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The Stupidly Simple Life Philosophy That Stopped Me Running Before Crawling

And how stupidly easy it is to steal for yourself.

By Ellen "Jelly" McRaePublished 4 months ago 9 min read
Image created on Canva

You know when you hear something someone else says and it sticks with you? Yeah, you know what I'm talking about.

When those phrases, sayings, the pearls of wisdom become stuck in your head, everything changes. You shift your entire mentality because a few carefully strung-together words change everything for you.

It's like you become a different person overnight. 

The world as you know it shifts and you can't imagine how you lived your life before hearing those words.

The problem with my pearls of wisdom is they came from a fictional character on a popular yet well and truly retired television show. Not that it makes these words any less important. 

It simply means I'm a little ashamed to admit my life's philosophy centers around what Winchester said in an episode of M*A*S*H*.

And I'm sure my mother would have a heart attack if she thought all the money she spent on my school fees wasn't worth it. She could have stuck me in front of the idiot box and walked away. To her, I'm sorry.

But for everyone else, I want to share this simple yet easy-to-apply philosophy to life that prevents everyone from running before they can crawl. 

Because without sounding like some whack-a-do with a quote complex, this line seriously changed my life. And for the better, too.

The quote to end all quotes

You're forgiven if you haven't seen any episodes of MASH, though I don't know where you've been hiding all this time. Still to this day, the finale is the highest-watched television series finale of all time. 

Pretty good for a seventies television show.

In short, M*A*S*H* is about an army hospital, the 4077th, during the Korean War.

One of the characters, a surgeon, is Major Charles Emerson Winchester III. His introduction to the series doesn't go well for the characters. 

He is new to the 4077th, new to meatball surgery as they call it. And he's new to the fact they don't have time to do anything else but save lives.

As the surgery session begins during the first episode of season six, the other surgeons, Hawkeye, Hunnicutt and Potter, berate Winchester about his slow surgical skills. They become annoyed about how slow he is, and how far they're falling behind.

Winchester justifies his lack of speed. He says, with complete confidence:

"I do one thing at a time, I do it very well and then I move on."

Simple, right?

Do one thing at a time.

Do it well.

Move on.

What does one thing at a time mean, really?

Whilst the simplicity of this quote is remarkable, it means something different in the context of the episode from how I've applied it to my life.

Winchester is referring to completing a task. He works on one patient, spends as much time as the patient needs, then moves on. And of course, he is talking about operating on patients, specifically. 

He isn't talking about some life philosophy.

I'm not sure if the writers of the show realised how this could be applied to life in general. But when you forget small tasks and expand the quote into the bigger parts of life, it makes for some easy rules. These are:

  • Take life one task at a time.
  • Take one goal at a time.
  • Learn one thing at a time.
  • Develop deep connections one at a time.
  • Don't overcomplicate tasks and goals by saturating them with distractions.
  • Focus on doing things well when well is the priority.

Take life one task at a time.

Multitasking is tough to master. And if you're like me lately, you're always pushing to take on more and more, turning into a life juggler. 

It's exhausting, especially when you multitask too much, and you aren't doing any of it well.

This philosophy has helped me learn how to multi-task by going one by one. I know it sounds counterintuitive, but the juggler starts by throwing one ball into the air. 

Catching it. 

Mastering the catch. 

Then adding in the second ball.

Get good at one task before adding in more.

When it comes to day-to-day life, I do like to use this approach too, for the smaller tasks. Finish making dinner before cleaning up the kitchen. Finish writing that email before opening a new tab on my computer and starting something else. 

I've learned how hard it is to clean up hundreds of nearly or incomplete tasks. It's better for the mind and productivity to have ten, fully completed tasks than just as many started ones.

Take one goal at a time.

I couldn't figure out why I never reached my goals. I thought goal setting was healthy. 

And working towards what you want was always the best. But I experienced goal overload; trying to achieve too many things at once. This philosophy saved me. 

It helped me realise why I was never going to reach my goals. I never gave them enough time and attention they needed. I made sure my plate was so full, none of them stood a chance.

Sometimes you can manage multiple goals at once.

Some goals go well together, especially when the action needed to reach both is the same. If I want to gain one hundred followers on Instagram and achieve my goal of consistently posting every day for a month, I will likely reach both goals.

The two go hand in hand and work together to produce incidental results.

This example is as much overlapping as I allow myself to do when pursuing goals. Any more than that and I'm setting myself up for failure.

