get you quickly utilizing any dialect you want to study. As someone who is learning Japanese, I've been interested in reading what these people have to say. All their books and blog posts are attractive to someone like me.
However, I've been disappointed in their advice. The gist is to get yourself out there speaking to people, make mistakes, and learn from your mistakes. That's fine if your goal is only to talk and to a certain extent to have decent listening comprehension, but what about reading and writing? It also leaves a lot of unanswered questions like knowing whether someone is appropriately correcting your mistakes, or even finding people to talk to who are interested in helping you. I discovered that their "hacks" usually leave significant gaps in the language learning process.
After noticing and failing to gain any sense of accomplishment by trying some of these tricks, I've concluded this isn't the way to get to your desired destination. The best way to get there is to break away from the mindset of figuring out what's the easiest / cheapest / fastest / most efficient way to do something and instead do a little bit every day.
Be like a sculptor
Recently, I ran across the following video of an Italian sculptor who was inspired by artists of the past like Michelangelo and taught himself to sculpt and create beautiful works of art.
While he uses more modern tools like a Dremel and a vacuum, while I was watching the video I began thinking about the way the artists of the past sculpted - using a hammer and chisel. I'm not a student of the arts by any means, but I envisioned someone taking a massive slab of unpolished, shapeless stone and by just chipping away at it could turn it into a timeless sculpture.
For some reason, it made me think that when we want to build a new skill or learn something new, employing the technique of "chipping away" is the true path to getting better at what we want to achieve. By doing something little by little, we build our skill and don't skip steps along the way. It might take longer than employing a "hack," but the result will be much more complete than any shortcut can take you.
Imagine when Michelangelo came up with the idea to sculpt his famous statue of David. What if he got frustrated because it was taking too long to shape to his vision and he quit? With our short attention spans these days, that's the type of thing we're doing every single day. We want to do something, and when we realize the enormity of the work ahead, we'd sooner not even begin instead of finding ways to chip away at the task.
Going back to the language learning example from earlier, let's take my personal experience with the Japanese language. I wanted to learn as much as I can for my daily life living here, which includes being able to read. Reading in Japanese is not an easy thing to grasp - there are thousands of characters to learn, all of them having multiple ways to read. When I began studying Japanese, it almost made me give up. However, I started to chip away at this task. I would learn a few new characters each day, and it's added up to the point that I'm able to read or understand almost everything that I encounter on a daily basis.
The point I'm trying to make here is that by doing something each day, no matter how little, will add up. The sum of your efforts will be much greater than any shortcut can give you.
Small steps for your Practical Good
Are you wondering what you can do to chip away at your goals and achieve your dreams? Here are a few tips to get you started:
- Are you spending too much time looking for shortcuts? Often, we don't realize that we're spending massive amounts of time trying to find the quickest path somewhere. Sometimes you might be lucky that you see something that helps get you where you want faster. But more often than not, you probably could have done better skipping the shortcuts and getting into the work. Spend some time to think if this is the case for you.
- Figure out one step you can take every day and start chipping away. Taking one step every day adds up and will take you well on your way to achieving your dream. Take a few minutes to think about a task that is manageable to do consistently. If you're stuck deciding on something, remember to ask yourself what can you do.