(Or, how to think about strategy)
Trying to get things done and pursuing a long-term goal can be daunting. You are aiming at an eventuality that is still quite far off. You have a sense of where you are going but don’t know quite know how to get there.
You see the mountain top, the main goal you are trying to accomplish, but you are still far off. You have started by doing it badly, but that’s just step one of hundreds of steps to get there.
Is there a way of thinking, a way of acting, that allows the actions we take to build on each other, to gain momentum, and build into a giant snowball racing furiously to our destination?
I think there is, and it’s a combination of strategic thinking and aiming for the domino effect.
Usually people’s efforts are haphazard, they are busy tied up doing a thousand and one things, but none of it is proactive, they are simply reacting to their environment. They end up expending energy in numerous directions, and achieving relatively little, running and running but staying in the same place.
But imagine if you could reduce or at least hone your efforts so they all work together to provide better results faster, building on each other to move you to the new place you desire.
That is the idea of strategy. Of achieving superior results with the same level of activity but just better directed. This is essentialism, this is the one thing, this is make less, work more.
Good strategy takes a look at the facts as they are. What are you really trying to achieve, what are the real problems in your way, what can you tackle and solve, in what order do you tackle them and what cohesive set of actions will you take to get there?
The domino effect is illustrated in the book ‘The One Thing’. Gary talks about lining up your dominoes. Each domino is an action or a mini goal. You place your goals in the right order, knowing what the one thing that would make everything else easier or move you closer towards your goal. You line that one thing up so that doing it will knock down the next thing that would make everything easier or move you closer to your goal. And so on and so forth.
Overtime, domino hits domino, and you build momentum with the energy growing and transferring with each action and toppled target.
For this to work, you need to have a sense of the interconnectedness of things between where you are now and where you are going. And you have to respect the order in which you are doing them. If you tackle the wrong domino, you will have wasted effort and need to double back to fix it.
It is like the designer or client that so eager to jump into the aesthetic design of a product without tackling the domino of strategy – who is it for, what do they need, why should they care. Or the fitness chaser running around in the gym without sorting out her nutrition first. Or worse still, a builder crafting the most gorgeous building without setting a proper foundation first.
You must strive to tackle your dominoes in the right order. In that way, each step you take would improve your odds of success.
When you let your moves stack on each other, each action creates a result that becomes the seed of the next action. So, with my business for instance, taking the time out to clarify a service offering – brand, design, digital – makes it easier for me to communicate and sell services. Taking time to define work processes for each service, makes it easier for me to work and replicate the process with clients. The design process includes me making mockups and prepping the products to look a certain way, which makes it easier down the line to showcase work done on the website, which then act as case studies and feed into content, which then feeds to sales and more work and growth for the company.
In that way, each move is made to make the subsequent moves easier, and the results of each move serve as the beginning of the next move.
To accomplish this, you have to be able to hold a vision of a desired result or situation, and then hazard a guess, a hypothesis of the possible ways forward, and then track a path that will lead you eventually to said goal.
Making your moves stack on each other can be weird territory. When you start, you don’t know anything, you are exploring options and looking for something that resonates, that grips your attention. And then you find it, and you keep working on it, you start to garner some recognition, some attention. Your moves start to give you a position that you can leverage to the next thing.
Sometimes it is easy enough, you can track your path fairly clearly, you have a good enough idea of what is needed, and the conditions are stable. Sometimes it is much harder than that, because the fog is thick, and conditions are constantly changing. You may not be able to identify all the dominoes, but you can work to increase your odds of success.
This is where you have to be woke to what you are trying to achieve and look for opportunities to move closer to that. Sometimes, you need to side step and tackle things obliquely. Sometimes it might even mean slowing down on the thing that has gotten you here, so that you can invest in the thing that will take you there.
But keep this idea in mind, hold a long-term view of your vision, connect the dots backwards and let each action become a stepping stone, and each lesson another arrow in your quiver, your moves will build and propel you to your destiny.
Sometimes, the hardest thing to do is start.
Especially when you are trying to chase the dream, do something you have never done before, create something new. There is that initial feeling of ‘ugh, I don’t even know where to begin?’
Coupled with the weight of expectation, the desire for perfection or the right working conditions, it is very easy to never start. But there is a simple antidote to this problem of inertia.
Start by doing it badly.
