An Informed Decision

It’s nice to think you’re bucking the trend, and taking the route less traveled. Just because that person asserted a fact, why should I believe them? If we are all supposed to have freedom of thought and expression, what makes their assertion any more valid than my explanation?

In one word: science. In a few words: correctly applied science.

I’m sure you can come up with a few scenarios that I’m thinking of. Namely, the “debates” concerning global climate change and, to a lesser extend, the theory of evolution. These two concepts are frequently challenged in the media, making it confusing for a person who does not understand the science to come to an informed decision. As a result, they will look to those with a lot of influence in order to help make that decision.

However, this only works if those with influence understand the science and are willing to communicate it clearly. If they have other agendas, or if they themselves simply don’t want to accept the science, then they have the power to influence many others who will look to them for leadership.

When it comes to problems like global climate change, this is obviously an issue. If we are in the habit of ignoring scientists (from multiple sources), we will quickly get ourselves into problems. Yes, it’s a fair question to ask for the source of where information comes from and critique it. But disputing the information on the basis that scientists at large are trying to “push their agenda” by advocating for solutions to human-caused global climate change is just ridiculous.

Instead, we need to look at information before trusting anyone in particular. This goes for scientists just as much as politicians or journalists or anyone else. Fortunately, those in science usually tend to deliver information that is as objective and accurate as possible (though that is not always the case). That is why I tend to trust scientists. Not because I’m in cohorts with them to spread fear about an issue in order to get more science funding, but because the data that’s presented to me is convincing in and of itself.

Make an informed decision by looking at the data, not just trusting people of influence. If the data is good, it should have no trouble convincing you.

Will You Choose to Act?

Before making this decision, you have to open your eyes to see that choice.

It’s too easy to just cruise along in your life, ignoring any opportunity to act. If you deliberately ignore opportunities, nothing will come of it. After all, you say, someone else will make decisions for me, right? And yes, you’d be right. People will make decisions for you if you let them. However, whether or not those decisions will benefit you is unclear and difficult to guarantee.

So yes, you can go through your life without choosing to act, deferring to other people when the opportunity for you to make a difference arises. That’s a path that will always be there for you. The default one. The path of least resistance.

But, there’s another path; this one more risky. It’s not safe, and it’s definitely not stress-free. However, it does give you the chance to make a difference, if you choose to act. It’s scare, it’s not easy, but it is rewarding over the long-term. When everyone else chooses the easy path, only to regret it later on, you can be the one to say that you chose to act and make a difference.

Let’s be clear, though. Choosing to act won’t make you automatically “better” than anyone. Nor will it ever, in the end. What it will do though is create a life – which, let’s face it, is a long series of choices – in which you can be proud of. Not for the rewards it brings or the achievements that you accomplished, but for the effort in doing so. That’s the difference. You chose to act, instead of taking the default path. There’s bravery and wisdom in that.

The choices are in front of us, every single day. Will you choose to act when the time comes, even if it doesn’t “feel” right?

The time to start is now.

Improvement is Not a Race

In a race, there can be a winner and a bunch of losers. This is because of one simple fact: everyone starts at the same line, at the same time.

There aren’t any runners who get some special advantage and get to run less distance. That would be ridiculous, and would ruin the whole notion of competition and comparison. In a race, everyone begins on equal ground, at the same time.

The problem is, a race isn’t like life.

None of us start our journey at the same point, yet we always compare ourselves as if we did. When we are beginners, do we look to other beginners for comparison to see how we’re doing? Of course not. We look to the masters who have been doing great things in their craft for years. It’s only natural. They are the best, and so they are some of the most inspiring for those of us who want to do great things as well.

But if we aren’t careful, we’re setting ourselves up for failure. By comparing ourselves to the masters when we are at the very beginning of our journey, we create a sense of disappointment in our own work. After all, what we’re doing isn’t nearly as impressive as what the masters are doing. Because of this, we run the risk of abandoning our journey prematurely, before we can begin to see results.

What we’re missing is that the masters were once just like us. Think about that for a moment. The people you look up to had the exact same struggles as you had in terms of doing work they were proud of.

“But wait,” you say. “Surely they must have had some advantage, since they are masters and I feel like I can’t keep on producing this weak work!”

