From Sun Tzu to Tim Ferriss: Success Via Indirect Attack 

From Sun Tzu to Tim Ferriss: Success Via Indirect Attack 

“Take advantage of the enemy’s unreadiness, make your way by unexpected routes, and attack unguarded spots. ” -Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Question 8 from Tim Ferriss’ “17 Questions to Test the Impossible” in Tools of Titans again revisits the value of adopting an attack strategy that maximizes misdirection.

“8. What if I couldn’t pitch my product directly?” -Tim Ferriss, Tools of Titans

Tim had already approached the channel with the least traffic to get people’s ear. However he still wanted to use the media’s sounding board to get the word out. He realized that to get the mic he would have to use some misdirection. They weren’t interested in help him do promotion. Much less for free. Every other author had already tried that and failed. Media outlets probably trained their staff to reject any calls announcing “I think I have a book you’d love to talk about on your show.”

Instead Tim decided to try to get exposure for his book without pitching it. He came up with ideas to position himself in the public eye. Then that attention drove people to find his book. It is the same strategy as last week where subtlety allows the target to walk into the pitch on their own. By using misdirection, the target’s natural defenses aren’t engaged, the flank is left exposed, and victory is achieved.

I am very inspired when reading this part of the book and listening to the numerous podcasts that touch on it. As a psychotherapist it is part of my everyday approach. You could argue it is how therapy works (that and the privacy… and the relationship with a stranger who will never intentionally hurt you). As an athlete it is continually the space I find the most gains: what do I currently not realize I can do or think I can’t do? This is what has taken me from “I can’t run for two minutes without stopping” to a half Ironman and marathon. As a father it is where I see my kids find their greatest joy: the discovery of previously unknown ability. As a performance development consultant it is where I see clients earn my value tenfold: “I don’t know why I didn’t realize that.”

This strategy is straight out Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. I’ve mentioned this idea many times. We use it in psychotherapy where symbolism and metaphor speak to the subconscious around the conscious. I use it in Cogntive Behavioral Therapy by making your favorite hobby a medium for retraining your internal working model. It is the backbone of Behavior Modification with kids and pets.

The value here, I think is in continually trying to push your outer edge of comfort and familiarity. Asking yourself questions to explore ideas that aren’t intuitive. Really good questions that are provocative and awkward. “What if I had to pitch around my product” is such a question.

Mental Healthcare: the Stubborn Ox

My example of pitching around comes from my own journey as a mental healthcare reform advocate.

May was Mental Health Month. It was amazing to see so much conversation happening about mental healthcare. Both due to stigma and our own need to create confidentiality, mental healthcare usually has to lurk in the shadows. Instead we had a month of celebrities sharing their stories, articles talking about research and epidemiological data, and a few even people talking about treatment. One of my patients even decided to use his media platform to allow us to talk about our work together (should hit YouTube at the end of June).

All of this was great. However it was a minor step in the otherwise bleak path of mental healthcare reform. My path begins back in my residency training.

Coming out of medical school I had the false assumption of expertise and knowledge. Silly me for thinking that a degree in medicine and a license to practice would confer any sense of being. Instead it was 5 years of being marginal at a thing while you watched others do that thing better than marginal. I was lucky to land at a program for my adult training that routinely turned out very high quality psychiatrists. Our hospital-based work and our clinic-based work were each run by guys that were extremely good at their craft. Not surprisingly, one had actually trained the other himself. When I went to my child fellowship I again ran into a psychiatrist who did the job in a way that made it look more like art than work. These experiences left me with one impression: the people at the top of my field know what they are doing.

Then I finished training and moved to California. Here I found a new breed of “knowing what they were doing”. It wasn’t clinical skills, though I’m told each has a masterclass level at that too. It was advocacy.

For years I had struggled with my identity as a psychiatrist. From jails to inpatient units, I consistently worked at places where I was exposed to psychiatrists who did not approach care the way my intuition thought best. However the hierarchical nature of medicine trained me to think that  I am young so I must be wrong. The status quo is always right. I was identified in both adult residency and child fellowship for being “a problem” because I talked about trying to do things better. The verdict was always “what makes you think you could ever know what is better than an institution that has been doing things this way for years?”

In my California group of collaborators I found people willing to say to the rest of our field “we can do better.” It felt great. I’d found my place. I surrounded myself with providers who valued time with their patients, building relationships, and working through therapy. I found people also suspicious of the secret relationship between doctors and pharmaceutical companies that ultimately brings harm to patients. Together we talked about our shared experiences of seeing fantastic results in our patients and doing so via high-quality psychotherapy. It felt like discovering pencilllin. EVERYONE NEEDED TO KNOW THIS!

Together our group took this message back to the people at the top of our field. We were elected advocates representing Northern California child psychiatrists. Twice a year we travelled to the national  advocacy meeting to bring our message. Then it happened. The same thing that always happened when I tried to ask doctors to consider doing things a different way. We were rejected.

It wasn’t your average rejection either. Exit polls from the meeting called our message against pharmaceutical bias and fraud in medicine “the least valuable part of the meeting.” We had esteemed members of our field stand up to rail us for monopolizing the time with this issue every 6 months. We were told by a very high up elected official that “doctors have better uses of their time” than to pursue what we are doing. We had a room full of psychiatrists cheering when someone stood up to ask us to not bring this issue to the table again.

It was heartbreaking. I don’t use that word lightly. We were children who had made breakfast for our parents on their birthday and they told us they weren’t hungry. Such was the impact that we didn’t even take the microphone to fight back. We just sat. Gobsmacked. It wasn’t even the pain of the rejection. It was the saddness that realizing our colleagues were so far away from fixing this problem. We would have to prove to them there was a problem before we could even problem solve it.

In psychology we call this the pre-contemplative state of change. It’s the alcoholic who doesn’t think they have a drinking problem. You are trying to prove to them the sky is blue but they don’t even believe there is a sky. They are too busy looking at the ground.

I had been transported back to my training. I thought a thing and was told I was wrong not on the merit of the argument but on the a static value that I could not be right. It was about this time that I remembered something that gave me clarity. A sentinel moment from my training. The last day.

My fellow trainees and I were sitting around a table having lunch on the final day of our fellowship. As doctors do at this stage, we were all freaking out about the prospect of being on our own in a week. A simple question had come to mind- how often do we need to check vital signs in our outpatient practices? We each agreed on an answer- every time. Then someone offered a counterpoint. One of the docs she worked for didn’t do them regularly. “Oh that’s malpractice.” Then someone asked a great question: “where did we come up with our idea of checking every appointment?”  “Every time” was our clinical policy in the program. “Where did they get that?” “Don’t know.”

We were left with no final answer. All of our cognitions of when to check vitals were based on a supervisor telling us what they thought. We accepted it. They knew how to do a thing better than us. They must be right.

Being the rabble rouser I am I decided to hit the internet for answers. In 5 minutes I had the practice guidelines for Pharmacologic Management of Psychiatric Disorders in the Pediatric Population. Guess what happened. Our teaching had been wrong.  WAY wrong. Our clinic policy. Also wrong. It likely existed to appease an insurance company, not to represent the standard of care. Santa Claus didn’t exist.

It was both exciting and tragic. The tragedy being that on the last day of training we realized a flaw in our education. In two years we hadn’t once seen this document I found on the internet in 5 minutes. Why? What else were we missing? On the other hand, the excitement was the feeling that maybe I could allow myself to think intuitively again. That is until I fast forward 2 more years back to our rejected advocacy efforts.

Pitching Around Mental Healthcare Refoem

Having now experienced three iterations of unsuccessfully trying to talk change with a bunch of psychiatrists (the irony is stifling), I needed to return to my Sun Tzu. And my Tim Ferriss. This rock wasn’t going to move. I needed to stop trying. I needed a different strategy.

“What if I had to pitch around my product?” How would I flank mental healthcare reform? Surprise it. Create change without ever asking permission or it knowing it had decided to change. I’d previously been trying to do an intervention on an alcoholic who argued  “I just like to have a little something to relax”. That was my mistake. My miscalculation. My learning.

I found my flanking technique.

What was the goal of my attack on mental healthcare reform?

Better patient care. Improved median wellness for humans. The development of mental healthcare as profession highly skilled people fought to achieve.

I realized that while psychiatry does the best job helping people with severe illness, we do a crap job for everyone else. What other industries offer people a path to wellness? That answer was easy: fitness, art, sport, execution of one’s job, and many others. In fact, I decided that every industry was bringing someone somewhere a “best in life” experience. Maybe that could be a way to use my skill to move the needle on wellness. What if I can use those mediums to help people?

Soon after this experience I launched Optimim Performance Consulting. A few months later I became a consultant for Equinox Fitness’ personal training programs in Northern California. I’d left medicine and found people interested in change and doing things differently. Ironically it is requiring me to not function as a psychiatrist. No evalutions. No therapy.  All strategy and practice.

Here I can achieve exponential gains. The managers I work with each have teams of 5-10 trainers. Those trainers each have dozens of clients. If our work together can help people achieve goals even 1% more efficiently the net gain for society is tremendous. That’s more impact than I can have as a physician any day. That is if you buy that achieving goals is what is best in life for humans.

In thinking about helping people in this indirect manner so many options open up. As a consultant I can help game developers consider ways to promote wellness in their users thus creating a more sustainable audience. I can talk to a start-up about how to create a culture shift toward Positive Psychology and a Growth Mindset. I can work with athletes, artists, and performers to improve their craft and maybe achieve improved mental wellness as a biproduct. It’s perfect.

