The Myth of Motivation

“We are always complaining that our days are few, and acting as though there would be no end of them.”

Seneca (4 BC – 65 AD)

Missing Pieces

Motivational books, speakers, quotes, videos, blog posts, you name it, are fantastic for getting us pumped up enough to dominate any obstacle in our way. When we’re motivated we can do anything, but motivation doesn’t stick around for very long and can be difficult to recover when lost. Action beyond motivation is necessary for achieving many of the goals we set for ourselves.

Acting only when we feel motivated and expecting to accomplish all our dreams sets us up for massive disappointment and wasted energy.

Substantial achievement requires acting even when we don’t feel like it. If I only studied when I felt like studying, I would never have even finished high school let alone a chemical engineering degree. If I only blogged and made music when I felt like it, then I wouldn’t have a blog and a YouTube channel. If I was only a good boyfriend when I felt like it, then I wouldn’t be in a happy relationship. I can literally go on forever about this.

Motivation is a fantastic tool, but it isn’t reliable enough to take us to the promise land, so to speak. So that poses the question:

What is motivation missing?

Without discipline and purpose, motivation is only a short term solution. Motivation fueled by purpose and discipline is enough to get us anywhere we need to go. Discipline gets us through when we don’t want do and purpose gets us through when things are hard. They both give us access to action beyond motivation.

I talk about purpose at length in the following posts:

This post is going to mainly focus on discipline. What it is, why it’s necessary, how to develop it within ourselves, and specific methods to create action beyond motivation.

Discipline

“Discipline equals freedom.”

Jocko Willink (Discipline Equals Freedom: Field Manual)

When most people think of discipline, they think of punishment. That is not what I am talking about here. What I mean by discipline is taking on the challenge of creating a relationship with ourselves to know ourselves as people who do the right things. Knowing ourselves as the kind of people who can focus on the task in front of them as do it as well as they possibly can.

I like to think of discipline as a way to learn how to deliberately narrow our focus to the one thing that our highest selves want to be doing. Without discipline, we are victims to our circumstances, environments, and unconcious desires.

I spent a few weeks trying to wrap my head around discipline and in doing so I had a fantastic conversation with my girlfriend. She was telling me about how her relationship with discipline can be broken up into two sub categories: taking responsibility and making decisions. She told me that when she started taking responsibility for everything in her life, there were endless opportunities for decisions. When we take responsibility, we empower ourselves, which gives us a vitalizing freedom and insight into what we can and cannot change. Once we see our options, it is up to us to do something about it (or not). Taking responsibility gives us options.

Let me root this in a simple example. Let’s say we are trying to study for a test, but can’t get ourselves to crack open the book and start. What we lack is discipline. A disciplined person would just sit down and start working without wasted energy deditated to convincing themselves that studying is a good idea.

In order to navigate our way from not being able to open the book to sitting and starting flawlessly, we first need to take responsibility for our learning. We can take on the perspective that how much we understand and how much we are able to demonstrate that is solely a function of our own effort and dedication. Once we genuinely take that on, we can see the decisions to be made in front of us. We can either study or not. The choice is ours and not up to our professors, our parents, or the economy (common scapegoats people love to use). Now we can make the decision to study or not. That is where we want to be mentally. We can choose to not study, but if we run through this thought process and still decide not to, the pain is so much worse. Nothing sucks more than suffering and knowing that it’s all because of you and your stupid choices. More often than not, we will end up doing what we “should” be because of loss aversion. People will go to greater lengths to not lose $5 then gain $20.

If we take responsibility for our lives, we can see how much power we truly have. Usually, it’s much more than we like to think. Opportunities for decisions appear to us and all we have to do is make a choice. Taking responsibility and making decisions are what we need to create a foundation for developing discipline.

Access to a New Life

Most of what we want to accomplish takes tremendous amounts of effort, time, energy, and attention. Our resources are best spent moving closer to those goals, not convincing ourselves we need to.

Here’s a fun little exercise to show us how we have have access to a new life. I stole this from one of Jordan Peterson’s lectures.

Ask yourself – How many hours a day do I waste? Write that number down…..really write it down.

Now, let’s say you value your time at $50/hour, which is probably on the low end.

How much money do you waste per day?

Most people write anywhere from 4-6 hours. Let’s say we waste 4 hours a day valued at $50/hr. That’s a loss of $200/day or $1000/work week. That’s $52,000/year wasted, at least. That is the cost of a lack of discipline. If you value yourself higher, then the cost is even more expensive.

I do this exercise with my students at the beginning of my classes and it’s always so funny to see the look on their faces when they’re present to how much time they really have access to. The best part of this exercise, is that I don’t define waste. The students waste 1/6 of their day by their own standards!

Discipline is more than just preventing waste, it helps develop a powerful relationship with ourselves. While preventing wasted time and developing a powerful relationship with ourselves provide incredible benefits, the real sweetness of discipline comes from accomplishing what we set out to accomplish. This is how we live a life by design.

Since external discipline can be hard to find in some occupations, cultivating self-discipline is key in making all of this possible. We need to learn how much self-discipline we have and how we need to adjust. Some people are too lax with themselves while others are too stern.

How to Develop Discipline within Ourselves

“A paradox of life: The problem with patience and discipline is that developing each of them requires both of them.”

Thomas M. Sterner (The Practicing Mind)

We can increase our discipline by changing our self image. If we think of ourselves as lazy, then we will be lazy. If we think of ourselves as focused, then we will be focused. The trick is actually believing it. Our identity is one of the strongest motivational forces if we learn how to use it correctly. We hate being wrong and being wrong about our identity is something we will go to the ends of the earth to prevent, this is known as identity defense. I go more in depth about changing our self image to create a better life for ourselves in these two posts:

Work on changing our identity to someone who is disciplined and the discipline will follow.

We can also do short term challenges which train the “discipline muscle.” These challenges will give us opportunities to be disciplined if we don’t have something else requiring that of us.

An example is taking cold showers for 30 days. It’s tempting to want to take a hot shower (especially for me), but with the challenge in place we can decide to stick to our word or give into to our animalistic needs. Doing something like cold showers is great because it’s excuse proof. We’re already taking showers daily (I hope) so it’s already integrated into our routines, we just need to make a simple and small adjustment. Remember: anyone can do anything for a month.

