I will sound a little bit harsh in this post because it’s a difficult truth, but most people are very judging towards others and very indulgent towards themselves (for the same things), at least in a few major areas of life that define the quality of living – health, wealth, relationships etc. and that are, in their essence, very hard to manage. It’s not easy to have a six-pack, even less so to get rich or have really close and deep relationships with family, friends and your spouse.
As an exaggerated example: people think that if they use olive oil and take a walk once a month, they live a healthy lifestyle, even though they stuff their faces with hamburgers at the same time; or maybe they think they’re wealthy because they can lease an expensive car or whatever. At the same time, they’re very critical towards others who basically do the same, although maybe just in a slightly different way; for example, people who feel better about themselves because of olive oil are very critical towards their friends who think they live healthy because they use brown sugar and a sauna belt.
Many studies have shown that people see themselves as much better than they are. One of the studies showed the same with individuals who rated the driving skills of themselves and others; almost everybody rated themselves to be a very good driver, much better than they really were. On the other hand, they’ve rated other drivers much worse compared to the objective reality. It's called illusory superiority.
I somehow understand that since life is hard, having a good opinion about yourself and your skills can help you go through life, even if the subjective standard / reality is far from the truth. It may be easier to live with being sparing towards yourself, but it can also lead towards you lowering standards and not achieving your maximum potential in different areas of life.
There’s no doubt that I have the same cognitive bias from time to time, but overall I’m wired a little bit differently, with all the advantages and disadvantages that go with it. I’m actually the exact opposite type of person, very critical towards myself and often ascribing to other people much more than they deserve , at least in the beginning when I’m getting to know somebody new.
A little bit of black humor about that: When I die, I want the people I did group projects with to lower me into my grave so they can let me down the last time.
Back then, it was quite a shocking realization for me that most people are more or less talkers, and only a few are really doers. My rough estimate today would be that only one or two people out of ten are actually doers, and others only talk, discuss, dream, but never do shit for making their life better or meeting their commitments. Sometimes even when they do commit verbally, they don’t deliver their end of the bargain.
That’s why I don’t pay that much attention to what people say anymore. Instead, I prefer to observe what people do.
It’s a concept from the lean startup. Marketers have figured out that surveys don’t give you real answers for whether people would buy something or not, because they don’t even know themselves. That’s is why in the lean start-up methodology, you try to simulate a real-life buying scenario with a minimum viable product.
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Anyway, with time it became obvious to me that people who are doers perform much better in life. They really improve themselves, get promoted, start their own business, run marathons and progress in many different ways they desire in life. All the really successful people are definitely doers. On the other hand, not all doers are successful, but the ones who do smart work, instead of only hard work, definitely are.
Next to getting their hands actually dirty and focusing on results, most doers have two outstanding abilities that make outliers and ultra-achievers out of them:
- The first one is promptly testing new ideas, and implementing and keeping the ones that work in their lives.
- The second one is observing and getting feedback from their environment and adjusting strategy accordingly.
The first one is about the essence of constant improvement and self-growth. In practice, every improvement means nothing but doing things differently, in a different way from before. The second one is about staying agile and not acting only based on ego and assumptions, but also calculating outside forces into the strategy to achieve a certain goal.
From an idea to testing and execution
As I briefly mentioned before, talkers only discuss ideas, exchange their opinions, dream about things, but at the end of the day, they don’t do shit to really progress in life. When they see someone actually doing things and getting dirty, they criticize them.
S/he definitely walks on water because s/he can’t swim.
That’s the big majority of people. When they don’t have something (because it can’t be leased), they dream about it. Expensive home and car. Luxury travel. Hot body. Having their own business or whatever. On the other hand, what they do have, they put on a pedestal, without any high standards. And many times those are the things that were given to them or that they acquired by luck.
Here’s a good video that explains how people ignore lucky circumstances and falsely contribute the winning to their competences more than the circumstances (good genes, inheritance, country etc.). Many of them even become cocky in the process.
It’s not always like that, I don’t want to be too critical and negative, but many times that is the case; to be honest, I’m exaggerating a little bit to make a point. But even the very famous quote explaining that “small minds discuss people, average minds discuss things and events, and great minds talk about ideas” is misleading about success from the point I’m trying to make. Talking about ideas is definitely better than talking about events and things, but only talking about ideas and having a great mind won’t get you anywhere. You need to take a step further, you have to be a doer, not only a talker or thinker.
