Becoming a diligent person (part one)

How much of your work ethic is up to you?

Photo by olga.palma

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?

Two things:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Each time you resist procrastination, you become more diligent (Photo by Viktor Hertz)

What does this mean for you?

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Photo by Bart Hiddink

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.

What’s next?

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.

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13 thoughts on “Becoming a diligent person (part one)

  1. This is more of a general comment towards the entirety of your blog…

    anyway, I just wanted to say that, as a college student, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading your posts. I’m new to wordpress and am trying to start a blog about my experiences as a college student. Your blog has given me the bit of inspiration I needed, so thank you! 🙂

  2. I HATE this about myself. I had someone tell me, “if I had your mind, I’d be rich.” He went on to tell me that it’s not the fact that I comer up with ideas ask the time to make money. It is the quality of the ideas that I come up with that would make me so bankable. I disgust myself at the level of procrastination I exude when it comes to things that I know I should be doing. I psych myself up and give those pep talks and are all motivated to only have that fire fizzle out shortly there after. Smh I so want to do better. I’ll be 39 this year and am getting too old for this.

    To give you an example of what I’m talking about, I had an idea way back in ’97. I actually saw my idea as a “new” item by the manufacturer (Dr Scholls) last year! I absolutely wanted to cry. I knew then and there that something had to change…me. I have even considered getting psychological help for this.

    Anyway, thank you for being diligent and sharing this very useful information with the world. FYI, it is teaching us

    • Hi Tami,
      I’m glad that you enjoyed the post. It’s natural for motivation to ebb like you mentioned, and you shouldn’t be too hard on yourself for being only human. The most important thing is that you are motivated to improve. Good luck!

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