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Stop taking everything so seriously

Improving Systems and Habits

Scott Miker is the author of several books that describe how to use systems and habits to improve.  This free blog provides articles that to help understand the principles related to building systems.  

Stop taking everything so seriously

Scott Miker

I just finished reading Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss.  In the book he interviews successful individuals and asks them a series of questions.

Some of the questions are specific to their area of success and some are just general questions or curiosities.  One question that he asked many of the people on in the book made me think, “How would I answer that question?”

The question was in the form of “what would you tell your younger self if you could go back in time?”  It could be to go back to when your 35, 25, 15 etc. 

I’ve thought about that before and thought about what ultimate lessons have I learned that I would try to pass on.  Almost everything I could think of came from lessons I learned the hard way and I never feel that someone just telling you great advice is as impactful as living through it to learn it.

But there are two things that I would probably emphasize.

First, I would say to only focus on improvement.  Stop trying to find the perfect solution.  I played guitar since high school and was always trying to find my sound.  I thought I just needed to find that style that worked for me. 

But that wasn’t the issue.  The issue was that I just wasn’t that good.  I didn’t need to just try a different genre.  I needed to practice and get better.  Then I could pick the genre that I enjoyed playing.  I did improve over time but it felt more like it was just because I stayed with it, not because I consciously worked to improve. 

I did this with my education (jumping to different areas instead of just working to get better and better understand the information), I did this with jobs (I would jump around and not be willing to commit to a specific career path), I did it with everything.  Instead of moving around to find what I liked, I should have focused more on improving and constantly making progress.  Then I wouldn’t change and start over; I would just adapt and keep growing. 

The second thing I would emphasize to my younger self would be to relax.  I put too much pressure on every decision, every event, everything.  Instead of enjoying a great experience, I was miserable for some reason outside of what I was doing.  I would let negativity in and would let anxiety and stress rise.  Now that I look at what I was stressed about I laugh because I can see it from 10,000 feet and know that it didn’t matter nearly as much as I thought. 

This is a common theme throughout Tools of Titans.  Most of the responses were along those lines of not taking life too seriously to enjoy it.  It seems like we have ingrained in our mental models the concept that we should be unhappy as we work.  Work should be hard and therefore if we aren’t miserable we are doing something wrong.  But this isn’t true.

This is just a mental model that we hold that directs our thoughts and behavior.  We have to learn how to break away from this way of thinking because it impacts us in major ways.

So how can we start to break away from that mental model?  For me the answer goes back to improvement.  Instead of beating yourself up to accomplish some goal, focus on constant improvement.  Constantly look for little ways that you can improve.  Then form new habits around those ways. 

This will start to build into a great journey forward, improving all the way.  Then every little decision doesn’t require stress and agony, it simply requires the improvement mindset.  As we improve, we start to slow down and relax.  We start to improve confidently, enjoying the ride instead of mentally torturing ourselves about everything we do.