I’ve been reading books about meditation lately and saw a quote that intrigued me : « Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water ». This zen proverb transcribes the idea that when we reach one of our goals (in this example, enlightenment), we should not forget how we reached it and keep on living in the same way we did until now, by perpetuating the most simple and basic actions, in this case, chop wood and carry water.
Work ethic as a key to success
As an independent psychologist and coach, this quote particularly resonated in me because it perfectly translates my work ethic : no matter what the outcome is, I get up and pursue my effort by putting extra attention on the simple, nevertheless essential, tasks. Chop wood, carry water.
But we can also make a parallel between this quote and the celebrities world, be it singers, actors or even athletes. We don’t lack examples of people who knew glory and suddenly collapsed in money, drugs, alcohol etc.
For example, I lately watched the movie « Hands of Stone » which talks about the life of the panamanian boxer Roberto Durán, and this perfectly illustrated the philosophy of « chop wood, carry water ». As a kid, Roberto Durán had been put in jail for a minor felony and his coach « Plomo » went to take him out of jail and told him that he accepted to be his coach, while promising that he would put Durán back in jail if he went back on the wrong track. Years later, after having won several championships, Roberto Durán put on weight and begun falling to the joys of money, alcohol and women, shifting gently his focus out of his primary passion : boxing. Plomo, to put him back on track, went back with him in his childhood neighborhood and made him fight against prisoners, where he had been locked up himself. That made him win his last world championship.
Habit, the secret of perseverance
Many factors can explain this type of behaviors, but we can hypothesize that Durán went through difficult times because he stopped living as he always had (having a strict lifestyle and an intensive training), losing the focus on his passion and what brought him where he got. His version of « chop wood, carry water » corresponded to « before victory, practice, after victory, practice ».
A bulletproof determination is then necessary to keep on going in direction of your goals in the long term. « Easier said than done ! » you’ll tell me. Well, the easiest way to succeed is to transform your work ethic into a habit. In fact, a habit is defined as « the ability to accomplish with facility and without a particular effort of attention a certain kind of actions, acquired by frequent practice, exercise, experience ». In other words, the more our actions become habits, the less it is necessary to make an effort to perform them. Nice isn’t it ?
As Charles Duhigg explains in his book « The Power of Habit » (which I totally recommend you because it’s stunning !), in order to create a new habit, it has to be constituted by a cue, a routine and a reward. Here’s an example :
My goal is to learn Spanish before my travel in South America in 6 months.
- Cue : take the bus. Every time I take the bus to go to work, I revise my vocabulary.
- Routine : I revise 1 vocabulary page.
- Reward : I learn 10 new words per day and will be able to communicate with people during my trip.
From this model, you can adapt the cue, the routine and the reward according to your goals and create your own habits. In this way, working toward your dreams won’t be an exceptional and painful task, it will be a habit that will be part of your daily life and you’ll need always less effort to perform it. From there on, you’ll transform success into a habit and you won’t have to wait too long to harvest the fruits of your work.