Not so Fast! The Law is Likely to Catch You

Success is going to take longer than you think.

Not the news you wanted to hear today, is it? Hofstadter’s law might be in effect.

Most of us can’t help but be attracted to the promises of quick and easy results. There are life hacks for just about everything. How strong is the temptation to click on these enticing titles?  
Best Fast Weight-Loss Diets for 2019
32 Proven Ways to Make Money Fast
How to Write a Book in Three Days

That was a test. Did you click? If so, it’s indicative of another big obstacle in completing projects in a timely manner. It’s called distraction. But that’s a subject for another day.

Time for a reality check. Even if you’re focused and do your best, the time it takes to do big things will take longer than you want it to. This is Hofstadter’s Law.
It takes time to figure out exactly what you want.
It takes time to line up all the necessary resources.
It takes time to learn.
It takes time to improve.
It takes to time to make it to the finish line.


We chronically underestimate the time things take. Douglas Hofstadter, a cognitive scientist, published research which states: It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law.

It’s often said success is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes forbearance. Forbearance is a rather old-fashioned word. In case the definition is in your archives somewhere, it means to show patience and tolerance. Maybe we don’t talk about forbearance much because we live in the fast lane where convenience and short-cuts dictate many of our choices. Seriously, can you imagine a book titled Success Will Take Longer than You Think making the bestseller list? Not likely.

Personal experience in running a half-marathon a few years ago proved that preparation, training, and pain are all part of the process. As for all those who told me to expect the exhilarating runners high and that I would find deep joy in running… they were wrong. Am I glad I did it? Yes. Was it worth it? Absolutely. Was it harder than I thought and took much more time than I had allotted for training? Indeed, it did.

Everything takes longer than we want it to. Waiting rooms are not anyone’s favorite place. “For a while” is a phrase whose length can not be measured but always seems longer than it actually is. What about the adjective steadfast. It’s not a buzzword that inspires multitudes. It means resolute, faithful, committed and unwavering. These are qualities it takes to endure and stay strong – even when the mood has left you and others are quitting. This is another word that might not make it into the title of a bestseller, but it’s my word of the year and I’m confident that leaning into its meaning will help me overcome the numerous obstacles that have been standard in my life lately.

In difficult times, Hofstadter’s law is somewhat of a comfort. Though Hofstadter’s law describes the widely experienced difficulty of accurately estimating the time it will take to complete tasks of substantial complexity, it doesn’t tell you what to do to embrace the process.

What to Do When Hofstadter’s Law Catches Up with You

  1. Accept the truth of Hofstadter’s Law and be patient with yourself. Set measurable goals and be accountable to someone. But when you recognize that life happens and progress doesn’t always go as planned, give yourself grace. Direction is more important than speed.
  2. Develop your “get back up” muscles – otherwise known as resilience. You’re going to make it. It might not be fast. And it probably won’t be easy. But it will be worth it.
  3. Embrace possibility thinking. The art of possibility thinking is a fresh take on positivity and optimism. Benjamin Zander’s message on this
    topic could provide valuable insights that could shift your perspective.
  4. Stay curious. Read. Learn. Ask questions. Get some sleep. Go out and exercise. Embrace the process. Laugh some along the way. And never give up.

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