Summary

I’ve sold hard on the idea that best thing to come to our lives is probably hiding in a recess of unconsciousness. This certainly pertains to anything we wish were different. Rather than keep pushing on a locked front door, we should come around the side and see if we can crawl through a window. From Sun Tzu to Tim Ferriss, if you ask yourself to find indirect approaches to success you will unlock greatness. It is evidenced in Tim’s book launch and my experience trying to improve human wellness through non-medical consulting. Intentional change is one of the most valuable experiences in human life. It can happen predictably by engaging unique systems like this one.

Use Least Crowded Channels to Open Doors

Use Least Crowded Channels to Open Doors

Never assume that because everyone else is doing it, they have found the best way. My career in medicine has consistently exposed me to the reality of man’s ability to perpetuate assumption and maintain status quo. We even go so far as to roundly reject and attack newness and innovation. Here I’m referring to my colleagues, not my patients.

Question 7 in Tim Ferriss’ “17 Question to Challenge the Impossible” returns to an old theme.

“7. What’s the least crowded channel” -Tim Ferriss, Tools of Titans

This question came in advance of his launch for The 4-Hour Work Week. In planning his attack strategy he asked writers what resource they wish they used more in their launches. This allowed him to identify that blogs were an untapped resource. This was 2006. Weird to think of blogs being a fresh innovation.

As he did with his work in Question 1 where he maxed his sales stats by working when others were not, he looked for a way to access bloggers where others were not. He asked himself which channel was the least crowded. The answer was to find a mass gathering. That was the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). Then he looked for a way to access bloggers in a place he could have less competion for attention. Rather than setting a goal to kinda meet a lot of bloggers, he wanted to allow for the opportunity to deeply meet a few. It worked.

There are many layers of strategy we can pull out of this to discover value. The most obvious is the recommendation to approach desired resources from an angle with the least competion. Another is the use of an advisory board to access short-cuts to learning. He also set his goal in a place to be predictably achievable which unlocked his highest quality performance. Finally, he used a flanking strategy to engage his enemy.

Let’s break down each piece.

Attacking a Resource via the Least Competitive Channel

This idea is written into so many different places Tools of Titans and other texts of its genre. It is also written in the how-to’s of investing, entrepreneurial, athletics, and even survival. If you need something, it would be great to be the first to the table. Or at least get their before the crowd. Those who safely push for the outer edge of discovery often find the most sustainable access to success. By staying in a Growth Mindset and pushing toward discovery you guarantee a steady stream of fresh new resources and a lifestyle the promotes wellness. If done responsibly.

That’s easy to say but can be hard to do. The first step is a leap of faith. You have to assume the channel is there but that you cannot yet see it. If you did see it, so could others. You are on a quest of discovery. You are trying to explore your blind spot. Potentially an entire industry’s blind spot. To find it you first have to believe it is there even if you don’t have proof.

Once you find that blind spot, you have to be willing to step in and try it on. It won’t be easy, guaranteed, or comfortable. However if you apply the same method of incremental progress you can engage your discovery and minimize risk at the same time.

You also have to be open and excited for the possibility that your channel may be more competitive than you thought or that it does not lead where you want to go. You can absorb failures by having a mindset of blind-spot discovery and a reliable, incremental mechanism to test your discoveries. Failures then become one more channel checked off the list of options, getting you closer and closer to finding the right one.

I have seen this most exemplified in my own experience of starting a private practice.

I’ve never been much of a salesman. I struggle with the requirement or perception of requirement to direct a person’s decision toward something. Even in my practice of medicine I try not to be the decision-maker. It involves too much bias and confounding factors. I value honesty and autonomy. Neither of which are the hallmarks of sales.

Ironically, I was actually a very successful salesman in a former life. Prior to medical school I worked at a student travel agency. This came after I had completed a semester abroad in college and a 5-week solo trip around Europe. With that experience, travel sales then allowed me to help people access something I was already passionate about. I didn’t pitch. I didn’t hide opportunity or influence decisions. I merely provided people with the information.

Something about that exchange worked very well for people. I had a high conversion rate. I sold well in all channels (air, land, and insurance). I didn’t take the most inbound calls in the office. I didn’t have the shortest average call time. I did create a relationship with every person I talked to about travel. Come to think of it, that may have been my least competitive channel- an honest salesman.

In my first year I achieved the top tier of sales achievement. Maybe the first person from their call center to do so in year one. I won an insurance sales competition without changing my on-phone habits. I was selected to represent the company as in-person travel support for the San Diego cast of MTV’s The Real World when the show went to Greece. More important than the numerical achievements, I did this without any compromise of how I think people should be treated.

This approach has carried over my practice of psychiatry. My least competitive channel is my status as a psychiatrist who does therapy and is conservative with medication. I don’t generally push people’s care in any direction unless legally required. I haven’t started someone on a sleep medication once in my practice. I’ve never prescribed an atypical anti-psychotic to someone without a psychotic disorder or Autism. I don’t schedule appointments for less than 30 minutes. In 3 years I have been able to grow to being 100% private practice (average is 5 years). No more side jobs. More importantly I love what I do and am very proud of the way I do it. I found a least crowded channel that was consistent with my values as a person. 

This year I found another least crowded channel: Performance Development. I couldn’t find another psychiatrist who is focused on Performance Development. I love it so I had a go. This blog and my work as a consultant for Equinox Fitness’ personal training department is a the yield of that effort.

I have also seen channels hit a dead end. My original dream for the practice was to grow and expand to be a large multi-site organization. The Whole Foods or REI of mental health- quality, value, and a sense of belonging. Over time I came to realize that was a channel I did not want to pursue. The process of expanding my practice did not resonate with my core values. It was maybe the most exciting day of owning my practice when I decided to ignore even the slightest though process regarding expansion. What a gift! Staying put never felt so good.

You will forgive me taking the opportunity to use this space to toot my own horn. I do so not to influence consumers of mental healthcare. Rather I want to illustrate to others who may be aspire to be mental health providers. Mental healthcare is itself a least competitive channel. There is a huge need. However it is not as turn-key as many think. There are niches to be found and you can absolutely do so on your own terms.

I’ve known many trainees and friends who have turned away from a career in mental healthcare due to the assumptions associated with the field. Professional stigmas often. Many assumptions are driven by misrepresentations of our field. “You have to see 20 patients a day,” “you can’t take insurance and make decent money,” “you are a med-pusher,” “all you do all day is work with (insert disorder you don’t think you are good at working with),” “it’s too emotionally taxing.” I haven’t found any of these to be true.

By allowing myself to explore what an ideal mental healthcare practice looked like to me and ignoring the crowded channels, I was able to find an uncrowded channel that was a perfect flow for me. Then I looked deeper in that channel and found another channel within THAT! This really is the greatest job in the world and I hope more people choose to join. We need it!

You don’t know the answer, ask for help. 

Tim was able to get an idea of where his least crowded channel would be without having to go through trial and error. He did this by taking advantage of others’ trial and error. His query asked authors what they would dump more money into if they had to launch today. Their answer was blog authors. His resulting actions were game-changing. Without using an advisory board, by trying to figure it out on his own, he likely would not have found this information. The fact that these authors didn’t think to maximize bloggers indicates it wasn’t a common sense answer. 

The use of an advisory board is one of the most consistent recommendations I’ve seen across personal and professional development texts. Tools of Titans, The Art of War, Good to Great, Think and Grow Rich are the first places I heard of it. The advice is written elsewhere: parenting, education, apprenticeship learning models, athletic coaching, and even psychotherapy. When people want to achieve something we are much more likely to do so in league with others who can quickly fill in the gaps with high-quality information. 

I have always felt the best illustration of this was from Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich. He uses the story of Henry Ford to explain his concept of the Mastermind Group. Ford was not a businessman. He was a tinkerer with a skill for machines. Yet he would go on to contribute some of the most significant innovations in business. He maximized the assembly line. He created what we now know as the weekend when he moved to a 40 hour work week. His product was getting the best out of people and solving problems. 

Ford’s method focused on getting help from people who were better than him at certain disciplines. He would hold meetings with these people regularly to get their counsel. In this way, their collective knowledge represented more expertise than any one person could ever achieve through education or experience. As I said, this idea tends to be written into every how-to for running a business or achieving goals. By using a mastermind group you can guarantee that if an idea is to be found, a problem solved, or a skill to be learned you will have access to it. I will repeat:

Every great person or company who consistently operate at a high level utilitize the mastermind group concept in one way or another. Every single one. 

You need to figure out how to do this. Now. 

I know what you’re saying “if everyone does this, why haven’t I heard of it. If something this a valuable exists the whole world would be using it. It would be part of human culture like eating food.” Yes, I agree. You would think. 

However, the use of a mastermind group requires one very huge step that most people are not good at- humbleness. To use a mastermind group effectively you, the group leader, must be present with the idea that you are flawed. You are not good at something. You will intentionally identify another person as being better than you at something. That idea is so foreign we tend to only engage it in compulsory relationships- parents, teachers, bosses, and the legal system. 

The largest swath of people will never know intentional advisory relationships in their lives. Some will identify a mentor. Some have a friend who plays this role. Maybe even a romantic partner. However despite our social nature, our culture does not explicitly emphasize collaborative models at this point. 

Set your initial goals at an achievable level

Tim’s goal was to go to the Seagate lounge and just talk to people. He wasn’t there to pitch. He wasn’t there to sell his book. In fact in a different part of the book he discusses that he had an exact method to his conversations: play dumb and ask questions (more Art of War), if the opportunity presents then put a minimal amount of information out there, only provide more to people who have asked for it. 

The story really is beautiful on so many psychological levels. It’s a similar story to how we do higher level psychotherapy. We start with our initial evaluation which is effectively an hour or more of all questions. Then over the course of therapy we utilize a subtle technique called interpretation. Interpretations at their best are intentionally vague, broad statements designed to speak to one’s subconscious and avoid their Ego security system. I can say to someone “you keep messing up all your relationships, it’s not their fault it’s yours” or I can wait until we are talking about losing our car keys and discovering they were always in our hand to say “it can be amazing how often the solution to a problem was in our grasp the whole time but a frantic state keeps us blind to our role in losing the key.”

