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If it's worth doing, it's worth doing at all

(Translations: English日本語)

There’s a common saying:

If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.

However, this way of thinking can be harmful. Let me explain why.

An example

Suppose you wish to exercise more. You’ve heard time and again about the benefits of exercise, so you look up “how much should I exercise daily”, and read:

As a general goal, aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity every day.

So you set a reminder for yourself to do that. And for the first few days, it goes well.

But then you have a bad day and feel exhausted. You can’t manage to do 30 minutes of exercise today. Maybe you could do a few stretches, but that’s it.

You know exercise is worth doing, and you remember that saying, about how if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well. But you don’t have the energy to “do it well” today.

So you figure: if I can’t do it well, I just won’t do it at all. So you skip exercising today.

But now you’re disappointed in yourself that you failed to meet your goal. You start skipping more days, and eventually you just drop it.

Sound familiar? I know I’ve done this before, maybe without even realizing it.

The problem

The problem is the type of thinking that the saying promotes. We translate:

If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.

Into:

If I can’t do it well, then it’s not worth doing.

Which then leads to giving up on our commitments when we can’t perfectly follow through on them.

The solution

I prefer a different way of thinking:

If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing at all.

Which means that it’s better to make any non-zero amount of progress than no progress.

In the example, instead of deciding to skip exercising entirely for the day, you’d instead just do whatever you can bring yourself to do. Maybe that’s just five minutes of stretching. Or three minutes. Or one minute. Maybe it’s one squat. One push-up.

Maybe, if your goal was to “write a new blog post every day”, you just write a rough draft of a post. Or a few sentences. Or a few bullet points. Or one word.

I believe that it’s better to have this mindset. By making even a small amount of progress each day, we avoid having zero days and keep ourselves trending up and to the right. 📈