A couple years ago I was overwhelmed.
I was running 5 affiliate websites, trying to launch a new service business, and working full-time at a startup.
Every time I caught up on one project, all my other projects seemed to be in danger of failing so I had to switch my focus and repeat the loop.
This is a pattern many of us get stuck in, and Dan Ariely, the author of Predictably Irrational, decided to take a closer look at this self-destructive behavior.
He had participants play a simple computer game and paid them based on their performance inside of that game.
For the first experiment, they were faced with 3 doors: red, green, and blue and were told they had 100 clicks to make as much money as possible. They would click on a door, their available click counter would go down by 1, and they would find themselves in a room of the same color as the door they just clicked.
Each room had doors leading to the other rooms, and each had a different payout range for each click inside of it. So the red room might pay 3-6 cents, the blue 2-5, and the green 4-12.
Since each room had different payouts the participants had to quickly determine which room had the highest payout.
Most participants did pretty well. However, the most interesting part of the study comes next.
New participants had to play the same exact game, but with a new condition: "each door that wasn't visited for 12 clicks would disappear forever."
So if a participant clicked on the blue door and entered the blue room, the green and the red doors would get just a little smaller.
Then when the participants clicked inside the blue room to determine the payout, the green and red doors would get even smaller.
He would try to determine the payout, but would get distracted by the red and green doors getting smaller and smaller.
The participant would quickly click on the red door, which brought it back to normal size, enter the red room, click a couple times in it, but then see that the green door was almost fully gone so he'd switch to the green. But then he would see that the blue door was getting smaller as he clicked, so he would switch over to that room.
In this condition the participants jumped from option to option, wasting clicks on trying to keep all doors open, and made 15% less money than those in the first condition.
Just like the participants of this study, when I was trying to keep all my doors open none of my projects were very successful, and in fact the business I was trying to start lost the most money I've ever lost through business.
They ran the study again, this time trying to discourage students from "keeping their doors open."
They tried charging them some money in addition to a click to open a door, allowed them to do hundreds of practice trials before the actual experiment, made it so the doors would "disappear" but you could bring it back to life with one click, and even told the participants the exact monetary reward they would get from each room, BUT the participants still did all they could to prevent their doors from closing, and this is when they knew that one room would make them 20 or even 30% more money than any of the others.
How many of us keep our options open when we really shouldn't?
How much of our mental energy are we spending on old dreams we will not pursue, potential romantic partners we're better off letting go, or commitments that we have but don't even know why we have them?
On the other hand, how many of us forget about the real disappearing doors in our lives?
How many of us spend too many hours at work while our relationship door with our family slowly disappears?
How many of us take our friends and family for granted because we assume they will be there forever?
Similarly, how many of us forget about the consequences of not deciding or the consequences of taking too long to decide?
We often use information gathering for a decision as a way to avoid taking action because we "need to be ready," when in reality we'd be better off picking one option, and just going with it rather than procrastinating by looking for the perfect option.
When I was in high school, I wanted to become a basketball star.
There were many days in the summer when I left for the gym right after eating breakfast, and got home right before dinner.
I adhered to the method of practice, practice, practice and focused hard on improving my 3 point shot.
If you've ever played basketball, you can probably guess what my practice looked like, and it's what many coaches recommended to me at that time.
I did 20 shots from the baseline, 20 from the left wing, 20 from the top, and continued going back and forth, and back and forth.
The basic idea was to keep shooting from one spot until you got better, and then move to another spot.
Well, this type training led to a huge embarrassment during tryouts, but I'll talk about that a bit later.
I'll just say: if I knew then what I know now about how learning and skill acquisition works, I would never train how I did back then.
Now, let's take a quick detour to the 1970s.
Two researchers wanted to test how different types of practice would affect the learning of a group of kids.
The task was a simple game of cornhole - throwing a beanbag into a hole in a raised platform at a certain distance away.
The goal was to get better at throwing the bag into the hole from 3 feet away.
There were 2 groups that had nearly identical pre-test scores, that trained differently for 10 weeks:
The first group always practiced tossing from 3 feet away, while the second group practiced tossing from 2 or 4 feet away, but NEVER from 3 feet away.
In the final test, their performance was tested from 3 feet away.
Which group do you think performed better? The 3 foot one, or the 2 and 4 foot one?