Tim is using a similar mechanism. By asking questions he navigates their defense system. Everyone at CES is either there to pitch or be pitched. By asking questions he is different. He set his goal low and achievable by telling himself he wouldn’t pitch. The pressure was off. He also set a goal not to start a pitch the second someone asked. Instead decided that when someone inevitably asked him about himself he would simply respond “I’m writing a book”. Not “I’m trying to sell a book.” This uses the same subtle technique of whispering a suggestion. In this model, Tim only ends up pitching to people who have completed three levels of engagement. 1. They let him in on the conversation 2. They asked him about himself 3. They asked him about his book. He doesn’t actually pitch anyone. Effectively they approach him.

The net risk:reward assessment on this gets totally flipped. He has very little to lose from a motivation standpoint. His goal is simple and statistically specific (as opposed to being statistically sensitive). He can easily meet his goal of staying true to his mechanism. The goal isn’t about any result other than his own discipline. Very high yield. 

Attack Your Enemy’s Flank 

One more check mark in the “you should do this” category: this plan is an indirect, flanking technique as recommended in Sun Tzu’s Art of War. In addition to recommending having advisors, he speaks directly to the importance of spies and attacking enemies weakness. Tim asking other authors their advice allowed him to spy on the publishing industry and understand their weakness. That is what a least crowded channel is. It is the undefended supply line. It is the outpost holding a strategic position that is undermanned. It is the spot in the enemy’s front line held by a battalion with an ineffective leader. Knowing this information is not only valuable but essential to ever achieve victory. Sun Tzu says. 

Summary

One of the hardest aspects of any endeavor is the competition with other people. By rule of statistical probability, if you have an idea so has someone else. In that setting, the ones who succeed tend to be good at succeeding. They know methods and tactics to getting ahead of the pack. Thomas Edison didn’t invent the light bulb. He was at best the 23rd. Michael Jordan isn’t the greatest basketball player of all time. He is the best person to play in the NBA. Muhammed Ali isn’t the greatest fighter of all time. He’s the best professional boxer. However all these people are historic icons due to their ability to also be elite in managing the complexities that others could not. 

Using the least crowded channel is the type of strategy used by people who consistently operate at a high level. When looking at people like Edison, Jordan or Ali our minds don’t contemplate that idea. We only see “they were born with a gift”. They weren’t. They learned it and you can too. 

Don’t Tell Your Kids to Behave… Teach Them How.

Don’t Tell Your Kids to Behave… Teach Them How.

Updated 5/2/17 to reflect a writing style less influenced by a desire to meet a self-imposed deadline!

From employees to children, we have to take any opportunity to get out of the way if we want them to achieve their full potential. A tree can’t grow if the pot is too small. A muscle can’t develop if it’s never tested its limits. A mind can’t flourish if it never has to think.

In the past few weeks we have been exploring methods to help you unlock your own potential. Now we will turn the tables and focus on how you can best help others. Helping yourself is important but helping others unlocks exponential gains. At the very least we will help inform the structure of  effective parenting.

Tim Ferriss’ 6th question in his “Testing the Impossible: 17 Questions That Changed My Life” from Tools of Titans explores his role as a boss.

“What if I let them make decisions up to $100? $500? $1000?”

He presents this in the context of his past realization from question 5 that he was the bottleneck in his company’s workflow. As it’s owner and founder, he knew knew the right way to deal with any situation. Therefore he set himself up to be the only one able to make decisions. It worked but at a terrible cost to him. The cost was so much that it threatened to squeeze the life out of his company. He was the head and the head was dying.

Tim realized the fix was to release some of the control. As he does, he started with small experiments: give them total control over $100 with the edict “make our customers happy”. Sure, losing $100 many times could sink a company. However it would be difficult for that to happen. He had run the numbers. Losses in $100 increments didn’t kill the company. Nor did $500. Nor $1000. Soon Tim saw his role dwindle. His baby learned to walk on its own.

Parent like you are running a business?

There is a great analogy between a business leader and a military leader in war. I won’t do it justice so I won’t try. Instead I will tell you to immerse yourself in Jocko Willink. Do it all day. From 4:25AM until you pass out on your bed.

I will however talk about being an effective parent. As a child psychiatrist I have some relevance. That said, I will offer complete transparency: everything I know about parenting I learned from Cesar Milan, the Dog Whisperer. Best behavior modification coach in the world! My use of an indirect muse shouldn’t be a surprise given that I learned more about psychotherapy from The Tim Ferriss Show than I didn’t from 5 years of psychiatry residency.

The first step in effective parenting is releasing yourself of the guilt of creating adversity in your child’s life. You absolutely must regularly be the vector of challenge. I am not saying you should abuse your child. In fact I argue that it is possible to effectively raise a child without ever creating physical pain in the child’s life. Pain creates change by emphasizing that the consequence of a behavior should be feared. An effective parent never uses fear as a motivator. Rather you should motivate your child by helping them access positive reinforcement through achievement. The promise of reward is always a more potent motivator than the fear of consequence. Overcoming challenge is the water your plant needs. You have to give your children water every day.

This was Tim’s ah-ha moment in his company.

“People’s IQ seems to double as soon as you give them responsibility and indicate that you trust them.”

The same is true of children. Any lesson they can teach themselves is infinitely more valuable than a lesson you can teach them. That same mantra is the basis of good psychotherapy. There’s a reason for that. Buy it and make it the backbone of your system.

Take advantage of humans’ natural design

Maybe we should start with a conversation about child development. I think it’s important to analyze our pre-cognitive phase to understand the prime state all humans share.

Everyone’s life begins with one consistent experience- trauma. It’s brief but it’s the first time. Prior to that point, our lives have otherwise been a climate-controlled day at the spa. Then we are squeezed or pulled out into life.

The next thing we do is breathe. There are many ways to analyze the first breaths of life. While not all babies’ first breath is a cry, it often is. One may see that breath as a reflex designed to give us a string of really solid, high-quality oxygenation. Another theory would say the cry is a vestigial reflex from our primitive lives when “hey, don’t forget your baby” may have been an important communication. Regardless of why it happens, what seems certain is that the cry will happen until they newborn perceives that it has returned to an attachment similar to its prior uterine state.

This attachment doesn’t have to be to mom. We assume it to be so based on some studies. We also prefer it be so, thus making it important to maintain that narrative in human culture. However there are studies where it is shown that the newborn may only be looking for attachment. Even if it is a faux-momma chimp made of blankets. Regardless, after leaving the wonderful confines mom’s personal day spa, Utero Relaxo, the newborn want to get some of that back NOW!

To further emphasize my point here- our very first act of life involves being taken away from comfort, then using crying to get back to it. File that away for later.

After some modern luxuries like a bath, Apgars, and umbilical snip we recover from our first trauma. We don’t respond again until our next built-in need goes unmet: food. Remember we just spent 9 months at an all you can eat buffet. This going-without thing is not cool. Again, to get what we need we use the only communication tool we have. We cry. It works. We eat (hopefully).

Let’s say at this point we are 1 hour into the first day of our life. Already we are 2 for 2. In terms of productivity and efficiency, we are the best there is in the world. We needed two things and we got them. We used crying to get both of them. The ROI on this engagement is infinite.

This dance of having needs met via crying will continue for days and weeks after. Crying will likely not be beaten as an effective tool for many months. Maybe even years depending on a parent’s degree of patience. Imagine if I gave you a tool that offered 100% efficacy in goal achievement. Then in 6 months I told you, stop using it and didn’t explain why. You might have a problem with that. You SHOULD have a problem with it because to this point you have not been shown a reason to abandon crying.

Human culture has assigned a negative value to crying. It shouldn’t happen. It is regressive, child-like, not ideal. However if there were an annual conference of the Society of Newborns their keynote speaker would likely be extolling the virtues of crying. “It’s the best! Do it all the time. If you need something, let if fly.” The audience would be raucous with cheers (or cries I guess. That’d be a fun conference.) To your child, at that moment in life crying is the absolute best thing ever. It will continue until you teach them otherwise.

The process of unlearning crying is the first real rearing moment a parent is tasked to perform. Our initial engagement of the less is to give into the cry. Food, diaper, sleep, snuggles. Whatever. Our darling child gets it ALL on demand. It is actually an important dynamic because it teaches nascent human what it feels like to go from A to B. They see that change is possible. One can go from upset to okay. It shows that the concept we later will call wellness is achievable and discomfort isn’t permanent. It’s almost like a mini-Cognitive Behavioral Therapy session. Problem occurs, create intervention, observe change and decide if you want that to happen again.

At the end of your first day of life you have been shown that perfection is possible but it will end. However imperfection is not terrible and you have ways of intentionally getting back to something similar. You now know what sour and sweet taste like and how to get either predictably.

The next global phase of our behavioral maturation involves many years of the child trying to find applications of this first-day lesson. However that requires testing. We call it the Terrible Two’s. Fresh off their landmark birthday win, toddlers are on a mission to see if it is repeatable. If you’ve ever used a VR headset you know what they are going through. Any of the 5 senses that can be engaged will be as much as possible. Any limit must be challenged. No cupboard can be unturned.

However their small size and limited mobility keeps them from truly testing our ability as parents. By and large we are capable of exerting our will upon them. This makes us happy and we can tolerate much of what they do. Plus we don’t expect much of them. “Oh well, they are babies” we will say when they get into the pantry and spread flour all over the house.

Then a funny thing will happen. They will grow. They will use words. They will get faster and stronger. More importantly- they will look more like us and they will enter into a phase in life that we still remember from our own past. This creates a very dangerous but valuable judgment: expectation.  From this point forward we have a script they should follow. We expect them to shed their infantile behaviors and show us they are moving toward our way of life. The crying, pooping, sleeping and eating tenant has been served an eviction notice. This building will only house mature humans henceforth.