The creative process works in exactly this way. The first strokes on the canvas, the first words on the page, the initial snippets of code…are always rough drafts. They are never perfect. But they are where we begin. It is very seldom that I am hit with a flash of inspiration and I’m able to sit down and crank the whole thing out in one sitting. It does happen, every once in a blue moon, but that’s usually not the case. And for something like that to happen, I am usually already in a primed state. I have been writing or creating for extended periods of time and I am in complete flow.
Instead, it is really just the act of just sitting in front of the blank screen, the empty canvas and feeling a bit intimidated. All you have to work with is the urge, the spark, the vague idea, the nebulous potential of what you want to create. And that is where you must start, somehow to make all of that concrete.
My blog posts begin as drafts in my notebook app. Just a few lines, or paragraphs if I’m lucky, outlining the core of what I want to say. It is rough, riddled with errors and sometimes incomplete and slightly incoherent. But it captures the core idea. It gives me something to work with. Instead of the blank page, now I have some words, I have some ideas, I have the pieces. Imperfect pieces sure, but nonetheless, something to work with, something to shape and manipulate, to cut out from or to add to. It is still a long way until it is finally done, but at least with the drafts, the process has begun.
If you want to get what you want, you must be able to get important things done. And to get important things done, you have to be able to start.
But ‘what if you fail?’ That is one great fear that can keep us from starting. It’s not just the pressure of perfection now, it is the fear of failure. Let go of that fear. You are definitely going to make mistakes. You are definitely going to fail first. Of course, you will, you don’t know what you are doing. You are not very good at this yet. But you are moving, you are not standing still. You are transforming your potential into actual reality. Your first steps are not great, but they offer learning opportunities that move you forward.
Allow yourself the luxury of doing things badly the first few times. You don’t have to be perfect. If you fail, it won’t be a train smash. Just start. There will plenty of time down the road to correct, refine and make it great.
Now, when you begin a project or a journey towards a goal, you start off with an ideal in mind, a mental picture of what you want to achieve. Let’s call it your ‘star’. As you move towards it, it also moves. Your initial vision or goal was based on your perception before you started. But, as you do things, you learn, you get feedback. Your actions create results, and in turn, they teach you, they change you. As you act and move, your vision evolves. Your star moves as you move towards it.
And I find that interesting. As you grow, your vision grows with you. You never know where this path will ultimately take you. So even your goal can be imperfect. You can have a target right now and hold an idea of where you are going, but you can’t really say for sure that you will end up there. You start off trying to make a couple home computers for the electronics store on the corner and then decades later, end up with one of the biggest brands in the world (Apple). Taking hold of a vision and following your star will lead you down some interesting roads and bring you to unimaginable destinations.
I personally have been chasing this dream of being a designer and building a studio for a while now. Fresh out of university years ago, I read Computer Arts Magazines a lot and decided I was going to have a design studio like the ones I saw in there. And into that dream was woven other ideas and things I want to do all revolving around being creative, making art, exploring ideas and creating interventions that provoke thought and instigate action.
From being a freelancer to working on teams, that dream has evolved over time to cover branding, and strategy and products and business. These things are revealed to me over time, only as I walk the path. The vision gets deeper, more layered, more defined, the same ultimately, but different at particular points in the journey.
And as I think back, I can trace my path through construction and architecture, to performance, to being drawn in by the conceptual and the digital, to loving graphic design and pursuing that and over time combining all these other ideas and interests into my present pursuit of branding, design and entrepreneurship.
The vision is a bit different now, but I would not have gotten to this point without following my star, even as I morphed and changed, my star has morphed and changed and moved.
So, it’s okay to start badly. With little skill and bad aim. Because, what is the alternative? Stand still? Do nothing? The time passes anyway. And if you are standing still, you are really moving backwards. That is not something you can afford.
So, think about the things you know you need to start. Whatever that might be – a new habit, a project, a business, a relationship, whatever endeavor. Start it. Start it badly. It is okay to suck at first but start.
However imperfectly, take that first step. Follow your star.
I’ve been watching a lot of Jordan Peterson videos over the past two weeks and this post was inspired by a video by the same name of one of his lectures. It is worth a watch.