And guess what, you’re right. The one difference between them and you is that they chose to stay, to keep at it. That’s it. They knew their work wasn’t as good as they envisioned, but that didn’t kill their motivation. Instead, it bolstered their drive to work even harder to improve on their craft. They put in the work, and through the accumulation of a lot of practice, they got to where they are today.

What’s fantastic is that you can do the same thing. All it takes is a willingness to do the work needed of you every day, and commit to long-term improvement. When you realize that excellence in your craft is not a race to “finish” first but a process that everyone begins at a different time and place, you can appreciate that the main characteristic that differentiates those who are deemed “masters” and those who are not is time.

Make no mistake, “good” practice that uses progressions is vital, too. But the thing that generally separates people from being masters and novices is the time that’s spent in the craft. Practice more, and chances are strong that you will get better. It’s almost guaranteed.

From this, we can begin to mentally distinguish our craft from a race. We don’t need to constantly compare ourselves to the top of our field because we feel as if we should be producing work comparable to them. Put in five, ten years, and then you may begin thinking about that.

A more appropriate comparison would be with people who are near the same time in the craft and skill level as you. However, your time would be better spent producing more work, so you should try and limit comparing yourself to others.

In the end, we must realize that once we get into a craft, it is not as if we have jumped into a race late, and have to make up ground. Instead, we have to acknowledge that we are on our own journey, and that comparing our journey to others will usually result in disappointment, since the comparison isn’t fair in the first place.

If we want to be good at our craft, nothing beats committing to the long-game and putting a lot of good work in, regardless of how it compares to the masters.

Optimal Configurations

Imagine you wanted to create a stack of solids that was as high as you could make it but only one solid wide. Therefore, each subsequent block you add to the structure must be place on top of the previous block.

Furthermore, you have a choice of blocks: spheres, cubes, rectangular prisms, pyramids, and cones. You can use whatever combination of blocks that you desire.

What do you build?

Evidently, you’d attempt to build your tower with blocks that create a stable platform for the next block. This means you’d use the cubes and rectangular prisms to build your tower.

Let’s up the stakes a bit more: you need to reach one metre high and have the structure be stable for at least ten seconds.

Now suppose someone else is attempting this task, but started later than you. To make up time, this person grabs whatever is available right in front of them. Instead of using only the cubes and prisms, they use all the solids. Somewhat amazingly, they still succeed in temporarily creating a tall tower using spheres and cones, faster than you finish your tower. They smugly smile while you look on in shock, but before the ten seconds is counted, the fragile equilibrium that was established vanishes and the structure crumbles to the ground. You laugh and shake your head, finishing your structure and wondering how this person could be so daft.

However, this situation can be seen all the time in those who are trying to be the best they can in their craft.

Instead of building the best structure possible by using the best components, they simply try to go as grand and complex as possible. The thinking goes: my components don’t matter if my tower can be as tall as the other person’s. This phenomenon is only quickened by the comparisons to people that are “already there” (where you would like to be).

While true, the result of this kind of thinking manifests itself like in the example above: the tower is indeed tall, but its structure crumbles almost immediately. The components used were not the best ones that could be used. If we want to have long-term improvement, this is a problem.

When we jump straight to the result, we disregard the components that lead to the result. As a consequence, less thought is put into using the best components possible and more towards improving quickly. While results may occur in the beginning, it will become apparent that this person isn’t quite as good as the established expert with years of experience.

Furthermore, there is usually a lack of thought into the configuration of the training. This means that sound principles of training can be forgotten in lieu of “quick fixes”. Again, while these may prove effective in the short term, they aren’t sustainable solutions.

Another thing that this lack of forethought creates is bad habits. I don’t care how “good” your performances are, if you have bad habits they will affect your potential performance. Maybe you don’t care, but usually people want to get as much out of themselves as they can, and bad habits can inhibit this goal. Bad habits mask weaknesses that should be addressed.

Optimal configuration of your training is a difficult, but worthwhile, task. It can be frustrating when you compare yourself to others who seem so far ahead of you, but you need to focus on what you are capable of now. Being truly good is a result of correcting weaknesses and optimizing your training. By doing this beforehand, it can help you avoid the long process of de-training bad habits and forming good ones.

Yes, that means you won’t be riding a skyrocketing improvement curve. But in the long run, you’ll be structurally sound in your training, and will be like the tower or cubes and prisms.

Stable and strong.