Habits of Failure

In How to Own Your Own Mind, Napoleon Hill records a statement from Andrew Carnegie that has been echoing in my thoughts since I heard it weeks ago.

Carnegie defined some of the habits of failure as:

  1. Fear
  2. Indecision
  3. Procrastination
  4. Indifference to Opportunity

The mere listing of those four habits struck some sort of nerve with me. I already know that success tends to come into my life to the degree I attack those habits.

Each of us is held back by some version or some combination of those 4 habits. Think of how much opportunity passes by us unused, and we don’t mourn this because we’re too burdened by selfish or slothful habits to value it rightly.

I’ve been trying to attack procrastination in myself more than ever. This looks like telling myself 20-30 times a day, “No bull.” There’s so much BS in my habits. So much slack I cut myself. So many reasons I can give for a thing not getting done. It’s all bull.

There are real limitations, but we can’t blame these for one second if we haven’t eradicated failure habits in ourselves.

Efficient or Lazy?

The difference between efficient and lazy is not always clear.

Do we order groceries online because it saves time or because we don’t feel like going to the store?

Do I research faster methods of doing things so I can do even more things, or is it because I don’t feel like working?

It’s more efficient to move boxes between the U-Haul truck and your house with a dolly, but it’s also easier. There’s nothing wrong with wanting easier. There is something wrong with the feeling that work is a bad thing.

I hide my laziness behind efficiency all the time. I’ll spend 120 seconds strategizing how to save one 60-second trip to the car.

Productive Distraction

Not everything that feels productive really is. 

For example, writing a system for how to handle a project better in the future while a current project sits unfinished. Or cleaning a drawer when you have a presentation to prepare.

This is the worst kind of procrastination because it’s where the illusion of productivity is strongest. If you surf YouTube aimlessly while there’s work to be done, you can feel the alarm sounding inside. There’s urgency. But if you start cleaning up your desktop and looking through old files, you can distract yourself thoroughly enough to not even notice.

These sorts of distractions are the daily bread of people who are going nowhere—employees trying to kill their time and punch the clock and leave the impression of being busy.  Some spend their whole careers like this.

If you’re a freelancer, well, it’s on you. These distractions hurt you primarily. The longer you take to get a thing done, the longer until you get paid, the less valuable the project is, the closer you are to giving up on self-employment altogether. The worst part is that your client suffers too as they wait for you to build that system.

I try to ask myself constantly, “Is this the most important thing right now, or am I hiding behind something that merely seems productive?”

Article: “People would rather be electrically shocked than left alone with their thoughts”

Here’s an article discussing a study conducted in 2014 at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. They left people alone with their thoughts for a period of time and gave them the option to inflict an electric shock on themselves.

The experiment showed that “even though all participants had previously stated that they would pay money to avoid being shocked with electricity, 67% of men and 25% of women chose to inflict it on themselves rather than just sit there quietly and think.”

I’m thinking those who shocked themselves did so out of curiosity or thrill more than out of dread of their own thoughts, but even so, the experiment holds. When faced with nothing to do, we’d rather potentially hurt ourselves. Why is silence so painful to our minds that we would rather have bodily pain to distract from it?

How deep is our addiction to distraction?