In the movie Gattaca, Vincent Freeman is an “in-valid,” a genetically inferior individual in a society where “valids” are designed to have only the best genes of their parents. Handicapped by myopia and heart problems, Vincent must compete with valids for his dream job of being an astronaut, which requires exceptional intelligence, physical fitness, and (for some reason) typing skills. How does he do this? He studies for long hours at night after his day job. He does pull-ups using his dense astronomy textbooks as weights. He practices typing on a cardboard box. As a result, Vincent is able to at least blend in with his genetically superior peers through sheer effort. (Will he surpass them? Don’t ask me—watch the movie.)
The Diligent Individual
This is a familiar story, but it is valuable to look at it more closely. What exactly distinguishes Vincent from other in-valids? On a functional level, he succeeds in consistently putting in extra focused hours. What, then, allows him to do that?
- He is highly motivated to achieve his goal. Vincent doesn’t kind of want to be an astronaut. He lives to be an astronaut. His entire being is devoted to that singular goal.
- He chooses moment-to-moment actions that work towards his goal. Every night, Vincent has a choice: relaxation or self-improvement. Guess which one he picks.
The difference between Vincent and the average person is that Vincent chooses to work where the average person chooses to procrastinate. This is the only functional difference. Being diligent is only a matter of usually choosing to follow your goals, nothing more. Over time, this will separate the diligent from the ordinary.
What does this mean for you?
- The strength of your long-term desires has a huge impact on how consistently you will follow through on them. Don’t overlook this simple fact! I find it helpful to constantly remind myself of how much I want to achieve a particular goal and how it will positively affect my future.
- You have the choice, in every moment of your free time, to be a Vincent. It’s as simple as that. Every time you decide to go on Facebook instead of working, you bring down your average, taking a step towards mediocrity, whereas every time you decide to put in an extra effort, you move towards diligence. What’s more, since humans naturally form habits, each action you take will bias yourself to act similarly in the future.
But wait, isn’t downtime important? Don’t people function better with breaks? And isn’t life about more than just work?
Yes, yes, and yes. These are all valid claims. But if you’re like me, you probably waste a lot more time than you need to, time which you later wish you had spent otherwise. That is the kind of inefficiency that I want to eliminate here.
Obviously, there is no fail-safe method to becoming diligent. But by keeping in mind that every choice you make matters, you will more often act in accordance with your long-term desires. That is, you will act such that later on you don’t regret how you spent your time. And that is the essence of reflective happiness.
Check out part two of this post, which goes into why, if diligence has such a simple recipe, most people have a difficult time achieving it, and how to overcome the common obstacles to becoming diligent. As always, comments are welcome below.