The world seems to be full of great advice. How To’s infest the internet like wasps to a garbage can outside the ice cream shop in summer time. Experts abound aspiring to offer guarantees of their approaches. With headlines captivating our cravings for life’s answers like The Secret to Happiness, The Secret to Life, The 5 Hacks of the Most Successful, 3 Steps to Nailing Your Mornings, it’s tough to not fall into these seemingly satisfying solutions.
If you browse what’s left of the magazine shelf next time you’re at the grocery store, take a look at several of the fitness magazines. There’s ones for just men, for just women, for both, for people participating in specific activities like cycling, running, or yoga. In any of these, there seems to be a different guaranteed approach to amazingness offered each month. This applies, too, to business tactics. Whether considering the Right Way to compensate sales staff, the Right Way to market, the Right number of markets to offer/support, etc.
Many of these headlines are intended to take advantage of our desire to improve ourselves. Our aspirations to achieve are applaudable. We should be encouraged to try to improve. Though it is great to try to get better, the thought that there may be a best, single approach keeps us on the perpetual prowl for an answer instead of acting.
A book that offers an antidote to the idea of “The Right Way” is Mason Currey’s Daily Rituals. It offers brief outlines of daily routines for a number of achievers across domains. From authors, artists, scientists, politicians, and other accomplished individuals, we see there is no single, right way. We see only that each individual has taken responsibility to figure out what works for them to get what they deem important done. Personal responsibility for crafting one’s own path forward is the commonality. The following two excerpts from the book illustrate completely contrary approaches(but both seemingly effective based on the outcomes of the individuals involved).
Science Fiction writer, Isaac Asimov, has written a tremendous amount over his years. His father owned several candy stores that kept long hours every day. The stores were open from 6am to 1am. Isaac, as a child, regularly worked at his father’s stores. He observed, “I must have liked the long hours…I have kept the candy store hours all my life. I wake at five in the morning. I get to work as early as I can. I work as long as I can. I do this every day of the week, including holidays. I don’t take vacations voluntarily and I try to do my work even when I’m on vacation. (And even when I’m in the hospital.) In other words, I am still and forever in the candy store.”
Asimov’s discipline and long hours of commitment can be contrasted, for example, with writer David Foster Wallace’s approach, Wallace noted in a radio interview, “Things are either going well or they’re not going well…I’m working on something now and I just can’t seem to get it. I flounder and I flounder. And when I’m floundering I don’t want to work, so I invent draconian ‘All right, this morning I’ll work from 07:30 to 08:45 with one five minute break…And after five or ten or a dozen or, you know, as with some books, with fifty tries, all of a sudden it will just, it will start to go.”
Some folk benefit from doing the same thing at the same time in the same place each day. Some do their work best first thing in the morning while others only get going when the rest of us are putting our heads down for the night. We may take comfort in reading about some folk who seem to struggle to get traction in their routines and are pulled easily by any temptation that comes their way.
If we’re looking for the answer, a single approach, books like Daily Rituals will either help us understand that there’s no single way to do things or leave us increasingly frustrated and less prone to action. We may be further away from our answer than before. Still seeking what’s the right way to do X? How do I get better at Y? What’s the best morning routine? What’s the best workout? What’s the best diet? And on and on and on.
The answer in all of these cases is the same. The right way to do anything is the way that you’ll actually commit to doing, day in and day out. Whatever approach will allow you to commit and regularly partake in constructive action towards your intended outcome is the way forward. There’s no “Best Way”, “Secret Method”, or “Single Path”. There’s only “Your Way”. Only you can both determine and implement the proper approach for you. No one has a magic answer that will do the work for you.
Taking the initiative to look for an answer is a great first step. At the heart of wisdom is learning the hard won lessons others have fought for in the past. If we can take something from what we learn from others and adopt into a reliable routine for ourselves, that’s great. However, the more we look for the single answer, the less likely we are to do anything constructive. We get caught in the wormhole of wondering. Could there be a better way? Is this way the answer? If we believe there is a single best way to do something, we’re more likely to give up and abandon any start as simply not being the correct way. Whatever step forward we take will inevitably result in a frustration of some kind. If we believe there’s only one way of doing things, we easily push away from what we’ve started renewing our search for the right way. Struggle is not welcomed, but ran from. We don’t lean into and commit deeper to our chosen path, we change course and continue to look for something else to try.
As the trite trope “there’s more than one way to skin a cat” offers, there’s no single solution to a situation. We can couple this with the platitude: Nothing Works Until You Do. Instead of asking “what is the right way?”, let’s try asking “what is it that I can do, that I would do, that will help me move towards my desired outcome?” Alternately, instead of asking “Will this work for me?”, ask “Will I work for it?”
“You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.”
― Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche