Success, Mastery, Motivation, Productivity, & Finding Your Interests
Popular advice on success usually involves structures and regiments. It works for a lot of people, but not everyone. Here are some tips from the perspective of a creative, spontaneous, and frankly, lazy person.
Questions from multiple followers:
“How can I learn to focus my energy into one subject to master it? I have so many interests that I don’t linger much on them.”
“Hello! First of all, I adore your blog. Secondly, do you have some kind of advice for a student who wants to survive High School with great grades to satisfy her own ambitions? I’m having some problems because of laziness and procrastination.”
“How can I be more mindful? I set goals for myself to be more productive, then I’m playing my whole day off.”
“I really love music and I’m going into music performance, it’s what I want to make into a career. The only problem is that a lot of what I’d be doing/am doing right now involves lots of meticulous detail work that can drain me really quickly. I have a hard time motivating myself to get up and do it, but it is essential to making things work. Any tips? Thanks!”
“I can’t seem to find one thing that I’m not too lazy to do, not to mention a lot of things. I go home and just sit at the computer. I dislike drawing, crafting, etc. because It really gets on my nerves and I’m terrible at it. I don’t really have any hobbies. Have you ever had a period in your life when you were like that too? if yes, then what did you do to change it?”
1. Observe yourself like a hawk.
The goal is to recognize what’s effective for you. This will be different for everyone. You must step out of the moment and truly be mindful of yourself, instead of going through the flow of your daily life. Otherwise, you will not pick up habits and mindset that you’re accustomed to.
I came to realize things that make me much more productive/motivated:
- I have multiple projects to switch between when I’m bored of or exhausted my ideas for the current one, making me less producting. This is why being an entrepreneur works really well for me. And even when I work in a company, I’d ask my boss for 3–4 projects to do at the same time and demonstrated that I can do this.
- I’m ridiculously easily distracted by my own thoughts while working. I found out that it subsided when a something other than music is playing in the background so that I can “focus” my distraction (music doesn’t work somehow). At first, I used to watch game playthroughs because I’m a nerd, but I made a switch to educational videos and audio books half a year ago. Now I spend at least 5 hours/day learning new things while working and not getting distracted. Win-win-win.
- I’m either by myself or in a space where no one would directly interact with me, e.g. library or coworking space.
- I tell people who are important to me about my goals and keep them updated on the progress. I’m much more motivated to hold myself accountable because I don’t want someone I respect to think of me as flaky.
- I tend to procrastinate if I wake up early. If I’m up at 11 AM, I’d go “oh shit it’s already late, I must get started right away” instead of thinking “there’s still so much time…I could make breakfast, go get coffee, etc.” It’s a very common advice to get up earlier to be more productive. I know I won’t be able to fool myself because I’d always rationalize my way out of it. My optimal work hours have been from 11am-3am with breaks in between.
- I get in the zone easily when I start, but it’s a huge hurdle to get myself to start. And therefore, the point above does help.
- I can’t do things on a schedule (e.g. at 10AM I will start working on task A and finish by 12PM, then eat lunch, then at 1PM I will start task B). Some people excel at this, mind you, but I’d lose motivation faster than I can start. What works for me is listing the deadlines, which could be in days or weeks, then switch around tasks/projects as I like.
My full list would easily go over a hundred items. Recognize your own. As I mention, this list will be different for everyone.
An important note: it’s not shameful to admit that you need external validation. I know that I wouldn’t have gotten my blog going if I didn’t get this much support and interests from everyone. I probably wouldn’t have been drawing so much either if I didn’t get compliments from friends irl and online. I knew this about myself and intentionally put my work out there to get encouragement, which I received. And in turns, I also learn how to listen to criticism in the process.
2. When you have multiple interests, pick something and get good at it.
Choose one to develop at the moment, or 2–3, if you need to switch like me. You don’t have to abandon other interests. You will have time to develop them later on. But for now, just pick something, anything. Roll a dice if you must.
I’m an advocate of the “T-shaped skills” concept — you can be a generalist in many things, but you must master at least one. While you’re trying to master that one thing, there’s no harm in trying out a bunch of other skills.
When people see that you’re very good at one thing, they tend to believe that you’re capable of being good at other things (sometimes even unrelated things). More opportunities will be offered to you if people recognize that you’re good at one thing.
For example, I’m a good UX designer and I’m somewhat known in the startup community in my city. I’ve been invited by tech event organizers to speak, even though I was shite at public speaking, they insisted that I try. I’ve been asked to advise on the business side of startups and asked to design logos, even when I told them that I’m no expert in these things. They’d insist that they want my opinions anyway because they saw the way I work and think through design.
3. If you aren’t interested in anything, try a lot of things.
Get yourself out there and try new things. Maybe you haven’t found what you really click with yet. Try a bunch of local classes and workshops, volunteer, learn about possibilities of things you can do.
You might already be interested in something, but society tells you that it’s not considered a hobby or a job. You love learning about any topics and could read Wikipedia for hours? That is a hobby. You might even want to get a job in research. You love playing games? Maybe you want to create one yourself and make it a really enjoyable experience because you know games so well. Or maybe you could make a build guide for your favorite RPG on youtube, and learn some digital marketing to get your channel more popular. There are more ways to do things than what people think is “acceptable”
Think of how you can spin things you like into something productive and sustainable. From examples above, playing games in itself won’t do much for you. But if you create a useful gaming guide for other people, coupled with some SEO skills, you can turn the hobby you love into a career you love.