Having a written set of goals is not enough, you have to take action and then systematically measure your progress – Michael Hyatt
There is the idea (and I am bastardizing it here) that on a quantum level, things do not ‘exist’ until they are measured. Until you actually view light for instance, and depending on how it is measured, it will either exist as a wave or as a particle. Every atom is in a state of uncertainty, it is either there or not until you observe it, sort of like Schrödinger’s cat. Or something like that.
There is something else that does not really ‘exist’ until it is measured or observed. That is your goals and your dreams. The more attention you pay to your goals and dreams, the more you look at them and measure them, the more defined they become, the faster they come true. This is part of the reason why having a vision board works. It pays to keep the target before your eyes at all times.
A big dream killer is being vague. I know all about being vague, it is one of my favorite things. Vagueness is a comfortable nebulous zone where the potentiality is sky high, and you can be anything, you can be the greatest or you can be utterly crap, but you haven’t ‘been’ yet so it’s easy to revel in the idea of what you are going to do, instead of actually doing it. It is nice to wallow in the primordial soup of uncertainty.
But nothing exists, until it is made real. Nothing exists until it is born concretely. And that is where the fear lies. The fear of the irrevocable first step, a first step or an entire journey that could end up being less than perfect. The commitment to a dream, to a path. The forsaking of others. The burning of the ships, the tying yourself to the mast. Going all in, etc. All that can be scary.
But your dreams and goals must move from being vague to being defined and definite. It is easy to have aspirations, to want something to change. But for real progress to be made, the goals have to be defined, the metrics have to be clear. It is not enough to say you want to make more money, say exactly how much money you want to make and by when. Break your goals down to numbers that you can measure and aim for. Now there is accountability. Now there is a target, now there is a deadline. Now you can focus all your energy and make sure you hit them. You need a goal that can focus your faculties and provide you with the necessary direction, motivation and limitations to achieve it.
I have spoken about why you should build systems as opposed to setting goals. The concept that you should systemize the steps and daily actions you need to take to achieve what you want. This is very useful when you are starting out because you are still getting used to forming new habits and embodying a new vibration. You are not too concerned with hitting specific targets, you are just trying to get into the general ballpark of taking regular action towards those goals. While this idea builds our capacity and habits over time; to really squeeze the juice out of this process, you must take it to the next level by having discrete and clear targets to hold yourself accountable to. This is where you turn pro.
You have to know what your numbers are. They could be a once-off hit, like run a total of 20 000 miles in a year, or a streak, like blog once a week, every week for a whole year. They could be numbers to hit in the gym, an income target to reach in 6 months. It could be a new skill, being able to start and finish a project that you could not undertake before. In any case, you need a goal, you need a target to hit, and you need a way to measure your progress.
It is easy to fool ourselves and think we are doing work towards our goals. Once we start to look at the numbers for real though, we often see a different picture.
So how do we put this into practice? There are many ways to do this depending on your temperament and the nature of your goals. But I think it would generally look like this.
1. Define what success looks like
For every project, you have to define what success is. How do you know when you have won? For instance, I am working on a book now, and my time limit is 3 months, so by end of June I should be done. What does ‘done’ mean to me? It means I have taken the idea, put together all the material needed, as well as written and reworked and polished the manuscript to my personal satisfaction. At the end of June, I should have a book in Word that reads cohesively from start to finish.
That is a finite project, it has a beginning and an end. But what about projects with a reoccurring component? For my blog for example, success to me is maintaining a certain editorial schedule. And it is based on a scale. The absolute minimum is the once a week posts which I’ve been doing so far, and the higher limit is a schedule that sees me posting about 3 times a week. So, I know I am doing the minimum, but I have plenty room to improve.
2. Determine what it would take to achieve success
What gets measured, gets managed – Peter Drucker
Once you know what success looks like for your goals? You have to break it down further, looking at your schedule and how you spend your time and figure out what your daily or weekly actions must be to get you to that goal. For project-based goals like ‘writing a book’, it can mean drafting an execution road map for the project. It could play out like this – come up with book concept/idea, craft the book outline, collect all research and articles needed, write the book, edit the book (3 passes), design the book cover, design the book layout, create pdf file, upload, share.
Now I have a clear path to follow to reach this goal and I can set time frames for each section.
Another thing I would do, is break my goals down to daily or weekly activities I can do. For example, I can decide to work on my book for an hour every day, preferably first thing in the morning. I can round that off with 4 hours of dedicated time every weekend to really push forward on the project. This also gives me something to track and be accountable to in addition to the execution road map.