Surprisingly, the group that NEVER practiced the 3 foot throw, outperformed the group that ONLY practiced that type of throw.
This and other studies demonstrates that varied practice, in this case varying the distances you're practicing from, makes it easier to use this skill in a larger variety of scenarios than massed practice - which in this case is tossing from the same distance over and over.
Instead of learning how to do a highly specific thing, in a very specific environment, varied practice makes you perform constant adjustments as you go from throwing from 2 feet, to 4 feet, and back again. These constant adjustments and changes allow you to create a better understanding of how a certain amount of force will affect where the beanbag goes.
For massed practice, on the other hand, you don't have to adjust as much. Once you are "dialed in," the knowledge for how to get the beanbag in the hole is in your short-term memory, and you can keep tossing it in one after another without a problem.
However, without those adjustments, you won't have as good of a feel for how small differences in your throws can affect the beanbag. Once the knowledge of how to do it is in short-term memory, you are no longer "practicing." You are just repeating a motion you have memorized for a short time, just like you might repeat a phone number before finding a piece of paper and a pen to write it down.
And what happens with that phone number once it's written down? Exactly. You forget it.
In a similar matter you might also forget the precise technique you need for getting the beanbag in the hole because it's only stored in your short-term memory.
As you can see, massed practice can lead to worse performance in the long-run and that's exactly what happened with me.
If I could dial in my shot, I could sink 15 3-pointers in a row. From the same spot of course.
But if I had to shoot in the flow of a game... well, the story becomes a bit different.
We were playing a game during tryouts, and I was excited to show off my newfound skills. The coach already knew I wasn't bad, but I knew that showing him that I was now a 3 point machine, would guarantee a starting spot.
The first 3 point shot of the game, from a spot I practiced thousands of times during the summer... I airballed.
And I thought... That's fine. It's just adrenaline and nerves.
But, as the game went on, I realized that if I shot from a spot just a bit different from one that I practiced in, or from a pass that wasn't as perfect as the ones I gave myself, or if anything wasn't perfectly aligned with how I practiced, I would miss.
The game that I thought would clinch my spot as a rising star on the team, almost led me to being cut from the team.
I listened to the famous adage of "practice, practice, practice," but forgot about a similarly famous one of "practice like you play."
If only I changed the spots that I shot from with every shot when I practiced . Moved a bit farther beyond the 3 point line, and then moved a bit inside of it. Gave myself bad passes. Shot from weird angles that might happen during an actual game.
Then I just might have been playing in the NBA instead of making this video for you. 😉 But now it's your turn. Practice correctly, and don't let my mistakes become your mistakes.
Alright, you're smart enough to know what the subscribe button is and what it's there for. If weekly videos on meta-skills needed to thrive in the 21st century, living a proactive life, and broadening your horizons will be useful to you, then you know what to do. If not, I hope you found this video useful and will actually apply it to your life rather than using it purely as entertainment.
And remember to improve daily. A 1% improvement in any metaskill today can lead to huge compounding benefits over your lifetime.
Improve yourself today, and make time work for you. Not against you.
Have you ever had problems reaching your goals even though you were working harder than ever?
A couple years ago I wasn't progressing at the gym at all.
It seemed as if nothing was working. And it didn't matter how hard I lifted, how much I ate, or what supplements I took. I looked and I weighted the same month after month.
I spent hours researching new programs, different tactics, and small "tricks" I could use to gain more muscle, all while ignoring the one big problem that was staring me right in the face.
I simply wasn't sleeping enough.
Instead of fixing this giant problem, I focused on the smaller, easier to fix things as if they were the most important things in the world.
Maybe I need to increase my protein intake by exactly 19 grams per day... Or I just need to add another exercise to really make my muscles grow... Or maybe I need to add this magical potion to my morning smoothie and everything will be perfect.
All of us do this in some areas of our lives.
We ignore the big, and the difficult problems, and we magnify the small, and the easier ones, because in many cases, convincing yourself that you are "working" on the problem, is easier than actually fixing it.
If you're not seeing progress at the gym, it's easier to focus on insignificant changes in supplements, exercises, and protein intake than it is to consistently stick to a healthy sleep schedule.