4. If you don’t know your goals, follow your mentors.
You probably already have people you admire in many areas of your life, whether it’s because of their career success, their skill expertise, their wisdom, or certain qualities they possess. List things you admire about these people. What kind of things make you want to be like them? Once you have this list, it can be your goal.
If you really don’t have anyone you admire, start looking for them. They don’t have to be people you know in person. They can be anyone from a celebrity, an inventor who’s long dead, someone in your family, or even a fictional character. You don’t have to like everything about that person for them to be your mentor. You just need aim for specific qualities that you admire in them.
In the beginning, study your mentors intensely and copy them. Once you’re proficient, adapt their techniques to your personality. I’ve been trying to improve my public speaking skill. There’s an older INTJ guy whose speaking style I think is very captivating. To learn from him, I watched at least 50 videos of him speaking in public to study his mannerism, his tone of voice, how he structured his scripts, where he added pauses — specific things contributing to his speaking style that captivates attention. Then, I’d try to use specific techniques I learn from him when I taught the university class, even the same phrases and analogies he used because of their clarity. After the 5–6 class, I started to get a hang of it and was able to adapt “his” style that I emulated to become more of my own, adding my own twists and personality into the way I talk.
5. Mastery takes grit — practice v.s. practice smart.
Many people say “I don’t like anything because I’m not good at anything.” Well, here’s some good news for you:
Talent is overrated. No one, I repeat, no one, is automatically good at anything. Maybe you have a natural inclination that gives you an advantage, e.g. you were born with a physique suitable to be a runner and you happen to like running. You might have a competitive advantage as a runner, but there’s absolutely no way you’d become good at running without years of training.
When you see other people and think they’re “talented,” you’re seeing the results of years of practice. What they don’t show you is the grind, the long hours, the years of crappy results but sticking with it.
That’s not to say, if you keep at it, you’ll get better. Repetition alone doesn’t work. You must practice smart. I also believe in the 80/20 rule. 20% of the things you normally do get you 80% of the results. If you’re trying to get better at playing piano, would playing your favorite song from start to finish repeatedly make you any better?
You must target your weak points and attack it. Maybe your left little finger is weak and you can’t get the pressure you want. Do some Hanon exercises that focus on the little finger. Maybe you mess up a trill in a specific section half the time. Single out that section and practice it — don’t just play the whole song from start to finish.
I recommend watching Josh Kaufman talks about how it only takes 20 hours to become decent at something if you practice smart:
6. Mastery takes sacrifice.
Everyone has the same amount of hours in a day. It’s up to you to choose what you do with your hours. It’s impossible to do everything and be everything in our lifetime, so choose wisely. It’s better that you proactively choose for yourself than let life choose for you, otherwise, you’ll look back in 10 years and hate where your life is heading.
Here are some examples from my experience:
- I sacrifice going out with friends for working on my own company. I have friends who go out 2–3 times a week, and it’d have been fun if I go with them but that would mean much less time for things I want to accomplish. Instead, I actively set up a hangout session with this group once a month and truly spend quality time together talking or playing board games, rather than joining their usual bar-hopping routine.
- I sacrifice job stability and consistent income for personal growth. I worked at a tech company and a design agency before, and both of them still want me back (I’m still in touch with former bosses from both), and it’d have been a nice and easy life to do what I love and have stability. But I know that I’d never be satisfied if I don’t try to make something out on my own from scratch.
- I sacrifice comfort for opportunities. I’m a true introvert. I could stay in my apartment for a month straight, not talk to anyone, and be perfectly comfortable. But I’ve come to realize that I need to go out, make friends and connections so that I can find more opportunities to advance my career goals. It’s still difficult for me now, but I know to push myself to do it. Each time I see an event invitation, my first thought would be “urg, I need to wear pants, and put make up, and take the subway full of people…” But now I know how important it is to make connections, going to events that are relevant to my goals usually win.
- I sacrifice some friends for friends who push me to grow. There are many people I like and whom like me, but some of those people only want to hangout and talk about other friends’ lives, TV series, or complain about work. It makes a huge difference in my life to spend time with friends who love discussing big ideas, business opportunities, self-improvement, and learning. And I’d rather spend time with the latter than the former, even though I could get along with both group.
7. Aim to create more than you consume.
Most people only consume — watch, read, listen, play music other people wrote, use contents that other people created. It’s easy to do this, and you can even learn a lot from consuming, but you won’t grow nearly as much as creating something.
Put something out into the world that’s not junk, e.g. not your selfies, photos of your pet, a rant blog, or negative comments on other people’s contents.
Think of what you can contribute, and do it. Create content that is meaningful to you. Create something that takes creative thinking.
Realistically, it’s extremely difficult to create more than you consume since you’d be sacrificing convenience and efficiency (i.e. you wouldn’t want to build your own phone from scratch instead of buying one), but you get what I mean when I say aim to create more.
8. Be proactive in learning.
Don’t wait for people to feed knowledge and skills to you. We’re lucky to live in the digital age where pretty much everything can be searched in a few seconds — do it. Don’t wait to be taught in school, and don’t wait for answers.
I get so many questions on my psychology blog about basic things that can be easily googled or search on the blog. I do not have time to answer every question I get, especially on things I wrote about before. I wonder if these people go ahead and google it themselves, or do they wait forever and never end up learning because they didn’t get a reply.
If you want to get better at something, be proactive in seeking knowledge. If you already have the skills to use the internet, you can learn and become anything you want.
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