“No matter how you feel today, dress up and show up.” — Paulo Coelho
Welcome to this edition of the “Making Better Decisions” newsletter. This week I cover an often-ignored factor that can have a disproportional impact on achieving long term success. This factor is so subtle that it is practically hidden in plain sight.
I sat down to write this blog a few times this week but could not make any meaningful progress until Thursday. Each time I sat, I found myself devoid of any motivation. No meaningful content was forthcoming for the first few minutes and then it started to flow. This, ironically or perhaps fittingly, is at the heart of the topic of this blog.
“Showing up is not all of life — but it counts for a lot.” — Hillary Clinton
A river cuts through a mighty mountain not because it is inherently very forceful but because it is at it all the time — metaphorically, it shows up every day.
In the decade or so of my chequered running history, I have come across a handful of runners who were able to transform themselves from poor performing amateur athletes to strong, inspirational top-of-their-game amateur runners. I know these folks personally and have witnessed not just their transformation but also what went into making it happen. Inevitably — somewhere in their journeys, they stumbled upon the power of showing up every day (technically, they run 4–5 times a week and not every day) and that singularly contributed the most to their transformation. Although I am strictly a middle-of-the-road average runner, I attribute my own transformation to the same factor. In fact, this realization helped me apply the same principle to other aspects of my life with equally transformational results.
What do I really mean by showing up every day
- Turning up for your work (practice) every day or whatever frequency is appropriate for the activity
- Do whatever is required to be done irrespective of being in the mood for it or not
- Accepting that not all activities and their iterations need to be exciting
- Do work even when no one is there to appreciate it (i.e., even if you are not able to post it on social media)
- Exceptions to remain exceptions and thereby, remain rare
“Showing up every day” works probably because we are creatures of habit. Habits somehow prepare our physiological and psychological selves for the expected activity. It is almost as if our body gets primed and conditioned for the impending work. Based on my reading of Robert Sapolsky’s works, I have a strong suspicion that this priming involves tuning of our body’s harmonal systems — so, this is not some psychological hack but an actual nuts-and-bolts physiological framework. Also, once the activity is underway, “flow” does tend to materialize sooner or later.
“I make 50 cents for showing up… and the other 50 cents is based on my performance.” — Steve Jobs
Other examples of the power of showing up every day
- Writing: It is generally imagined that great writers are powered by striking inspiration and great writing just flows through them. But in reality, most of the great writers schedule their work in mundane, boring, metric regularity. While “flow” does happen to them but not because of any esoteric notions of inspiration but by consistent and constant focus. They do take advantage of the occasional inspirational “flow” moments but do not rely on them. Stephen King, one of the most prolific writers of recent times, went about writing as if it was his job — he used to write everyday like most people do their 9AM-7PM jobs. No wonder, “writer’s block” is a malaise for amateur writers and professional writers hardly ever get afflicted by it
- Acting: Jerry Seinfeld’s impeccable comic timing is a result of serious hard work done by him every day. Not to say that actors do not necessarily have natural talent, but consistent hard work contributes significantly to their sublime display in addition to pure talent
- (Financial) Investing: Formula for creating wealth is very simple: Earn more than you spend -> invest the savings regularly -> repeat this month on month for 15–20 years; If you notice, this formula does not put a number to how much you should earn -> all you have to ensure that you earn more than you spend and invest the difference regularly for long enough period
- Health: Sleeping 4–5 hours a night during weekdays and trying to compensate in the weekends, has not worked for anyone — at least long enough. Reducing weight and keeping it at appropriate levels does not happen because of 3–6-month diet plans but by a lifestyle modification which involves marginal but sustainable improvements every day
- Various other examples: Mental Skill development such as learning Software/Data design and architecture and physical skills such as cricket or soccer. Great cricketing stars such as Rahul Dravid and Michael Hussey are great examples of consistent grunt work trumping over natural talent shaping their world leading careers
“If 90% of success in life is showing up, the other 10% depends on what you’re showing up for.” — Woody Allen
It is worth remembering that the long road to success is paved by day-to-day well intentioned (quite a bit of grunt) work. So, more than wondering why you do not feel motivated to do something or why your stretch target seems ever elusive, an excellent question to ask yourself would be “Did you Show Up today”?
Thanks for taking time to read this article. In this newsletter, I share my learnings that could help you improve your decisions and make meaningful progress on your goals and desires. I share stuff that I have personally experienced or experimented with. If you find this newsletter worthwhile, please do share it with others — of course, only if you do not mind it.
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