Out of the box, you will suck at a lot of things. It is your job to regard this as a temporary state of affairs that you can consciously take steps to fix.
If this blog can only convince you of a single thing, make it this one. It is vitally, crucially important that you avoid the stagnation mindset. View your present condition not as an end or event, but rather as the starting point for a process of improvement. Train yourself to reason about skills that can be learned instead of aptitudes or talents. Locating reverse gear in a standard-transmission Volkswagen in the dark? That sounds like a learnable skill that could be improved with careful practice! Juggling four beanbags at the same time, so as to entertain one’s children? Definitely a learnable skill. Persuading your boss to give you a raise? Often viewed as an aptitude/luck, but in fact eminently learnable.
In sports, in business, in academics, in the fine art of womanizing, and in matters of character, you must take steps to improve your skills, knowledge, and position.
But not just any steps—you need to find out the single canonically best way to improve in your discipline, and then focus your efforts on that. The deliberate practice post talks more about that, and I encourage you to read it. But this post isn’t really about any specific meta-problem-solving algorithm. Rather, it is focused on the mindset of seeing solvable problems of design and implementation everywhere you look and regarding your current reality as a starting point.
kai · zen
a business philosophy or system that is based on making positive changes on a regular basis
II. Social Pressure and Negativity
Warning! This mindset will bring the haters out of the woodwork. Otherwise agreeable people, your friends, lovers, and acquaintances, will suddenly narrow their eyes and regard you with suspicion. People don’t like change, and they especially don’t like change that leaves them behind. They will try to tear you down, imply that things are perfectly fine as-is, and cast thinly-veiled aspersions upon the likelihood of your success. Be prepared to ignore this and keep going. Luckily, people have short memories, and in a few weeks or months, they will accept the new and improved you as normal. And after you iterate a few self-improvement cycles in front of them, they will have a schema for your kaizen and therefore look askance at you not quite so often as formerly.
III. Self Sabotage
When you commit to this growth mindset, it is scary for two reasons:
- You are going to be wrong.
- You are going to admit that you are wrong (loudly).
If you’re a millenial, that latter point is particularly terrifying. But stick with me—this is a solvable problem and we can sort it out. (See what I did there?) In fact, you will very likely learn to love the moment when you discover that you were wrong. Once your ego is out of the way, you can view the negatives in the training set as a shortcut to mastery—instead of getting unhelpful ambiguous feedback from the world, you have now learned what not to do, and can make changes accordingly to start dominating.
IV. The Sporting Life
A wide variety of skill levels are represented on the average childrens’ cricket team. The stronger, taller nine-year old bowlers have a seemingly unassailable advantage. And for a few seasons, it looks as though the scrawnier players are doomed to cricket careers spent on the sidelines of the pitch.
But if you spend enough time involved with childrens’ cricket, either officiating, spectating, or coaching, you’ll start to see a pattern. Those seemingly unassailable early-growth-spurt bowlers become accustomed to the trappings of effortless success. Their superior size, speed, and strength renders them complacent, and they learn that they don’t need to apply themselves to the business of sound fundamentals, skill building, or technique. Worse yet, these large, strong players tend to have a “biggest gorilla around” attitude, wherein they develop a know-it-all, senior-member-of-the-team persona. This persona invariably inhibits further technique growth and diminishes coachability.
Conversely, the scrappy little guys have fought tooth and nail their whole lives just to get a shot at the wicket. They’re used to batting against the proverbial wind, and they learned long ago that they need every advantage of technique and strategy. These are the coachable players—when you cue them to make changes to their footwork or swing mechanics, they listen intently and then iterate a few times while you’re still paying attention to them, aiming to wring out every drop of feedback that you’ll give. They don’t have egos, because years and years of brutal losses have taught them humility. Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson afterwards. But her lessons tend to stick.
And a funny thing happens as time passes. Before long, the technical advantages of careful study, coachability, and the “I am a beginner” mindset have compounded. The large children, the former stars, are still performing at the same level of fundamentals as they were three seasons ago, and their output has risen slightly, perhaps linearly, as they develop musculature and coordination. But some of the little guys are starting to reach the “hockey stick” region of their player-development curve, and in the space of a few months they can develop into extremely performant players. Invariably, the most valuable players on an Upper Sixth form cricket team—around 18 years of age—are either A) in the 1% of most physically gifted athletes or B) extremely coachable former weaklings. Needless to say, the intersection of A and B is where great bowlers are made. But one cannot change one’s innate talents, and since this is a blog about self-actualization, it is best to focus on the latter case for all practical purposes.
IV. Technique Development
At any rate, the moral of the story is that in childrens’ cricket and many other fields, dilligence and malleability trump inborn talent and static advantages. It behooves you to behave like the scrappy little guy, and to avoid at any cost the mentality and behavior of the stagnant former starring batsmen.
And by way of closing, might your humble correspondent suggest that you avoid flailing about, and instead carefully direct your efforts at self improvement, perhaps by reading the discussion of deliberate practice?