Every evening after having my dinner, I sit in front of the work desk and start reviewing my day. I do that by answering a few — to be exact, five — simple questions that I’ve set for myself.
Some of these questions track how well I sleep, eat, and move. Meanwhile, others track whether if I practice the virtues that matter to me.
Out of all these questions, one stood out:
How did I hold myself back today?
One answer appears more often than I wish it does: The urge to get ahead. If I’m being honest, I’m kind of impatient with my growth and improvement. Often, I want things to happen more quickly and I tend to rush the process.
The truth is that everyone wants to learn more and grow faster. But more often than not, this urge of doing more and trying harder actually cause more harm than good.
Playing Video Games at the Pro Level
I could remember the time when I was playing video games. They usually came in different levels of difficulty from beginner to intermediate to pro. Often, I couldn’t wait to hop right to the pro level after winning the beginner level once.
“Now I’ve got the grip of it. How hard would it be to play at pro?” I usually told myself.
The outcome is obvious, I stand no chance to win the game. Worse, I ended up giving up playing at all. In retrospect, it might be a good thing to give up playing video games.
Never Skip the Fundamentals
Making improvements at work and in life is just like playing video games. There are different levels of difficulty. Just like how I lost the game at the pro level, playing in an overly advanced field before you master the fundamentals is the guaranteed strategy for failure.
These failures slowly turn into a series of invisible scripts embedded deep down in our minds:
“I’m a loser.”
“My knowledge and skills are valuable to no one.”
“I’m just bad at X.”
These beliefs quickly become a self-fulfilling prophecy that kicks us out of the game of life — just like how I used to give up playing the video game that I could be good at if I stick to the right level and advance at a sustainable pace.
Instead of rushing to play at the pro level, spend the time mastering the fundamentals and developing a solid foundation.
- In entrepreneurship, validate your idea and work toward product-market fit before spending tens of thousands on paid advertising.
- In losing weight, learn how to stick to a workout routine and manage the macros before considering which supplement to take.
- In money management, master your spending habits and automate your saving before thinking about how to make 10 times the returns online.
This is also why copying people you admire is usually a bad idea. Most of them are playing at a different level where their strategies will likely not work for you.
Ultimately, getting ahead is not just about knowing what to do; so much of it is knowing what NOT to worry about.
So much of success is knowing what NOT to worry about.— Ramit Sethi (@ramit) January 24, 2018
Don’t worry about the difference btwn supplements when you’re 50lbs overweight.
Don’t worry about maximizing savings interest rates when you’re in $20K of CC debt.
Avoid minutiae. Top performers know what to focus on today
So You Mastered the Basics, What’s Next?
At a certain point, growth plateaued. The common solution to stagnation is to do more of what — used to — work.
Just like playing a video game, the strategies that help you win at the beginner level will likely not work at a more advanced level. Doing more of what used to work is a huge mistake because what gets you here won’t get you there.
Instead of doing what’s not working anymore, make changes: Think from a new perspective, find a mentor, and keep testing.
The Goal is to Stay in the Game
Here is the realization I want you to take away: Growth follows stages.
In life, the goal is never about getting to the pro level and calling it a day. Instead, it’s about staying in the game, and we do so by maximizing growth — wisdom, skills, experiences — at every single level before we move to the next one.
To do that, you need self-awareness, trust in the process, and focus on the fundamentals.
P.S. If you liked this short article, you would definitely enjoy this one by Sol Orwell.