I realized something while writing the other day. I was working on an article, and only a couple paragraphs into it, I reached “the moment” — an exciting point when I was able to fully conceptualize what I want to say, from specific arguments to the entire theme of what I was writing. It was like the whole piece flashes in front of me – I can see it, almost feel it.
I experience this a lot with writing. I get an idea for an article, and when I sit down to put my thoughts on paper, I start – albeit sometimes slowly – to get into a flow of sorts. A couple paragraphs into that flow is when “the moment” usually arrives. Suddenly what was once a fuzzy idea is now a fully formed article – complete with all my thoughts eloquently expressed – flashing through my mind.
You know this moment. It’s not unique to writing. It can happen in any aspect of life – we have an idea (or a goal or a dream), and if we entertain it enough, we can imagine exactly how it could come to fruition. It’s an incredible moment, like a glimpse into a future we now know is possible.
But it has a caveat.
For not long after that moment comes its counter moment. In writing, it’s the moment when I can see – again, almost feel – the struggle I will go through to sort through my thoughts and make sense of them onto paper. To choose all my words and structure all my sentences to make those imagined eloquent expressions real. I know I can do it, but suddenly I’m acutely aware of how hard it will be. How uncomfortable it will be. And a little voice inside me starts saying, “just come back to it.”
Recently, I was listening to a podcast that talked about Newton’s Third Law of Motion. For those who need the reminder I did, Newton’s third law states that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
So it makes sense. “The moment,” while it only takes place in our minds, is still a significant action – a mental leap from vague idea to feasible future. It’s only natural that it have a counter moment, an equal and opposite realization of how hard it will be to get from our present to our desired future.
One glimpse of the work and the frustration we’ll go through to bring our idea into the world is enough to make us not want to do it. To put it aside for another day. To save it for later.
But saving things for later is dangerous territory for an idea. We may think a lot in the future, but we live in the present. And ultimately, our present self wants to live the easy life. The present self doesn’t want to push through all the struggles and frustrations to make dreams a reality. No, the present self wants to pawn that off on the future self. There’s just one major flaw in delegating things to our future self – we never actually live as that self. When the future moment we tasked with our idea arrives in the present and it’s time to move forward, all those same fears and struggles are still there. And once again, our present self has to decide to push through or punt (again) to the elusive future self.
We tend to put things off until later, but too often later never comes. Or when it does, the energy behind the original idea is gone. Having been defeated by its counterpart, “the moment” can get lost.
So how do we persuade our present selves to push through and not punt?
Perhaps the answer lies in another one of Newton’s Laws – an object in motion stays in motion. Maybe it is just a matter of realizing we are already moving towards what we want. Having the idea, entertaining the idea, and seeing the idea as reality has already set its future in motion. We just have to stay out of our own way.
Because it’s not so much about struggling and pushing through the entirety of the counter moment but rather understanding that progress is always only made one step at a time. Our present self is free to punt almost everything about an idea to our future self… almost everything. All but one step. That’s the only thing the present self ever has to manage: taking one small step.
Our thoughts will always venture off into the future, which seems far away and full of resistance. But our lives are always lived in the present, where we can only ever take the next step.
And where the only resistance is choosing not to.