If your business isn't making as much money as you'd like, it's easier to focus on making your website perfect or trying to increase conversions by 1%, than it is to go out and try to sell to 50 new people every day.
The solutions to the big problems are often simple, but not easy, while the solutions to the small problems are often complicated, but easy.
Everyone knows how to get more sleep. You go to bed earlier, you wake up later, or you do both. Simple.
Everyone also knows how difficult it is to get more sleep. Your work is piling up, your friends are calling you and asking to hang out, you need to go to the gym, read all these books, play video games, take care of your kids, it doesn't matter. Everyone's lives are filled to the brim, and losing an extra hour or two of so called "productive time" to sleep just seems unfathomable.
We start making up excuses. I could do X, Y, and Z if I just slept an hour or two less tonight!
Sure... You could. But will you actually?
For me, a lot of the time when I stayed up to do something "productive," unless it was something I needed done by tomorrow, I pretty much ended up not doing it at all and wasted time watching YouTube or Netflix.
I wasn't productive, AND I was losing out on sleep!
Since the less you sleep, the less productive you are, the easier you get distracted, and the less you actually do. I ended up being in an infinite cycle of needing to sacrifice sleep in order to finish all my work, and repeating it day after day.
I was trying to use all of these different productivity hacks I found online, when in reality all I needed was to get more sleep.
I kept looking for small, bandaid fixes, when what I really needed was a full on surgery.
And this isn't to say that those small fixes aren't valuable. A 10% or even a 1% improvement can compound greatly over time, but the problem comes when you focus on these 1% improvements before taking advantage of the 50 or 100% ones.
It's simply a waste of time.
What's an area of your life where you're focusing on small problems and ignoring the huge one staring you in the face?
Is it your health? Productivity? Relationship?
How would your life change if you conquered the big problem head on instead of wasting time on the tiny ones?
I remember going to the gym for the very first time.
I had dreams of becoming super buff in less than 3 months and every week, I looked in the mirror, disappointed with the results I was seeing.
I couldn’t see the incremental progress, because I was too close to the fire. I wanted to be buff FAST. I didn’t want to, and I didn’t notice myself, gaining a tiny bit of muscle every single day.
I was blinded by the promises of 6 pack shortcuts, buff guys who have been training for YEARS, selling a program to look “just like them” in just a couple months.
Little did I know, that the human body has biological limits on how fast we can gain muscle.
As a guy, I could only gain about 1-2 pounds of muscle every MONTH. That’s right. That’s 2 pounds every MONTH, and I was expecting to gain 5, or even 10 pounds per month which is nearly 2 pounds per week.
I wanted fast progress, instead of settling in for the long haul.
You can probably guess what happened.
I ended up not following through with the program, being disappointed with my results, and coming back to it time and time again, only to repeat the same exact mistakes.
And 2 pounds per month might not seem like a lot, but if I consistently worked out, ate right, and slept well for a year, I would gain 12-24 pounds of muscle.
After a month of progress, I would look very similar to how I looked when I started, but after a year, I would be nearly unrecognizable.
Many of us overestimate how much progress we can make in a week or a month, but underestimate the progress that we can make in a year or 5 years.
And this doesn’t just apply to the gym.
How many people do you know who jump from opportunity to opportunity, certain that THIS IS THE ONE, and never end up going anywhere?
They see people who have worked for YEARS to get to where they are now, and they want to be at the same place where those people are, but without putting in the same amount of work.
One concept related to this, is called $0/hour work. (Which is an article by Billy from ForeverJobless linked in the description below.) (Billy has a lot of unique ideas, so I recommend you check out his blog.)
The basic idea is this:
When you’re just starting a business, you might have to put in dozens, or even hundreds of hours, before actually getting paid.
You might have to research the target market, figure out their true needs, create the right solution, prototype, experiment, and break barriers to solve the problem that people have.
Someone who you see earning hundreds of thousands of dollars online, might have spent months, or even years, on figuring out how to solve the problem they’re solving to make that money.
Or maybe they had to spend months on figuring out how to build an audience, or how to find the right audience.
Either way, it doesn’t matter.
What matters is that most people aren’t willing to do this $0/hour work, and most people aren’t willing to think long term.
So… What does this all mean for you?
If you are able to overcome your natural tendency to be drawn to short-term gains, you might lose out on money NOW, but it’s likely that you will be better off in the long-term.