However, while we were born with some instinctual script on how to get through our infant stage, we have none to guide us through this adulting thing. Our only guide, the guide every mammal uses, is to learn by example. Unless we see it or discover it by trial and error we will NEVER learn it.

Luckily, we are blessed with the best central processing unit in all of life. We can take in any data, analyze it, and convert it into consequent action. FAST! Be it the creation of a memory, the execution of a voluntary or involuntary physical action, or the generation of an emotion, if we can experience it our brains can handle the data and respond. It is the main function of our design.

This should allow us to efficiently develop through trial and error. It just would take time. Unfortunately we don’t have the time necessary to allow natural selection to work. From that first day we have about 18 25 35 years to learn to man the ship on our own. We cannot wait for the average Homo sapien to figure it out. We need them contributing to the tribe as soon as possible.

Humans also are the most social animals on the planet. We don’t want our fellow Homo sapiens to suffer. It wouldn’t fly for trial and error to be the only means of learning how to be an adult. That is mainly because such would mean those with more error than trial would die. We can’t allow that.

So it is that we developed the longest rearing phase of any species. There are no angsty 17-year old orangutans telling their parents they hate them but refusing to go hunt for themselves. We are unique. We are in it for the long-haul because we have decided that a parent is the best source of life training.

Here you are, parent, tasked with the most important job you will ever have. ‪A job for which you have no training other than that whole learn-by-example thing again. It’s fine though. No single moment will define your success at your job as a parent. But then again a single moment can totally impact the rest of your child’s life. No pressure.

Let Them Fly

Today somewhere in Redwood National Park a momma bird is holding court over her nest high above the ground. Her skill and ability as a bird and homemaker have allowed her to place her nest higher above the ground than any other bird momma. Up here, her babies are at less risk than any other babies in the forest. They are quite privileged and lucky to have a mom able to offer them this opportunity.

However, today is a different day. Today is flying day. Mom is going to get this show on the road. Baby bird A and B have got it. They’ve been doing some flutters into the air and down the branch their nest sits on. Baby C, not so much. Mom doesn’t care. A, B, and C are all going to get a nudge over the edge today. She has to. Momma bird’s one goal is to advance her genes through the gene pool. Her actions are those of a species trying to filter the strong from the weak.

Of course our society can’t and shouldn’t work that way. We have created enough survival privilege that our genes don’t need to be filtered that way. Healthcare, education, government assistance. We have developed systems that allow us to support all members of our species. Who knows, maybe Baby Bird C would have become the best bird in Redwood National Park history. Mom’s impatience may have prevented that.

However despite our innovative advantages we should not think that our methods of individual development have changed. We still learn from challenge. Baby C would certainly have never learned to fly if Momma Bird had decided “it’s not right for me to let Baby C die because he can’t fly yet, I’m going to move this nest to the ground”. What’s worse, if she did that Babies A and B would likely have seen their flying gift diminish for lack of need.

If Momma bird wanted to develop her child rather than fly-or-die she would need to recognize Baby C’s deficiency and devote more time. Take it slower. Smaller. Clearer. Get Poppa Bird to take A and B out for the day while she put in some quality time with C. Of course in this survival-of-the-fittest world of hers, she can’t afford to devote that kind energy to a single offspring. Especially when the next batch will be due next year. Imagine if all reproducing females had a child (or 3) every year. We’d have a very different society.

When Tim Ferriss decided to test the waters and give his employees more responsibility, he was engaging this dynamic. He chose to sacrifice his ego for the good of their growth. He created challenge and decided to absorb the responsibility of teaching.

However, this step also required him to be adept at the most effective ways to modify behavior and lead his team.

Don’t tell your child to “be careful!”

This phrase and a few like it have always bothered me. “Be careful” offers no instruction. It is vague and useless. Unless you have sat down and delineated what a careful way of being looks like you have done nothing to help your child. Instead it acts as a marker for your child to engage anxiety. How many parents have said “be careful” and then noticed their child looking at them from the jungle gym as if to say “is this it, is this careful?”

That moment is very dangerous for child development. When a child stops trying to make its own moment-to-moment assessments it has leaned on an unsustainable resource. You won’t always be there. You shouldn’t. You can’t. “Be careful” sends a message “you are close to making a mistake, luckily I warned you.” Over time that message gets consolidated to “my parents know when I’m about to screw up, I don’t, I need them around to be sure to tell me what to do.”

There are a number of similar phrases.  “You’re not listening” asks a child to read non-literal communication. Thanks. “What are you doing” asks them to understand a rhetorical question. Imagine their confusion. “Pay attention” asks a child to adhere to a verb that doesn’t have meaning to them and an action that can only be internally derived. Would you ever tell a kid “be happy”? No, you’d say “smile”.

Don’t become white noise

While it may seem trivial, these are the micro-manager analogues everyone hates in our adult lives. “Do a good job”, “be a better teammate”, “show people you love them”. Super low yield if not stifling in their ability to create growth. When a child is consistently exposed to this kind of ambiguous direction they may move those words, and you, into the white noise realm.

Imagine I take a child to the playground. While there I tell the child to be careful every time peril is near. They climb high up,”be careful”. They stand near a ledge, “be careful”.  They run from point A to B, “be careful”. Two things have happened.

One, that child does not have to mentally assess safety at any point. You’ve got it covered. The kid has a built-in external alarm system. He doesn’t have to think at all. You will often see this in highly impulsive children. Their external alarm has allowed them to never need to learn internal risk assessment. Particularly because this alarm is always going off!

That brings us to the other function at play. Part of effective interpersonal communication and teaching methods is establishing a recognizable pattern. We use these patterns to understand the meaning behind each other’s subtle variations in tone, intensity and word choice. A parent who uses “be careful” has decided to give up on that phrase having any meaning. Much less the meaning the phrase intends: “DON’T DIE!” In this case pattern recognition will not differentiate your tone of caution from “eat your vegetables”.

It is extremely important for parents to have a way of communicating emergency. “Be careful” parents often will instead use volume, anger, etc to communicate emergency. Those are dangerous but necessary because the simpler forms of alert have been watered down.

How to teach Careful

The process of learning how to teach careful is beautifully wrapped up in Tim’s idea to release control over his employees. As with everything I talk about on this blog, you have to start with slow, comfortable increments toward a larger uncomfortable goal. That was Tim’s choice to start with $100. Let it go and see what happens. Know what your markers are that the experiment has failed and be ready to jump in if necessary. If failure does occur, regroup and plan again. Next time make the step smaller.

Field Test: Find your Closing Speed

I recommend finding a place to take your kid that you feel represents safety. I really like large, open, grass fields for this so I will use it as our example. Take your kid to the center of the field. Put them down and let them do their thing. From that point forward your goal is to not use sound to guide your child and protect them from danger.

Many parents call this “zone defense”. You let your kid do their thing while you stay within “closing distance”. It’s derived from sports where a few people can be used to guard a large area. You never let your assignment get far enough away you can’t close.

This does require you to know your “closing speed” and your kid’s “escape speed”. If “escape speed”>”closing speed” we have a problem. I recommend using our field test to find your answers. Let your kid go and chase them down. Over time you will develop a natural sense of when YOU need to “be careful” and move closer to your kid. You will develop an intuition of when a given distance FEELS too far.

Field Test: Know Your Angles

In most sports there is an objective assessment of the individual’s skill at the discipline. A basketball player’s shooting skill. A pitcher’s arm strength. A sprinter’s speed. There is also a deeper understanding of their grasp of the process of their sport. This tends to be an “it” factor. Something that is not often taught due to the abstract complexity of the content. Some will talk about it being a god-given talent or natural ability. I will argue there are no significant god-given talents. “It” factors can all be learned.

The analogue to use here is shot blocking in basketball. To steal from Carol Dweck’s Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, the fixed mindset is going to say that being tall and jumping high are the essential components to shot blocking. However the growth mindset will say that those qualities should not be the focus. Rather the teachable quality is what is important. In shot blocking that teachable quality involves angles.

The great shot blockers know how to unconsciously assess a shooters position and body language to know the most likely shot vectors. The elites take it another step and learn how to use their own body to influence the shooter into vectors that are weaker for the shooter and stronger for the blocker. If I am a right-handed blocker defending a right-handed shooter I want him to take left-handed shots to my right side all day. In a moment I will use my light speed mental processor to guide him toward the baseline (where the bounds line can act as an extra defender). However I will also leave enough space that he THINKS he has room to get off an easy left-handed fade. That is until he realizes that I have been studying his left-handed fade for a week and know that he always shoots it as a cross-over from a right-handed dribble. The second I see his right hand crossing the ball to the “open” left I gave him, I am closing on the angle to start my block at the point of attack I know works best for me.

I should mention I have never intentionally blocked a shot in this manner in my life. I learned about it by reading about shot blocking. Not because I’m ever going to block shots. Rather to learn how to plan for effective parenting. Value in metaphor.

Now let’s turn this into some direct parenting technique. I’m going to use my kids’ favorite place as our basketball court: the fountain at Broadway’s Plaza in Walnut Creek.

Image result for broadway plaza

As you can see there is a lot to love here. A fountain. A circle (perfect for running around). Benches (perfect for racing toys across). Stairs (perfect for climbing). There’s also bus that comes by designed to look like an SF Cable Car (as we do here) which they love.

Parents will see something different. Water in which to drown. A sidewalk with nothing barricading it from the street. Cool stuff on the other side of the street. It’s a darting and dashing nightmare. Right?

Wrong. Let’s break it down to unearth the game plan and find our vectors. The two biggest vectors of harm are the fountain and the street. Let’s start with the fountain. The water is about 12-18 in deep and maybe 6-8 in below the edge. This single spot is the location of the most “be careful” parenting in all of downtown Walnut Creek.

