Just a couple of generations ago the dream life involved working your ass off for an ever increasing salary until you were 60.
If you were successful, you would have been investing portions of all those pay-checks into assets, which would increase in value over time – hopefully just enough to let you retire comfortably and leave something for your kids.
They tend to be fun, nieche activities involving some form of social element. Our hobbies recharge us – in part because it doesn’t matter if we’re bad at them.
Pursuits are like hobbies, except for the fact that gradual improvement is at the core of our enjoyment of them.
Going bowling with your friends for a laugh once a fortnight is a hobby. After a few months, perhaps you’re a better bowler than average. Some nights you might even get lucky and put together an impressive score. But the vast majority of your time bowling would still be considered leisure time.
If you were treating bowling as a pursuit, while you might still have the same fun fortnightly game with your friends, the majority of the time you spent thinking about bowling would revolve around the question;
How can I be better?
You’d find time to practice on your technique, you’d probably invest in your own ball and shoes and you’d study footage of professional bowlers with awe.
You’d be obsessed with progressing and improving, because becoming a better bowler is the fun part of pursuing bowling.
All pursuits require the processing of feedback in order to innovate our approach to the activity.
In bowling, the feedback is clear; you either knocked the pins over or you didn’t.
Until you can score five perfect games in a row, there’s technique to work on.
When you find a pursuit you’re passionate about, there is an intense gratification which sprouts from putting in the work to improve. You bowl to get better at the bowling.
The fortnightly hobbyist has no interest in the intensity or focus required to pursue bowling.
When bowling is a hobby, the fun is showing up. The fun is the bowling.
When it’s a pursuit, the fun is the result of consistently showing up. The fun is the bowling because it’s making you better at the bowling.
Idenfying these patterns in the things you love to do and making clear decisions about what you’re willing to suck at is can liberating and quite valuable.
Pursuits demand tenacity and a refusal to fail. They’re high stakes and hard work, but far more gratifying tham hobbies long term. Pursuits are a commitment to growth.
Hobbies provide a special kind of short term satisfaction which we all crave. They’re low stakes and relaxing. Hobbies are the time where we can give ourselves permission to fail. The results don’t matter because taking part in the activity is it’s own result.
We should all have both hobbies and pursuits, but we should also know the difference.
Making the bed is usually the last thing on my mind in the morning.
If I’m not rushing to the gym, I’m usually calculating how long it will take to get changed and brush my teeth as I try to figure out whether or not I have enough time to scoff breakfast before leaving the house.
Obviously, this is far from an ideal morning routine.
(I’m working on it)
We should make our beds in the morning not just because it feels better to come home to at the end of the day, but because the feeling of accomplishment associated is one of the easiest ways to set yourself up for a productive morning; which can snowball all the way throughout your day.
“If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.”
Making your bed is a low hanging fruit; you can enjoy significant benefit despite the fact it takes next to no time or energy.
When we’re able to build habits around these low hanging fruit, the little effort it does take to accomplish them reduces even further. So much so, that eventually you won’t even have to think about them.
Making your bed after you wake up should be as intuitive as washing your hands after you use the bathroom; if it’s not completely automatic, something is probably wrong.
Build habits around the small things you can do which provide the largest benefits, and you’ll be constantly generating your own wellbeing.
What’s your low hanging fruit?
Have you always kind of wanted to meditate, but never got around to it?
Ever wanted to exercise more often, but just couldn’t seem to muster the motivation?
Want to be a writer, but never find the time to write?
Treat yourself like a professional, and do the work. Then keep doing the work until it doesn’t feel like work anymore.
These things take ten minutes out of your morning. Unless you’re a parent to young children, (in which case, why are you even here? Go get some rest) there is really no excuse.
A doctor washes her hands before every surgery whether her hands are dirty or not.
It’s not something she thinks about doing, it’s something she does.
That’s what a professional does.
I don’t want an authentic surgeon who says, “I don’t really feel like doing knee surgery today.” I want a professional who shows up whatever they feel like.
We have to hold ourselves accountable to building these habits, especially around the things we care about.
I don’t yet make my bed every morning, but I will. Because I care about having good days.
I didn’t used to write every day, now I do. Because I care about my practice.
This stuff is simple, but far from easy. The ball is in your court.
Don’t ever stop striving to be a work in progress.
In fact, unless it’s an exceptional book, my attention span struggles to with written text. As most of the books I ‘read’ are audiobooks, reading quickly is just never a skill I’d invested in.
This was until a few days ago, when I stumbled across a ten minute Tim Ferris video which changed the game.
I’ve been trying out the techniques he describes for a few days, and I can’t believe nobody taught me how to do this sooner.
The tip which blew my mind has to do with taking advantage of your peripheral vision.
When we were first learning to read, we had to focus intently on the letters which made up each word. As we did this, our eyes were trained to jump from word to word as we read across the page.
Unfortunately, most of us didn’t adapt our reading style once we started to recognise words without needing to break them down letter by letter.
Now we can!
By progressively indenting your focal points further into the centre of the page, you can eventually end up only needing to focus on the central third of a chunk of text, as your peripherals allow you to read the first and last third of the page without needing to direct your focus away from the centre.
Never before had I considered that I could read words in my periphery.
I understand how strange this sounds, and I’ll admit that it does feel weird for the first few pages.
But once you adjust, you’ll find it hard to go back. My reading speed has more than doubled in less than a week.
There are a couple of other techniques to add to this one in the video below, which I highly recommend checking it out.
It’ll take ten minutes of your time, but has already saved me hours.
Any meaningful progress requires the processing of (and response to) feedback.
