pursuits

We are constantly adjusting our expectations in the backs of our minds. We analyse the results of previous games we’ve played to ensure that the expectations we set aren’t going to bring us grief. We reflect on our greatest successes and our most painful failures to inform which games we’ll opt into playing in the future. Our entire perception of the world is shaped by what we expect of it, and how it surprises us. But for all of these expectations we set, how many can we honestly say are conscious?

Each time we get in a car, do we consciously set the expectation that every traffic light we approach will turn green? Of course not. Still, most of us assume this will be the case.

What if one day we roll up to a traffic light and it just doesn’t turn green? For whatever reason the light, which has always acted as we expected it to, just didn’t. Most of us, despite the fact that the light staying red is causing us no real harm and will be resolved within minutes, would experience a negative emotional outcome which is far more intense than it has reason to be. We become frustrated and upset not just because we’re now a whole three minutes late to brunch, but because we were not prepared for our assumptions about the light to be challenged. This resistance, as it pertains to meaningful pursuits, is what we must seek to avoid if we are to protect our ability to foster long-term practice.

Assumptions are the expectations we set unconsciously, and assumptions surrounding our pursuits are dangerous because when proven wrong, they can lead to the kinds of crushing emotional outcomes that make us want to quit.

Here’s a few things I’m pretty convinced are true;

  1. There is a constant war being fought for the attention of our digital selves which is having dramatic adverse effects on people’s happiness, especially amongst digital natives who have never known a world without digital media;

  2. Activities practiced regularly which reward participants for consistent time investment over many years are essential to a meaningful life;

  3. The instant dopaminergic gratifications available through social media and the 24-hour news cycle are training us against investing time into activities which generate meaning over time;

  4. Therefore, it is necessary to reframe the benefits of investing time and energy into skills and activities which create meaning and value over time for those who don’t understand this intuitively.

When it comes to finite play, the way we approach games has much to do with how well prepared we are for surprise.

Speed, trickery and deception are all most difficult to deal with when they can’t be anticipated.

True mastery is being adept enough at the particular game that nothing comes as surprise.

“A true Master Player plays as though the game is already in the past, according to a script whose every detail is known prior to the play itself.”

James P Carse

Further, being prepared for surprise and bracing for surprise are entirely different things.

“To be prepared against surprise is to be trained. To be prepared for surprise is the be educated.”

The goal then, when playing any finite game, should not necessarily be to win; it should be to become so educated in the given game that you no longer experience surprises which result in loss.

In such a situation, surprise would not be met with any resistance, as it would only be a detail in script which already resulted in victory.

Play not to win; play to continue playing, all the way to mastery.

Pursuits are the infinite games we play which involve clear feedback and trackable progress.

Playing slot machines can never be a pursui because there’s no way to get better at it; over time, you’re guaranteed to lose.

However, playing poker could be a pursuit. There are a set of skills involved which can be honed over time with practice.

Pursuits are not habits, but they can involve habitual practice.

Mixed Martial Arts is a pursuit which benefits greatly from a habitual routine.

Pursuits are the goals we set which never end.

They’re the things which over time we wish to master. Which we do for the sake of continuing to do them.

Nobody ever wakes up and realises that they’ve mastered a pursuit.

Mastery is not a destination, it’s a practice.

Long story short, I’m trying to put on a little bit of useful weight. Skip to the bottom for the delicious recepie I’m using to jam breakfast back into my mornings.

Unfortunately, I’m not bulking up just for the hell of it. In order to continue being competitive in higher level jiu-jitsu competitions, I need to be stronger than I am.

As it turns out, this is harder do than I thought. First of all, getting strong hurts. A lot. Which doesn’t make training jiu-jitsu any easier either.

In spite of the pain, I’ve just started the Stronglifts 5×5 workout program. A number of muscly people I trust have reccomended it as a good starting point for building the type of strength required for jiu-jitsu.

The program consists of two alternating body weight workouts, each comprised of compound free weight exercises with the intent of progressive overload.

If that was gibberish to you (like it was to me a few weeks ago), what this means is that the program has you switch between two workouts which don’t involve any machines or special equiptment. You show up, lift free weights and progressively add a tiny bit more weight each session until you can no longer complete 5 reps at a given weight in an exercise.

Avoiding machines at the gym and focussing on free weights means there is a whole lot more balance and posture involved in the lifts. Because Each exercise activates (and agitates) a big portion of your body, so you have to focus on keeping your whole body activated throughout each lift, and need to focus on less total exercises to get results.

I’ve never been one to get motivated by superficial physical incentives. Muscles are nice, but if I were desperate for them I would have started going to the gym a long time ago.

I’m going to the gym primarily to hone the tools I take to war on the mats.

