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April 12th, 2019
The coefficient of static friction is always higher than the coefficient of kinetic friction. Within the discipline of Newtonian physics, this is the technical way of saying something rather simple and widely known: getting started is harder than continuing.
A far more colloquial but equally accurate way of conveying this aspect of reality is captured by the phrase:
To Get the ball rolling.
For whatever odd reason, the same sticky phenomenon that physical objects at rest have, seems to apply to our mentality. The project lingers in hazy imagination, but we take no action.
And yet, when that deplorably rare and lovely event occurs when we do take the first step, the second step is forever glossed over by it’s brevity and metamorphosis into a third and forth step.
It’s that first step that is curiously elusive, like Pan’s shadow, forever flittering away, a prey to be chased, or ideally: systematically outsmarted.
That bold and commanding shoe slogan: Just Do It, may in fact be a bit counter-productive, if well-intentioned.
Just Do It, refers to the whole project, the entire dream, evoking some sort of birth, as though pulling an all-nighter can bring into existence large and complex designs. Biology, in this case lends a misleading narrative as to how things come into being. The nitty-gritty construction always occurs out of sight, in the belly of a mother or within the hard walls of a shell. A kid playing with legos or a beaver building a dam is a far more useful image when it comes to a story that can effectively aid our ability to convert dreams into actions.
Instead of one magnificent vomit of productivity, we can begin with something that is actually in line with our abilities: a small, tiny little action that merely pokes around the uncertain space where reality may be coaxed into the shape of our dreams.
From a more linguistic standpoint, the object in Nike’s slogan also presents some trouble. That ominous and vaguely specific word ‘it’ creates a far bigger problem than the size of the word might imply. What exactly is it?
The superficial answer is: the project, our design, our dream.
The trap of such language is that it implies a total concrete design, and while this is comforting to our general psychology, it rarely maps onto the world very well. Such a mindset takes no account of the feedback we receive as we take action. This absolute stance with regards to a plan, as opposed to a flexible iterative view of plans, raises the likelihood that we will ignore feedback, which in turn allows ramifications of such ignored feedback to pile up until reality reflects this ignored feedback so dramatically that it feels like a slap in the face, or a wake up call. In other words, our pursuit of Nike’s pervasive it is apt to help us behave like a buffalo running towards a cliff, unable to pivot away due to the claustrophobic nature of our own perspective.
The totality evoked by Just Do It also contributes to the sunk-cost fallacy, because we think in terms of getting all of it done. We may benefit more by adopting a mindset that is more akin to exploration – a mindset that is equipped not with an expectation of destination but with a question, namely: is this still a good direction? Because we lack such a detailed and definitive vision of the end goal, we are less attached and therefore able to pivot with more agility.
This is not to say that we should not have any vision for the future, but that our grasp of how exactly that vision is accomplished should be infinitely pliable. This requires shedding our vision of all discrete details in honor of its most fundamental nature – a concept which is simple and vague by default and detailed only as it emerges in reality through our own discrete actions.
We might think of the jaws of a lion which gingerly carries a cub and yet also has the power to crush in execution. We do best to remain gingerly attached to the image of our vision and dreams while being able to specifically crush small detailed actions.
Each action on the wandering road of progress is a new start as we receive new information about our efforts, and yet, the most difficult step is naturally the first.
This first initial step can become much easier if we grease our mentality by unburdening it with a need for a final detailed outcome, lightening the cognitive and emotional load, freeing up our movement to curiously wander in potentially productive directions.
We are ultimately hindered by a belief that we need to do it all.
Instead, we can