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Readings: 7 Jan 2019

Chris Bowler reflects on the relative importance of his habits versus projects:

But truthfully, it doesn’t really matter if I never complete this project.

On the other hand, doing an exercise 5 days per week to strengthen my core makes a big difference to my life. So too with running four times per week (and the first habit makes the second more doable). Helping my son with his reading makes a huge difference in his life. So too with speaking positive words to my kids every day. And journaling makes life less stressful now and brings a lot of joy in the years to come.

When we frame projects in terms of the outcome we think they’ll deliver, it’s easy to hype up their importance. But I believe that happens at least in part due to a failure to inmagine the range of possible outcomes from the project. We wouldn’t start projects if we didn’t have an idea about what wild success looks like, but I think we shouldn’t start them without an understanding of the more probable mediocre outcomes.

“Shoot for the moon and you’ll land among the stars”, you could say to me. But what does landing among the stars look like? Drifting through the void without food, water, or fuel. No one actually achieves great things by sheer force of vision. Actual accomplishment comes from getting your hands dirty in a feedback loop with reality. As Nate Soares says about just diving in:

The way to end up with a good plan is not to start with a good plan, it’s to start with some plan, and then slam that plan against reality until reality hands you a better plan.

Our habits tend to be less exciting than our projects because we know at the start that they will be an ongoing slog before they yield any results. But a successful project will have to, at some level get translated into a habit of showing up for a daily grind, with some space for course correction.

Chris’s point is about the relative priority of projects and habits. I agree with him that my habits (if well chosen) ought to come first, because they make up the concrete substance of survival and being a decent person, but I also remained attached to my projects and my larger ambitions. I’m just reminding myself to be in love with the grind and not the fantasy best-case-scenario at the end of the project. I’ll keep showing up and hopefully build something useful along the way.