A few days ago, I wrote an open letter to a good friend of mine - "I Think Greatness is Something You Are, Not Something You Do" - I said to him, I'm not a great man, just a normal man working on great things. Greatness is something you do, not something you are.
To give you some background, my friend Brendon is just one of the most amazingly good people in the world. He takes care of everyone around him, his mind, body, and spirit are sharp. He's a black belt, an excellent programmer, a philosopher, a Shodan in Go (actually, even stronger than that - he's a Shodan under the Asian rankings, so probably even higher in America), a hard worker, extremely loyal, a clear and free thinker, widely read and knowledgeable, and again - an amazingly good guy. I've learned a lot from him (notably, he taught me how to play Go, sysadmin Linux, understand basketball at a very high level, improve at martial arts, improve my fitness, and other good stuff - we'd usually go drink green tea and play Go at Samurai Restaurant in Boston, go fight in the park, talk philosophy out at nightclubs, do stuff like that).
He wrote back to me about greatness and humility. I think this is a really beautiful piece, so I asked him if I could gently edit it and put it up. He graciously agreed. It's long, but go ahead and just start it and give it whatever time you have - there's a lot of amazing insight in here.
A Quick Favor Request - if you learn from this or it helps you, please send Brendon a quick email to firstname.lastname@example.org - he was actually a little gun-shy about having such a personal piece put up with such raw power in it. He only agreed when I told him how many people it could help - so please, drop him a short line to say thanks if this teaches you as much as it did me.
Without further ado...
If you've been paying attention to your life activities, you've already noticed that there is a general maxim for activities: if it is easy and entertaining now, it will probably be detrimental in the long run, and if it is hard and boring now, it will help you out down the line. Obviously there are exceptions - playing with a pet is easy and fun, yet has documented positive psychological effects, and doing something like fitting a lightbulb in your mouth doesn't sound fun nor is it easy, but that's not going to do much for the future you.
But those are dramatic, and rare exceptions. Scrolling your Facebook newsfeed, watching your favorite television show, tearing apart a fast food burger. These are all easy to do, and are very fun while you are doing them, but once they are done, you don't have much to show for the effort other than those fleeting moments of entertainment.
Meanwhile, think about writing something, about working out, about doing language grammar drills, or choosing to eat healthy. These are things that are classically difficult and often boring - everyone always tells themselves excuses in order to get out of them. However, after those actions are completed, you always have something to show for your time, be it a blog post, toned abs, or a better understanding of how to conjugate things in Portuguese.
There's the Past, Present, and Future, and the things that feel good in the Present look silly and trivial in the Past. The more work you put into the Present, the brighter the Future becomes. Our minds are just hardwired to seek pleasure not pain, even if the pain is just the monotony of forcing yourself to do something without an immediate payoff.
So how can you buck off your brain's whims and choose to do what's important? It's simple - choose to do the activities which will still matter in one year. One year is a long time - long enough to make you forget all the little silly things you did last year, but not so long as to be unimaginable. You could possibly scale this time period down to as low as 3 months, but the point is to have an interval that is long enough to make you forget the things you did in the day. Let's stick with a year for this example.