It is not a vector of harm. My toddlers will not drown in it. They may fall in. They may get wet. That will suck. 24 hours later it will all be fine. So we remove the fountain from our minds. It is Shaquille O’Neal at the three-point line. It is Tim giving his employees control over $100 decisions. I did my field test. I know my rate of closure. I know if they go in I will be there fast enough that harm will not occur.

Now I am left with one vector of harm and one angle I need to be able to attack- the street. Streets are a big one as they are probably one of the most significant vectors of unquestionable harm possible. As such, my wife and I have spent a good deal of time training to streets (remember the analogy in basketball of watching tape of a shooters habits?). The kids now know “yellow bumpies” mean “stop”. They don’t need to be told.

Image result for yellow bumps on sidewalk

By practicing stopping, reinforcing it with positive emotions (the best reward you can give a kid) we showed them to “be careful” without words. Now we can say “stop at the yellow bumpies” and they know how the “be careful”. Over time we lengthened the gap we give them ahead of us when walking. In doing so we never gave them any instructions other than “stop at the yellow bumpies”. We have never let them go ahead of us a distance we haven’t already seen them master.

Initially this gap was always ONLY a distance we knew would allow us to be on them in a few steps. The second we saw their lead foot go off the bumpies and toward the street we swooped. It happened maybe twice. They never actually made it off the bumpies. As Cesar Milan says all the time, if a dog/child makes a mistake it is not their fault, it’s yours. It was your responsibility to be prepared to prevent the mistake using behavior and not words. By reserving our “emergency” voice and behavior for those two moments they understood in a second this was different and learned quickly.

With this information I now know I can stand at the white posts you see in the picture above and prevent any access to our one vector of harm. My angle to the fountain is good. The only escape vectors are the sidewalks in the four corners of the plaza (2 not pictured) on our side of the street. If one of the kids moves toward those vectors I change my angle, shrink the zone, and move closer to that point. I’m constantly looking for a sign one of them will bolt down that pathway. It’s never happened but I don’t assume that will continue.

The caveat here is that while you may not yet intuitively know your closing speed or angles, your kids know it exactly. You probably have seen this in elite form if you’ve ever tried to catch a dog. Both instinctively know how fast you can come and when you can and can’t catch them. Conversely they also use that information to know how far away from you to go. Going back to our field test, you probably can come up with an exact distance where you kid’s internal “too far” meter kicks in. (Hint: the more you use “be careful” the further that distance will be).

In that space if there is a vector you want to avoid, make sure you both start out far enough away that it is not within your kid’s internal “too far” distance. For example, ideally Broadway Plaza is big enough that I actually stand on the other side of the fountain (to the right edge of the picture) so the kids never extend their range of play beyond “too far”. That said, in this case I feel much better standing at the posts- it guarantees my hypothesis isn’t wrong.

Another caveat. All of these ideas are generally based on happy kids with their executive functioning intact. Sometimes all it takes is a skinned knee, a lost car, or a denied ice cream and executive function is out the door. That’s the b-line for the street I want to prevent. Again, it’s never happened for us (they always stop at their “too far”) but we are always ready for it to happen. When emotions are clearly getting high, we shrink the zone and decrease the closing distance. Use body language and positioning to create safety, not verbal language and volume. Like a gazelles on the savanna, when your young are injured, keep them close to the center of the herd. You don’t see momma gazelle yelling, “hey the lion is coming, get your ass over here”. Momma moves into the best position to prevent compromise.

Summary: learn how to parent from animals and athletes.

Effective Parenting is a Commitment

This conversation does require some degree of disclaimer. This is not an instruction to let your kid run wild and free and see what happens. In fact what I am advocating for is actually a more hands-on attentive approach than the “be careful” or helicopter parents achieve. Our kids should never be allowed into a setting where we have not already done the diligence to assess the risk. It is our job to protect them. However, in that voice we must also hear that it is our job to find ways to give them allowable, intelligent risks.

In that way, I do not recommend most people try this on their own. I recommend you seek a Behavior Modification specialist and consult with that person on planning. Don’t trust my ability to clearly convey the point without the opportunity to ask questions. I am effectively saying that you should let your kids walk toward a street with busy cars and not stop them. That’s REALLY dangerous. You have to KNOW your kids will stop because you’ve proven it. In the same way you have to know your kids will leave a party when drugs come out. That they will take an Uber home when their romantic partner decides it is time to show each other how much they love one another. Kids do not get the benefit of the doubt.

To be an effective parent you have to be on point constantly. It is exhausting. You can’t go to the park and check your Facebook feed. You are a professional basketball player in the middle of a game. You can’t take a break to get off your feet while the kids are off playing. You are a field general and it does not relent, ever. Playgrounds become an exercise in observation, prediction and action. Stores become a dance for line-of-sight. Unless you can commit to this, do not consider any of my ideas.

If you can commit to this you will offer your children the opportunity to develop beyond anything you could teach them with words. They will derive their own internal sense of boundaries. They will learn internal cues of safe vs unsafe, right vs wrong. Eventually it becomes second nature for you both and isn’t as difficult as it was in the beginning. You’ll remember the basketball analogy where a shot block becomes unconscious muscle memory. It can happen here too.

Like Tim Ferriss found in letting his employees make decisions in incremental, allowable steps, you can unlock potential and release yourself of the stress of needing to be the external brain. Whatever you do, “just be careful.”

 

Achieve Goals by Learning From a Procrastinator.

Achieve Goals by Learning From a Procrastinator.

Most of the effort we put into our goals is useless. The greater part of our gains come from a few discrete, high-yield efforts. What if you decided to only do the high-yield stuff? What if there was no other option?

Tim Ferriss’ fifth question in Tools of Titans explores this idea. 

5. What if I could only work 2 hours per week on my business? What would I do?

He used this question to investigate the possibility that he needed to get out of the way of his company’s growth process. Like an overbearing parent, he worried that his commitment to his company’s development was actual stifling its growth. It certainly was weighing on him. 

He chose the 2-hour framework because it was provocative. Not because he actually thinks you should only work for 2 hours (though you’d probably be surprised how little you’d lose if you did). 2 hours a week. 24 minutes a day. 12 minutes twice a day. Can you make your time so effective you don’t need more than that?

This is not only applicable to business. It is translatable to any situation where you are trying to produce an optimal state. Simply take the Tim’s 2 hours and make it a percentage of a typical 40-hour work week: 5%. How could you get to your goal by only doing 5% effort? 

Want to lose weight? Don’t focus on a fad/crash diet. Change 5% of your eating habits. Do 5% more physical exertion. Seem silly yet? Good. That’s how you know you are on to something. The perception of silliness is your subconscious’ way of diverting you from discovery and change. 

Let’s stay with weight loss for a second. How would you change 5% of your eating habits? Let’s take a 2000 calorie diet. Can you cut 100 calories a day? If you eat 3.5 meals a day 7 days a week, how would you create weight loss by only changing 1.25 of those meals? 

The sell here is that this type of planning is more likely to create an action you are guaranteed to do. Guaranteed action is way more valuable than an idealized action you wish you could do. It also flanks your existing conscious ideas of what works. Your marriage to your existing ideas is why you are here in the first place. They work great for achieving the current state, not a change state. 

Pareto’s Law: Planned Efficiency and Efficacy

Part of what is driving the engine under the hood of this exercise is Pareto’s Law. This is a Tim Ferriss specialty. Think of it as a hypothesis that the Minimum Effective Dose of any action is all you will ever need. The law states:

80% of our outcomes are created by 20% of your efforts.

Like I said, instead of 20% we are shooting for the value of being provocative by using 5%. We’ve talked before about the idea that provocation is a great tool for exploring your blindspots. It allows you to take your growth beyond your outside edge of comfort. If you never do that you are very unlikely to find change. 

The application of Pareto’s Law exists in the subtlety of our culture of change. Many industries are built on the law without realizing it. Think of strength training in fitness or speed work in running: short bursts of maximal effort with plenty of recovery in between. In nutrition it is exhibited by intermittent fasting or small daily changes rather than sustained arduous diets focused on deprivation. Tech has its planned sprints, specifically in software development. They all illustrate ways people have naturally and maybe unintentionally created applications of Pareto’s Law. Their best outcomes are generated by small but intense volume. 

Procrastinators: Efficiency Machines

My favorite example however is a serial procrastinator. They are the absolute best users of Pareto’s Law. In the next month and a half, millions of people across the world will subject themselves to the largest mass, stress wave outside maybe tax season. It’s academic FINALS. Other than maybe New Year resolutions, this will also be the most concentrated time of self-reflection in human existence. 

Most(?) of those people will finish their finals season and sit with negative self thoughts. “I should have started earlier.” “If I’d done better on my midterm I could take it easy now.” “Why do I always do this?!”

Well I will tell you why you always do this…because it works. You discovered it because it solves a problem or met a need at a time. Since that point nothing has happened to indicate that the cost outweighs the benefit. You may not be present with the idea that this monkey on your back is a problem. That’s okay. If you realized it you would have stopped it. 

I am writing this on a Monday at 7:45am. Right now a serial procrastinator 30 miles south of me is asleep. These glorious 2 hours of sleep are his reward to himself after an all-nighter. The last 24 hours have been a roller coaster of negative emotion. Why don’t we go ahead and meet this guy. Let’s call him Jeff and pretend it’s finals week at Stanford. 

