The Enlightened Caveman


Achievement – Three Kinds of People
October 10, 2004, 3:43 pm
Filed under: Culture and Society, Enlightened Living

When it comes to getting what we want out of life, there are three kinds of people. There are those who know what they need to do, and they do it. There are also those who know what they need to do, but for whatever reason, they can’t muster the discipline to do it. And then there are those who are too ignorant to know what to do. I would argue that the second group constitutes the lion’s share of people.

It is easy to imagine ourselves enjoying the achievement of our brightest aspirations. This is the stuff of daydreams. What we do with our daydreams is what makes all the difference. Some folks inherently feel that their dreams are achievable. If they are the type to take responsibility for their future, they expand the scope of their musings to include a consideration of the actions required to get where they want to go. They decide if their dreams are worth it and act accordingly. It is no surprise that these are the achievers.

Those who do not achieve their daydreams either cannot conceive of the actions required of them, or they cannot overcome the inertia associated with keeping things as they are. Indeed, non-achievement is most often an inertia problem, and it is also habit forming. The more time that transpires between the realization of goals through disciplined effort, the harder it is to accomplish anything. Some people, many people, go years without setting a goal and working on it until they achieve it. I suspect these patterns are installed early in life.

As a new father, I spend a lot of time observing parents in public with their children. I see lots of very nurturing parents, some too much so. But I also see parents who treat their children as if they are nuisances. It is hard to imagine these people propping their young children up and encouraging them to try to new things. It’s hard to imagine them teaching their kids how to project themselves into the future and figure out how to get what they want. Pushing their children would only add more trouble to the already annoying situation, would it not? So maybe these are the kids who take life as it comes. Maybe in doing so, they eliminate the need for proactivity entirely. They can simply react to the pressures of life as they come. As students, they can do just enough to get by, with their focus exclusively on overcoming immediate hurdles, without any consideration for the merits of getting over them. When they graduate, they get jobs because they need money today. Sadly, without the fresh experience of accomplishment, their daydreams stay just that, dreams. But this is not necessarily a bad news story.

Just as with any skill that must be learned, it is best to start small and work upwards. Those who find themselves in a pattern of non-achievement truly can turn things around. People do it all the time. They need only choose some small, easily achievable goals, and commit to achieving them. For example, one who has, for too long, led a sedentary existence can decide to do 30 push-ups a day for 30 days. This will require that person to work up to doing 30 push-ups and then have the discipline to do them every day for the following month. We’re talking about less than 60 seconds of time every day. It’s simple and the rewards are immense.

The obvious benefit is the good feeling that comes from feeling strong. But the more powerful benefit is the sense of accomplishment that comes from setting a goal and achieving it. It takes work on a daily basis. It takes the willingness to overcome the inertia of daily life, and it feels really good. This too is habit forming. Immediately apparent is the idea that all that stands between today and the realization of one’s daydreams is the execution of specific, knowable actions. However, given these folks’ history of non-achievement, it must be expected that the path will consist mostly of baby steps. But, hey, it’s worth it.

I call attention to these vast generalities not to denigrate anyone, but to lay out a fix for what I see as a very fixable but pervasive problem. To identify the problem is an act of assessment, not judgement. There’s a big difference. To assess is to lay the issue on the table objectively. To judge is to attach negative or positive value upon particular character traits. The latter is a mistake, if for no other reason than the unreliability of incomplete information.

If we had access to a person’s entire history and a view into all of his or her experiences, we might be in a position to offer credible value-based criticisms of that person and how he or she lives life. But we do not. Every person is different, and what we see is never more than half the story. Basically, we don’t have enough information to draw meaningful conclusions about individuals. Therefore, the only one who can judge a person is that person, and if that individual is smart, he or she will use as many objective assessments as possible to get it done right. Maybe this one will help.

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