Properly Considering the Future: Your Secret Superpower

I find myself prone to “paralysis by analysis,” the strange disorder where you have too much choice, too much opportunity. This is mostly a problem when you have a few big projects in front of you, and you’re having difficulty making yourself get started because… how the hell do I? My psychologist says that I see the big picture to a fault, and that it would be far more advantageous to see the first step, then to see the next step, etc. “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!” I’ve never quite found this satisfying.

Mind the tusks.
Photo credit: Stuart Bassil, via flickr

How do you eat an elephant? Bites don’t even come into it. No, no, no, it will be an arduous process of slaughter, butchery, cooking, curing, and stewing before you even get started. Sure, bites will be involved, but it’s hard not to consider that the eating itself will span thousands of meals over the course of months, and that’s if you make a pig of yourself. This metaphor is starting to upset me, so I’ll get to my point.

We see the huge projects, but we consider only our short-term capabilities. “I need to learn this new software, but I can barely cut and paste!” “I want to remodel this house, but I’ve never touched a hammer.” “I want to lose weight/gain muscle/run a marathon, but…” You get the picture. We have a grand design in mind, and then compare it to our present, short-term capacity. It’s demoralizing, and it’s self-defeating. We need to consider our abilities over a relevant span of time.

Consider yourself over the next few months. You will likely accomplish many goals, read lots of interesting stuff, put out a lot of metaphorical fires, and advance your interests in a variety of ways. If you set your mind to a project, as you have in the past, you’ll be able to make a lot of progress, and probably surprise yourself along the way.

Time as Power

Now, take it a step further. Compress your ability to get stuff done over the next few months into an instant, and consider what you’re capable of. Think of the thousands of hours of thinking time you’ll have available, and the enormous amount of work that you’ll be able to do.

With months at your disposal, you’re a creative/destructive/consuming/excreting machine, capable of miracles. If you could compress 100 days into a moment, you could build a house in the blink of an eye, or tear down hundreds; you could think a novel into being (or 3 if you’re Stephen King), or read hundreds; you could be stronger, run faster, and stand taller in an instant. Your powers would be truly amazing.

This is the being that I want you to consider when you’re balking at a large project, or a change in jobs, or going back to college. This superhero, this magnificent animal, is capable of anything.

Use this idea to remind yourself of your power, and to get motivated. Realistically, you’ll want to unpack both constructs: Consider that your superpowers require months to work, and that the project itself starts with a single step. In fact, for this superpower to work, you need to begin as soon as possible.

For starters, you’re probably going to want to subdue that elephant.

5 thoughts on “Properly Considering the Future: Your Secret Superpower

  1. OK, I definitely enjoy reading your stuff partially because in a lot of ways we think alike. Always happy to meet more overthinkers!

    I will take this suggestion, sir. Try and mould my daydreams into goals. It’s a new angle to consider; the opposite and compliment to “break big jobs into manageable chunks”. I like it.

    1. You are a mirror into my very heart, young Hrovitnir, whom I know nothing about! I agree, I feel like this is the part missing from the “one step at a time” mantra. Steps are cool, and necessary… but it’s nice to shift your perspective to the momentum that you’ll pick up as you go along.

  2. You pretty much covered all the bases here, Ian. I would only add one small thing. The goal itself is priority number one but, don’t forget to try and enjoy the journey. While I don’t recommend focusing on the arduousness of the steps involved in accomplishing goals, take time to appreciate the work you are putting in and what is going on around you. Value the painless times AS WELL AS the strifeful ones. No, this is not easy. But, laughing at yourself because you ate that tuna salad (which should not have been sitting on the counter for two days) and are forced to spend countless hours in your bathroom is better than yelling harsh words at yourself for doing so. Don’t worry. It doesn’t necessarily mean you will be a poor chef. Just…exercise caution next time.

    This shit isn’t going to happen right away, or by itself. You might as well soak in some sunshine along the way.

    P.S. * plays a slow, sad song for the elephant *

    1. I like this, Michelle, thank you. That seems to be something lost in most of the motivation literature: Don’t try to warp forward in time. Even if you won’t be truly satisfied until you’ve gotten this project done, what pleasure can you wring out of today? Even if you expect tomorrow to suck, what marrow can you suck out of life’s bones? There is no time but now, no moment other than this one.

      Thank you for the perspective!

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