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Maintaining Success: Keeping Momentum Without Going Crazy

Maintaining Success: Keeping Momentum Without Going Crazy

goal

    Putting in some extra effort at work can pay off. You can get a promotion or a raise, or wind up on a choice project. The same goes with your personal finances — going the extra mile can help you pay off a debt early or save up for a purchase. You can push through to success in just about anything. But once you’ve achieved your goal, it can be hard to keep up that level of effort. If you’ve been staying late every night to finish a project, you don’t want your boss to start thinking that’s the level of effort you can commit to every project. If you cut way down on your expenses, you don’t want to live a spartan lifestyle forever.

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    Just the same, however, you’ve seen your work pay off. You don’t necessarily want to give up every perk that all that extra work got you. In order to find balance, you have to find a way to keep that momentum going, without driving yourself over the edge with all that effort.

    Looking for Balance

    Keeping up an extreme pace for weeks or even months can turn your extraordinary effort into something that you consider quite normal. That trap can make it hard to take a step back and decide whether you can really keep up this level of effort. However, it’s a necessary step: when you’ve accomplished your goal, considering the work that got you there is important. Of course, your work alone isn’t the cost of completing a project or reaching a goal. There are other costs, like the time you’ve been able to spend with your friends and family, your own comfort or even your health.

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    Life isn’t a balance sheet, but you can tell the difference between your lifestyle at a project’s beginning and at its end. Depending on the benefits, you may decide that keeping up your exertion is well worth it: maybe getting a raise means that you’re getting paid enough to make an increase in your workload well worth your while. But, then again, you might decide that you need to reintroduce yourself to a few things that have been missing in your life: if you stopped going out entirely in order to save up money, allowing yourself the occasional night out isn’t the end of the world — and it might do you a little good.

    If you can decide just what you’ve cut that you want back, you can tell just how much effort you are willing to put into keeping momentum on your goal. Think about the example of saving money by cutting entertainment expenses: you may be willing to continue to keep those expenses down, but with at least a little bit of a budget for fun with your friends. You won’t negate all that hard work of saving money — keeping up at least some of the momentum of your original goal and maintaining your success — but not depriving yourself of all entertainment.

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    Setting Up Balance

    Once you’ve got an idea of how far you’ll go to maintain your success, you can go about reintroducing balance to your life. You may need to inform a few people of your plan to do so, though. If you’ve been putting in 12-hour workdays, it’s probably a good idea to inform your boss of the fact that you won’t be doing that anymore. Many employers will revise their expectations upwards if you’ve gone the extra mile — it stops being extra and becomes required. You don’t want an employer to think you’re suddenly slacking off. But sitting down and talking out the matter can be all that it takes to step down to a more sustainable schedule.

    Depending on just what your goal was, you may find that other considerations must be made. Perhaps your friends or family members changed their schedules in deference to yours: changing that schedule back may be difficult. Being willing to compromise might come in handy if you are ready to cut back on your effort in other areas. Unfortunately, creating a bit more balance in your life may not be as simple as waving a magic wand, but it possible with a little consideration.

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    Key to creating balance is ensuring that you do follow through on any commitments you made upon achieving your goal. Maybe you set a secondary goal — something that provided a little continuation and helped you take advantage of the rush of meeting your initial ambition. Or maybe you have a new project set for you by someone else as a product of your prior effort. You may not be in a position to throw quite as much at your new goal as your last, but if it is important enough for you to follow through on, you’ll find yourself putting at least some effort into it. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as long as you’re able to maintain balance with other parts of your life in the long run. But you may need to set a few initial limits to ensure that any new projects won’t consume your every waking moment.

    With a little care, all that extra effort won’t become an every day expectation. If you’re willing to prioritize other parts of your life, you can build on your successes and keep some momentum without working yourself to the point of going crazy.

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    Last Updated on August 20, 2019

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard. Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

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    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

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    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

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    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

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    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

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    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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