Another method for increasing discipline is setting up a system that requires you to show up every day. Yes, I do mean every damn day. This is powerful because it forces us to act even if “we don’t feel like it.” At first, it will be painful, but after each day the part of us which perservies will become stronger and stronger until we have the self-discipline to get through it. Create a nice reward for yourself afterwards, but also create a punishment so you have even more of a reason to do it. Make it short and manageable so you actually will do it every day.

An example of this in my life are my exercising habits. I used to hate working out and I never had the discipline to do it, until I told myself I wasn’t going to eat in the morning until I did a few kettlebell swings. The reward is eating and the punishment is going hungry. Pretty simple if you ask me. It’s also effective if you ask me, because I’ve been working out every day for the past 2 months and I don’t plan on stopping.

Now you could say, “Chris why don’t you just eat anyway if you don’t feel like working out?” and my reply to that would be because it destroys the relationship I have with myself. Letting ourselves slide with things has a detrimental effect on how we relate to ourselves and I’ve worked too damn hard to develop a positive and strong relationship with myself where I know myself to be a person who follows through on his commitments.

Getting Started Anyway

Acting when we aren’t motivated is difficult. It’s expensive in terms of cognitive load, not because the tasks are hard, but because we have to overcome so much within ourselves to get going.

Since I’m a physics nerd, I’m going to put it like this: Action beyond motivation is like overcoming friction. Friction is a force that works against another force, usually slowing or preventing the displacement of an object.

There are two types of friction – static friction and kinetic friction. Static friction is tougher to overcome than kinetic friction. You can try this with a box sitting on the ground. If you apply a pressure on the box, you will notice that it takes more pressure to get the box moving than to keep the moving moving. The same principles apply without work. If we find ways to overcome the static friction, to get started, then we won’t have to push as hard to keep it going.

Procrastination is a huge ally to static friction, usually we procrastinate because we feel like overcoming that static friction is too expensive. Just finding ways to get started is the secret to action beyond motivation.

Methods to Fight Procrastination

There are a ton of methods to get started, but I’m just going to share two of them right now.

One of my favorite methods I use to fight procrastination and overcome static friction is The 5 Second Rule. I first heard of this idea from the renoun and respected author and motivational speaker, Mel Robbins. It’s pretty simple, right before you get yourself to do something just count down from 5 then begin.

5…4…3…2…1… Go!

There is something about counting down that primes our minds for overcoming that static friction. I do this all the time when I’m working out. Right before I do a set (that I really don’t want to do) I count down from 5 and begin. Once I start, I just focus on getting through it. The push I give myself (the willpower I exert) to start is more than enough to keep the workout going as long as I keep pushing.

This idea set me free from believing that it’s going to be hard to get started and it just keeps getting harder. The opposite is actually true, getting started is the hardest part and it gets easier over time.

Something I do want to mention about this technique is how it is easier to get derailed if we are interrupted.

Let me use the example of my workouts again. I can use the 5 second rule to get started and push through to the finish line, but if I’m interrupted while I’m doing my workout the process has to start over again. I will have to overcome the static friction and the same force applied will not be adequate enough to get started. Beware of interruptions when doing high cognitive load activities.

Another fantastic method of fighting procrastination and overcoming static friction is implimenting starting rituals. Starting rituals are fantastic for tricking our brain into doing things we don’t want to do.

In this post, I talk about the habit cycle and how we can design the lives we want if we work on designing our habits. As most of us know, its difficult to get us to do what we tell ourselves but with knowledge of the habit cycle, we can see our patterns and manipulate them to our own advantage. The first stage of the habit cycle is Cue. This means our cravings and responses which come afterward are influenced by cues.

We are extremely susceptible to subconsciously perceiving cues and we can use this potential vulnerability to create powerful starting rituals. Doing the same thing over and over right before you do an activity primes your brain to do that activity.

Let me solidify this with an example. I remember to brush my teeth when I walk into my bathroom and see my toothbrush. As much as I’d like to say I remember to brush my teeth every morning, the truth is that I’m reminded by the cue. Walking into the bathroom is my starting ritual to brushing my teeth. Another example is when I’m blogging. I always grab a drink, place it on my right side, turn on classical music, set my pomodoro timer, and start typing away. All the things I do before I actually start blogging I consider my starting ritual. Doing these things helps me “get ready” to work and it really helps with overcoming the huge amounts of static friction which come with writing.

I’ve tried to blog without the ritual and it ended in disaster. I would try to tell myself all those little routines are BS and I should just start writing, but I end up writing for a short amount of time and I’m easily distracted. This results in worse writing and wasted energy. Starting rituals really help us get in the mode. Don’t sleep on them. The best part is that we can create our own starting rituals, which I think can be a lot of fun.

Like with any habit, it takes a while before our brain starts to understand these cues and cravings so stick with it for at least 5 session. I give six more methods of overcoming static friction and enginerring compliance in my post Understanding Change.

Aim for the Success Spiral

The Matthew Effect (also known as the Matthew Effect of Accumulated Advantage or the Matthew principle) was popularized by American sociologist, Robert K. Merton, and is named after The Parable of Talents from the biblical Gospel of Matthew.

“For to every one who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”

Gospel of Matthew (25:29 Revised Standard Version)

Regardless of religious affiliation, The Matthew Effect is a phenomena we can observe time and time again even in the modern world.

I just recently started seriously investing in the stock market and I see exactly how people who already have money can make more money with their money. People who invest more money have the potential to make more money, people who invest little money have the potential to make little money.

This is also visible in something a small as a bank account, the more money we have in the account, the more money can we get back in interest. People that don’t have a lot of money in their bank account are subject to low interest yeilds and overdraft fees, which prevent them from effortless wealth building.

On an academic level, students who get A’s on the first few exams are going to have an easier time getting an A on the final exam. The students who failed the first few exams are more likely to fail the final, unless they put in even more effort than the A students.

When it comes to exercise, it’s actually easier to work out once you’re in shape and healthy. If you aren’t, exercise can seem like an impossible mountain to climb and are more likely to become even unhealthier.

