The Benefits of Boring
The compounding effects of monotonous consistency.
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CC: Jack Butcher, I stole your picture.
I wasn't motivated to write today's piece. In fact, I'm almost never "motivated" to write anything.
Right now, as I'm writing this paragraph, it's a Sunday afternoon in Sevilla, Spain. Last night, I was out until 3:30 AM with some Americans I met yesterday. This morning, I woke up in a twin bed of an 8-person hostel dorm. It's 90 degrees, and the air conditioning isn't running.
I'm hungover, sweaty, and my brain is half-scrambled.
So no, I'm not motivated to write. In fact, writing doesn't crack the top 100 things that I want to do today. But here I am, writing this piece anyway.
Motivation is fickle.
A David Goggins video may motivate you to hit the gym for a couple of days, but that motivation will burn out. An upcoming trip to South America will motivate you to study Spanish for a few weeks, but that motivation will burn out as well.
Motivation is a poor barometer for progress. In reality, what you do when you *aren't motivated* is far more indicative of your success.
In What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School, Mark McCormack tells an interesting story about Pablo Picasso.
It always reminds me of the story about the woman who approached Picasso in a restaurant, asked him to scribble something on a napkin, and said she would be happy to pay whatever he felt it was worth. Picasso complied and then said, “That will be $10,000.”
“But you did that in thirty seconds,” the astonished woman replied.
“No,” Picasso said. “It has taken me forty years to do that.”
The woman saw the creation. She didn't see the creative process. She saw the product. She missed the production.
This interaction is a microcosm of our warped view of success today.
Our modern era of instant gratification and sensationalization amplifies outcomes and overshadows processes. We see the end results without the journey.
We see New York Times best-selling authors. We don't see hundreds of hours spent staring at blank screens, and countless renditions ignored by publishers.
We see touchdown passes and Super Bowls. We don't see the thousands of meticulous reps in the offseason.
Success isn't the result of highlight-reel performances. Success is the boring, monotonous reps that precede the highlight reels. Success is what you don't see.
To be in the top 1% of pretty much anything, you don't have to be all that talented. You just have to be a bit more stubborn than your competition. Take this Jack Butcher tweet on podcasting, for example.
"90% of podcasts don’t get past episode 3. That’s 1.8 million who quit.
Of the 200,000 left, 90% will quit after 20 episodes. That’s another 180,000 gone.
To be in the top 1% of podcasts in the world you only need to publish 21 episodes."
— @jackbutcher (@jackbutcher)
Jun 18, 2021
There are approximately 2 million podcasts in the world. 1.8 million podcasters will quit within 3 episodes. Another 180,000 will quit by 20 episodes. If you simply make it to episode 21, you are in the top 1% of podcasters thanks to attrition alone.
Survival is a much better predictor of success than skill. A personal anecdote on this:
I made ~$10,000 last month from writing alone, and I expect that number to keep climbing. Pretty cool, no? Write blog posts, and generate money from sponsors! Do freelance copywriting for companies! How cool is that?!
Now let's look under the surface.
In the last 11 months, I have:
Written 88 posts on Young Money
Published 40 travel blog posts on Backpackin'
Edited 100+ editions of Exec Sum
Written 5 deep-dive articles about different companies
I published 25 pieces before reaching 1,000 subscribers. I published 54 pieces before making any money from anything that I wrote. I published 70 pieces before any sponsors contacted me about partnership opportunities.
At 2,000 words per article, that is 7 months of writing and 108,000 words published before I made a dime. Include the travel blog and some other miscellaneous content, and you can bump that to 200,000 words without earning anything.
Do you know how much it sucks to spend ~10 hours working on a piece, believe it is a masterpiece, publish it online, and never hear a word about it from anyone? Now do it again. And again. And again. And again.
If you received zero compensation and minimal recognition after writing 200,000 words, would you write 200,001 words anyway?
My moderate success as a writer has little to do with my God-given ability to eloquently put words on the internet, and a whole lot to do with my stubborn routine of hitting "publish" at 7:30 AM every Monday and Thursday for 11 months.
Those boring, repetitive actions are the price of admission if you want to succeed at literally anything. Athletes, musicians, writers, lawyers, linguists, programmers, it doesn't matter.
The routine is often boring, tedious, and time-consuming. But leaning into the boring, and the tedious, and the time-consuming is how we win. Consistency is king.
Consistency does three things:
It molds your homeostasis
It gives you more chances to adapt
It creates more shots on goal
The Lindy effect (also known as Lindy's Law) is a theorized phenomenon by which the future life expectancy of some non-perishable things, like a technology or an idea, is proportional to their current age. In simple talk: the longer the something has been around, the more likely that it will continue to be around.
The internet is Lindy. Email is Lindy. Queen Elizabeth, so far, appears to be Lindy.
This Lindy effect applies to our actions, too.
If you can do something long enough, it becomes your homeostasis. Your "normal." If you wake up at 6 AM to work out every day for six months, that becomes your homeostasis. After a certain point, *not* waking up at 6 AM to lift would feel strange. If you practice a foreign language every day for six months, *not* practicing for a day would feel strange. If you make a podcast episode every week for 21 weeks, *not* publishing an episode one week would feel strange.
You have to stay in the game to win the game. If you can stay in the game long enough, the game becomes your new "normal." Once the game becomes your normal, you can improve your game.
We have this idea that to build anything (a startup, side hustle, blog, YouTube channel, whatever,) we need to have a fully thought-out, A-Z plan to follow and execute. But anyone who has ever built anything knows that this couldn't be further from the truth.
You don't succeed by following a 10-year plan created before launching your product. You succeed by capturing feedback and adapting your work for extended periods of time. Once you have developed a rhythm (homeostasis), you can focus on improving your craft. A writer can experiment with different marketing methods for their newsletter. A video producer can see which of their videos get the most engagement. A football player can test different moves at practice.
You drop what sucks, double down on what works, and repeat.
These pictures I draw? They were an adaptation. My writing style resulted from adaptation. All improvements result from adaptation, and adaptation itself is the result of consistency.
Shots on Goal
In soccer, shots on goal are directly correlated with goals scored. The logic is intuitive: as the number of potential goals increases, the number of successful goals will likely increase. Consistency increases your shots on goal.
As a content creator, one person/publication/channel sharing your work could 10x your viewership overnight, bringing you thousands of new subscribers. As a high school athlete, one outstanding performance at a college camp could land you a scholarship offer. These massive payoffs are the "goals." The acts of publishing pieces and competing in camps are the "shots."
The Pareto Principle states that 80% of your outcomes are driven by 20% of your causes. In this case, 20% of the shots yield 80% of the goals.
It's a numbers game: as your shots on goal increase, the probability of scoring approaches one.
Publishing more content gives you more chances for the right person to see and share your stuff. Attending more camps gives you more opportunities to impress a college coach.
Shooters shoot, as they say.
It doesn't matter if you are a weightlifter, writer, hedge fund manager, programmer, or musician. Your success, or lack thereof, will be determined by your ability to do ordinary things for extraordinary lengths of time.
Do some boring stuff, adapt that boring stuff, and don't stop doing the boring stuff. If you can do the boring stuff longer than everyone else, you will probably achieve some not-so-boring results.
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