Doers are usually quite different from talkers. Many doers don’t talk much and prefer to let their work speak for itself. No real king has to tell people that he’s the king. Doers like to talk about ideas, to get new insights and clues for new potential life experiments, but what they like even more is real progress and concrete results. They prefer to swim rather than only discuss different swimming styles.
Doers are the ones who test and quickly implement ideas into their lives. They hear, read or see a new thing they like, and they test it immediately. If they like it, if it gives them a result they want, they put in all the effort necessary to keep it in their lives.
When doers hear a new idea they like, they’re aware they have to test it out for themselves first. Because what works for one person may not work for someone else. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. What’s important is that the best doers test everything in small steps and in a very smart way. So as to not get burnt or too invested in something that’s not proven on their own skin yet.
When best doers test something new, they observe what’s happening inside (body, mind, heart, spirit) and outside them (environment), and if the idea leads to personal improvement and faster progress towards their goals, they put in the effort to form a new habit; all the way until they find a new, even better idea. If it doesn’t work, they discard it.
Immediate testing and (if it works) implementation is the key to execution, it’s the secret sauce of doers and their progress.
- Talkers discuss how good it would be to save money, doers hear about the automation of saving and try it with the next few payments they receive. If it works, they keep the system going.
- Talkers tell other people how great their partner is and how they’d spend more time with them if they could, but they’re so busy, doers make room to take their spouse on a date at least once per week, without any distractions.
- Talkers brainstorm how good it would be to have a business, doers write down their business ideas, analyze and prioritize them, build MVPs, test what works and what doesn’t, and improve their idea until they find the right product/market fit.
- Talkers complain how hard and without value college is, doers finish a college and while doing so, build an awesome business network, acquire extensive work experiences and do other stuff that makes their CV look ten times better compared to all other schoolmates.
The only downside to testing all different ideas is not sticking to anything. There’s one group of people, who are neither talkers neither real doers. They try and test all different things, but never stick to anything. Usually there’s some kind of fear behind that, most frequently a fear of failure or a fear of success. You definitely want to stick to the best behavioral pattern you currently know for a specific thing you want to achieve in life. Only searching, thinking and overanalyzing without any discipline and implementation is a big waste in life.
What you need is to have a system in place that works for you, but in addition to that, you should always be testing and trying new things in order to improve the system (and your behavioral patterns). Most of the time, you do small linear changes, but from time to time, you get disruptive ideas that can help you make a rapid change and get to a totally different level of operation (for example going from being an employee to being an investor etc.).
From observation to action
The second important part of immediate implementation is constantly adjusting strategy based on the feedback from an environment. The fact is that you’re part of a larger system and every single action of yours triggers a reaction from the environment. The environmental reaction can either (more or less) accelerate your motion or block it.
There are always forces that work to your advantage and to your disadvantage, but at the end of the day, what matters a lot are the final direction and the magnitude as a sum of all forces. The difference of progress when an environment supports your actions or blocks them can be enormous. Something doers always count into their strategy.
In business, there’s a saying that markets always win; markets as an example of one of the very important outside forces, besides legislation, politics, influencers, social trends, technological paradigms, and so on.
Ego is the only thing that really stands in your way of observing something happening in the environment and consequently adjusting your strategy and action. It’s hard not to be right, but the gap between the objective and subjective reality always exists. If you don’t accept that and you let your ego prevail, you build your actions only on untested assumptions and you should remember that wrong assumptions are the mother of all fuckups. The bigger the gap, the bigger the potential fuckup.
At the end of the day, it’s an easy choice. (1) You can act based on your assumptions and ego (“I can’t be wrong”), hoping that the gap between the objective and subjective reality isn’t too colossal or not even admitting to yourself that the gap could exist. Nevertheless, experience very clearly shows that it’s only a matter of time before you fuck something up in a big way because you rely on your personal interpretation too much.
It may feel good to be sure that you’re right and to stroke your ego with mantras like “my way or the highway”, but the pain after being wrong is then so much greater. The more you build your life strategy or business strategy or any other strategy based on your ego and untested assumptions, the bigger your ego gets (because you put all faith in it) and the more it hurts when the bubble bursts; and sooner or later it will burst, because nobody is right 100 % of time.