3. Be accountable
Men lie, women lie, numbers don’t – Jay Z (Reminder, The Blueprint 3)
The proof of the pudding is in the eating. To make steady progress towards the goal of having a book done by June, I would need to be constantly taking steady action. Every day I wake up, I know where I am on that roadmap and what I need to do next. At the end of every day I know if I spent an hour working on my book or not. I can track that. The more important the goal is, the more important it is to track and review my efforts.
Now life is chaotic sometimes. Shit happen, things throw us off course. I could decide in the middle of the project, that this is crap and I actually don’t want to write a book. I could get busy with other projects and need to focus on those instead. But regularly I have the chance to review my work and my numbers and see if I need to adjust my plan to new realities or scrap the project all together. But at least, I have the numbers to back it up. I have a real frame of reference.
Measuring and tracking performance is not easy. It takes discipline and a commitment to the process. It is much easier to be vague and just play at it. But if you really trying to get what you want, embracing this idea will take you further faster than you could imagine.
Like I mentioned earlier, I’m incredibly great at being vague. I’ll put off making a decision to the very last moment, and I’m not great at tracking the time I spend on client projects talk less of the moves I make towards my goals. But I recognize that being more aware of my metrics could have some value, hence this post, which is a stern lecture to myself as much as it is an exhortation to you.
So, do you have any tactics or frameworks you use to chart your progress? It could be health, exercise, finances, learning, projects, anything! Do share, I would love to learn from you.
flinch: /flinCH/ – verb (used without object)
to draw back or shrink, as from what is dangerous, difficult, or unpleasant.
to shrink under pain; wince.
For the past two weeks, I’ve been taking cold showers every day. I did not mean to, it just happened. The geyser broke, and instead of getting it fixed, I thought to myself, Benjamin Hardy has this whole thing about cold showers and why they are important. Apparently, taking cold showers everyday helps to build discipline. So instead of fixing the situation and returning to the cozy warm showers I’m used to, I decided to let it be, and dive into the experience of cold showers.
At first it was quite hard. Then it got a bit easier. Now when I go to take a shower, I switch the tap on, and dive in immediately. No time to think about how cold it is, and how uncomfortable it is. I don’t even let my mind start, I just dive in and embrace the pain. The first few seconds are tough, the sharp cold water hitting my skin, lungs hyperventilating, the burst of millions of neurons firing off in my brain during the experience. Eventually, it gets easier, and soon enough I forget that the water is cold, I’m deep in it by that point.
The aftermath is a bit interesting too, that feeling of being alive. The same feeling after you finish from the gym. That sensation that you tackled something tough and came out the other side. You are not as soft, you are a little harder, a little tougher, you lose your fear of the cold. Where others shrink back, you move boldly forward. You are a warrior.
There’s the idea of ‘The Flinch’ which I read about for the first time back in 2011. Julien Smith, the author of the book by the same name refers to the flinch as that instinctive fear that pops up once we have to take uncomfortable action. The fear evolved over thousands of years, keeping our ancestors alive in the savannah plains as they navigated a harsh and unforgiving world. That knee jerk reaction to any semblance of danger was many times the line between life and death, the difference between being the hunter and being the prey.
But we don’t live in that ancient dangerous and precarious world anymore. We live in general safety now. And even though there is a lot of bad, and there is a lot to worry about, things are on the whole better than they have ever been. But the flinch remains. It shows up as the lump in your throat as you contemplate talking to the attractive girl at the bar, the pounding in your chest as you think to raise your opinion in the board meeting. All echoes of our evolutionary programming.
We let this flinch metastasize into this amorphous fear monster that keeps us locked in our comfort zones and prevents us from taking the action required to move us forward to the next level. In the journey of getting what you want, at some point the rubber must actually hit the road. You must actually do the things and take action. And that is where many of us fail. Because it is nice to talk about it, it is nice to dream, it is nice to make the plans and hold the intention. Actually taking action and doing the thing is tough. But it can be done, and we must do it.
Know the flinch for what it is, a specter, a ghost. Meet it with bold action and find that it quickly dissipates. Get into the habit of the zero second rule. When you wake up in the morning, get right up, don’t hit snooze, don’t think about it, just get up. Remove the amount of dilly dallying in your life. You finish eating a meal, wash the dishes right away, don’t let them sit in the sink and fester away. You have a task to do, don’t procrastinate, get it done now, or do something to move it forward. You need to make a call, make that call. Don’t think about it, just pick up the phone and do it.