At about 4:45AM, Jeff finished cramming for his 10:30AM organic chemistry final. “As long as I have a power nap I should be fine.” On waking Jeff will take a shower (“cold water always gets the cobwebs out”) and drinks a cup of coffee (“as long as I drink it 30 minutes before my exam I can get the benefits before the jitters set in”). He then will mosey into his exam, full of stress and adrenaline (and caffeine…and probably a 5-hour Energy because “it can’t make it worse”). Jeff, our Last-Minute Hero, will take the test and perform EXACTLY to the level he intends. He won’t be happy with the score because it won’t be what he thinks he needs. But it will be 100% in line with what he wants. Subconsciously. 

Jeff has big goals and high expectations of himself. He wants to go to medical school at Stanford. He wants to be a trauma surgeon and work disaster relief in developing countries. Jeff knows his ability and his potential. It is limitless. The top quintile in his class is not unreasonable. In fact, he expects it. However Jeff will not make that quintile despite his best efforts. 

Jeff’s goal is not actually to be in that quintile. Jeff’s goal is to be exactly where he is right now. His score on his exam will be within 5% of the exact score he needed to be right here. He will also be extremely disappointed by this. Jeff has a disconnect between what he thinks he wants and what his behavior indicates he actually wants. 

Jeff is the prototypic procrastinator. However what Jeff doesn’t realize is that he has set himself up in a position to ALWAYS ONLY observe Pareto’s Law. His procrastination guarantees that he never does excess work because there is no more time in which to do it. In this space he also guarantees he can never do better on exams. He can continue to do exactly how he is already doing. It is completely done out of subconscious design. 

This gets into the other half of the puzzle of Pareto’s Law… Parkinson’s Law. Tim Ferriss is big on this as well. Parkinson’s Law states:

“Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”

It is basically an application of the Ideal Gas Law. I could riff off metaphors for PV=nRT but it would take too much time. Maybe in another article. I do still like the gas analogy as a whole. Here’s why. 

Let’s say I sit Jeff down and we decide to fix his procrastination. “Its holding me back. I keep getting subpar grades and I know I can do better.” We analyze his study routine. “I started studying at 1AM. I meant to start right when I got home from class at 3PM. I had the whole day planned out. But then I decided to play Fallout because I figured I needed a little priming before I went hard studying. Figured I’d play for maybe an hour. That didn’t end until about 7PM. Then I was hungry so I had to go get food. When I got to the place I ran into my friend, Ashley. She’d been studying all day and was taking her break. We ended up talking for about an hour. Then I got my food and came home to eat. I always watch Sportscenter while I eat so I turned that on. Next thing I know it’s 9:30PM and I haven’t started studying. I realized the problem is that I kept getting distracted at home. So I decided to go to the library. I’m out the door at 10PM. I was all ready. I get there and forgot it closed at 11PM. It wouldn’t even be worth getting my stuff laid out to start. I pack back up and come home. Now I know I’m in for an all-nighter so I stop at Circle K for snacks and coffee. It takes me about an hour to clean off my table, get things situated, and decide what to focus on. Of course sprinkled in this whole story are 5-10 freak out sessions that each last 10-15 minutes.”

It’s a typical story but here’s the fun part. Jeff studied for his exam for about 3.5 hours. What if I told Jeff at 3PM when he was leaving class “hey, just do 3.5 hrs. Then you’ll be done and you can go play Fallout the rest of the night. Maybe even meet Ashley for dinner”? Would he take it? No way! That’s Parkinson’s Law. 

If Jeff had actually started when he planned he likely would have studied until 4:45AM anyway. Consciously or unconsciously he knew he did NOT need to study 13 hours to get the grade he wants. Said differently- the grade he wants doesn’t require 13 hours. It requires 3.5. Remember:

“All voluntary human behavior is done for exactly the outcome it creates. Even the most self-destructive behaviors exist for some perceived net positive gain. No matter how bizarre or obscure that gain may be.” – Kory Stotesbery, His Office, A Few Times a Week

Work expands into open space. Tim’s challenge question of 2 hours a week take the gas and compresses it. Procrastinating does the same thing. 

Procrastinators don’t have a problem getting started. They start at exactly the time they are supposed to do. Instead they have a problem restricting expansion. They are bad at setting limits on the back end. Instead they use artificial limits like time deadlines or the physical inability to stay awake. If you take a procrastinator and get them very good at saying no to themselves you can unlock amazing ability. Remember the litany of “as long as I” rules Jeff had around his study habits. Those are reflective of just how great he is at figuring out his personal tricks to bring effective and efficient.

Sure there is also a conversation about why Jeff is so blind to the fact that he is just fine getting the grades he gets and that his life would be MUCH happier if he accepted that and didn’t wish for a single percentage more. If he really wanted to change it he would. We all would. It’s what humans do. Imagine his day had he planned from the beginning to start studying at 1AM. 

Summary 

As easily suggestible, cognitive beings we are prone to maintaining beliefs with no factual basis. We call them assumptions. Pareto’s Law says we drastically overstate what is necessary to achieve a goal. Potentially by 80%. Parkinson’s Law underlines that our overestimation of need is likely a function of the system not being restricted enough. By asking yourself “what would I do if I could only work for 2 hours” you break down both limitations. No one is better at this than procrastinators. Every serial procrastinator has developed a tried-tried-and-true method to achieve their goals. They may just need a little work to give themselves a break and learn to love their skill set. If they ever want more sleep they just need to practice restricting their system. This would allow them to take their Minimim Effectice Dose of work and move it to a more socially and physically palatable time. 

Can You Predictably Recover from Setbacks?

Can You Predictably Recover from Setbacks?

Knowing everything will work out in the end may open up opportunities that you’ve only dreamed about achieving. 

Last time we explored a thought exercise used to evaluate what you really want in life and testing if you actually already have it. This week we will look at the fourth question on Tim Ferriss’ 17 Questions to Test the Impossible. 

“4. What are the worst things that could happen? Could I get back here?”

Fear-setting/fear-rehearsal…do it.

We covered this in a prior article on working through Fear-setting and Fear-rehearsal. Take something you worry about, dissect it to find your real vulnerability, then get out there an evaluate it. I am still selling hard that this is one of the most therapeutically valuable ideas there is. It is the backbone of the Exposure Response Preventiom therapy we use to treat phobias and OCD. Of course makes a fear-based thought exercise would look like anxiety treatment! In fact, you might even consider fear and anxiety to be on a spectrum of each other. 

Fear/shyness/hesitancy/worry are all normal everyday experience. Anxiety is a diagnosis word that connotes a pathological level of symptomatology. They are probably the same mental process but one is less held in check by positive mechanisms. Improve your checks and you may not be pathological anymore. 

Can I do more than survive?

One concern I have with fear-setting and rehearsal is that it may perpetuate an unhealthy status quo. If I can build up a tolarance to adversity I can withstand most anything. That’s a great strategy to be able to navigate micro-adversity. It allows you to put the worry out of your mind and get through today. However, long term tolerance of macro adversity may not be somewhere you want to stay. 

I’m going to call macro adversity the a long term challenge that will not resolve itself without some effort by those involved. This problem won’t blow over with time. Macro adversity involves a degree of personal perspective here. Losing your job may be macro for one person and micro for another. Maybe I am confident I will get a job in a week: micro adversity. Maybe instead I am confident I have almost a year of job hunting ahead of me: macro adversity. Many variables can contribute to that difference. The least of which being a persons own sense of resilience. 

I would not want to tell someone “take this risk, it may lead to years of hardship but it’s okay, you’ve proven to yourself you can handle years of hardship.” I would want to say “take this risk because we’ve identified the worst case scenario and developed a plan for how you can get back to today in a reasonable amount of time.” That’s a bit of next-level fear rehearsal so let’s dive in to see if we can extract more meaning. 

Being Stuck

I work with a lot of people that would describe themselves as being stuck. It seems more common as people get older and worry about not being competitive in the job market. They feel that the quality of having kids and a mortgage will make companies not want to hire them. Therefore they live in a system of “stay here at all costs.” 

I don’t have a sense of what degree of cognitive distortion this may be. Age-discrimination is probably something for our society to address. Is it true that if the average business considers two people with the same skill set they would hire away from the older, person with a family? That’s a great recipe for sealing the fate of our mid-life demographic to functional decline. 
People also seem to feel stuck if there is a dream out there they cannot access. Today may not be so bad necessarily. However that may not matter if the grass over there looks SO green and includes a pool and cabana with drink service. Our discovery last week may have unearthed just such a conflict. 

If these stuck people knew they could take chances because they were confident in their recovery ability what would they do?

Getting Back

Here’s how to work through planning your Get Back System. It’s a lot like the classic stories of dropping bread crumbs to find your way home. If you were on a hike and thought “I bet there’s an amazing view two peaks away, but there’s no trail” would you just set off and figure out how to get back later? What if I could guarantee you will return to this exact point, now would you go? 

Step 1- Where are you getting back to?

There’s no point in developing a plan to get back if “here” isn’t where you ever want to be again. Though I will argue, if you are “here” today we can reasonably assume it is somewhat workable. Of course that won’t be accurate for everyone. Regardless, answer these questions to help evaluate where you want to get back to being: 

How will I know when I am back? What does it look like? What are my definitions of here?

It may be income, a home, maybe even a family or relationship. There are no parameters of expectation. You are deciding the future so you have total control over what you decide constitutes getting back here. 

Step 2- Where are you going?

Going back to the hiking analogy, if you want to bust off-trail and walk randomly into the woods, cool. However your ability to get back is going to be significantly limited compared to a person who says “I’m going over there.” In fact, you could argue that guy who says “I’m just going to go and see where I end up” will still actually be making a number of smaller directionals decisons. In that way why not increase your likelihood of having a good experience by setting some sense of your goal. 

Now I know many people will still answer “I have no idea where I am going.” That’s probably an assumption brought on by some internal resistance to listening to your own desires. I really believe we all know where we want to go at all times. We just vary in our ability to hear that voice or to trust it when we do. 