But what I’ve found out is that in order for all that work to mean anything on the mats, I need to pay a lot of attention to what I eat while I’m off them.

If I want to gain muscle mass, I need to be consuming roughly 4000 more kilojules than I’m used to eating every day and a large portion of that needs to be protein. At my current size, I’m simply not putting in enough food to offset all the energy I expend exercising. Which is a good problem to have. But still…

As someone mostly disinterested in the prospect of breakfast most mornings, this was a troublesome fact to uncover.

However, I think I’ve stumbled across something which is going to solve my problem; peanut butter protein shakes.

Luke’s Peanut Butter Protein Shake

  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 2 scoops vanilla flavoured protein powder (whey or plant based)
  • 1 banana
  • 2 table spoons 100% peanut butter
  • 1 table spoon chia seeds
  • 1 table spoon honey
  • 1 date
  • 3/4 cup frozen blueberries
  • 2 cups milk of choice

The best thing about this recepie is that you can prepare it ahead of time.

Just put everything except the milk into a container or zip lock bag and pop it in the freezer. When you’re ready to have it, empty the contents of a container into your blender, add your milk and blitz away!

I’ve prepared a batch of these in advance, and am now looking forward to each morning when I get to slurp down a meal which feels like a treat, even though it’s a necessity.

No matter who you are, there is something you do better than at least 80% of people.

It might only be eating burritos or killing cockroaches, but there will be something.

Whether or not that thing is useful to other people tends to determine how much you earn, who looks up to you and the types of people who will surround themselves with you.

Professional burrito eaters aren’t as high in demand as accountants, but they exist (and they’re incredibly strange).

If you plan far enough ahead and work smart, you get to choose what your thing is.

To forge a career, all you need is 1000 people or more who are willing to pay for you to do your thing. Which, with the internet, is easier than it has ever been.

Choose something you love, and persist in mastering it.

You’ll thank yourself later.

“There are at least two kinds of games. One could be called finite, the other infinite. A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play.”

James P. Carse

Much of what I write and think about revolves around how we can think about the finite games we like to play in infinite ways.

How can we program ourselves to relish opportunities for growth, even when they look like failures?

How do we play to win while also play simply to keep playing?

And how do we play finite games alongside those who can’t see the infinite possibility within all games?

“Become the best in the world at what you do. Keep redefining what you do until this is true.”

Naval Ravikant

In both art and business, we are usually defined by those we can be likened to.

We’re lumped into genres or styles, niches and roles.

When competing for success, we are often assigned a category.

Maybe you were proactive enough to assign yourself the category which best defines you.

This is great news, on one condition;

That you’re the best in class.

If you’re going to allow yourself to be defined by a category, ensure that you’re the best fish in the pond.

When in doubt, dig your own pond.

Don’t be a slightly-above-average animal photographer when you can be the world’s best Quokka photographer.

(Photo: Natalie Su)

Never call yourself a ‘pretty good’ sales assistant when you could be the best speckled beanie salesperson in the state.

Why would you be a writer with a blog when you could be the only young West Australian writer with a BJJ blue belt who publishes original work daily?

(If there’s another one, someone let me know, I’d love to meet them.)

You do you.

I only ask that you do us all a favour and do it brilliantly.

“How dare you settle for less when the world has made it so easy for you to be remarkable.”

Seth Godin

Are you a writer?

How would you know?

Writers tend to write, right?

But how often, who for and how well?

This line of questioning is ambiguously annoying for a reason; there are no hard and fast metrics which dictate what a writer is or isn’t.

If you write anything at all, you have a case to state.

Whether or not you’re a writer depends entirely on whether or not you think you’re a writer.

The same goes for dancers, photographers, fighters, models, philosophers and nearly everything in between.

You become a writer (and cease being an ‘aspiring-writer’) the second you decide to mold your definition of what a writer is to include yourself.

I believe you should do this with everything you’re passionate about.

The ‘aspiring’ part of ‘aspiring writer’ is a safety net. It shields your work from scrutiny and justify mistakes.

Unfortunately, the shield perpetuates itself.

There’s not much use in considering yourself an ‘aspiring’ anything. Making mistakes and processing critique are both essential to growth.

‘Aspiring’ implies that the goal is to get good enough to shed the preface. It implies a destination which is an absolutely arbitrary definition.

It’s better to be a bad writer than an aspiring one.

Nobody is going to respect your work or hold it to a professional standard until you do so yourself.

Being bad at stuff is great. The worse you are, the more you have to learn.

Those who identify as ‘aspiring’ tend to be the most fearful of failure.

Become petrified enough of failing, and you might just scare yourself out of ever getting the practice you need to reach your destination.

Stop aspiring, start doing.

Find what you love.

Show up.

Do the work.

Embrace the failure.

Grow.

Hobbies are things we regularly do for pleasure.

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.