In my Understanding Habits and The 1% Rule post, I talk about the the Two Life Path from Jeff Olsen’s book The Slight Edge which clearly illustrates The Matthew Effect.

Our choices compound on each other, and while it doesn’t seem like it in the moment, the good choices can easily becomes great and the bad choices can easily become terrible. We just need to add time.

This knowledge is powerful because we can use it to our advantage. All we have to do is aim for the success spiral. Once we reach a critical point of good decisions, the benefits compound on each other and create even more benefit as long as we don’t destroy the structure.

Focus on making the small wins and watch them evolve into big ones. It’s much easier to win once you’ve been winning. On the flip side, take the small loses and they can spiral out of control. At that point, it becomes too easy to lose and seemingly impossible to win. Don’t let it get to that point, take your wins everywhere you can! There’s no win that is too small.

You did half a push up? Fantastic, next time you’ll done 1. The time after that you’ll do 2. Keep that up for a year and you’ll be surprised how far that can take you.

A big part of aiming for the success spiral is tracking your habits. Tracking is important because we can see how we’ve been performing over time and determine if we are on a success spiral or if we need to make changes.

For the past few months I’ve been using the Streaks app on iOS and I highly recommend it. Best $5.99 I’ve spent this year for sure. Creating streaks builds momentum and that momentum gives us an extra push. Remember, kinetic friction is easier to overcome than static friction. It’s easier to maintain a streak than to start one. I also reward myself whenever I finish my streaks, so I have incentive to start again the next day. I got more in depth about building and breaking habits in my post Types of Habits and Designing Our Lives.

Good Feelings Come After Action

“Chase after money and security, And your heart will never unclench. Care about people’s approval, And you will be their prisoner. Do your work, then step back. The only path to serenity.”

Lao Tzu (Tao Te Ching)

Waiting until we feel good about doing something is similar to waiting until we feel motivated to do something. It’s futile and we will never get enough done to obtain significant achievement. Action beyond motivation is the muscle we need to develop within ourselves and the same principles can apply to action beyond feeling good.

What makes people happy is not obtaining goals, but observing themselves move towards a goal. Knowing that our actions are “correct” gives us bursts of dopamine, which makes us feel really good. The truth is that the good feelings come after the actions. We will feel like doing it, once we are doing it. I come up against this every time I start reading or writing a blog post. Every time it’s a struggle to start, but once I’m started I tend to lose myself in my work and I feel genuine pleasure while I’m doing. I feel the feelings I was waiting to feel to start while I was doing the work.

Good feelings comes after accomplishment, not before. Do good, feel good.

The Relationship with Ourselves

“How can a man come to know himself? Never by thinking, but by doing. Try to do your duty and you will know at once what you are worth.”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (Maxims on Life and Character)

I have spent many weeks putting off writing about this topic simply because it is so big and I didn’t know where to start. I kept scrapping intro after intro because I felt like none of them could accurately express the magnitude of importance that this idea holds. I was getting frustrated because I had this huge message inside me, but I had no way of getting it out! So rather than try to build up to the idea I’m just going to start from the point I want to make and work my way around it.

The main idea is that people are relational creatures and we do not pay enough attention to our most important relationship, the relationship with ourselves.

We see it everyday, so much energy, attention, and money are dedicated to our relationships. In fact, we have entire industries built on this phenomena – therapy, self-help, sports, the arts, the list can go on forever.

We put so much care and attention into how we relate to our work or our loved ones, but rarely think about how we relate to ourselves. This is peculiar because how we relate to ourselves impacts us far greater than how we relate to anything external of ourselves. I’ve read so many different books written by people from all different time periods, and it seems like the biggest influence on our experience of reality, life satisfaction, and peace of mind is ourselves.

People are constantly looking outward to change their lives or find happiness. The inconvenient truth, is that everything we desire is within.

They tell themselves “Once I get _____” or “Once ____ is over” or “When I’m finally ____” then I can be happy.

Most of us intellectually know that this isn’t true, but to internalize it is a different story.

Our life satisfaction, our abilities to take on new things, and potential opportunities are all dictated by how we know ourselves.

We all have feelings and thoughts about ourselves that we do not share with other people and these patterns control our orienting reflexes. People are purpose driven creatures and I talk a little bit about how we need to track things in order to succeed, but the relationship with ourselves decides what we believe we can even keep track of at all.

The relationship with ourselves is the sum total of all our achievements and failures that we observe in ourselves. We subconsciously keep score of everything. Every time we said we were going to do something but didn’t creates a relationship with ourselves that suggests we aren’t reliable. Every time we’ve done the impossible and surprised ourselves with our abilities creates a relationship with ourselves that proves we can do amazing things in the face of adversity.

Everything we do is kept record.

Christians believe that God is watching them always. I believe that we were made in God’s image and it is not only God always watching but it is the god within ourselves that is always watching. Regardless of religious affiliation, we are the only ones who have been with us since the beginning.

No one understands the experiences and situations we have been in better than ourselves and it is through this understanding which we develop the relationship with ourselves.

Who we know ourselves to be is not based in what we say to other people, but how we feel about ourselves. Our perspectives of ourselves is the only thing that has truly been with us through all of our situations. This part of ourselves keeps score, it pays attention to what we have and haven’t done and casts projects of what we can and cannot do. How we relate to ourselves dictates our orienting reflexing and ultimately our lives.

Imagine that you’re planning to meet a friend for dinner. You plan to meet them at the restaurant, but they don’t show up. You try getting in touch with them, but they’re dodging your calls. Eventually, you get a hold of them and they give some weak excuse that barely explains why they couldn’t show up. You just got let down. Your friend did not fulfil what they committed to you. Naturally, we’d feel disappointed and upset, but the real truth is we will forever see that friend as less reliable and accountable. Their word has taken a slight dip in believability and the person can no longer be counted on as much as they were before. It can seem harsh, but it’s the truth. Now, the real kicker is that we can replace that unreliable friend with ourselves.

We rarely pay attention to the expectations and commitments we put onto ourselves. Partly because we like to think as long as only I know, then it didn’t really happen. However, the feelings associated with that unreliable friend can easily be put onto ourselves if we pull the same stunt. Our self-esteem, self-efficacy, confidence, ambition, life satisfaction is a direct result of this. It’s easy to put things onto others and it’s even easier to put things on ourselves, but sometimes we tend not to notice the relationship with ourselves.