Step 3: Define the Space in Between

As with going off-trail on a hike, what does the terrain look like on the way to your destination? Are certain routes there easier than others? Where does your path need to go to get there? 

For example, maybe you really want to have a go with acting but worry that if you drop everything for LA you’ll never make it back to a six-figure career. If you could guarantee you’d have that exact job jack would you go? Anoehrt question would he: knowing what you know now, how would you get your job again? Maybe you can talk to your employer and understand what the terms of return could be. You may be surprised by how much a company will extend themselves to bring back someone who is good at their job. Recruitment is expensive. 

There may also be steps involved. If your acting career flamed out, does an intermediate job get you out of waiting tables and into a positive income trajectory? Is there a training piece that would need to be in place or maybe a license you need to maintain?

I will warn here- if your recovery/get back plan starts with “I can just go back to school” I would highly recommend reconsidering your timing. I’ve mentioned before that for some people, getting degrees represents this way of spinning wheels to avoid having to commit. You often mortgage time and money from future-you to achieve this. Worse is the reality that very few jobs need a specific degree and many people can achieve their industry-specific learning by working. I might argue you have a better chance of the same job by of working your way up in four years than you would competing as a new hire in an open-market hiring process. 

Step 4: Go Practice

This is fear-rehearsal all over again. If there’s a part of your recovery plan you think is integral and you aren’t sure you can do it, go try it for a day. If you would need to move to a lower cost of living area and live in a smaller home, go rent an AirBnB there. If there’s a job you will need to save the day, can you volunteer or shadow in that industry for a day and get a sense of it? If it’s money, can you set out to use your current skills to increase your current income by exactly the rate you’d need to “get back”. 

If your recovery plan involves proving you can make money, I wouldn’t try to use your current job to increase income. Doing overtime isn’t the same as working from scratch. I would want to see you get a side gig that can at least show the promise of making X income if you carried it out. Lyft, Uber, and TaskRabbit are just a few examples of part- time work you can do to get a feel of the hustle of making a living. 

I highly recommend focusing on remote work here as it can give you a minimum overhead opportunity with a high degree of flexibility. If I’m starting out with nothing you better believe I am renting a room in an apartment in a cheap city with no state income tax but then trying to access work remote work from companies in high COL areas. Leverage. 

Summary

Knowing where you are is great. If you are like most people, where you are is a temporary condition on your way to something else. Part of the challenge of going from here to there is being sure you won’t get lost. There are ways to formalize that concern and mitigate your risk. By defining it and creating a system for recovery you may be able to set out on the journey of a lifetime. 

Can You Afford To Be Happy Today?

Can You Afford To Be Happy Today?

There is a good chance the pursuit of future success is costing you the experience of happiness today. 

In the past two weeks we have explored Tim Ferriss’ 17 questions from Tools of Titans to test the impossible. We covered doing the opposite and scratching your own itch. Now let’s turn that on its head and evaluate if we should even be trying at all. Some of these ideas may seem contrary to my recommendation to live a life of planned intent and growth. I will explain how it all comes together to yield the best version of you possible. 

“Question 3: What would I do/have/be if I had $10 million dollars? What is my real TMI?”

At the time he discovered this question, Tim was achieving a high financial measures of success but it came at a cost of well-being. He used this question to evaluate if his course of action was as valid and necessary as he thought. This wasn’t a visualization exercise intent on galvanizing his fervor for success. It was a momentary pause to see if he had unknowingly already achieved successs.

Is Your Passion Authentic?

There is a thing in personal and professional development where it becomes cool to be the most open-minded, self-aware, constructive person in the room. It’s probably a throwback to our pack mentality that we don’t like being different. Even people who pride themselves on being different gather in packs of people being different (I’m looking at you hipsters). They generally don’t realize that being anti-establishment is itself a pro-establishment. 

I find this often leads to an inauthentic engagement and representation of one’s opinion. People saying what they think they are supposed to say depending on the narrative to which they are trying to be true. If the group is talking about being driven and motivated most people will join in the call to arms. In the wake of this communal passion, someone in the group will be experiencing frustration with their lack of that quality and begin to be really excited about getting better. However, inevitably and appropriately, someone eventually says “but we don’t want to get TOO driven and motivated that it causes bad things to happen”. Immediately our “I want to be more driven” person flips to say “oh yes, I should take it easy on myself.”

This isn’t a problem. Like I said it’s human nature. We are remarkably binary. Unless one has developed the very valuable skill of tolerating ambivalence, we either join in loving something or join in hating it. Marketing companies take advantage of it every day. Our current political climate is rife with it. If someone wanted to bring back platform shoes with a goldfish in the heel (Disco Stu-style) they absolutely could do it. If we see lots of people doing or saying something we naturally want to regress to the mean. We develop a sense that we should want those things too. 

It’s also the basic structure of why mediums like Twitter, Instagram, and SnapChat work. It’s why MySpace faded and Facebook evolved away from it. When “the cool thing to do” was only dictated by our Top 8 friends, social media had little societal value. It had individual value. If I needed to know what to wear out I didn’t take to social media to check the pulse of fashion. Instead I messaged one person in my Top 8 to get advice. Or I called them (remember we still had telephones back then). Now if I want advice, why limit it to my one trusted friend when I can see what tens of thousands, maybe even million of people like. Again, pack mentality allows us to drive our preferences toward the mean. The most effective way to stay in touch with those millions is via short burst social media engagements. Add in some pictures, a few celebrities, and BAM! you have a species trained to dictate their future behavior by constantly utilizing a data stream presented in the form of text and images (that’s actually all social media is).

Don’t Drink the Kool-aid Unless…

Okay, that seemed like a huge digression. It was. My point though is that I feel very strongly that all people who promote a certain path should take opportunities to offer their followers an alternate experience. Don’t follow us because we represent the masses. 

This goes back to the value of doing the opposite. All the aspects of our lives that bring us pride are heavily biased by that very opinion that it is a good idea. We drink the Kool-aid because someone showed us how and “that dude knows how to make Kool-aid”. Take time to consider what Sunny D might taste like. Or better yet, try some of that “purple stuff”!

We have to check our assumptions from time to time. I like Tim’s use of fanciful, seemingly unrealistic prompts to explore a blindspot here. It stimulates thought. Let’s assume you are in the process of pursuing a goal that will provide you with more money or a better lifestyle. You are essentially doing everything we’ve said in prior posts is a good idea to have onboard at all times. Good job! However by asking yourself what you would do with $10 million dollars in the bank you are saying “if I woke up tomorrow and no longer needed to grind and chase what would I do with my life?”

He compares this thought exercise to retirement. For many people they are working in hopes of providing for today and to create some future life where they stop working. Retirement is actually a dangerous developmental trend I don’t have time to get into here. Let’s leave it at this: the mythology of what awaits us in old age does a great job of guaranteeing we fulfill the prophecy of declining function. However, how many retired people or even those who finally achieve their goals stop and say “I wish I’d smelled the roses more. Taken it slower. Been happier along the way”? It is actually one of the more common sentiments of the Titans Tim interviews on The Tim Ferriss Show. It doesn’t seem to be as emphatically represented in the book. 

You Want Less Than You Think You Do

If you had $10 million would you put it away and keep grinding until you are 65? Probably not. When you answer this question of what you would do if you retired today with unlimited funds you will outline what you actually wish you were doing today. Tim and I will sell big on the idea that the reality of what you want today isn’t as fanciful as you assume. You may say “travel every day” , “eat at a new restaurant every night”, “sleep until 10am and swim in the ocean daily”. Great. I love those ideas! 

Odds are that they are a romanticized version of what you really want. If you’ve ever taken a stay-cation you likely have experienced something closer to what your natural “retirement” lifestyle will look like. I don’t imagine your idealized retirement involves binge-watching Orange is the New Black or playing every game in the Call of Duty cannon. “No way man, I won’t let that happen to me when I’m old. I only veg out on stay-cations because I work so hard I need that time to recover.” Excellent. I love your optimism. I’m glad you feel confident that the old version of you with decreased muscle strength, range of motion, balance, visual acuity, and executive functioning is going to outstrip the tenacity of young you. Oh and “sleep until 10am” when you’re 65? Go call your grandpa and ask him about that. 

Don’t Make Choices Today at the Expense of Tomorrow. 

Today is temporary. Tomorrow is constant until it becomes today. Never make a choice that will cost future-you without careful a thorough cost-analysis. Don’t commit to a lifestyle change for today that you will suffer for later. It’s a basic tenet of finance, athletics, and development. Play the long game. 

I think it is important that the Growth Mindset, goal-achievement-machine version of you regularly test if it’s time to walk away from the table. Maybe it won’t be time to exist, but if you never stop and ask yourself “is this good enough” you will be guaranteed to miss it when you’re there. Don’t burden your future self with regrets. 

What Does Happiness Cost You?

This is where Tim emphasizes the role of calculating your Target Monthly Income (TMI). You have asked yourself what life would look like if you retired today with plenty of cash. Now take that lifestyle and assess how much it costs per month. The goal is to see if you are actually already there. 

I knew a guy who was very, very simple in his needs. A comfortable home. A second house at the Jersey Shore. A good delivery pizza place. A low key, cheap bar within walking distance. Maybe the occasional baseball game or night out with the guys. Once or twice a year he’d make a splugy purchase under $2000 to treat himself.

Let’s run his TMI. The rent on his home would have been about $1700. The Shore house, probably $500 a weekend including travel and food. Add in static expenses and a budget for his splurges, I’d estimate he could get by on $4k net income a month. Max. 

If this person decided to focus on happiness instead of hustle, he should put all effort toward finding a job that gets him $4000 in as few hours as possible. Alternatively, if he is making over $4000 a month he needs to be damn sure that every dollar over $4000 is worth the effort. He has already decided he doesn’t actually need it. Dream retirement is in his hands already. 

