Make the Commitment You're Afraid to Make
The cost of looking for new mountains
Hi friends, today’s essay is about how many of us are obsessed with trying new things, optimizing, and looking for ways to improve, and how it’s actually hurting us in the long run. If you’re new here, please subscribe to get my next piece in your inbox.
I started lifting weights in high school. After a few flirtations with different programs, I landed on Mark Rippetoe’s “Starting Strength,” where you focus on Squats, Deadlifts, Bench Press, Overhead Press, and Power Cleans.
I stuck with it for a year and then started looking for other programs. I think at the time I had some vague goal around squatting double my bodyweight and hitting a 225 bench. I wasn’t making progress as fast as I wanted, and I wanted something new to try.
So I dabbled with a bunch of different strength routines over the years and now, ten years later, I’m basically no stronger than I was when I stopped. I also never hit the bench goal.
I can point to other areas where I’ve seen a similar effect. I wasn’t making as much money as I wanted from blogging back in 2016, so I started offering marketing services, then I started an agency, then did my whole pivot into crypto and now I’m back on the writing grind and while I don’t regret those detours, I do have to wonder where this part of my career would be if I hadn’t taken them.
I suspect many people can point to similar question marks in their lives. What if you just stuck with that earlier decision: the job, the partner, the city, the hobby. Where would you be right now?
When you believe in improving your life, which is worth believing in up to a point, then you’re always wondering if you might be stuck on a local maxima that could be blown past if you simply hopped to a new mountain to climb.
And sometimes, that is the best course of action. But there’s a tough balance between two opposing motivations that can be equally valid depending on the situation.
Sometimes you desperately do need to change something. If you keep hammering at your failing business, you will drain your family’s finances and be left with nothing. If you don’t clean up your diet, you’re going to die a decade earlier than you need to. If you don’t get out of a bad relationship, you’ll never find a happy one.
Maybe more often, perhaps much more often, though, you’re just getting bored and looking for something new and fun. You’re addicted to “new,” and your neophilia is impeding the progress or satisfaction you could have if you just pushed through the boring period and kept going. Most of us have no idea how much better we can feel, but if we’re constantly looking for ways to feel better, then we’ll end up running in circles.
The uncomfortable truth is that you can never know if you’re on the right mountain. A certain amount of searching helps, but you eventually have to say, “this is the one and I’m gonna climb the shit out of it.”
So as a recovering neophiliac, or aspirationally recovering, how do you balance your desire to constantly shake the snowglobe and try new things with the recognition that doing so is harming your long term progress?
I think our best hope at taming our neophilia is to make the commitment we’re afraid to make.
Our inner neophiliac doesn’t want us to commit because they cut us off from new things we could play around with. But the deepest long-term satisfaction seems to come from focusing intently on something, someone, some place, rather than constantly jumping around to new ones.
I’ve been increasingly saying in conversations that I’m completely committing to making “author” work as my career. It’s a scary thing for me to say because I’m committing to cutting off the things that could distract me from that path. And I’ll be quite embarrassed if I fail. But I’m not interested in starting a business, or launching courses, or pursuing anything that will distract me from that now. I know those distractions, my neophilia, is how I would fail. And I think there are a certain subset of people out there, maybe you’re one of them, for whom the desire to start new things is actually their biggest weakness.
I suspect everyone reading this has at least one big commitment they need to make. Maybe it’s about your diet, or your work, or your relationship. There’s an easy way to figure it out:
Take something you feel like maybe you should fully commit to, cutting off your alternatives, and actually verbally commit to it while looking yourself in the eyes in the mirror. Repeat it a few times and see how you feel.
You'll know you're on to something if you feel a little shiver of both fear and excitement. Lean into it. It might just change your life.
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