5. Calm Ambition — Part 2 (Controlling Output)
Part 1 talked about how several great people have minimized distractions and drama in their lives to enable them to focus on their craft.
In this part, let’s build on a macro point that Part 1 leads us to: how output influences input.
I’ve always found that writing works wonders for me — because I push myself to write in an elaborate way (and try my best to avoid rants), I feel a nudge to figure things out in better detail. I analyze my observations a bit more, often removing the emotion, so that I can try to get some insight. In short, because I write, I think better.
Applying this phenomenon (of output influencing input) throughout our lives, we turn our attention to our friends, habits, and hobbies. If our friends encourage us to share our best ideas, we may be pushed to conceive better ideas. It takes discipline on our part to not engage in ‘lower’ behaviors such as gossip, hurtful practical jokes, and unhealthy levels of partying. The truth is that if you come to me and vent about how bad your boss is, I’ll probably hear you out, for 2 reasons:
- I want to be supportive
- It appeals to some primal instinct (refer to Yuval Noah Harari’s explanation of why gossip was essential to our survival as a species)
You may experience some short-term relief after venting your frustration, but that frustration is energy that was released in a ‘lower’ way (gossip) instead of in a higher, more productive way (by focusing on your craft). Leave it to Kobe to explain how he channelled the frustration in his life to better his game.
Expressing frustration through his craft still provided Kobe release, but in the process, his game improved to its maximum potential, which, I hope, provides him some satisfaction.
As I classify myself as fairly ambitious, here are some simple rules I have been trying to live by:
- Don’t say anything bad about anyone. Get out of circles that encourage you to engage in ‘lower’ outlets (such as gossiping, fighting, or excessively partying).
- Say ‘No’ to all but the most important meetings / calls (professional or personal).
- Devote some time for mind-clearing practices, to minimize thoughts of frustration. (Exercising, praying, meditating, journalling, etc.). Don’t go out seeking frustration because you think that that ‘chip on your shoulder’ will help you play better. Manufactured setbacks fall apart eventually. It’s like taking a medicine knowing that it’s a placebo — it loses its effect.
- Clearly define your craft.
- When frustration does build despite your best efforts, focus more energy on perfecting your craft.
In other words, control the output. Be deliberate.