Achieving greatness, like reaching the top of a mountain, is a great undertaking that requires discipline and practice on a solid foundation of safety and driven with a desire for growth. This blog post breaks down the complexity in overcoming challenges.
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.Lao Tzu
Choosing your mountain
Before you start climbing a mountain, you need to know first which mountain you want to climb. If you don’t think carefully about which mountain to climb, you might end up just going in circles, or trying to climb two or three different mountains (found in different locations)! This is why understanding yourself and picking out your goal is one of the most important first steps. If you’re not clear with what your goal is, how will you determine if you’re already there?
Reversal. Sometimes the opposite is okay, that is: it is okay to not know what you want as long as you perceive it as leisurely wandering.
To wander is to live freely, in awe and gratitude of the moment. To dawdle is to spread yourself thin and miss out on what was within reach.Mental Model: Wander, Don’t Dawdle
To wander is a luxury, a privilege, and it’s also a way to enjoy life. It needs a bit of freedom and contentment to be able to accept and be okay with not knowing where you are, while still enjoying the sights and taking in the fresh air.
When climbing a mountain, there’s a concept such as stamina. You can’t just sprint your way to the top of the mountain. Not only is that exhausting, but it is also very dangerous, especially in the riskier areas like cliffs.
What is your pace? People are different, so don’t expect yourself to run as fast as Usain Bolt, or to play basketball as well as Michael Jordan. You can achieve that and even go beyond their skills, but you need to know what you are currently capable of so that you can do things at your scale.
Reversal. There are many dangers when it comes to not following your own pace.
- If you go too fast, you can possibly exhaust or harm yourself, or worse, get yourself killed.
- If you compare yourself with others, you might accidentally build habits that either (a) beat yourself up for being too slow or (b) fool yourself into over-estimating yourself or (c) get distracted from reaching your mountain.
- If you go too slow, you might end up being too comfortable that you’ll end up camping at the foot of the mountain, never reaching the heights that you have long dreamed of. You might sacrifice your dream because of complacency, fear, or laziness.
Climbing mountains is a very difficult task. On every step that you take, how do you hear yourself talk to yourself? Do you hear encouragement or desperation? Do you hear:
“Wow, I was brave enough to take the step and I overcame it! Good job, Darren.”
or do you hear:
“You’re taking too long to accomplish this. Other people are way ahead of you and are more skilled at climbing! You’re an embarassment.”
Celebrate your small victories and be merciful and gentle with yourself. If it’s not obvious enough, this kind of language is not sustainable. Hearing it once is something that you might brush off as an outlier case. However, if this becomes a habit, it becomes extremely dangerous. Imagine having to hear that kind of talk every step of climbing the mountain!
Things don’t have to be overly enthusiastic (although doing so is a very powerful way of encouraging yourself) or overly positive. Affirming yourself when you succeed is important. Remember that there are appropriate levels of affirmation for the corresponding difficulty of the task that you accomplished (See: Mental Model – The Stairs).
Asking for help
You are not the first person to try climbing this mountain. Don’t feel like it is embarrassing to ask for help. Often times, people are more likely to help a humble and honest person rather than an arrogant, selfish, or conceited person.
In computer science, we google every single problem we encounter from build errors, to compile errors, to syntax errors (think about that: we even fail to speak correctly the languages we use!). What we rely on is the consistency of the error message that we receive (and that our ancestors, millions of millions of other developers, have also received years ago).
Think about that. We’re comfortable asking for help about problems on Google. It is okay to look like you don’t know what to do. You’re not an idiot. Be comfortable with not knowing, and rest in the fact that you know you are willing to learn and listen to the stories of other people who have already learned.
Learn to ask for help. Don’t think that other people are focusing on you. Focus on your growth instead. If they are focusing on your shortcomings, then you’ve clearly recognized that they have nothing better to do and that their behavior speaks more about them, than whatever it is they have to say about you.
This mental model focuses on the following concepts:
- Applying divide-and-conquer. This strategy allows you to break down complex tasks into smaller problems that are more manageable.
- Applying abstraction. This allows you to not think about the things that you’ll face or encounter later on and instead focus on what’s within scope: just the next two or five steps in front of you. This enables you to not think about problems you haven’t reached yet. You don’t have to think about how to walk through a river until you get to that point.
- Distinguishing small-term and long-term planning. Part of being able to climb the mountain requires you to know how to take the next step (small-term) and knowing which mountain you’re actually climbing (long-term). Not knowing both prevents you from climbing the mountain you’ve selected.
- Protecting your mindset. Beliefs are very powerful, and they can potentially harm you or uplift you. Deciding the effect is up to you.
- Knowing oneself, and one’s pace. Learn to play your game by your own rules, and not by those imposed by the world.
- Be gentle and merciful when you fail or have shortcomings. The journey to overcome the mountain is hard enough. Don’t carry rocks.
What’s your mountain? How is your journey? Do you see any other areas that this mental model can help you in understanding goals and breaking it down to accomplish them? Let’s talk about them below
Aside from writing up mental models, I plan to write specific use-cases for a mental model. For example, I might talk about how I completed my master’s degree and how I envision The Mountain assisting me in overcoming a very overwhelming goal.
Thanks for reading, and may you find the wisdom you’re looking for.
I’ve written a new blog post on the application of the mental model: The Mountain! I talk about my challenges in climbing Celeste, a platformer game, and how I wrestled with the ideas that I pointed out above.
I hope you enjoy it!