In a world of legally mandated education, I’ve noticed a lot of students wondering why they’re forced to learn and work on countless “pointless” concepts and it’s a fair argument. Most of the concepts and “education” people recieve is only useful in an academic setting and rarely applicable in The World Beyond. Admittedly the education system, at least in the United States, needs a ton of rework. However, there is something invaluable we can get from our education.

Our current education system provides students with an opportunity for them to prove to themselves what kind of person they are.

Are you the kind of person who gets things done when the going gets tough or do you quit the first chance you get?

The relationship with ourselves is always transforming and refining with every situation we encounter. Since most kids spend most of their time at school or working on their education, a large portion of the relationship with themselves is rooted in how they handled their academic responsibilities.

We can choose who we are, but first we need to discover what our relationship with ourselves is like. We can ask ourselves the follow questions to get a quick snapshot of what our relationship might look like:

What degree is it damaged?

What can we do to make it better?

Do we trust ourselves?

Do we believe we are capable of helping ourselves?

What kind of person do we think we are?

What kind of person are we actually?

The good news is we can build the relationship with ourselves no matter where we are. First we have to know what our relationship is like for ourselves, then work on ways to prove to ourselves that we are the kind of person that we want to be.

This starts with our integrity and identity.

Integrity

A common definition of integrity is what you do when no one is looking. People who having integrity are typically considered moral and trustworthy because we know that even behind closed doors they will still make the right choices. This definition of integrity is fantastic and if we see it through the lense of the relationship with ourselves, we will see that integrity is important because we, us, ourselves, are always looking. We constantly are watching us and we know how we would act behind closed doors. People with integrity have a healthy and strong relationship with themselves because they know exactly what kind of choices they will make.

There’s another definition that I believe is much more useful and powerful. Integrity is also known as a state of being whole or undivided. Every commitment we break, to others or ourselves, puts a little crack in our integrity. Every aspect of our lives that is not aligned with our chosen commitments also puts a little crack in our integrity.

When our integrity is not perfectly whole, we are prone to negative emotion and lose the ability to live in the present. This creates intense dissatisfaction with our lives.

Living with perfect integrity is better than anything we can ever experiences. It’s comparable to true peace of mind and contentment. It is our goal to seek out what does not make us whole and undivided and reorient that part of our lives so it serves us, or at least does not hold back. When we have perfect integrity, the relationship with ourselves is pristine. We get out of our own way and become our biggest ally.

When we have a commitment, or vision for our lives, we create a value structure which deams certain actions as “good” (they bring us closer to our goals) or “bad” (they bring us away from our goals). When we stay on the path, so to speak, we are operating with perfect integrity and are creating a positive and powerful relationship with ourselves. If we were to stray off the path, make a “bad” decision, we won’t be able to have perfect integrity until we make up for the damage done. In a Judeo-Christian context, this can be seen as atonement – at one, at return to a state of wholeness.

States of Moral Trajectory

I believe this is why the world religions have this mechanism built into their structure. Human beings must stay on a path towards something they find valuble. This is clear when we have a goal or a commitment. However, sometimes we may choose to act in a way that does not align with that path.

In archery, they call missing the mark a sin. In a religious context, they say not staying on the path is a sin. I’m saying that from the perspective of developing a relationship with ourselves, not saying on the path is a sin, in the technical sense of the word.

When we sin, we must correct our trajectory in order to return to the path. The world religions have their own ways for doing this, but I believe they all contain the same basic mental exercises.

In order to restore integrity we must:

  1. Admit that we have missed the mark
  2. Understand the impact of our sin to the highest degree that we are capable
  3. Discover methods to make up for the sin
  4. Implement those methods in the real world

This can look an infinite amount of ways. In the future, I’ll write more about integrity because I feel like it is one of those HUUUGE ideas that could make a significant positive impact in many people’s lives.

Kintsugi – Japanese Art of Scars & Repair

Living with perfect integrity requires us to clearly understand what our values, goals, and commitments are. This is not an easy task, and many people love to not clearly articulate themselves so they can escape the responsibility of paying attention to their actions. I talk about this idea in a few of my posts, but it first came up in The Reality-Possibility Exchange.

If we could be honest with ourselves and understand our commitments, we know when we’re doing something right and when we’re doing something wrong. If we pay enough attention, there is a specific moment when we decide to do the wrong thing. There is an actual second that we can point to on a clock when we decide to not follow through on our commitment. Pay attention and you will notice it when it comes. What we decide to do in that moment determines the relationship with ourselves.

Identity

I talk more about identity in my posts, Utilizing Our Identities and The Brain vs. The Mind (Part 2). In these posts, I talk about the utility in understanding our identities and how we can use that knowledge to design and build the lives we desire.

Our identity, in terms of the relationship to ourselves, is how we understand ourselves to be. We know what we like or don’t like. We understand what we are skilled in and what we are ignorant of. We know ourselves as a certain kind of person.

Our identity is one of the strongest motivational forces and determines what our goals and aims are. Our identity shapes our ideals and the paths we walk towards them.

No matter what we declare our identity to be, we can act out of line and define ourselves whenever we want. This is a turbulent process which comes with its own set of stages, but it can be done. Our identities aren’t permanent, not until we’re dead.

Don’t sacrifice who you could be for who you are now.

Our identity is closely related to our integrity. We see all of our own actions and know all of our own thoughts. Our identity is built from our integrity. If we aren’t following through on our commitments and projects, then we are supplying proof to ourselves that we aren’t trustworthy and reliable. Creating an identity of being unreliable prevents us from creating an identity of someone admirable or virtuous.

The game is pretty rough, but it’s what we all have to play. It’s play the game (whatever game you choose) and play it well, or know yourself as a loser.

“When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.”

Cersei Lannister (Game of Thrones Season 1 Episode 7)

We try hard to stick to the identity we give ourselves simply because we hate being wrong and what’s worse than being wrong about who we are? Additionally, our identities are usually justified by the people around us. Our friends and family members will consistently remind us of how we are this kind of person or that kind of person. Their perceptions of your identity are just as malleable as our own. Our identities are never permanent in our minds or in the minds of others.

