Most Kenyans think that 2013 was a really bad year. There were tragedies never before imagined, tax increments pushed the cost of living through the roof, and the government seemed hell-bent on passing all kinds of legislations which did not augur well for the common citizen. The light at the end of the tunnel is that 2013 is bowing out and we are ushering in a New Year tonight. New Years bring with them new opportunities, perspectives, motivation and hope. Hope is the first and perhaps the most important gift which 2014 gave to all of us. On January 1st, everyone dares to hope for better days, more success, and a generally happier life in the year. Nothing can deny anyone that hope on the first day of the year. Sadly, that hope doesn’t last for long for all of us. Before the end of the week, things will happen which will make the faint hearted to give up on trying to make the New Year the best year of their life yet.
There are many things which have the potential to kill anyone’s hope. The first is the realization that after the euphoria of starting the New Year, many of us still have to wake up to the same old things. You will have to report to the same job that has been suffocating you for years. Others will have to attend lectures for the same boring course they are studying. Someone will have to put up with a relationship in which their heart is no longer in. In short, so many things will remain the way they’ve always been and at some point we shall have to admit that days are all the same. That is when the truth sinks in. Then we are able to accept that there are sacrifices to be made if we want to change anything in our lives. It occurs to us that we will be required to make some hard choices and even harder decisions to act. These choices boil down to one thing: whether to indulge in the pleasure of immediate gratification or to sacrifice that in pursuit of the fulfillment of achieving worthwhile goals and dreams. What a choice!
Given enough time, humans have proved to have a great capacity to solve complicated problems. No matter how complex the problematic issue, humans will find a way to either fully resolve it or work around it. Over countless centuries, we have found a way to work around making this difficult choice. One way we do this is by alternating periodically between attaining pleasure and pursuing our meaningful goals. Our social and economic structures recognize our human need to achieve both, and, as a result, ways of working around the choice have been incorporated in our organizational systems. So, for example, a person will labour for eleven months in a year then take a month long leave or vacation. During the school season, students are required to exert themselves in the pursuit of academic success but they are given holidays to relax, enjoy themselves and chase the other interests which have taken their hearts. Essentially, a diligent student would fully apply himself to his studies during school time and have total, unadulterated fun on holidays. A committed worker would be fully and dedicatedly focused on his work until the day he is given a leave. But fun and pleasure are a fundamental part of our existence, without them most of us cannot be sufficiently motivated to live let alone be productive in anything. This is the reason why you shouldn’t choose between having fun and pursuing your goals.
The wise sages of the ancient past put it like this: All work and no play make Jack a dull boy. The plans which backfire in the worst ways possible are those which involve concentrating on work, studies or duties and neglecting to pause and enjoy life. Most people believe that to be really successful, one has to sacrifice immediate enjoyment. They are both right and wrong. They are right in the sense that indulging in every one of our desires is undoubtedly bound to lead us into disaster. However, ignoring every one of our immediate desires is bound to lead us into a worse kind of disaster. It is nearly impossible to continuously work towards long term goals if there are no tangible short term rewards. This is one of the reasons most people cannot stick with exercise routines at the beginning. If one was to run five miles on their first day of working out, the only thing they would take home would be sore muscles and a sweaty body. There would be practically no visible improvements in their body from the work out. But does that mean that the workout was useless? Of course not; if similar workouts are compounded over time, there will be apparent results both in improved fitness and a better physique. But we all know that after the first two or three workouts most of us are ready to quit, concluding that they are not becoming any better from working out. That is how it is with most things we try to achieve in life. When we do not see any significant minor achievement after some time, most of us go ahead and quit.
There are ways to stay motivated enough so that you can keep working towards that major goal even when you feel like you are not making any progress. The trick is to have fun while you are pursuing your important goal. This is a key element. It gives you the willpower and motivation to keep chasing after your dreams and to try again if you fail. How does it work? Let us use the exercise routine as an example again. There are two things one can do to stay motivated to keep working out. One way is for you to choose to give yourself some small reward every time you manage to finish a complete workout. If the reward is good enough, you will get to a point where you simply work out to get the reward. Another way is to learn to enjoy the workout. Let go of all worries and concerns, feel the wind blowing against your face, listen to the rhythm of your heart beating, tune in to the wonder and magic of being alive. Stop thinking of losing weight or being more physically fit, just enjoy the moment, the fact that you are alive and able to run or lift weights, to breath, to feel, etc. Enjoy even the fact that you have any weight to lose. In short, find a way to be happy and have fun while doing what you need to do. This is what I do when I want to do something important. If I want to read for my final exams, I will not pay attention to the whole course content at the beginning. Instead, I enjoy learning and understanding the little things contained in the course. When I understand something complex, I pause to give myself a high-five. And because I like that feeling, this makes me not give up easily the next time I find something difficult to grasp. By exam time, I find that I understood enough little things which I combine to give me the desired grade. Try the same thing with your life’s goals and dreams, pay attention to the little successes and congratulate yourself for them. Always remember that whenever you feel like quitting on any of your goals, it is because you are not enjoying working for it, you are not having enough fun. That is the time you need to go out and identify one or two ways to derive immediate pleasure and fun from the process of pursuing that goal.


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