What I learned in week 52 of 2022
This last week of 2022 I spent a lot of time going through notes from the year. Trying to summarise what I learned, and rediscovering many insights and factoids that I then never put to use. This is that summary.
If I could boil 2022 down to a single insight, this would be it:
If you are reading, watching, listening, to interesting things all week. But not applying what you discover in your own life you didn’t learn anything.
I did a lot of performative learning this year. I spent a good chunk of my time learning things that I never applied.
Most of what I did learn, I can categorise into three areas: Slowing down to speed up. Measuring progress. And being tired.
Slowing down, to speed up
Being busy is a form on mental laziness. We are doing more things in order to feel productive. Rather than do the hard thing to be productive. Slowing down, being less busy, makes this clear. Which is why we don’t do it.
This article might sound like I will go head first and as fast as possible. On the contrary, I have learned that if you want to slow down time, go slower, which is precisely what I need right now: Slowing down time! I will rest more. Stay organized. Execute. Reflect. Plan ahead slowly.
Getting distracted by things that are emotionally charged is pure laziness. Again we are jumping at a short term win, or an imagined short term threat, instead of working on the hard thing.
Odds are, the latest office debate or family squabble isn’t worth winning. Most arguments are only tangentially related to your end goal. What outcomes are you actually trying to create? What type of life are you actually trying to cultivate? Stay focused.
Slow down and pick the thing that is important to work on.
But when you do know what the hard thing is. Speed is an important tool to focus on that thing. Speed up to avoid making it “perfect”. Speed up to avoid getting caught up in the details. Speed up to ship the thing.
Going fast makes you focus on what’s important; there’s no time for bullshit
Whatever you do. You need to track that what you’re doing makes a difference. How else will you know that you are working, and not just being busy? Slowing down helps.
But you also need to realise if you’re putting in iterations, shipping something, or just spending X time on that thing to try it out. Which one is it?
In some areas of life, value is unlocked by starting. Even a five-minute workout or a short walk can reset your mood and benefit your body. In other areas, value is unlocked by finishing. It does you no good to build a bridge halfway across the river. You need to complete the project to realize the value. Do you need to start or finish? Are you building a body or building a bridge?
When you are working on something for real, there are no quick dopamine hits. There are no “checked that off” moments. It’s just a slog of slowly doing things. Sometimes it’s fun! Sometimes you hate it. That’s what hard work looks like.
The most damning observation of hard work is that it’s relentlessly repetitive and each work day looks boring and uniform. But over time, repetitive work in a single domain creates an intuition that compounds over time. This intuition increases the surface area in which breakthrough ideas take hold, which are necessary to great work.
But always remember. If you aren’t failing, if people aren’t pointing out mistakes, if you are not embarrassed… You aren’t going fast enough.
Balancing success and failure is a tricky thing. I’d say 8 or 9 times out of 10, you should be succeeding. Build momentum. Accumulate advantages. Feast on the feeling of success and let it feed your desire to do more. But 1 or 2 times out of 10, you should be failing. Push yourself and reach beyond your current grasp. Force yourself to try uncomfortable things. Occasionally you will surprise yourself and the rest of the time you will learn. Win enough to keep progressing. Lose enough to keep learning.”
Fail 10% of the time. At all things.
We probably aren’t tired. We probably don’t need another drink. Or another night out. It’s just that the modern world is very boring. Very safe. So we get bored, and we feel tired, depressed, and in need of some fun.
But there’s only thing we can do to make life less boring: do more risky stuff. Don’t search for what makes you happy, search for what makes you excited. If your heart is beating fast and your cheeks are red, changes are you are doing the right thing.
The man who begins to go to bed forty minutes before he opens his bedroom door is bored; that is to say, he is not living.
I believe in the Scottish proverb: Hard work never killed a man. Men die of boredom, psychological conflict and disease. They do not die of hard work. The harder your people work, the happier and healthier they will be.
Here’s Dr Lembke talking about this on the Huberman lab, putting it better than I ever could.