I stopped making resolutions in the New Years. I still have personal goals for the week, the month and the year. My annual goals usually get made on my birthday and I almost always follow through. I have learned that goals do not work unless you have a system in place to support it.
But this isn’t about resolutions, how to make them work and why they fail. It is about 2019’s single resolution. This year is not about weight loss, saving money, traveling more, making friends or being more environmentally friendly.
It is the year of the Rubik’s cube.
If you think it is a simple goal, think again. It is about more than manipulating a 3 x 3 cube of colored plastic squares. There are 43,252,003,274,489,856,000 possible states for the cube and can be solved in 20 moves or less. Let that sink in for a moment. 43 Quintillion possibilities, 20 moves.
I bought my first cube when I was ten, 27 years ago. I struggled with it, went to the library (this was pre-Google and YouTube), read the books, then gave up and just learned to take it apart and put it back together the right way and called it a day.
The idea of solving the cube got shelved in my mind with other things I wanted to master like yo-yoing and learning Japanese, but never truly forgotten. When I recently bought one, I could, with the help of the internet, properly align the cube in six glorious single colors on each side, but I still can’t do it without the aid of the guide.
And this is why it is a goal this year. The cube is a metaphor, it is about the possibilities, the solutions and the perseverance and tenacity of taking a thing from start to finish, no matter how long it takes to get done. Everything is easy once you have learned how to do it. I am no stranger to that fact. I have taught myself many things. You start out excited, ready, armed with motivation and hope. Then you hit the wall, you fail, you stumble, but the biggest obstacle is that you still do not have the knowledge that explains why things are not working. You cannot look at your mistakes and explain to yourself why they happened. It is baffling and frustrating. This is usually when we all give up. When you feel like Sisyphus, pushing an invisible boulder up the mountain.
The Rubik’s cube is about understanding patterns. Everything in the world has an underlying pattern. Humans are creatures of habit and we do the same things over and over even when we think we aren’t. Being sensitive to these patterns in ourselves and in others can help us change or escape from them. Learning to notice things is a skill that gets better with age, time and experience. In the cube it is easy because there are only six colors, in life it might appear to be more complex, but the method is still the same.
Once you have learned to decipher the patterns you can change them. Change can only be made one single move at a time, even if you need to make twenty consecutive moves. It might seem that whatever you want to do is a huge and daunting endeavor, but at the end of the day you can only do one thing at a time. Focus on that one task, do it, then move to the next one.
But there is a catch. You have to keep your eye on the bigger picture. I think this is what I could never grasp as a child. I couldn’t do both things at once. While you move on square from one place to another you still need to keep the entire system in mind. It is something that gets better with doing and practicing.
Keep at it. Because giving up and not trying is not going to help you at all. It is one thing to take a break so you can get back to doing the thing you want to do, and a completely different thing, to throw your shiny plastic cube at the wall, throw your hands in the air and yell “I give up.” Hard things are hard but not impossible and only become easy once you are good at them. But no one wants to be bad at anything or to pay with effort to get good. The simplest truth in life is this: you need to be bad at things before you become better. No fairy godmother will come to wave her magic wand, the only magic is hard consistent work.
So excuse me while I go conquer a little plastic toy for the hell of it, because after all, what is life without fun?