How to make progress faster
another krappy newsletter #35
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Greetings from Northern California.
I hope this finds you well. It doesn’t find me well. You see. Over the weekend, I got pre-pandemic levels of intoxicated and broke all of my diet rules that I have been following for the last three months.
I am now dealing with the repercussions of loading my body with White Claw, dairy, and sugar. Which is not pleasant.
Why would I do that to myself?
Because that’s living, baby.
My body is a temple. But I occasionally power wash the walls of that temple with White Claw.
I am who I am.
Alright now that we have covered how cool I am for drinking in excess, allow me to give you a reason to give me a swirly.
I made a remote control car.
I even hand soldered some components onto the board!
Look at those luscious solder balls.
It also has a camera on it and I can operate it from my computer. Which is cool.
Next, I feed it a bunch of pictures of objects that it shouldn’t run into and it should drive itself around.
I bring up my cool technical projects because I like to remind everyone that I don’t just professionally talk about my feelings for a living. That is just my side hustle.
But I also bring it up because it was crazy how long it took me to start this project. I had the parts for that car sitting in my closet for over a year and I did not do anything with them.
Reflecting on that propensity to wait to do things is the subject of this newsletter.
On to the newsletter!
How to make progress faster
“If I was better at sitting with emotional discomfort, I would have accomplished everything in my life much faster.”
That sentence came out of my pen during a Morning Pages writing session last week. I did not know what it meant immediately, but I now realize that it might be the most profound advice I ever wrote to myself.
To understand why, I need to borrow an analogy from the world of manufacturing.
What is a bottleneck?
In manufacturing, you are highly incentivized to make as many physical goods as quickly as possible.
To make stuff faster, you learn to identify and remove “bottlenecks” or “the part of the process that is slowing everything else down.” We call this “The Theory of Constraints” (TOC).
TOC dictates that to make more stuff in the same amount of time you follow this algorithm:
Find the bottleneck
Remove the bottleneck
Repeat until you hit the limit of physics or people
TOC is great for optimizing the number of physical goods we can make. However, it is also a useful mental model for thinking through how to optimize any “system.”
For example, we could use TOC to optimize “my rate of personal growth”.
Identifying my personal growth bottleneck
As I covered in a previous newsletter, I had a tough time learning to write consistently. I thought this was unique to writing, but as I started to think through the ghosts of aspirations past, I saw a similar progression of steps in the many different activities that I would start and stop:
Step 1: Get hit with a wave of motivation and start something immediately
Step 2: Get some good momentum
Step 3: Stop for years for some reason I could not articulate
Step 4: Come back to it when I had another wave of motivation
In isolation, stopping an activity doesn’t seem all that bad. People start and stop new things all the time. But that is the genius of this self sabotage. You only understand the pattern when you look at the whole body of work.
If I reanalyze when I chose to stop any of these activities, it becomes clear what my earlier Morning Pages insight was referring to:
I stop doing things when I start to feel emotionally uncomfortable.
Emotional discomfort takes many forms.
Don’t like feeling stupid
Don’t like feeling embarrassment
But the result is the same. I feel uncomfortable so I remove myself from the activity.
This inability to sit with emotional discomfort is the bottleneck to my rate of personal growth because it pauses my progress for years.
Long before I did my elimination diet experiment, I went through many many weight loss experiments.
One such experiment was when I started lifting weights at the gym. I started going all the time. I started to find a groove, put on muscle, and lose weight! But then I fell while doing a push up workout on a medicine ball in front of some giant muscle lobster guy. He laughed at me and I felt embarrassed. Guess who didn't go to the gym for the next two months?
Avoiding what is good for me because I didn’t want to deal with the embarrassment of seeing that meat head again. Self sabotage at its finest.
Getting a great job
I had the good fortune of working for several companies that a lot of people would like to work for. However, not too long ago, I was on the outside looking in.
I remember submitting my resume on an online portal to a highly coveted tech job. I didn't get a call back. Guess who didn't try again for two years? That was all it took. Someone ignoring my email.
When I finally worked myself back into reapplying, I ended up getting that exact job I applied for originally. But it took me years to try again.
So there you have it.
I could have been in better shape, had a great job, and been writing more frequently WAY earlier in my life if I wasn’t such a bitch about being uncomfortable.
Sounds like something I should fix!
Eliminating the bottleneck to my rate of personal growth
Bottleneck identified! Great…But how do I fix that?
Honestly, I don’t know. But I have a vague plan that I am going to try.
My plan to work through this bottleneck is:
Continue cultivating self awareness through daily journaling. Journaling helps catch these mental loops that I am trying to correct. Sometimes simply identifying the problem creeping up again in my thoughts can be enough for me to stop it in its tracks.
Structure an environment where I can’t run away from the discomfort. Every time I have been successful with achieving a goal, it is because I set up support structures that align with my personal psychology. So I think intentionally structuring something that forces me into working through discomfort by exposing me to it over and over again would be beneficial. Not sure exactly what this looks like, but I will keep thinking about it.
Not to sound like a cliche self help guru, but I have become increasingly convinced over the years that the key to success is moving into the discomfort.
If you want to lose weight, you have to learn to sit and deal with the discomfort instead of reaching for food.
If you want to learn a hard technical subject, you have to learn to sit and deal with the discomfort instead of reaching for your phone.
If you want to get great at something, you need to learn to sit and deal with the discomfort of being bad at it instead of insisting on focusing on your strengths.
Being able to sit and deal with discomfort is the meta skill that makes all other skills easier. So I find it a worthwhile use of my time to intentionally work on it. Time to fix the bottleneck.
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Disclaimer: Opinions expressed are strictly my own.