That which we persist in doing becomes easier to do, not that the nature of the thing has changed but that our power to do has increased — Ralph Waldo Emerson
This is a quote that gets passed around a lot, and it's a good guiding truth. If we keep doing something we will get better at that thing and it will be easier to us. This is called building a skill.
But the inverse pressed itself upon me the other day: That which we neglect to do becomes more difficult, not that the nature of the thing has changed but that our power to do has decreased. It's so obvious, and almost doesn't merit the time and energy it takes to state it, right?
Some skills seem to persist longer. I'm reasonably sure that if I hopped on a bicycle right now I could still ride around the block safely, even though it's been a while since I rode a bike. But it is undoubtedly true that if I rode a bike more, I would have an easier time of it. Part of it would be mental, I would remember all the tips and tricks and I would learn the nuances and peculiarities of my current bike. Part of it would be physical, my muscles would develop to participate in the sport again. I could hop on a bike right now and probably not fall over, but if I spent some time at it I would get back to where I could ride competently and efficiently.
Other skills deteriorate more quickly. It seems to me that the more specialized the skill the faster it deteriorates when you're not using it. The higher your level of commitment, the more you will lose when you lose focus. This is why experts practice their craft daily for many hours a day.
So the question then becomes one of priorities. What skills do I need? What skills do I want? Which ones are okay to let languish? Bike riding is a good choice, its decent exercise and its a good way to get around without polluting, if you don't have to go too far. Writing feels like a skill that is vital to being me, in that I start to get anxious if I don't write for too long at a stretch.
The other application for this principle is just general ability. Our human forms are wonderfully adaptable. If I choose to live a sedentary lifestyle, sleeping many hours a day and moving around as little as possible, my energy level will drop to fit that lifestyle. If I choose to expend more energy every day, through exercise or other activities, over time my body will adapt to fit that lifestyle. What I persist in doing will become what I am able to do.
And lastly, I love focusing on persistence. Not tracking “chains” or “books completed” or anything else, just making a way to do what I love for a little bit, building my skills instead of worrying too much about my output. That will come, the persistence is the main thing.