Another way to look at it is that for every $48,000 he can create in assets he buys himself a year of retirement. Want a year sabbatical? Plan out how to set aside $48,000. Want a month instead? Set aside $4000. It’s all that easy. 

Knowledge is Wellness 

I am not saying everyone should go out and quit their jobs, move to rural America and call it good. That won’t be for everyone or even most. I am also not saying that calling an end to the grind is in your best interest. However I am emphatic in people being able to confidently say “my life is the way it is today because I choose it to be so, I know what else I could pivot to right now and I know I don’t want it because I have tested it.” I think that statement may be one of the most valuable goals a person can have and is a consistent part of the people I meet who are doing well. 

Summary

As you can see by this very long post. I love this question. What is the dream life for you and can you regularly assess if you have actually achieved access to it? By calculating your target monthly income you can go from ambiguous fanciful dreams like “travel the world”or “retire by the beach” and turn them into a hard dollar amount you need to chase. Each dollar you increase your monthly income the closer you get. Maybe you find your current career will never offer than target income. What do you do then? What impact would that knowledge have on decision making? Self-exploration can come at a cost and it is very vulnerable to generating a manipulated product of who you are. However, exercises like these, when done with care and transparency, can offer immense value to sustainable wellness. You may be able to “buy happiness” today. 

Use Your Bank Statement as Self-starter Radar

Use Your Bank Statement as Self-starter Radar

In Tim Ferriss’ book Tools of Titans he lists 17 questions that help him Test the Impossible. We already covered doing the opposite. This week we will look at his idea to maximize your innate ability to activate. Already find yourself saying “I have no innate ability to activate”? Let me prove you wrong. 

2. What do I spend a silly amount of money on? How can I scratch my own itch?

Tim offers this question as part of an exploration he did after leaving a start-up job. He wanted to create something and get in on the excitement of our little Manifest Destiny here in Silicon Valley. He goes into this idea more in 4 Hour Work Week. There is so much value to derive from this exercise. 

Scratch Your Own Itch

This is hugely important for those with entrepreneurial aspirations. Much of the game in small business ownership and start-ups is hustle. You are going to work a lot. You are going to live, eat and breathe this dream. That means you better like it. A lot. 

For this reason, scratching your own itch makes sense. Why not engage a passion you already have? Tim recommends looking at your bank statement and figuring out where most of your free money goes. Chances are that industry is in your wheelhouse. You likely don’t need to self-motivate much to engage it. You may naturally read about it in your free time. You may loiter at its stores or venues. That part that already gets you off the couch is a big part of the fight for a business owner. Watch Shark Tank and you’ll see how this works. Investors care about the product but they care about the person more. To a man, every deal on the show hinges on the Sharks trusting the passion of the person. 

If your itch still isn’t clear enough for you, consider a few more questions:

Which industry would you happily attend its trade show

Not just the big ones like SXSW or Consumer Electronics Show. I mean a conference at the El Paso airport hotel in July. No glamour. No upgraded suites or mixers at a wine bar overlooking the city. I’m talking about spending 15 hours on your feet jawing about this topic and then swinging by Long John Silver’s on the way back to your motel room on the outskirts of town so you can get back and watch the only channel available which of course plays constant marathons of Everybody Loves Raymond (maybe I will expand on my disdain for that show another time).

If you won the lottery but your doctor told you to keep a job to stave off death, which job would you take?

Money is no longer an issue. You have so much money you don’t even need to be qualified. You could pay them to hire you if you wanted. Where are you going? Maybe spend some time thinking about what your 9 year old self dreamt of doing. It’s not to say that job will be your direction but it may give you ideas on an industry to lean toward. 

Once you have an idea of your itch, we can start using the idea as a Petri dish for your personal development model. 

Applying a Minimum Effective Scratch to find wellness 

I like to steal from this idea when working with clients. Particularly with anyone struggling with motivation. Like I said, the hardest part of doing many things is getting started. Why not ride the wave of something you already are motivated to do? 

This allows you to use something easy as grounds for learning your own unique motivation equation. Once you perfect that equation you can port it over to other aspects of your life. Maybe even things you wish to become a passion. The prerequisite is knowing your process of creating action. That process likely is a constant. The variables however are interchangeable. 

I apply this to ideas of learning your Minimum Effective Dose (MED) for wellness. Call them buckets or Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, we all likely have some subconscious and conscious sense of where we are out of balance at any given moment. The burnt-out tech workers may have an internal sense of needing to experience fun again. Stressed out students may find themselves envious of other people’s normal, everyday life. The person in a dead-end job may need to know there is an out. In each case, scratching a MED itch may be just the trick. 

Humans tend toward very all-or-nothing answers. If my job sucks I will focus on needing a new one. If my career is stagnating I feel a need to go back to school (another topic to dissect eventually- how the college and post-graduate education system is promoting a stagnated workforce). If I feel overworked, I decide I need a weeklong or multi-week vacation. All those big ideas negate the value of a MED scratch. They mortgage acting now to meet a need for a perceived homerun “it would all be better if…”. That’s low yield and not sustainable. 

Scratching our itch is very restorative for wellness. Any human who can say they routinely engage their passion is likely to have a better quality of life than someone who wishes they did. Better yet, any human who feels they engage their passion in exactly the amount they want to at that given moment may win the game. How much value would it bring to your life to say “I play video games every single day”, “I exercise every single day”, or maybe “I am always working on a really cool project”? Doing something daily isn’t necessarily about discipline as it can be about intelligent planning. 

This builds on the idea of taking Just One Embarassingly Small Breath. Take your itch and think about the minimum interval possible to engage it on a daily basis. Again, look for an answer that seems silly. If it seems too easy or insignificant, it likely flanks your anti-motivation habits. Think surfing every day would change your life? Cool, I agree. If by tomorrow you aren’t surfing every day, maybe you should buy an Andy Irons video and watch it every morning instead. Or better yet swing by your local board shop on your drive home and browse for 5 minutes every day. I guarantee within a few weeks someone who does surf every day will introduce themselves to you. Share with them what you are doing and you’ll be a “hey, you should meet me at the beach tomorrow” from surfing every day. 

Can I convince you that one minute a day thinking about your passion will get you closer to actualizing your goal than “I have to spend every free moment making it happen”? You know that guy who lives, eats, and breathes the invention he is pitching on Shark Tank? That guy is trying just as hard as you. Here’s why. 

Newton’s First Law of Success

An object in motion stays in motion –Newton’s First Law of Motion

Borrowing from prior discussions of George Combe’s The Constitution of Man, all forms of matter in the world are little success machines. A rock is REALLY successful at being a rock. It does its job. Constantly. The moment it stops doing its job, it is no longer a rock. It loses its rock-ness. It becomes sand, lava, etc. Humans’ human-ness is debatable but I’m going with love and innovation. A human without love becomes a non-human. We are the only species with a concept of love (sorry pet owners, it’s not love, it’s a pack behavior to recognize your dominance). A human who does not innovate, progress, or micro-evolve, is not a human. Again, that is the behavior of non-humans. Lions today are not dramatically different than ancient lions from a behavioral perspective. They aren’t sitting around on Pride Rock talking about “dude, can you believe 100 years ago they used to take springbok down from the front. Thank god we realized it is better to do it from behind. Those cretins!”  

We have to keep pursuing love and development to survive. Your itch likely is a medium in which you naturally engage both. However engaging isn’t easy to do. Or so we think. Enter Newton’s law. 

Let’s go back to our old friend the rock. He’s sitting there, happy he’s a rock. “I got this sweet moss growing on my south side (clearly a Southern Hemisphere kind of guy), I’m diverting this water over there so it forms a brook, dudes walk on me to keep their feet dry. I’m a really useful rock”. 
But then tragedy strikes. One day a smaller, more agile rock goes flying past our friend. Catching only the blur of this young buck as he zooms by, or friend is left with one thought “how does he do that? He makes it look so easy!” Our friend is immediately self-conscious. “Why can’t I do that? Here I am stuck in this deadend spot, a bunch of crap growing on me, wet all day, so unimportant people walk all over me. That other rock, people were getting the heck out of his way, I wish I was like him.” 

Our friend decides he wants to have a go at this rolling thing. He tries pushing off. “Drat, no muscles. I can’t move. How does he do it? He must be a different rock. He was born with it.” 

Time goes by and eventually our sad rock friend notices a new neighbor. 

“Hey it’s you, you’re the guy I saw rolling down that hill! How’d you get up here?”

“Oh a bird picked me up to crack open some food and dropped me here when he was done.”

“You got to be a tool!” 

“Yeah it was great. You should try it some  time.”

“I’d love to but I don’t have what you do. I will never be special like that.”

“There’s nothing special about me. I just take things as they come.”

“So how do you do it?”

“I just wait for the right moment and if something happens I go with it.”

“But you make it look so easy. You were flying down that hill.”

“Yeah the getting started part is hard but once you get going it’s easy to keep it up.”

“You’re saying that once I get going it will actually get easier?”

“Oh sure, all rocks are the same way. Did you ever hear about that rock slide last year? My buddy was in it. He said it was the most fun he’s ever had. So simple. Kept calling it something like Flow.”

“Maybe I should try it.”

“Definitely, you’ve got the perfect set up. That brook you’re redirecting is just waiting to erode your seat and once that happens… look out!”

“Huh, I guess I should spend some time enjoying my moss and brook again. Knowing that I can leave eventually makes me want to appreciate what I have more.”

Summary 

Scratching your itch is a really high-yield way to explore your unique equation for motivation. By starting action in your wheelhouse with something you already do, you will increase your chance of engaging. Engaging in change and discovery is maybe the most important thing a human can do. It can be hard to get started but once you are rolling the rhythm becomes routine. You’ll never know where you’ll end up and what you may learn about yourself.