Consistency & Toughness

Life is hard, but we’re tougher than we think, the only issue is that we have to prove it to ourselves. How do we prove it to ourselves? Through consistent action.

Consistency is key to building a relationship with ourselves and it’s also key to building a lasting and formidable identity. Developing a relationship with ourselves is much like developing a relationship with another person, it takes a lot of time. So we need to create consistent action to create ample proof that we are who we think we are. However, unlike relationships with other people, the relationship with ourselves is 20% discovery and 80% creation. Relationships with other people tend to be 80% discovery, and 20% creation.

We need toughness because relationships are hard work and working over the long term will require us to be tough. A lot of early life relationships end because people don’t have the toughness to deal with the challenges of intertwining the life of another. The unique part about this relationship is we can never leave it! We are always going to be in a relationship with ourselves and it’s damn hard to craft it into something steadfast and powerful.

Lev Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development

A couple tips for developing toughness – do not say things that make you weak. You are listening to yourself when you speak, and if you say you’re weak then you’ll listen and internalize it. Be mindful of the comments we make about ourselves. Also, try operating in your Zone of Proximal Development. It’s an excellent way to grow yourself in any domain of life you choose.

Grit

This is the difference between success and failure in terms of someone reaching their full potential. The “talentless” can surpass the naturally gifted individuals and reach unimaginable heights as long as they cultivate the grit within them.

According to wikipedia – grit is a positive, non-cognitive trait based on an individual’s perseverance of effort combined with the passion for a particular long-term goal or end state (a powerful motivation to achieve an objective). It is the key to stellar performance in any field and the best part is anyone can create it within themselves. The simplest way I think about grit is as passionate persistence.

Renowned scholar and author, Angela Duckworth wrote a book appropriately titled “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance” and has a TedTalk which has over 6 million views on YouTube in which she gives a fantastic overview of grit and how we can use it be reach out full potential.

The reason why I bring up grit now is because the key to understanding grit and using it to our advantage is to know ourselves as someone with high levels of grit.

Developing a relationship with ourselves where we are full of grit and cultivating an identity that matches can give us full proof armor when we encounter difficulties such as The Attack, or what Steven Pressfield describes as Resistance in his book, The War of Art.

Grit can be thought of as having 5 characteristics. Focusing on developing each of these characteristics in ourselves will help us cultivate grit as a whole.

The 5 Characteristics of Grit

Courage – developing courage does not mean ridding ourselves of fear, it means to accept the fear within us and act anyway. In order to create a relationship with myself in which I know myself to be courageous, then I have to pay attention during the times when I’m more afraid, decide what they best course of action is, and take it. No withdrawing or freezing in hopes that things will go away on their own.

Conscientiousness: Achievement Oriented vs. Dependable – being conscientious a useful trait to develop within ourselves because conscientious people work like mad. Knowing ourselves as someone who is focused on achievement and dependable makes us invaluable in any industry at any level. Conscientious people tend to rise to the level of expectation, but only because they prove to themselves that they can over and over. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but they laid bricks every hour.

Long-Term Goals and Endurance: Follow Through – nothing is worthwhile without follow through in the long term. Things that take longer are usually better and designing our lives is a long game. We need to be able to know ourselves as people who can follow through even if they goal is years down the line. We need to know that we can maintain vision over the long term. Sometimes I think that the true test of success is just maintaining the vision over the trials and tribulations.

Resilience: Optimism, Confidence, and Creativity – we will encounter hardship and challenges that rival our wildest dreams. The only way through it is knowing ourselves as resilient. If we know we have what it takes to get through it, then we will. The only thing is that we’ll need to know how to get through most challenges. Knowing ourselves as optimistic will help us keep faith and push forward. Knowing ourselves as confident will give us the willingness to push the boundaries into unexplored territory. Dragons lay in the unknown, but so does treasure! Knowing ourselves as creative will give us the means to solve some of life’s toughest puzzles – the challenges which impede us from obtaining the life of our own design.

Excellence vs. Perfection – excellence is a difficult idea to wrap our head around without tangling it up with perfection. If we know ourselves as perfectionists, or someone who produces perfect work, then we are frozen forever. Our super egos would be too strict and that would leave no room for any kind of action. However, if we know ourselves as excellent, or someone who produces excellent work, then we will inevitably put our best effort into everything we do. Going the extra mile is only tough if you don’t normally do it.

Self-Efficacy

The relationship we have with ourselves can be reflected in our self-efficacy. Selfefficacy refers to an individual’s belief in his or her capacity to execute behaviors necessary to produce specific performance attainments (Bandura, 1977, 1986, 1997). It reflects confidence in the ability to exert control over one’s own motivation, behavior, and social environment.

If we have a powerful relationship with ourselves and know ourselves to follow through on our commitments, then we will have high self-efficacy.

If we have an unstable relationship with ourselves and we know ourselves as wishy-washy, then we’ll have a low self efficacy.

Components of Self-Efficacy

Remember, part of us is always keeping score and self-efficacy is the part that controls our confidence and willingness to try new and difficult things.

Now, this is not the same as self-esteem. Self-esteem is more like the amount of self-respect we have rather than confidence in our ability to perform. Self-esteem is important too, but self-efficacy is what I believe really controls the trajectory of our lives.


There is more I’d like to go over when it comes to the relationship with ourselves, but I’m going to cut it off here for now. How we treat ourselves and how we act affects us. All. The. Time. The relationship with ourselves is a part of our lives that doesn’t get as much attention as it should, especially considering that it determines the majority of our life outcome.

Love yourself. Trust yourself. Push yourself. Earn yourself.

Categories
Lifestyle Productivity

Understanding Habits and The 1% Rule

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC)

The other day I was thinking about how my life, and everyone else’s, is the accumulation of all the little moments of our lives. A lot of people I’ve talked to, including myself, are waiting for this imaginary future when their lives can finally start, but it’s a delusion. Our lives are happening right now and how we live in each moment decides what our lives actually are. So when I think about lifestyle design, or living my life by my own design the question arises –

How can I have the life I’ve always wanted?