An archer practicing her shots on a target nocks an arrow, aims, draws, then releases.
One of three things will happen;
She hits the bullseye;
She hits the target imperfectly;
Or she misses all together
The beauty of pursuits like archery is that the feedback involved in its practice is unambiguous, immediate, and self-enacting; it’s clear whether-or-not you’ve succeeded, and every possible outcome inspires the same response; nock another arrow, and try again.
If the archer misses, she picks up her bow and tries again until she hits.
When she hits the target imperfectly, she tries yet again, aiming for dead centre.
When she strikes dead centre, she tries again, and again, until she can strike dead centre one hundred times in a row.
Even when she has accomplished this, her mastery is not complete.
She takes a step back, increasing her range. Then once again, she tries again.
The process of improving at archery is ingrained in its practice. You hit, or you miss until you only hit.
You can’t pretend to be good at archery. Not to others, but more importantly, not to yourself. You are, or you aren’t. You hit, or you miss.
Similar loops can be found in pursuits like Jiu Jitsu, pottery, or lifting weights; You can defend yourself, or you can’t. You can throw a set of identical bowls, or you can’t. You can deadlift 80kg, or you can’t.
Want to get better at any of these things? Then do them.
Show up. Try. Process feedback. Repeat.
It sounds simple, because it is.
What most people fail to realise is that this type of progress is not exclusive to pursuits with self enacting feedback loops inbuilt.
Feedback loops can be designed and implemented into any pursuit.
It’s not always easy. But if progressing in your pursuit means something to you, designing and implementing feedback loops is essential.
Some artists do a particularly poor job of this. An artist’s failure to develop usually has to do with the ambiguity of their feedback, and their failure to reframe it into something actionable.
When the feedback generated by an activity is ambiguous, responding productively is a challenge.
Unlike arrows in targets, the effective success of artistic practice is often hard to measure.
What’s worse is when that ambiguous feedback gets further distorted and filtered by the artist’s ego.
What happens when ambiguous feedback gets passed through an ego filter?
Not a lot of growth.
When pursuits don’t have clear feedback cycles, we have to build our own. We owe it to ourselves.
If you want to get better at whatever it is you’re pursuing, you must be able to point at the bullseye, and describe what sending an arrow crashing into it looks like. Not the field it’s in, not the target itself, but the actual image of an arrow lodging itself cleanly in the centre ring.
For the artist, their bullseye might be the approval of a trusted mentor, or to their second timing on a monologue or poem.
A bullseye could look like one interesting blog post published every day, without typos, at 6am.
A detailed understanding of what perfect execution looks like is essential if you intend to trend towards it.
Fail to do so, and you’ll dabble in mediocrity for however long it takes you to quit.
Incredible things are difficult to do.
You shouldn’t feel horrible every time your arrow flies wayward. You shouldn’t expecting perfect results every time you loose an arrow – It’s about giving yourself the best opportunity to grow towards perfect results.
When designing your own loops, consider three things;
What does perfect execution look like?
What opportunities do I have to practice my own execution?
When I fail, how will I know what needs to change?
The more you try, the more you grow, the closer you get, the more you try.
We’re often told that to put our best foot forward in the job market, we need to learn to ‘sell’ ourselves.
We’re told that’s it’s okay to ‘spruce’ your resume, that it’s okay to lead with confidence, even if we’re not qualified.
As if convincing people that we’re more capable than we are is a more important skill than any which might actually be relevant to the jobs we’re applying for.
I’m starting to sense that this is bullshit advice.
If you feel the need to muddy the truth in a job interview, the job probably isn’t for you.
If you can’t comfortably meet the expections of the role without lying about your capabilities or experience, how could you possibly perform in it without letting people down?
Surely leading with honesty and landing only the jobs in which you can achievable grow is more beneficial than starting job after job you which is above your capability, only to be let go after the trial period?
If hiring you is going to be a risk, at least have the courtesy to let the employer make an informed descision.
We spend too much time at work not to do stuff we’re able to find some joy in.
But what if you can’t find a job that matches your capability as well as your interests? What if nothing fits?
Then you work for yourelf.
It doesn’t matter how niche or how oversaturated your interest is. If you’re good enough, someone out there will pay you to do nearly anything.
A tension washed over the room as people tried to remember the precise wording of their organisation’s mission statement and values. People sat up in their seats and Michel gave us a clinic on brand.
Her lightning efficient talk made the case that brand(ing) is not something you do in a wishy-washy hope to better define or promote your organisation’s objectives.
She argues that we shouldn’t even use the word branding, because brand is not a verb.
Publicising is not brand. Developing a style guide is not brand. And coming up with a fluffy mission statement and a list of values for your employees to memorise before their interviews and then disregard is definitely not brand.
Because brand isan output, not an input.
‘Brand is a result of the promises you keep.’
It’s not something you can define, because it’s defined by your action.
This is severely important, and intensely motivating.
For anyone else who loves a mathematic visualisation, Michel has synthesised her thoughts on what makes a brand into the following formula, where;
i = Identity (your purpose and values)
p = Promises (what you say you do)
e = Experience (what you actually do)
b = Brand (your reputation)
Identity is important because if your brand revolves around killing puppies, it doesn’t matter how good you are at it.
It also helps if you care about whatever it is that you’re identifying yourself as. It’ll make it much easier to keep your promises.
‘When you take what you care about and use it to help shape the promises you make, you’re more likely to keep them.’
This is the first post distilling my learnings from the REMIX Academy Summit I attended earlier in the week. I’ll put links to all the talks I summarise in the post I made on the day of the event for easy referencing.