I recently read a true, harrowing tale of adventure. The author is anonymous, so I’m going to just call them Walden. Walden quit their dead-end job, dumped their dead-end partner, and moved to an off-the-grid cabin in Montana. It was time to live the dream and write the great North American novel! All obstacles and distractions were removed. It was time to shine. And then? Nada. Not a single word was written. The whole thing was fizzling, flailing, and failing miserably when Walden shared this experience in a letter-to-the-editor. By then, Walden just wanted to go home and turn on the Wi-Fi.
The temptation here, I think, is to file this under the grass is always greener. Indeed, maybe Walden lacked clarity on their deepest priorities. But there’s another dimension to this that I want to explore. It’s about what happens after discipline.
If you’ve been reading my Friday missives for any length of time, you’ll known that I never advocate for discipline when systems will do. And what better example of this than leaving civilization behind? In the city, it would take some kind of Zen master to achieve a comparable level of distraction control. Actually, even Zen masters tend toward seclusion—so I don’t know why any of us think that we’ll just pull it off on a random Tuesday morning.
Walden’s problem, in the end, wasn’t discipline. They solved for that. I can only speculate but I think it came down to ability and capacity. Ability doesn’t just mean being able to turn a phrase or map out storylines. It means unsticking yourself when stuck. To be able to build the car while you’re driving it.
And then there’s capacity, which grows one drip at a time—like a stalactite.
I have a feeling that Walden never saw the value in small things. In writing for a few minutes every day. In running tiny experiments. Or maybe they did—but couldn’t make those work. Either way, the jump was too dramatic. There was no progression.
Imagine someone who has never even run 5K deciding to start running marathons. It’s lofty but achievable. You inquire as to their plan. New shoes? Couch to 5K? “No,” they say, “I’m quitting my job and moving to Kenya to train with a pro team!” We know how this is going to go. They’re going to achieve a personal best 500 metre time before heaving their guts out roadside.
Capacity takes a long time to build. And it’s probably for the best—because every small step allows us to ask important questions:
- Is this something I want to do?
- Can I find the joy in it?
- Can I create a version of practice that I am energized by?
None of this happens overnight.
At Bang, we explore the small stuff on the way to the big stuff. We do exactly what I would recommend for anyone: experiment, iterate, and do the work mindfully. This is how we develop discipline and capacity. Not all at once but drop-by-drop.
If you’ve ever thought that life would be better if you could suddenly crank your discipline up to 11, it’s worth asking what you’d do when you got there. So, you can certainly go big—and go to Montana. But my advice is to go small—and then go home.