It will feel hard, but it will get easier. The more you do and step outside your comfort zone, the better you get at it. You will feel your discipline getting stronger. The things that were so hard will get progressively easier and you will get addicted to the feeling, soon enough you are climbing higher and tackling harder things.
Your flinch has become your worst enemy. It should be a summoning, a challenge to push forward. – Smith, Julien (The Flinch)
I was thinking about fear the other day, and if it was possible to reframe the feeling to help us instead of holding us back. What if we looked at that sensation, the feeling of adrenaline coursing through our veins, the thumping in the chest as something exciting as opposed to something to be scared of? What if we pushed forward through it? What if we learned to crave that feeling, and actually began to seek it out, going after the things that we fear so that we can feel that high? What if we turned fear into fuel?
Imagine how incredible that would be and what it would do for your life. Imagine your comfort zone expanding to cover a vast amount of things and experiences. Imagine the possibilities.
Train yourself to flinch forward, and your world changes radically. You respond to challenges by pushing ahead instead of shrinking back. – Smith, Julien (The Flinch)
I have a friend who is amazing at meeting new people. He would go out night after night by himself to new places and just strike up conversations with people. That’s the sort of thing most people are absolutely terrified of doing. But for some reason, it fuels him. It was never his default setting, he had to learn it, to deal with the fear, to embrace the excitement of new experiences and just get out there.
It was with him in mind that I recently went to a client party by myself. I walked in only knowing the client and the boss, in a party of about 50 people. I was absolutely terrified by the prospect, but I just went. It was incredibly awkward at first, but eventually I struck up a conversation with a 40-something year old man and his colleague, then eventually ended up hanging out with another group of people and making new friends. At the end of the night I was tearing up the dance floor with strangers. People I usually won’t be interacting with. And it turned out to be a fun and fulfilling night.
One of my favorite quotes of all time comes from the book – The 50th law by Robert Greene and 50 Cent. It is actually inscribed on the back of the book, it says ‘nihil timendum est’ which translates directly from latin as ‘Nothing is frightening’ or more colloquially as ‘Fear Nothing’. It inspires me to remember that fear is not real, it is all about how we perceive and interpret events. And as fear falls away, we grow our own power to deal with things and affect the change we want, and even where we can’t, we learn not be mentally tormented by these things but to maintain our peace and equanimity about things.
Face the flinch, and defeat it, everything you want is on the other side of fear.
I was watching Thor Ragnarok again the other day, and started to think about superheroes, the entire pantheon of characters that fascinate and entertain us. The big kick of watching these shows / movies is the Hero’s Journey, the protagonist being called to a seemingly impossible quest to save something or stop something else. What makes superhero stories more exciting (at least for me) is the fact they are superhuman. They have an ability or skill that sets them apart. And when you bring an entire team of remarkable individuals like this together, they can fight the battles and do the things we could never.
You have a quest, the quest of getting what you want. You are pursuing your goals and desires. They might seem intimidating and far-fetched right now, but you have been gifted powers too, powers to help you. Your gifts are in the form of innate strengths and inclinations. They might be obvious to you, or they may be lying dormant, waiting to be tapped into. They provide a hint to what your purpose is and the gift you must give to the world.
We have discussed the need to know yourself in the quest to getting what you want. On the road there, knowing and leveraging your ‘special powers’ is an invaluable resource. It provides that competitive advantage. And so, you have to ask yourself, what are those things you excel at, or execute easily? The things that come so naturally to you, they are basically second nature. Things you do so well, you take for granted that not everyone can do those things. Those are your powers, those are your strengths. And often, if you think back, you can trace them as far back as your childhood.
Strengths are not activities you’re good at, they’re activities that strengthen you. A strength is an activity that before you’re doing it you look forward to doing it; while you’re doing it, time goes by quickly and you can concentrate; after you’ve done it, it seems to fulfil a need of yours.
– Marcus Buckingham
In those formative years, there are the things we were inexplicably drawn to, avenues that sparked curiosity and boundless energy to explore. For me, it was arts, I found quick wins learning to draw, make art, write plays and poetry. I was learning to use words, imagery and to express ideas. As time goes on, we gain new abilities, new interests, but they are always rooted in something true that has existed since infancy. For me, everything ties back to the joy of creation and expression.
