. . . if you choose to win at tennis – as opposed to having a good time – the strategy for winning is to avoid mistakes. The way to avoid mistakes is to be conservative and keep the ball in play, letting the other fellow have plenty of room in which to blunder his way to defeat, because he, being an amateur will play a losing game and not know it.
– Simon Ramo, Extraordinary Tennis Ordinary Players
This is a post about a philosophy that got me out of programming hopping mode. Obsession mode. Shiny object syndrome mode.
It’s a philosophy even Warren Buffet has talked about. It goes beyond training or nutrition.
When someone looks you in the eye and says, “Breathe.” And you actually stop and think for a second. You think about how many breaths you take without thought. And you hate yourself for being so ungrateful. But then. Then. You think about breathing. Just one time. You slow your inhale. Slow your exhale even more.
Then everything about you — about life — seems alright. Like it makes sense.
There’s a scale. Failure lives on the negative end. Success lives on the positive end.
This is how I saw everything. You’re either failing or you’re succeeding. You’re either getting worse or you’re getting better. Because the human mind loves dichotomies and opposites. Why does everything exist in opposites? I DON’T GET THE COSMIC JOKE, DEEPAK.
But there’s a third marker on the scale. It’s right in the middle.
Otherwise said, not failing. Which is different than both winning and losing.
If you’re like my old self, you shoot for the win. You want to know what to eat in order to win. How to train in order to win. The stakes climb. It’s a version of the Nurf Curse. It’s winnning . . . or nothing.
But guaranteeing a win within the human body isn’t easy. (Not a smart bet.) Because experience doesn’t equal effect. I get teary eyed and butterflies in my stomach when Goku turns Super Saiyan. You watch it and say, “Really? How can you enjoy this dumb cartoon?”
From a binary “experience” standpoint, we’ve both log the / YES / . But on the inside? Totally different things are happening. I called this sight beyond sight in the past. It’s the sticky romantic part of the human condition.
And yes. It matters. Because you’re a human being with a ton of romance. You have fears and emotions. Your own personality.
Predicting how your insides go ’round isn’t easy. But that’s what you do when you’re all about winning.
I don’t predict much anymore. I just let my body do what it can do . . . because I’m not in the high stakes atmosphere of winning. I’m in the much-more-tolerable land of not failing.
The difference? Take this example from Warren Buffet given in this book.
“He gave us a quiz,” Buffett said, “A true-false quiz. And there were all these guys who were very smart. He told us ahead of time that half were true and half were false. There were 20 questions. Most of us got less than 10 right. If we’d marked every one true or every one false, we would have gotten 10 right.”
The wormhole to this land = asking this question as often as you can:
Can I get worse?
Every decision you make, answer.
So take the front lever. You can wrap your face in all types of different exercises . . . without actually training the front lever. But what if you just took two or three days each week and trained a front lever progression within your means for a reasonable workload.
Can I get worse?
What about building muscle? High reps? Low reps? How many exercises?
I never saw anyone that uses strength training (barbell, free-weight, bodyweight) as a religion end up with smaller, weaker muscles.
So maybe, if you want to build muscle, you ditch the win mentality. Don’t think about building muscle. Instead, think about not losing any muscle you already have.
Can I get worse?
And instead of doing ten billion arm exercises, you realize that you probably only need to do one exercise in order to not get worse. So that’s where you start. Go to the gym, do the work, and tap into the romantic. Make it a religion. With just that one exercise.
Getting stronger? Fretting about loading schemes? Getting injured trying to max out all the time?
Maybe you pick a weight you can do that’s an 8/10 on the effort scale. You goal is to hit that weight as often as you can with the mentality of making it easier over time.
Do you think you’d get weaker doing that?
I’m making this sound like common sense. It’s not. Unless common sense takes eight years to not only discover, but also use. (It might.) I’ve done some work to know what’s Good(er) and True(r). Lindy is always a good starting point.
But it’s not fool proof.
Oh boy! If I just go practice the handstand every day . . . can I get worse? Anthony says, “NO!” Awesome! That’s what I’ll do!
But if you have poop technique and you practice poop technique often? You’ll have a brown mess all over your hands.
So yes. You can get worse. Which is why you have to consider more than a binary Y/N qualifier. Where’s the romance, bro?
And more importantly . . . what about getting better? If you don’t care about getting better, how do you get better?
Injuries killed my progress most over the years. I’d work up to some pinnacle, push, push, push. Push some more. Because it was all about winning. Then poof. I’d be back at the beginning. Broken. With even more pressure to get better.
I have to get all the way back to where I was . . . overnight!
But when it’s all about saving face? Breaking even? You can do less sometimes. Without hating yourself.
I’ve never gotten worse when trying to break even. But I have gotten better. And it happens often. With time, of course.
So when you hit a point where the absolute worst thing that happens is nothing? Then you’re on your way to everything.
I didn’t find this philosophy one day. I created it myself. Or, at least, I thought I did. After fretting about programs and exercises and the typical problems an over-thinker like myself have. Evidently, I’m not as smart as I thought I was. More people have written about it.
1. Thanks to Farnam Street for compiling this, which I borrowed from.
2. James Clear also wrote something similar you can read here.