You read motivational books and study the lives of top players in your chosen field of interest. You make task lists, future projections, daydreams of world domination. But for some reason you cannot explain, nothing ever really works out as planned. As if on a treadmill, you are forever going nowhere fast, stuck in the same place you always were, renewing the same New Year resolution, like you didn’t have a whole year the previous year and the year before to get where you needed to be.
Usually when we fail to the results we desire, the first line of advice is to try harder. Put in more work. You might have heard about Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hours of mastery, requiring you to invest 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to gain mastery of anything you want to be good at. It isn’t exactly rocket science; you are good at anything you are already good at because you have practiced. Sure, there is natural talent that can improve the pace at which you can learn at or the peak you can hit, but there is no way to avoid practice if you really want to aim to the top. We all know this. The question, then, is: if you are putting in the work, what aren’t you seeing the results?
The answer could lie in something less obvious. Successful people already at the top of their game can afford to take some liberties because they are already at a point that allows them delegate a huge chunk of the work. If you are a new contender for success, chances are that you are still doing most of the work yourself, and this includes learning and execution.
To operate at our optimum capacity, all the research points to the same thing - focused practice. By dedicating at least three hours a day to focused work, there is very little we cannot accomplish under a single year. However, this focus in a world of distraction has never been more complex. The state of “flow” characterized by an immersion in work that disrupts the experience of time is something anyone working under hyper-focus can tell you about. This doesn’t happen for most of us, because at any given time, we are working, chatting, and probably watching YouTube videos or scrolling through social media for hilarious memes, all at the same time.
This causes a split in our brain power, reducing how much cognitive energy we can apply to the work we are supposed to be doing. It’s just like a computer downloading ten large files at a time, or unning a hundred processes with twenty tabs open. No one thing is ever optimised, so we end up feeling like we have put in three hours of work, but between regaining lost focus and just faffing around, maybe we have only worked for 30 focused minutes.
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When you add other factors that affect our focus for cognition – lack of good sleep, poor diet, lack of exercise, lack of meditation, presence of limiting bacteria in our gut, the clutter of our environment, emotional imbalance, anxiety, and other destabilising factors, we find that while we are working, we are doing so with the least optimised version of ourselves while at the same time expecting prime results.
Motivational books do a lot to teach us about tactics and principles that breed success, but they hardly teach us about the biological conditions we need to place ourselves in to become successful. This is probably because most readers looking for “special” advice cannot understand how the foundation of success is built on optimising the body. Most of us can remember being younger and being able to read a book within a week, being able to focus for longer, sleep at will.
Remember, it is one thing to know the direction to your destination or how to follow a GPS device, but that can't replace the need for balanced wheels, a healthy engine, and sufficient petrol.