In the bid to conform and succeed, we are sometimes forced to contort ourselves to fit certain roles, and so we lose core parts of ourselves. Your strengths are your golden ticket, your entry key to the life you have the potential to live. Lasting success and fulfilment comes from understanding that everyone has a unique temperament, a peculiar build and It is important to honour yours.
Your powers are not just the obvious things like creative arts, or skill with your hands, they include even the more obscure ones. Powers like empathy – the ability to feel what other people are feeling and see from their perspective. The ability to look at an idea and see all the ways it could be improved and made better. The ability to organize and make a complex endeavor like a live event run smoothly. The ability to learn and adapt quickly. The ability to encourage and inspire. The ability to make people laugh. The ability to persuade people. The ability to diffuse tense situations and help conflicting parties come to satisfactory resolution. The force of will to persevere in dire situations. The ability to plan and break down a big hairy audacious goal to practical steps.
These are all soft skills, and they are all examples of the kind strengths that you can play up in your life and work. When you make use of them, you increase your level of contribution, and you become indispensable. These soft skills are the sort of things that you are very likely to overlook about yourself because, like I said earlier, it is so second nature to you. But these are the things you should think about what you are considering the direction you wish to take. Whether you are deciding what school to go to, what industry to enter, what role to take in an organization, and so on. You can build a life aligned to your powers.
But your strengths will often not be enough.
In the road to get what you want, in your quest for success, you will not have all the skills and powers you need to achieve your goal. You would need to work with other super heroes. Your powers complement each other and make the team far stronger than any of the individuals. Your job is to understand your strengths and bring that fully to the table.
Now for every yin, there is a yang. The fact that you have strengths means that you also have weaknesses. You might be even more familiar with those. Those things that you are just no good at, or that are harder for you than most people. I’m personally great at mapping out high-level vision, I suck at focusing on the details. I could tell you what the general plot of a book I read was, I couldn’t tell you the specific names of the people or places. I can learn to do it of course; my point is it is not my natural inclination.
What do we do about these? Some people say, go all in on your strengths, don’t worry about your weaknesses. Other schools of thought make the argument that you should work hard to improve your weaknesses, even to the point of turning said weakness into strength.
I would say, your strengths tend to tie in with your natural inclinations and passions, and then with your vision, your reason for being. So, you should definitely go all in on your strengths. You have the easiest potential of becoming great and world class if you work to your strengths. You already have an early advantage, double down on that by building real skill and craft on top of that. Be committed to continually improving and you will reap great rewards.
At the same time, have a balanced and practical idea of what it takes to get what you want. Your weaknesses can be your Achilles’ heel. They can make the process harder or even possible, so you can’t completely discount them. You have two options. You can work to become better at your weakness or you can partner with people who are strong where you are weak.
I’d recommend both, you can choose the relative weighting you would give to each line of action. Working to be better at your weakness allows you to balance out your skills. Working hard to acquire skill does much to increase our self-confidence when we succeed. Engaging with people who are strong where you are weak allows you to let those important things be handled well, while you focus on going deeper and extracting more value from your strengths.
Handle your weaknesses as far as they affect you getting what you want or living a happy and fulfilled life. But otherwise, ignore them. If it has no real impact on your life, why worry about what you are not good at. Go all in on what you are great at. You will have your greatest results along that line.
You have a lot to give, and you would get what you want faster if you embraced who you are. Own your strengths, manage your weaknesses and be a super hero you are meant to be.
Over the past 21 months, I have been steadily working on some things. Working to put together, package and present what I do to the world. Working to climb out of holes I dug myself into, working to manoeuver out of corners I backed myself into. In this time, I’ve been soaking up the wisdom and insights of the many people who are our modern-day voices of self-development and growth, of philosophy and spirituality. And there among many truths I’ve discovered, there is yet another one that is foundational to getting what you want – Everything is learnable.
Human beings are adaptation machines. This is the reason why we have survived for however long we have been on earth, why we live and thrive across diverse terrain and climate conditions. It is the reason why a baby is born a blank slate and grows into a fully functioning person speaking, walking, writing, reasoning, moving, doing, creating. We are designed to adapt, we are built to learn.
