The Power of Imperfect Starts: How Good Do You Really Need to Be to Get Started?

start buttonWhen you have a goal — whether it’s starting a business or eating healthier or traveling the world — it’s easy to look at someone who is already doing it and then try to reverse engineer their strategy.

In some cases, this is really useful. Learning from the experiences of successful people is a great way to accelerate your own learning curve.

But it’s equally important to remember that the systems, habits, and strategies that successful people are using today are probably not the same ones they were using when they began their journey.

What is optimal for them right now isn’t necessarily needed for you to get started. There is a difference between the two.

Let me explain.

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What Would Happen If You improved Everything by 1%: The Science of Marginal Gains

moreIn 2010, Dave Brailsford faced a tough job.

No British cyclist had ever won the Tour de France, but as the new General Manager and Performance Director for Team Sky (Great Britain’s professional cycling team), that’s what Brailsford was asked to do.

His approach was simple.

Brailsford believed in a concept that he referred to as the “aggregation of marginal gains.” He explained it as the “1 percent margin for improvement in everything you do.” His belief was that if you improved every area related to cycling by just 1 percent, then those small gains would add up to remarkable improvement.

They started by optimizing the things you might expect: the nutrition of riders, their weekly training program, the ergonomics of the bike seat, and the weight of the tires.

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The Habits of Successful People: They Have a Growth Mindset

climbing

This is the 5th post in our series discussing The Habits of Successful people, written by James Clear and Joel Gascoigne. You can read them all here

It was my freshman year of high school and our basketball team had started the season with a losing streak.

One day at practice, as our team was struggling to find some confidence and get our first win of the season, our coach pulled us together and said something that has stuck with me ever since.

He looked at our group and said, “Confidence is just displayed ability.”

In other words, if we wanted to become the type of team that stepped onto the court and believed we would win every game, then we had to become the type of team that displayed our ability over and over again.

It didn’t have to be in big ways — it could start by making a free throw or getting back on defense or boxing your man out and grabbing a rebound. But if we displayed our ability, then the confidence would come.

Up until that time I had just assumed that sometimes you were confident, sometimes you weren’t, and that was that. But this was a totally different way of thinking about it.

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10 Years of Silence: How Long It Took Mozart, Picasso and Kobe Bryant to Be Successful

mozartHow long does it take to become elite at your craft? And what do the people who master their goals do differently than the rest of us?

That’s what John Hayes, a cognitive psychology professor at Carnegie Mellon University, wanted to know.

For decades, Hayes has been investigating the role of effort, practice, and knowledge in top performers. He has studied the most talented creators in history — people like Mozart and Picasso — to determine how long it took them to become world class at their craft. Furthermore, he has investigated the choices and experiences that have led to their success.

Let’s talk about what Hayes has discovered about world class performers. And more importantly, let’s discuss how you can use these insights to achieve your goals and become your best.

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The Habits of Successful People: They Do The Painful Things First

climbingBefore I became an entrepreneur, I went to business school. While studying for my MBA, there was one lesson that I learned which has proved to be useful over and over again in my life.

I was sitting in a marketing class and we were discussing ways to design a wonderful customer experience. The goal was not merely to provide decent service, but to delight the customer.

Behavioral scientists have discovered that one of the most effective ways to create an enjoyable experience is to stack the painful parts of the experience early in the process. Psychologically, we prefer experiences that improve over time. That means it’s better for the annoying parts of a purchase to happen early in the experience. Furthermore, we don’t enjoy it when painful experiences are drawn out or repeated.

Here are some examples…

  • If you’re at the doctor’s office it’s better to combine the pain of waiting into one segment. The wait will feel shorter to your brain if you spend 20 minutes in the waiting room rather than spending 10 minutes in the waiting room and 10 minutes in the exam room.
  • People enjoy all-inclusive vacations because they pay one lump sum at the beginning (the pain) and the rest of the trip is divided into positive experiences, excursions, and parties. In the words of my professor, all-inclusive vacations “segment the pleasure and combine the pain.”
  • If you’re a professional service provider (lawyer, insurance agent, freelancer, etc.) it is better to give the bad news to your clients first and finish with the good news. Clients will remember an experience more favorably if you start weak but finish on a high note, rather than starting strong and ending poorly.

