What About the Middle?
We celebrate beginnings and ends but the middle is the hard part. We see before and after pictures in fitness, or read about debt to riches stories in personal finance, and we throw big parties for weddings & milestone anniversaries. The middle is usually forgotten whereas we toast the beginnings and endings of many things. Well, guess what? The middle is often the hardest part.
If you think of it as being on a number scale, we focus and celebrate the 0-3 and the 8-10, but we forget about the 4-7 where the bulk of the hard work was completed.
I’m going to list a series of words. Look at them for 15 seconds or so and try to memorize the list.
Try to remember those words as you continue to read. We will come back to them in a moment. As you read these sentences, it is getting more and more difficult for your brain to hold onto the list of 12 words above.
Our memory works like a file cabinet. There is only so much that can be stored in the file cabinet before it starts to overflow. Once that happens, the only way to add new information is to pull old information out to make room.
What words do you remember?
Write them down right now.
Now scroll back up and take a look. How did you do?
Chances are you remembered more of the earlier and later items on the list. It was the middle that you probably had a tough time with.
Primacy and Recency Effect
In psychology, there are two principles called the primacy and recency effects. In short, we tend to recall the initial items in a series and we tend to remember the last or most recent items in a series. The middle, however, is most often forgotten.
So, no wonder why the middle is the hardest part when trying to accomplish something. Our brains are actually hardwired to focus on the beginnings and endings of things while discarding the middle.
We Need to Focus on the Middle
Because the middle is the hardest, and most overlooked part, it’s all the more reason that we need to focus on it. The most important things in our lives — our relationships, our careers, our finances — all require a long-term commitment.
The Middle with Relationships
We celebrate first dates and weddings. We throw big 40th and 50th-anniversary parties. But what about the middle? If we think about marriages, the first and last few years are the easy ones.
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Everyone has heard of the seven-year itch. It’s no coincidence that 7 years is also about as “middle” as it gets. Relationships are hard — they take devotion, communication, and trust.
The Middle with a Career
We are so excited to get our first job or that first big promotion or raise. We call our friends and family members, and they are genuinely happy for us. Then, at the other end, a company may throw you a retirement party when all is said and done or maybe you go out and celebrate with some co-workers or friends and family. But what about all of that time in the middle? What about those late nights working in the office or those long meetings that you were sitting through year after year? Starting a job was easy, retiring was exciting. The hard part was the day-to-day work in the middle.
The Middle with Finances
Finances work the same way. We may feel ambitious and start saving for a few months. We might open up a Roth IRA or a 401(k). But, over time, lifestyle creep makes its way back into our lives and before you know it, we are saving less and less.
The same is true for the end. We can look back after 30 years of compounding interest and watch our money grow without us doing anything.
The middle is once again the hard part. As Charlie Munger famously said, “The first $100,000 is a bitch!“
A Lesson in American History
Thomas Paine was the author of Common Sense, a famous pamphlet that made its rounds during the time leading up to the American Revolution. There’s one particular quote that I’m reminded of:
Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated.Thomas Paine (Common Sense)
George Washington read this excerpt to his troops at Valley Forge. If you’re forgetting your American history, Valley Forge was the winter encampment for the American troops and the low point of the war. The troops were dying of disease and frostbite, yet they literally and figuratively “weathered the storm” and did not disband. They made it through the hardest part — the middle.
How to Make it Through Your Middles
The previous excerpt from Thomas Paine also gives us a glimpse into the fact that difficult tasks require lots of work. If it came easy to us, we wouldn’t cherish it as much. While Paine was referring to freedom, we can look at our relationships, careers, and our finances the same way.
To make it through your middles, I encourage you to embody these five words:
In addition to these words, take pride in the process. Don’t wait until you’ve reached a milestone to be proud of yourself. Be proud of every step you take toward reaching your goal, whatever it may be.
I’m curious to hear from you. How have you made it through the “middles” of your life? What advice do you have for others?