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Realizing the Benefits of Repetitive Action

“One thing I’ve found… the road rarely rises up to meet you until you’ve begun walking.” — Michele Jennae

On my one day off this weekend, on a day of rest no less, I walked twenty thousand steps around my house while pruning trees and shrubs, raking up leaves onto a tarp and hauling them into the woods beyond the fence out back. For good measure, I mowed the front lawn with my push mower to get every last leaf off that lawn. As I write this it’s still dark outside, but I imagine that it’s chock full of leaves again. The oak trees delight in teasing me just so: waiting until the day is done and sprinkling their gifts all over. I’ve come to accept this as the price of keeping the trees when I built this house almost 24 years ago. They were here first and deserve to have their say.

We either have a bias towards action or we don’t. Is life meant to be spent doing things or lounging around in leisure? I know plenty of folks who embrace the latter. That’s not my way. Spending my one day of rest actively cleaning the yard may seem useless at best, and a frivolous abuse of my brief time on this earth at worst, especially considering that there will be even more leaves sprinkled on the lawn today. Action ought to be married with productivity or it ought not be done, you might point out fairly.

Yard work should be viewed in the same way that we view doing the dishes or making the bed. Eventually we’ll have to do it all over again, and over and over again still, but that doesn’t make it less worthwhile for having done it today. It’s the price of greatness in a world filled with average performers. We either pay someone to do the work or do it ourselves. There’s an opportunity cost in either choice, and we must ask where we receive the best return on our time investment.

The thing is, we often know what we’re missing out on when we choose one thing over another, but a bias towards action requires we make a decision and embrace all that comes with it. This applies equally to a career, a marriage, raising children, writing, or a hundred other things. Things like raking leaves instead of hiking or watching a football game. Life is what we make of it: to be meaningful and productive, it requires that we follow through on one decision after another to the best of our ability.

Showing up for our work every day can feel a lot like raking those leaves. We know that there will be more to do tomorrow and the next day. But repetition pays dividends through discipline. The benefit of repetitive action isn’t just the momentarily completed job at hand, it’s the person we become by following through on our commitment to ourselves day-after-day. As Aristotle said, we are what we repeatedly do.

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