This isn't an excuse for being lazy, by the way

I'm not saying I don't set multiple goals at once. I have copious lists of goals and achievements I want to reach in my life. The difference is that I'm not actively pursuing them all right now. 

"Actively" being the keyword. 

I'm not sabotaging my goals either. I'm just not spending every waking minute on all of them.


Because I've learned it's not possible to work toward all our goals at once. I'm one person, with only two arms and legs. To work on everything, and well, would make me superhuman.

Some goals I can't pursue, even if I wanted to. I can't even think about working on them until I achieve other milestones first. I have no choice but to work through one goal at a time.

It's not that I'm being lazy, or you are, if this is your approach, too. It's smart to know your limitations and work with them. It's what smart people do.

Learn one thing at a time.

Skill and knowledge learning is challenging at the best times, especially as we age and fall out of practice. 

As you can tell, I'm willing to admit I include myself in that assessment. With anything that is challenging, we need more time, patience, and time to get it right. 

Yes, double time!

Though we remember the days when we were in school and learned lots of things at once, life doesn't work that way anymore. Back then, that's all we had to do. Wake up, eat, learn, sleep. 

Now, there is so much more to life.

Learning new things one at a time helps us maintain our adult balance. It also helps us get better at learning in general. This speed helps us take on more learning later as we get better at it.

Sometimes the world demands we become an expert at many things overnight. 

Parenting is one of those things. You feel like you have to figure it all out in an instant. But when you look into it, you don't have to know everything at the start. 

You learn over time. 

You learn more as each day passes.

I apply that same theory to anything I'm doing in life. I can't learn it all overnight and I will develop more knowledge as time progresses. Let education take its natural course, so to speak.

Develop deep connections one at a time.

I would be lying if I said I don't prioritise my relationships. 

Of course, I do. 

The relationship I have with my husband comes first over the relationship I have with my personal trainer, for example. 

Everyone has priorities. So when I talk about this philosophy and relationships, it's not so much about priorities, though. It's more about only having so much energy to give to each relationship at one time.

I don't like being a fair-weathered friend. I've come to realise that most people end up being fair-weathered friends because they either stop caring about the other person. 

Or because they have too much on their plate and don't have the energy for the relationship.

I've used this approach to make sure I have enough energy for the people in my life. I don't take on more relationships than I can handle and nurture. I also don't think about my friends in terms of volume. 

It's about quality, not quantity.

Don't overcomplicate tasks and goals by saturating them with distractions.

This is probably a given, but sometimes having this philosophy in place helps remind me of the power of distractions. 

They can easily send you awol without too much influence.

But what distractions do is make small, quick, easy tasks or goals into big problems. That's a problem for anyone trying to do one thing, one thing well and move on. You can't do something well when there is a barrier in the way.

That's where I love the "one thing" component of this philosophy; it means just that. Do one thing. Don't do more, don't include more, and don't fill your time with what distracts you. It doesn't help you.

Focus on doing things well when well is the priority.

Winchester's theory isn't perfect, let's be clear.

In the episode, Major Winchester proved why he was such a skilled surgeon. His technique proved superior to everyone else, as noted by everyone who worked with him. 

But for all his talent, it meant he couldn't keep up with the demands of war surgery. Work fast, forget neatness, and save lives. 

He couldn't do it, at first.

There are some tasks you have to do regardless of how well you do it. I have this approach to exercise. 

The only bad workout I do is the one I don't do. 

It doesn't matter if I didn't hit all my speed and strength goals in that session. Doing it is an achievement. That's what I celebrate.

But some tasks require you to do things well. You wouldn't want a surgeon to take that approach when they are removing a life-ending tumour from your body. 

But in the field of battle, you wouldn't always want Winchester's approach. Especially if you were the next guy in line to get operated on.

As you can tell, this philosophy needs some flexibility about it. 

Sometimes doing things well is the main focus, but you have to know when. Not everything in life can have the same amount of effort and attention. 

It's not possible.

My way of working might suit you. I'm sure you can point out multiple ways in which I can improve my approach. Or point out more quotes from M*A*S*H* that are equally brilliant.

All I know is this is what works for me.

And when you find what works for you, rinse and repeat.


If you enjoy this article, leave me a tip, follow me or even share my work on your socials! Any support for me would be appreciated 💜


About the Creator

Ellen "Jelly" McRae

I’m here to use my wins and losses in #relationships as your cautionary tale | Writes 1LD; Cautionary tale #romance fiction |

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