The second path you can take makes much more sense. (2) You know that your interpretation of the world is wrong and that there are big errors present. You know that your brain has very limited information and an even more limited capacity for processing captured information and that on top of that you are biased from many different angles. Even the collective brains’ processing power of outstanding teams is quite limited. You know there’s a big gap between the subjective (how you think things are) and the objective reality (how things really are).
Because you know all that, you consciously decide that you’re wrong (before you’re right). You list your assumptions but make baby steps to test them one by one. You regularly gather feedback from the environment and adjust your motion based on the feedback. You keep your vision or goal in mind, but stay totally agile on how you’ll achieve your goal.
That’s what “from observation to action” means. You have a system of gathering information from your environment based on every smaller or bigger action of yours, and you also decide on your next step based on the feedback you get from the environment. It may hurt your ego that some of your assumptions were wrong, but your awareness that you’re always wrong before you’re right has to be stronger and give you the courage to stay adaptable and continue with testing all the way until you have enough data to understand the objective reality as closely as possible and thus achieve your goal more easily. Sometimes better understanding the environment with testing (superior insights) enables you to achieve something you want.
Besides ego problems, the challenge to stay adaptable is also that much greater because of the following two factors:
- None of us like rapid changes and none of us like to change themselves rapidly because it hinders our sense of security and identity. But you can learn to like change. Being agile and adaptable means constantly changing yourself. Your mind has to be like air or plasma.
- In addition to that, we believe that bad things only happen to people on TV or far away from us. It’s not easy to admit that the world is a harder place to live in than it may seem at a first glance. That’s why we build naïve ideals we believe in, that’s why a change in an environment must be really colossal before we act (adjust) and consequently, we usually act too late.
Here are some classic examples:
- An industry you work in goes down, people start losing jobs, the future market outlook is very pessimistic, but you somehow hope everything will be alright without acting in any way. After a short period of time, you’re fired and mad as hell at the economy, politics etc.
- You see big behavioral changes in your partner (hiding their phone, staying late at work etc.), but you assume that your partner really couldn’t cheat on you because s/he is so special. After a few months, you’re shocked when your spouse tells you that s/he is leaving you.
- Your crush gives you signals that s/he likes you, but you don’t do anything, because you assume that if s/he would really like you, s/he would make the first step. Consequently, nothing happens but maybe you’ve just wasted the best potential relationship of your life.
- The same goes for your money, business relationships, health or any other area of life that’s interdependent and related to the outside environment.
Burying your head in the sand and hoping that something bad will go away or that luck will strike you somehow is naïve. Problems and changes are like monsters. You have to kill them when they’re small, because they only grow bigger and are harder to solve with time.
Therefore, to be more agile and adaptable, you must have shorter intervals of gathering and analyzing feedback from your environment and be regularly adjusting your strategy and action. Monthly adjusting intervals are probably okay, but weekly ones are even better, depending on which area of life we’re considering. You’re the captain of your life and you always have to observe what’s happening in your environment.
- You see your body fat percentage go up on a smart scale. That’s an observation that needs action in terms of diet and exercise.
- You noticed that your spouse is getting more and more moody. That’s an observation that needs action in terms of better communication, spending more loving time together, more lovemaking or whatever.
- You observe that your wealth manager is charging you bigger and bigger provisions while your returns are getting worse and worse. It’s an observation that needs immediate action, maybe by negotiating a better deal or changing your wealth manager or even starting to manage your money on your own.
- Have you read a book and got an idea for getting more productive? That’s a realization that needs to be tested and, if it works, immediately implemented into your life.
- You’ve noticed that you envy someone something? Good, that means you have a compass for what you want in life. Now study how that person got the thing you want and implement the insights into your life strategy.
- You have a friend that’s really good at making money, getting good grades, flirting or whatever. Observe how s/he does it, learn, and in the next second, test the same ideas and behavior yourself, adjusting them to your personal situation.
The key is that when you get an idea, when you experience an epiphany, when you acquire new knowledge or when you observe changes in your environment, you act as quickly as possible. You change how you behave, act, and where and how you invest your resources. Remember that you grow by doing things differently and you can’t grow if you only think and observe without acting.
Just do it is probably the best slogan ever, but you have to do it in a smart scientific way, regularly measuring your progress. Be inspired. Test and experiment and test. Implement and keep what works. Observe and adjust your actions based on observation and feedback. Be a doer, not a talker.