Interesting Thought: 8 Rules to Do Everything Better
“Principles are fundamental truths that serve as the foundations for behavior that gets you what you want out of life,” writes investor Ray Dalio in his bestselling book, Principles. Dalio focuses on skills like decision-making, investing, and managing organizations. While reading through it, I became inspired to put together my own list of principles that I’ve devised after more than five years of interviewing and coaching elite performers in sports, business, and beyond. Like Dalio’s, these principles are a foundation for a better you.
1. Stress + Rest = Growth
Whether you want to grow your body or mind or get better at a specific skill, you need to push to the outer limits of your current ability, and then follow that hard work with appropriate recovery and reflection. Decades of research in exercise science show that this is how you get stronger and faster, and the latest cognitive science shows that this is also how you get smarter and more creative.
2. Focus on the Process, Not Results
The best athletes and entrepreneurs aren’t focused on being the best; they’re focused on constant self-improvement. When you stop stressing about external outcomes—like whether you win or lose, attain a certain promotion, or achieve some other form of validation—a huge burden is lifted off your shoulders and you can focus your energy on the things you can control. As a result, you almost always end up performing better. Research shows that concentrating on the process is best for both performance and mental health.
3. Stay Humble
Humility is the key to growth. If you don’t maintain an open mind, you’ll severely limit your opportunities to learn and make progress. The best athletes trust their training programs but are also constantly looking for new ways to improve. Same goes for the best thinkers and creatives; they tend to be confident but not arrogant, and they check their egos at the door. Knowledge is always evolving and advancing—if you want to evolve and advance with it, you need to keep an open mind.
4. Build Your Tribe
There’s an old saying that you’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with. Turns out that’s true. A large and growing body of behavioral science research shows that motivation (or lack thereof) is contagious. One study, “Is Poor Fitness Contagious? Evidence from Randomly Assigned Friends,” found that up to 70 percent of your fitness level may be explained by the people you train with. Other research shows that if you work on mental tasks with people who are internally driven and love what they do, you’re more likely to end up the same way. If, on the other hand, you surround yourself with people who have a negative attitude and are focused solely on winning the rat race, you set yourself up for a less fulfilling experience.
5. Take Small, Consistent Steps to Achieve Big Gains
Habits build upon themselves. If you want to make any kind of significant change, you’d be wise to do so gradually and over time. In Stanford researcher BJ Fogg’s behavior model, whether someone takes action depends on both their motivation and their ability to complete a given task. If you regularly overshoot on the ability side of the equation, you’re liable to become discouraged and quickly flame out. But if you incrementally increase the challenge, what was hard last week will seem easier today. Put differently: Small and consistent victories compound over time, leading to massive gains.
To read the last three principles, please click here to be routed to the original story, where it appeared in my column with Outside Magazine.
Coaching Corner: Don't Skip Steps
The old adage of paying your dues is gone. In a world filled with hacks and shortcuts, the emphasis is sternly placed on getting to your goal as quickly as possible; find the quick route and forget about taking the long, traditional, and often circuitous route. In other words: skip steps.
Every shortcut we take, every step we skip, comes with a consequence. We lose something. Often, it’s inconsequential, an idea or concept that we can compensate for or pick up later. But sometimes it’s a golden nugget, a skill that we absolutely need to learn.
And therein lies the problem. In the moment, it’s difficult to know what exactly we are skipping and whether it will have value in the future. If our teenage-self were given the choice to skip any class where the thought “I’m never going to use this,” had crossed our mind, every one of us would be deficient in some key area. In the moment, what often seems boring and unnecessary is laying a vital skill set that allows us to progress years down the line. Whether it was in learning the language of mathematics or Shakespeare, what may have seemed unnecessary then has likely in-part made it possible for you to enjoy and understand concepts now.
Take writing, for example. For someone who isn’t in love with grammar, painstakingly learning the grammatical nuance of our language was an absolute chore. My handwriting was atrocious, and I’d have to spend hours working my way through grammar workbooks–that almost always had the answers in the back of the book. If 12 year old me was allowed to skip the diagramming of a sentence, he surely would have. But 20 years later, I’m thankful that my parents and teachers provided me with that basic skill. And now, decades later, I find myself working through that annoying Blue Book of Grammar to ensure that I am reminded of the basics of writing.
The lesson isn’t to make sure that you check off every box on your path towards mastering a craft. Instead, make sure you aren’t falling for the trap of “hack culture,” zooming through every step with the end-goal the only item in sight. Instead, focus on collecting the necessary skills, ideas, and concepts that may set you up for improvement for years to come. As I like to tell my runners: you don’t have to build your volume from 0 up to 60 miles per week gradually every time (i.e. using the 10% rule of volume increase). If you have been successful and injury free at 40 miles per week for a long time in the recent past, then you can progress pretty quickly up to that. But, equally important, you can't just jump from 0 to 60 either.
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