Well if our lives are the sum of all the smaller moments, then living the life I’ve always wanted means to be the person that lives that ideal life in every moment. Everything I want to be, I ought to strive to be in every moment. If I do this, then over time I will have many small moments of me living out my ideal life and it will eventually be indistinguishable from my life as a whole. I can build my dream life one moment at at time. Thinking about this excited me, but at the same time terrified me.

How was I supposed to keep up with a demand that high?

How will I actually be able to build my dream life?

Through one decision at a time. Every moment I’m confronted with potential and I have a choice to turn it into something good or something bad. All I have to do is choose good every time right?

Yes, but the fact is I’m human, we’re all human, and for whatever reason we won’t always choose the good option.

So what can be do to make up for this peculiar quality?

Build habits. James Clear is a fantastic author who wrote the book, Atomic Habits, which outlines exactly that. Clear suggests that success (or how I like to think of it – ideal lifestyle design) is not a one time transaction, but the product of daily habits. In other words, we slowly build the kind of lives for ourselves one moment at a time. This phenomenon can work in our favor and take us towards our best life or can work to our detriment and create holes for ourselves indistinguishable from Hell.

This idea is relevant to self-talk and our thoughts as well. If we tell ourselves that we are capable and strong people often, then we are more likely to believe it. However, on the flipside, if we tell ourselves that we are weak and not good enough, then eventually we will believe that as well. I try to avoid saying things that make me weak, because my thought habits are pretty easily malleable.

I’ve seen this idea pop up in multiple places. In Atomic Habits, Clear states that habits are the compound interests of self-improvement and in The Slight Edge, Olson suggests that everything is curved in life especially the results from our seemingly tiny decisions.

The Slight Edge Two Life Path

Making the kinds of choices to propel our lives forward is a difficult thing to do and that’s where habits come into play. Building habits will help us stay on the upswing even when we don’t “feel like it.” Typically, making upswing choices takes a lot of willpower and if we are presented with a crossroads and have low willpower, then chances are we’ll make a choice that brings up on the downswing. Habits are our brain’s way of automating familiar and old tasks so it can focus on other areas and mastering new tasks. Put more simply, habits save cognitive load.

Life operates by design or by default, the best part is we get to decide.

The 1% Rule

“Small helpful or harmful behaviors and inputs tend to Accumulate over time, producing huge results. According to Lean Thinking by James P. Womack and Daniel T. Jones, Toyota’s approach is based on the Japanese concept of kaizen, which emphasizes the continual improvement of a system by eliminating muda (waste) via a lot of very small changes. Many small improvements, consistently implemented, inevitably produce huge results”

Josh Kaufman (1976 – )

The idea behind the 1% rule is pretty simple – 1% for better or worse seems insignificant in the moment, but over time it will add up to who we are on a day-to-day basis. Renowned authors James Clear, Josh Kaufman, and Jeff Olsen all noticed the 1% rule independently of each other and I think that means there’s something objectively true about the observation.

YouTuber and Productivity Guru Thomas Frank also brings up the 1% rule in this video!

Thomas Frank is super cool

I love the advice Thomas gives in the video to set a scheduled release date and aim to get 1% better every time. It doesn’t matter what domain you are improving, as long as it is consistently improved we can use time to our advantage rather than our detriment. I did this with music production, with every project I aimed to get better at making melodies, or mixing drums, or sampling and now that it’s been a few years, I can do all of those things fairly well. I also did this with blogging. I have experimented with a different aspect of blogging with every post and over time my blogging skills have improved. I can honestly say that using the 1% rule to approach any new skill is the most effective way to learn something without being let down by unrealistic expectations. Things like The Transition Curve are also things to keep in mind when we are trying to learn a new skill.

While this is a fantastic discovery for those of us who feel up to the challenge, but like I mentioned in my post Tracking vs. Loss Aversion, I talk about the importance of not just chasing a carrot, but also running from a stick. The stick in this case is the compound effect of getting 1% worse every day over time.

Based on a True Story

Getting 1% better for a year makes us about 38 times better than we were when we started, while getting 1% wrose for a year makes us 3% of what we were when we started. If we aren’t getting 1% better, than we’re getting 1% worse. It sounds like a wild accusation, but let me use science to explain.

Since we’re relatively large creatures, compared to subatomic particles, our bodies follow laws of conventional science (non-quantum laws), which means we adhere to the 2nd law of thermodynamics. The 2nd law states that entropy is always increasing. Entropy can be thought of as a measure of chaos or disorder. So the natural state of things is that they decay over time. Which means, if we aren’t actively trying to be 1% better, then we are truly getting 1% worse.

Progress is a Long Game

New habits don’t seem to make a difference until we reach a critical point. We expect to make linear progress, but our progress has more of a logarithmic behavior. James Clear calls this the expectancy curve. I talk more about the Expectancy Curve in my post The Valley of Disappointment.

The point when reality meets our expectations is known as the critical point

In order to notice the powerful outcomes, we have to stick with a skill longer than the valley of disappointment lasts. We must allow time for our habits to develop and not let our own disappointment take us out, especially at the beginning. The best way to avoid disappointment and see massive results is to set up a system that works for you.

Set Up Systems, Not Goals

“How you do anything is how you do everything.”

Dr. Andre Pinesett

Rather than try my hardest at one thing, or only do my best work when I’m blogging, I choose to try to do my best in every little thing I do. I do this for many reasons:

  1. To know myself as someone who always does their best
  2. So I don’t have to try harder than usual at any given time

I’ve developed a habit of being excellent, at least as much as I can be, all of the time. This is because I truly believe that how I do one thing is exactly how I do another. If I half ass a blog post, you can bet real good money that I’m half assing everything else I’m doing too. A big part of designing our lives is to pay close attention to how we decide to approach situations and decide if that is the kind of person that we would like to be.

When I work with my students on math problems, I do not only see how they perform academically, but I also see how they approach new challenges in general. Most get frustrated and try to ignore the problem. Some double down and use even more firepower to get through it. A few of them just lie and tell me that they understand it when they clearly do not. I don’t make judgements on their choices, I see my job as someone who ought to help them elevate their own problem solving skills by meeting them at their level.

