Chipping Away

MYTH: Achievement occurs through some gigantic epiphany or an all-at-once breakthrough.

FACT: Most things worth accomplishing involve a persistent stream of small advances that, over time, lead to something transformational.

Michelangelo once said, “Every block of stone has a statue inside.  It is the task of the sculptor to discover it.”  His vision was brought to life by chipping away until his art materialized.

Many of us get discouraged when we can’t reach our goals at Internet speed.  We get frustrated with the slightest pothole or delay and are all so quick to stop trying.  Criticism, self-doubt, and blame envelop us like a rock star among groupies and it’s all too easy to throw in the towel.  The funny thing is, when you study the most successful people, they are not necessarily more talented or gifted.  The most common traits among the best-of-the-best are ruthless determination and unwavering persistence.

Creative breakthroughs follow this same pattern yet are often completely misunderstood.  Sure, there are moments of creative insight (the apple falling on Newton’s head giving him the idea for gravity), but the research shows that most creative breakthroughs actually come by chipping away at a problem.

The creative act isn’t some magical inspiration that arrives in the form of a lightning bolt.  Rather, it is frequently a series of experiments and techniques practiced over time with drumbeat-like consistency that allows inventors, artists, and musicians to crack the code. Even the light bulb – the very symbol of fresh ideas – was the result of over 1,000 attempts.

Want to get in great shape?  Starving yourself for three days while working out like a juiced-up bodybuilder won’t do the trick.  Chipping away at this goal, day in and day out, over a prolonged period will get you to the promise land.  Want to get a big promotion, launch a startup, become a world-class researcher, rebuild your community, create the ideal romantic relationship or achieve financial independence?  Quick bursts of energy are nice, but a consistent and methodical attack will likely yield the best results over time.  It may be less glamorous, but it is far more productive.

If you have a setback or an unproductive day or two, let it go instead of dwelling over it.  In these spots where most people become derailed, you can simply get back on the steady plan of chipping away.  Your life’s work will mirror your consistency, grit, and determination far more than some flash insight, quick sprint of hard work, or this-changes-everything moment.

You have the power to seize just about anything you want.  Start chipping away.