Because your own strength is unequal to the task, do not assume that is beyond the power of man; but if anything is within the powers and province of man, believe that it is within your own compass also. – Marcus Aurelius
There are many things we deem great and impressive. They include the physical feats, the accomplishments in careers, in art, in business. The building of happy lives and relationships. It is easy to look at them or the people who attain them when we have not and then despair or regard them as unattainable for us. We believe subconsciously that they are well beyond our reach because we are not worthy, or because we do not have the skills or the resources to get them ourselves. It is this fear, this assumption that makes us hesitate, that stunts our action for the BHAG.
But the truth is everything is learnable. The surgeon who deftly cuts out the tumor from his patient brain did not come out the womb wielding a scalpel, she was trained, she studied diligently over years, she learned. The entrepreneur who starts, successfully runs and sells companies over and over again may have had some inclination as a child towards business. But it is his persistent study, practice, action, and learning that has turned him into a skilled entrepreneur. He learned.
Everyone who made it, learned the skills they needed to make it happen. And so can you.
Once you take a hold of this idea and truly believe it – that everything is learnable, nothing is impossible. You embrace the growth mindset, the one that says I may not be there right now, but if I’m diligent and consistent in working at it, I can get there.
If everything is truly learnable, then you can become whoever you want/need to become. The thing to do then, is to reverse engineer your desires. Look at the things you want to achieve, attain and do and consider, what would it take for you to be able to get it done? What skills do you have to learn? What knowledge do you have to acquire? And then pursue those.
But it starts with the belief that it can be done, and a willingness to be patient and invest in the process.
21 months ago, I did not know much about business. It was literally painful to spend more than 10 minutes discussing business strategy, models or case studies. I mean it, like my head would literally hurt and I would need to go do something more comfortable like watch music videos or series. Today it is much easier to hold those type of conversations, I am able to give insight and ideas on strategy with my clients and associates. In 5 years, it will become second nature.
Understanding that everything is learnable opens up possibilities. It’s not just about business or skills. Even the things that make life worth living or fun are learnable. You can learn to build better relationships. You can learn to network, to connect better with strangers. You can learn to let go and have fun and stop being so uptight. You can learn to work harder and stop being so lazy. You can learn to think better. You can learn to manage your emotions. You can learn to meditate. You can learn to be at peace.
All of a sudden, you don’t have to be perfect, you just have to keep getting better. You just have to learn. What pressure dissipated, what a weight lifted off our shoulders. What a chance to let go of the ego and focus on the pleasure of the journey, of the process. If everything is learnable, you can give up your excuses of not being good enough, of not knowing this or that. You can focus on getting good enough, you can focus on learning, you can focus on becoming.
In a world where the only constant is change, the most important skill is that of learning.
The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. – Alvin Toffler
Sure, learning is hard, it hurt learning to walk. You fell countless times, but you persisted. To learn something new means pushing through the resistance and fighting the urge to ease up on the pain, to do something more comfortable. Tackling new concepts and wrestling with new material is hard. Deliberate practice is hard, but it must be done. As with all things great, the price must be paid. But it’s a price that is worth it. The pleasure and ease of a skill learned and the opportunities it opens up is worth much more than the pain. I mean you don’t even remember the pain of learning to walk right. But now if you are able bodied, you probably take it for granted.
If everything is learnable, and we have reverse engineered the things we must learn, we then come to the question of how to learn. For all the years of ‘education’ we are mercilessly subjected to, the very key skill of ‘how to learn’ is unaddressed and yet it is the foundational skill that underpins all others. Worse still, the long tedium of the system spoils the sweet taste of real learning and makes most people shun it after leaving school. You must reconnect with the joy of learning, of discovery and embrace it as a life-long practice.
We all learn in different ways. Some like to read, some like to explore and experiment. Others like to be instructed, others simply need to observe or listen. Each of us has a dominant learning style, and once we understand what it is, we can leverage it in our quest to acquire knowledge and skills. But it is important to learn how to learn. Once you master that skill, the ball is fully in your court. You have the control. You decide the direction you wish to go. You can tackle projects, amassing skills and knowledge, growing in your contribution and your value.
Everything is learnable, you can become the person you need to become to get what you want. If you want to learn a thing, learn it. You don’t need the permission of an institution or an individual. The information is literally at your fingertips, and there are usually no laws against discovery. Go out there and learn.