I personally believe that the students who double down when they are confronted by challenges will be the most successful and most satisfied with their lives. Life is full of challenges and if we were only allowed to get one thing from our education it ought to be the ability to surmount challenges healthily. Using these tiny, low risk, problems as practice in developing ourselves in this skill is one of the best things we can do for ourselves.

So rather than just trying really hard in one area, we should apply Leonardo’s personal mantra to every aspect of our lives:

“Ostinato rigore” (Constant rigore)

Leonardo da Vinci (1452 – 1519)

We need consistency because we fall to the levels of our training, not to the levels of our goals. If our training is rigorous, then we will fall to the level of excellence. If we’re having trouble changing habits, then we should pay more attention to our systems.

Goals are the results of what we want to achieve and Systems are the processes that get us there. Here are a few reasons why we should have goals, but we shouldn’t focus on them:

  1. Winners and losers often have the same goals. Some people think that winners are more ambitious goals, but that isn’t the case. People who win do not win because they have ambitious goals.
  2. Achieving a goal is satisfying for a moment. The next moment, we need a new goal. If we don’t have one, we can easily spiral into depression. It’s also easy to fall into black or white thinking. Achieve goal and be happy or fail and be disappointed. If we fall in love with the process, rather than the outcome, we give ourselves permission to be happy.
  3. Solving problems on the goal level is usually only momentary. Solving problems on the systemic level will prevent similar problems from occurring in the future.

With all my content creation, blogging, YouTube Videos, and Music, I don’t try to just make 1 song every day, or 1 blog post every day. I aim to produce a little every day or write for an hour every day. Back in college, I used to tell myself that I needed to make a beat a day if I wanted to be a good producer. While its a good goal to have, I noticed that once I made the beat, I wasn’t motivated to keep going. Sometimes I wasn’t even able to make something because looking at the task at the level of making an entire beat was too big! Now I have a simple step by step system that I can run whenever I feel unmotivated or uninspired that produces content. Every step of my content creation process is crystal clear to me so all I have to do is focus on putting one foot in front of the next, rather than just trying to get to the finish line.

Categories
Education Productivity

Strategies for Better Studying (Part 3)

“Premature optimization is the root of all evil.”

Donald Knuth (1938 – )

Check out the first and second parts! This is part 3 of my buffet of study techniques. Be sure to check out my post on Active Recall and Spaced Repetition to learn the main principles which efficient and effective studying is based. Applying methods without understanding the principles is a great way to waste time and energy, but once we understand the principles then we can mix and match the different strategies to develop our own personalized study system.

Scope the Subject

I first brought up the idea of Scoping the Subject in my post on Note-Taking. Scoping the subject is most effective when we do it at the beginning of a study session or when we are learning something new. It is simply asking yourself how much you already know about a subject before diving in.

Scoping the subject has many forms. One of them is through a mind map, which I also talk about in my Note-Taking post. Through creating a mind map, we can easily visualize the information we know and how they are related to each other.

Another way to scope the subject is to skim through the chapter of a textbook and noting any recurring words, phrases, or topics that you are not familiar with. These little holes of unknown are going to be landmarks, so to speak, that our minds will be on the lookout for when we actually learn the material. This is gives our minds an aim. Without an aim, it is extremely difficult to know what to pay attention to. The idea of people needing aims and direction can be taken much further than studying and I talk a lot about it here. People need purpose and purpose only exists in relation to something else. Scoping the subject gives us that reference point necessary to relate to something.

One more extremely helpful aspect of scoping the subject is having a ready made list of the concepts that we need to know. This list can be prioritized which is key to scheduling and timetables.

Build Knowledge Frames

I brought this up in my note-taking post a little while ago. Knowledge Frames work fantastic with mind maps. In a sense, mind maps are a type of knowledge frame. Knowledge Frames can be thought of as a generalized representation of a concept which smaller details can easily be attached.

I originally head of this idea from Dr. Andre Pinesett, a Stanford trained medical doctor who is an expert in student success. He says that students should build a simple understanding of a concept, then expand on that simple frame by adding details to it later on. In one of this long-form videos, he brings up learning the flow through the heart, a concept which most people find difficult to commit to memory.

The best part about knowledge frames is being able to learn these complicated ideas easily and simply. I used knowledge frames to help me memorize blood flow through the heart during EMT school. I’ll show you how I did it here –

One could simply memorize the flow of blood through the heart:

Vena cava → right atrium → tricuspid valve → right ventricle → pulmonic valve → pulmonary artery → lungs → pulmonary veins → left atrium → bicuspid valve → left ventricle → aorta → the rest of the body…

….but that’s not intuitive if you aren’t familiar with anatomy. The best way to memorize the flow isn’t through brute force memorization, but through knowledge frames.

First, we have to create a simple and generalized conceptualization of blood flow through the heart:

The Heart

This is the heart, or at least an extremely simplified version of it. This box will be our initial knowledge frame. As long as we think about the heart like this, it will be easier to learn the smaller details. Now that we’ve build the foundational structure, let’s hang some details on it.

Blood only comes into the heart through the atriums, from the top. It starts a the right atrium.

Entry into the Heart

There are 3 valves between each opening so the blood doesn’t flow backwards. The names are tricuspid, bicuspid, and pulmonic. The tricuspid and bicuspid valves are between the atrium and ventricles and the pulmonic valve is between the right ventricle and the lungs.

I remember this through the classic mnemonic “Try it before you buy it.” The pulmonic valve is named such because it leads to the lungs and things related to the lungs are known as pulmonary.

Veins carry blood towards the heart and arteries carry blood away from the heart so the blood leaves the right ventricle through the pulmonary artery and enters the heart through the pulmonary veins.

Veins, Arteries, and Lungs

The blood enters through the superior and inferior vena cava and exists through the aorta.

Further Specify Enter and Exit

And there you have it! The entire flow of the heart in 4 steps. We can always memorize complex systems and ideas, but chances are there’s a way to understand these things that are less burdensome. Now that we’ve created a knowledge frame, I recommend drawing out the frame in its entirety for active recall.

I’ve also used this idea (before I knew it had a name) in my chemistry classes to learn VSEPR theory in a simple and intuitive way. I’ve also used it to understand cellular respiration and all its’ little details. It’s difficult and time consuming to create knowledge frames but once they are made, they are invaluable, our understanding becomes solidified, and our retention skyrockets.

