We all know the feeling. It’s the night before an event, or worse, the morning of, and as you scroll through your mental preparations, you have two desires. One is to kick yourself for having said yes. The other is to rewind the clock and not agreed to whatever event is looming on the horizon. Why did you tell your boss you would attend that seminar? Why did you agree to brunch with that friend from high school you haven’t kept up with? Why did you tell your coworker that you would help her with that project?
When a commitment is far enough away, still nebulous and vague, there is no pain or discomfort associated with agreeing to it. In the heat of a moment we often agree to things without thought. We make commitments without regards to the repercussions. The next step in the process? Complain to our loved ones that we wish we’d never said, “Yes.” And one of the more masochistic parts of this phenomenon? We do it over and over again.
Esther Dyson, however, is a Swiss-born American journalist also known as a businesswoman, investor, and philanthropist, who has figured out a way to guard herself against this weakness. In a wonderful piece of advice you can make your own, she advises you to ask one simple question when something comes along that will eventually take your time or effort, but requires a decision today:
“Would I say yes if it were on Tuesday?”
This metaphorical Tuesday could be any day of the week, but what Esther is essentially doing is taking that event and putting it front and center. What changes to your schedule would you have to make if your commitment were coming due this Tuesday? What inconveniences would arise? Is this something you truly want to do or are you going to say yes because it is easier? It is only easier because the pain is so far away! Pull that discomfort into the here and now, and you will save yourself that Monday night regret when your next future Tuesday comes calling.
We all know that person or have that friend (or if we are being honest, it is ourselves…) that is impatiently waiting for something that is years away. It is often a promotion we want to earn, a skill we want to master, or a job we want to have. We talk about it constantly, dream about it on a nightly basis, and oftentimes pin our very happiness to it. We don’t allow ourselves to be content, because this thing, this change in our life, is the key to the rest of our lives. Or so we think.
But that is not necessarily the point I want to make here. Let’s go in a different direction. What is striking, and often blind to us and our friends and family that, is that this impatience is not wrong, but just grossly misplaced. Patience is a virtue, but only in the right context. While we pine away for mastery of a skill, appointment to a job, or a lifestyle above and beyond our current means, we are extraordinarily patient with the activities that will get us there.
Gary Vaynerchuk makes a great point in a recent video when he says that we need to “Stop being patient with the micro and impatient with the macro. Impatient about milestones you want to hit years from now but wasting time watching TV.” The macro is that lifestyle you want, whether it is a larger house or nicer apartment with a fancy car, or an early retirement cruising the Caribbean. That’s the big picture. That’s the macro. It is likely far away. However, the micro, what you are doing today to get yourself there, the steps you are taking in that direction, is the micro. What work have you put towards learning the language you always wish you knew? What work have you put towards learning the guitar? To saving enough money to go to Europe? To learning that skill that will get you promoted? Or offered a new job somewhere else? Oh you bought a seventh jacket to add to your closet but don’t have enough money to go to Bali? You don’t have the body you want because you go to happy hour every day after work instead of the gym? You didn’t get promoted, but you’re caught up on every season of Survivor? My sympathies.
Too many people need to flip their behaviors. Be patient with the macro. Those are significant life changes. However, to make those things happen, get more impatient, much more impatient, with the micro.