Zero Is Greater Than One?


How many times have you thought and sought to make some sort of effort to improve your life in some area? You have pondered the steps you’ll have to take, the effort that is required, and how long the endeavor will take, but at the end of this strategizing phase, when the only thing that you need to do is execute, you just don’t. Or, when a fleeting thought pops into your head to do something that would, again, make your life better in some way, wether it be to workout or to clean or to give that homeless person a dollar or to bang out that paper that you’ve been sitting on for weeks or to work on that proposal you need to finish for your budding enterprise or to send that risky text to your crush stating (maybe not all, but some of) your affections and feelings to that person or anything else that would be beneficial, why do we stop? Why are our hearts and minds filled with so much energy, enthusiasm, and wonder when thinking about doing these things and improving our lives almost exclusively when they are just in our minds? Why do the shackles of reality bring us to a screeching halt every time?

It is the thought of the end. It is the moment when our minds realize how much closer that one action gets us to our destination. We calculate to see how much time and energy this one little action or step is actually going to take and how far it will catapult us into our destiny. More often than not though, the action will produce less effortless gliding, and more friction inducing, screech producing, overburdened and uphill sliding. When we think to do a good thing in our lives, we think about how close this action is going to get us there. If it isn’t halfway to the goal (or somewhere close to that) then, most of the times, we don’t go through with it. This is the fundamental problem in getting something accomplished, finished, or completed – we don’t see the value in one step.

Really, we have heard this question 10 billion times but regardless I am humbled to be your 10 billionth and first time. Why do we procrastinate? It isn’t because we are truly lazy and don’t want to get the thing done. It isn’t because we love completing the whole project only 18 hours before it is due, when you had six months to complete it. It also isn’t because we love the free time it gives us leading up to the due date in which we can do whatever we please even though there is a deadline in the shape of a guillotine hanging above our heads every second we are not working on it. It not because we are  horrible, unmotivated, lethargic, dispassionate sloths either. It is solely because we have not been trained to see the value in getting one step closer. It is easy to see the value in completing the whole thing in one sitting…its finished afterwards! When we procrastinate and wait until the last minute to do something, unfortunately, it is highly rewarding and valuable because the whole thing is done in one step, and you can rest easy after 48 hours of continuous focus, energy, and work. But the same cannot be said for the consistent and measured but relatively small step. Our minds are not naturally configured to see how valuable one step is. We so easily think that day after day, in the context of a project, 0 is greater than 1 when you have to reach a thousand. Instead of doing one for a thousand days, we’d rather do 1000 in one day. So what we have to do is consciously shift our perspective to recognize how much more valuable a consistent and constant one step is than the whole lump sum.

We view progress relatively and not absolutely. That is to say we compare it against the sum of all work that needs to be done, instead of comparing it to nothing and seeing that the work has actual value because it is better than nothing. Put it this way, go to a local business in your city’s downtown and ask the CEO if he would like $100. Most likely, he is going to look at you with an extremely puzzled and almost offended look, politely or rudely decline, and be on his way. Why is that? It is because he ran that number up against the sum that he has and relatively thought of it as small in comparison to what he has in the bank. Consequently, if you ask a homeless person if he wants $100 dollars, that person will look at you as if God himself parted the skies and sent down an angel to deliver this gift and graciously accept this sum as the large amount it truly is. Why is the homeless person’s reaction different? It is because he also ran it up against his total sum and because the sum of zero causes you to have to think in absolute terms, he saw its value as $100 and accepted it. In trying to complete whatever project, assignment, or work that comes up in your life, you must think on absolute terms and see the value of one step. That is to say, take away the scale and the comparison. Don’t compare the progress you made and with how far you have to go. Just take that step and run it against nothing, and trust that if repeated enough times, it will be completed.

I know it is my default example, but let’s go here one more time. When trying to lose weight, we often dream and plan of running a mile or two every day or a few times a week in order to start making some progress towards our goal. But what normally happens? We don’t have the energy nor the desire to run that mile or two, so we do nothing at all. 0. But, what if we ran half a mile?  Well that is preposterous isn’t it, running half a mile a day won’t do anything! That is what we so often tell ourselves, but isn’t 0.5 greater than 0 and won’t getting 0.5 units further every day be better than not going anywhere? It requires half the energy, isn’t nearly as daunting a task as the full mile and who knows, maybe when we are on the treadmill and our juices are flowing, maybe we will run the entire mile. Wouldn’t even running one lap a day be better and get us closer to our dream weight than not doing anything would? It is essential to remember this principle, stop looking at how far you have to go and start looking at and executing what you can do, whatever it is and however small it may be.

We don’t see the value in writing one page a day, or maybe even one paragraph a day for a 90 page dissertation, because it doesn’t get us close enough to the end goal to use up the x amount of energy it takes to perform the step. This may or may not be an accurate statement, but one thing is for certain, it will undoubtedly get you closer than writing zero pages would. And in the end, having only 20 pages to write the day before the deadline is better than the full 90. So the next time you are posed with some task, shift your focus and place your value on the consistent stride and not the hulk-ish leap. If you are fighting to end world hunger, never lose sight of the importance and value that is derived from feeding one person. Ultimately, your goal is that much closer because of it.

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

“Small progress is still progress” – Unknown

Thank you so very much for reading, and I hope this provided you with a little more insight into getting things done in your life. If the helped at all, please share it with a friend! If you have comments, questions, or rebuffs don;’t hesitate to leave a remark and we can open up a discussion. Thank you again for your time, and love you all. And don’t forget to think, love, and serve.

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