Reality Check: For the Hundredth Time

Are you persistent? Or are you stubborn? It takes wisdom to tell the difference between that positive attribute (persistence) and the negative one (stubbornness, also known as pig-headedness!)
Let’s say we’re trying something new: perhaps it’s poetry-writing, cabinet-making, or Spanish-speaking. We start with great enthusiasm. Initially, we progress by leaps and bounds. If we happen to be a “natural” at this activity, it can feel like a signal: “I’m meant to be doing this.”
But what if we don’t make progress?
Should we continue? How long should we persist if faced with setback after discouraging setback? Is it a sign that we shouldn’t waste more time, just give it up and try something different?
A piece of advice from Noah Kagan called the “Law of 100” might help. He says, “Start with a hundred repetitions of anything and completely ignore the results.”
Does this sound counter-intuitive? Aren’t we supposed to get better with practice?
Kagan developed this “law” from the story of a photography class. Students were divided into two groups, and given different criteria for what it takes to achieve an “A.” One group was told to submit one perfect photograph. The other group was told to submit a hundred photographs, regardless of quality.
Who do you think produced the best quality? The group that took the hundred photographs! They weren’t inhibited by wondering, “Is this perfect?” They could experiment. No need for angst or second-guessing; just take a hundred photos!
If our mindset is such that we see ourselves as failures unless we achieve perfection early on, then it’s hard to get enthusiastic about learning, creating, falling down and getting up again.
Skills take time to develop. Presumably we choose an activity because it’s something we want to do. Giving up too soon means we never get to the point of mastery. We never really find out what we can accomplish.
A hundred of anything is a lot. If you do something only once a week, it’ll take two years to get to a hundred reps. Even if you choose to practice every day, it’ll still take over three months.
I suggest making a chart with a hundred blocks. Check it off each time you do your practice. It’s a tiny reward, but it could help you keep perspective.
You could apply this approach to all kinds of activities—health, leisure or work. Maybe you want to read more books, learn a new language, or change your diet. For me, I want to become more proficient with a piece of software. I have my chart with its hundred checkboxes. I estimate that it will take me about 25 weeks to do the hundred repetitions. We’ll see how things look then!
If you decide to do this too, consider delaying any judgment about how you’re progressing. That could be hard, but hold off. Your opportunity to criticize (or congratulate) yourself will come after the hundred are done. Then you can look at the quality of your progress and decide whether to continue.

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