These examples had me thinking…

If you can make a customer experience more delightful, why not make your life experiences more delightful? How can you take advantage of the way your brain processes painful and annoying experiences, and use that knowledge to live a better life?

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The power of ignoring mainstream news: Why reading the paper is low quality food for your brain

paperHow much time do you spend consuming information that you have no intention of taking action on or that you don’t care deeply about?

For example: the nightly news cycle of local crimes, the endless stream of Facebook and Twitter updates, celebrity gossip, reality TV shows, Buzzfeed articles. The list goes on.

In this age of information overload, your life can be filled with irrelevant or unnecessary information in an instant.

And here’s the main problem:

After a while, these information sources start to become normal. Pretty soon, you’re logging onto Facebook because of the fear of missing out on “something.” You turn on the news or check CNN, not because you care about a particular topic, but merely out of habit. You watch tonight’s reality TV show because that’s what you always do on Thursdays at 8pm.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for learning and soaking up new information. After all, education is one of the master keys to the universe. And staying up-to-date on important stories can help shape your worldview and make you a good global citizen.

But it is becoming dangerously easy to consume low quality information and convince yourself that it’s normal and good, when it isn’t helping you live a better life at all.

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10 Things To Stop Doing Today to Be Happier, Backed by Science

happyI’m fascinated by the link between the way we live our daily lives and the health and happiness we enjoy.

There are choices that you make every day, some of which seem completely unrelated to your health and happiness, that dramatically impact the way you feel mentally and physically.

With that said, here are 10 common mistakes that can prevent you from being happy and healthy, and the science to back them up.

When the Buffer team explored the science of happiness before on this blog, the interest was overwhelming. So I hope this can provide equally valuable insights:

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The case for having no goals in your life: Why it might lead to more success and happiness

Screen Shot 2013-11-08 at 7.50.43 AMWe all have things that we want to achieve in our lives — getting into the better shape, building a successful business, raising a wonderful family, writing a best-selling book, winning a championship, and so on.

And for most of us, the path to those things starts by setting a specific and actionable goal. At least, this is how I approached my life until recently. I would set goals for classes I took, for weights that I wanted to lift in the gym, and for clients I wanted in my business.

What I’m starting to realize, however, is that when it comes to actually getting things done and making progress in the areas that are important to you, there is a much better way to do things.

It all comes down to the difference between goals and systems.

Let me explain.

The Difference Between Goals and Systems

What’s the difference between goals and systems?

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If You Commit to Nothing, You’ll Be Distracted by Everything: Lessons from the “Marathon Monks”

Screen Shot 2013-10-23 at 8.06.40 AMIn the northeastern hills outside Kyoto, Japan there is a mountain known as Mount Hiei. That mountain is littered with unmarked graves.

Those graves mark the final resting place of the Tendai Buddhist monks who have failed to complete a quest known as the Kaihogyo.

What is this quest that kills so many of the monks? And what can you and I learn from it?

Keep reading and I’ll tell you.

The Marathon Monks

The Tendai monks believe that enlightenment can be achieved during your current life, but only through extreme self–denial.

For the Tendai, the ultimate act of self–denial — and the route to enlightenment — is a physical challenge known as the Kaihogyo. Because of this challenge, the Tendai are often called the “Marathon Monks.”

But the Kaihogyo is much more than a marathon.

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The Myth of Passion and Motivation: How to Stay Focused When You Get Bored Working Toward Your Goals

tiger huntingWe all have goals and dreams, but it can be difficult to stick with them.

Each week, I hear from people who say things like, “I start with good intentions, but I can’t seem to maintain my consistency for a long period of time.”

Or, they will say, “I struggle with mental endurance. I get started but I can’t seem to follow through and stay focused for very long.”

Don’t worry. I’m just as guilty of this as anyone else.

For example, I’ll start one project, work on it for a little bit, then lose focus and try something else. And then I’ll lose focus on my new goal and try something else. And on and on. When everything is said and done, I’ve stopped and started so many times that I never really made much progress.

Maybe you have felt this way too.

This problem reminds me of a lesson I learned while working out one day…

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