"Now this is a story all about how,
My life got flipped, turned upside down”
I’m always interested in the stories people tell themselves. An individual’s perspective on the world dictates how they respond to it.
Rap royalty and Hollywood superstar Will Smith has a very particular story he tells himself. It's a story that enables him to chase his dreams.
He uses it to make ongoing progress towards his goals. And bear in mind that he has made some pretty spectacular progression over the years.
Whatever challenge he is facing he tells himself to focus on one brick at a time.
All In All
When he was eleven years old his father instructed Will and his brother Harry to build a wall. It was to be constructed in front of his father’s shop and was a daunting prospect for the two young boys.
Every day for nearly a year Will and Harry would go to his father’s shop after school to work on the wall.
“There were so many times I remember looking at that hole, totally discouraged”
Every time they expressed doubt about the feasibility of building the wall, Will’s father would change their focus and reframe their challenge.
“Stop thinking about the damn wall. Your job is to lay this brick perfectly. Then move on to the next brick. Don't be worrying about no wall. Your only concern is one brick.”
Will applies this brick by brick approach for challenges or setbacks large and small, professional or personal:
“For my entire career, I've been committed to a work ethic of uncompromising intensity. You show up and you lay another brick. Pissed off, lay another brick. Bad opening weekend, lay another brick. Album sales dropping, lay another brick. Marriage failing, lay another brick.”
To be honest there are lots of stories out there like this. The brick by brick idea is nothing new.
Way back in the sixth century BC Lao Tzu wrote the Tao Te Ching an ancient inspirational Chinese text, fundamental for both philosophical and religious Taoism. Chapter sixty four contains the famous proverb that:
“A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step”
Bricks, steps, whatever you like the underlying idea has been around since time immemorial.
“Slowly, slowly, catchee monkey” is a variation. It’s all the same idea.
Sayings like this teach or remind us that even the longest and most difficult ventures have a starting point. They each have a simple repeatable action that will inevitably cause progress.
The secret to success is not a secret. It’s out there and has been for years.
I think we all know this, I guess the real point is that Will Smith took this simple truth and lives his life by it.
When you adopt a metaphor and live it out then certain things happen . . . well, I wouldn’t know. I’m too busy double guessing what happens next or overthinking things. And that’s a problem many of us face.
Doing simple things repeatedly can yield extraordinary results. Yet even more remarkably many people ignore this and instead complain that their model isn’t working. But brick by brick does work.
Whistling Men In Yellow Vans
Now and again I consciously adopt the brick by brick, step by step philosophy and guess what? It always works.
It only stops working when I stop doing it.
I’ve got far too many half built walls where I’ve worked brick by brick for a considerable amount of time then, for whatever reason, I’ve stopped. Given up, changed my mind or moved on to something more shiny, newer, more interesting or immediately enjoyable.
Sticking with it and finishing is the challenge for me.
But at the same time as my many half built walls, there are also many times I’ve successfully used a step by step or brick by brick approach on lots of achievements including:
- Dealing with a bad opening weekend for my latest movie . . . maybe not!
These are all varied achievements but they all evolved because I took each brick at a time and focused on that single element. The overall project always just took care of itself.
I’d never call myself a runner but I like the idea of running because step by step is the only way running works. I finished the Great North Run a couple of times using this approach. What other approach is there!?
Little By Little
So when you get the chance take a moment and look at the challenge you’re facing right now.
Consider the overall project and how daunting it might feel. Then chunk it down, forget what the finished plan will look like and simply consider the next single step you need to take.
Think about the next single brick you need to lay. Nothing more. And then put your entire focus into achieving that. Good luck!
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