Find ways to simply concepts, then hang the smaller details on your frame.

Clearly Articulate Failure and Success

“When things cannot be defined, they are outside the sphere of wisdom; for wisdom knows the proper limits of things.”

Seneca (Letters from a Stoic XCIV – On the Value of Advice)

This is an applied idea from the lessons in my posts about drifters and definitive purpose, the reality-possibility exchange, tracking and loss aversion, and the power of failure. We are purpose driven creatures and we need to strive towards something. Having something to specific to strive for does us a lot ot good not just because we experience dopamine releases observing ourselves move towards goals, but because it can help us stay on track.

Always set an intention with every study session, set clear boundaries for failure and success. This is so we know when we’ve finished studying and when we’re behind. I don’t mean using time as a measurement. Have concrete goals that you can measure yourself up against.

This can look many different ways depending on the situation. When I’m working with my students, my goal is usually to do practice questions that cover the topics they will be tested on until they are able to complete the problems without mistakes. Sometimes, I’ll have less qualitative specifications for a study session. If time is short, I may say that the student has to do at least 20 practice problems.

My girlfriend is currently studying for the MCAT and she has the goal of finishing 1 chapter of new information per day. This way, she’ll know when she will actually be done studying. Rather than aimlessly trying to “study as much as we can,” we know exactly when we are done for the day.

As with most of the things I like to share, this lesson can be taken much further than simply studying. Articulation is the highest level of understanding and paying attention to how well articulated our goals and boundaries are will change our lives for the better.

Apply this to any endeavor you choose and watch your accomplishments slowly grow.

Past Papers, Exams, and Essay Plans are Crucial

I mean this with my heart and soul. Textbooks, the internet, fantastic tutors, friends are all great resources but nothing compares to old exams and thorough plans.

When we study for an exam, we want to be able to answer the questions that come up on the test and the best way to do that is to practice recalling the concepts that will be covered on that test. When many students, including myself, try to create active recall questions they inevitably wonder if the questions they’re using are sufficient for the exam.

How do we know we’re studying the right questions?

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard and thought “I didn’t study any of the stuff that was actually on the test.” There are few things that suck more than preparing for the wrong situation, especially if the stakes are high. Studying the wrong material sucks so bad. We put in the work, only to discover that we’ve sacrificed the wrong thing.

Nothing is better than studying old exams or past papers, especially if those tests were administered by the same professor! This way we’ll already know what their tests are like. We will know what types of questions to expect, the wording of the questions, the length of the exam, and so many other things. By reviewing an old test, we remove a lot of the uncertainty surrounding it, which gives us more confidence and lowers our need for anxiety. Anxiety is our response to preparing for unknown variables and studying past exams takes out many unknowns.

If old exams aren’t accessible, practice tests are usually supplied at the end of a chapter which cover the 80/20 of the need-to-know for most STEM classes.

If you have to write an essay, examine the structures and characteristics of past essays can provide a stronger structure to work with especially in timed constraints. Read over an old essay and ask:

  • How did they structure this paper?
  • Why did they structure it that way?
  • What are weakness of this paper? Avoid those.
  • What are strengths of this paper? Mimic those.

Plagiarism is a terrible thing, but finding inspiration from others is totally fair game. In Austin Kleon’s Steal Like an Artist, he talks about the uniqueness of each individual how that affects our ability to imitate. Kleon suggests that if one were to try to make a copy of another’s work, individualism would influence the work enough to create something new. I believe this is so true! By allowing ourselves to be influenced by our surroundings, we are naturally influencing the world around us. When we look over old papers, I suggest mimicking as much as possible. Allow your own voice to shine through, but steal the concepts, plans, and ideas and make them your own.

Once the ideas for the essay are gathered, write out an outline over and over and over and over and over until you can write that essay in your sleep.

Be Mindful of Diminishing Returns

“The last 10 percent of performance generates one-third of the cost and two-thirds of the problems.”

Norman R. Augustine (1935 – )

The idea of unproportional output to input is found in so many places and has been given many different names from many different people. The 80/20 rule is a fantastic example. I think everyone should spend a little time learning about these different observations and natural phenomena because the knowledge of these ideas changes how we would approach situations in a more powerful way. These ideas are powerful because they are based on the assumption that diminishing returns are something to pay attention to.

The Point of Diminishing Return is a phenomena of systems and it is the point when the ratio of output/input has decreased to a point where it’s no longer reasonable to continue. In terms of studying, this is the point when you would have to put in MORE effort to be able to learn LESS information. The point of diminishing returns eventually turns into Negative Returns, which should be avoided at all costs.

f(x) = x^(1/2) ish?

Derek Sivers has a fantastic story about him biking which illustrates this idea perfectly, I write about it in my post Another 5 More Tips for Better Scheduling. 45 instead of 43 is the preferred method of doing things.

Ramit Sethi also preaches his idea of “getting the big wins” and moving on with his life, which also is predicated on the idea of calling it quits at the point of diminishing return. Ramit calls it The 85% Solution – get 85% of it right and move on! I love this because it allows us the freedom to leave if something takes too much of our precious and nonrenewable attention. I do this all the time with my students, if we come across a problem that takes 20 minutes for us to complete I would either try to break down the concepts into smaller chunks or just leave it. I will literally say “don’t worry about this and plan to get it wrong on the test.” This idea shocks people, but it gives us the freedom to move on and cover other material. When it comes to studying rather than use the 85% solution, I say do the 90% solution – get 90% of it right and move on.

One thing to consider is where the point of diminishing returns actually is. One person’s point of diminishing return can look different from another’s. So the question is –

What determines our own point of diminishing returns?

I believe it’s a few different things, but the biggest factor lies in our trajectory. Our future plans decide where our point of diminishing returns are. This is another reason why Clearly Articulating Failure and Success is critical to being a better student. Where we are going decides what our present circumstances mean to us and through clearly defining where we are headed, we can more easily determine if our efforts are worth it.

We don’t have the energy to fight every battle. We must pick and choose. Know when it’s time to back away and know when it’s time to push.