You are a thief.
You don’t rob houses or banks. You steal ideas, concepts, and knowledge.
However, you’re not stealing from the person you got that idea or knowledge from.
You’re stealing from the people who would have first encountered this idea from you. From the people who needed a reminder of this specific concept today. From the thought leader who might have stumbled upon your publication and influenced the lives of hundreds or thousands of people by sharing it with them.
Sure, you might be reiterating an idea you got somewhere else a couple years ago. Combining ideas. Or even repeating a story you just heard today.
But most things in life have already been said by someone smart. There are no ideas in the world, where everyone who needed to hear them, has heard them.
That’s why you’re not stealing from the person you originally got the idea from. (Although you should still cite them/link to them if you know who it was.)
Take a look at the following list:
- Tony Robbins
- Paul Graham
- James Altucher
- Grant Cardone
- Gary Vaynerchuk
- Brendan Burchard
All of them are rock-stars within their niches, but you probably haven’t heard of ALL of them, and even if you have, you likely haven’t heard every single important message every single person on that list wants to convey.
If someone has an audience of 100,000,000, there’s still nearly 7,500,000,000 people on the planet who haven’t heard their message.
Is their message important to every single person on the planet?
Most likely not.
But could it be important to 1/10 of everyone on the planet?
If we assume their message is important enough, then they’ve only reached 15% of all people who could benefit from it, and for most people hearing it once isn’t enough. To truly understand the message, they need to hear it multiple times throughout their lives.
Maybe they’re more mature now. More understanding. More compassionate.
Maybe they’re willing to listen more. Accept other people’s advice. Be humble.
It doesn’t matter.
You are just like the celebrities who haven’t spread their message to everyone who needs to hear it.
There is knowledge inside of you, begging to be let out.
Maybe this is knowledge you obtained today. Maybe it’s knowledge you’ve had for a while. Or maybe, just maybe, it is knowledge that you and only you could’ve come up with. (An insight so rare that it only happens with 1/10000 or 1/100000 people.)
Don’t bottle up your knowledge even if you think it’s been said already.
You never know who might benefit from it.
- Chicken coop -> newborn incubator to cut the mortality rate in half
- A long chain of ideas: capturing animals for food/livestock -> what if animals could be entertainment (zoos) -> chicken coop in the zoo
- Combined with: let’s eat that thing that chickens lay -> how do we increase their number (incubator) -> zoos
- Developed world the incubators break & people can’t fix them because they’re too different from what they know -> let’s create it out of parts they already have there and know how to fix (automobile parts)
- “We have a natural tendency to romanticize breakthrough innovations, imagining momentous ideas transcending their surroundings, a gifted mind somehow seeing over the detritus of old ideas and ossified traditions. But ideas are works of bricolage; they’re built out of that detritus. We take the ideas we’ve inherited or that we’ve stumbled across and we jigger them together into some new shape.”
- Adjacent possible: all the “states or places” we can get to from where we’re currently at.
- It’s a house that gets bigger with every room you open. As you open each door, you see a room with more doors, that lead to rooms with more doors that lead to places you couldn’t reach from where you started.
- Based on the evolutionary idea of the adjacent possible.
- Atoms -> H2O -> one cell carbon based life forms -> multi cell life forms -> etc until we reach to humans
- Sunspots: four scientists in 4 dif countires
- Electrical battery by 2 people
- Isolating oxygen in the air by 2 people
- Require previous ideas to develop new ones.
- EX: to isolate oxygen you needed to:
- Know that you’re looking for something in teh air
- Advanced scales
- Once the above conditions are met, it’s a matter of time until we reach a new idea
- EX: to isolate oxygen you needed to:
- Those ahead of their time ideas end up being short term failures
- Analytical engine designed in early 19th century by Charles Babbage
- Basically a computer, but it was way ahead of its time
- Wasn’t in the adjacent possible because it required parts not known yet and if they built it using their current knowledge it’d be too slow
- Analytical engine designed in early 19th century by Charles Babbage
- Organizations, work, our capabilities, relationships, etc
- “Challenging problems don’t usually define their adjacent possible in a clear, tangible way. Part of coming up with a good idea is discovering what those spare parts are, and ensuring that you’re not just recycling the same old ingredients.”