Focus On Fundamentals Before Chasing Marginal Gains

Coming into this weekend I was pretty burnt out. In addition to writing almost everyday for a month I was also going to school 40 hours per week, practicing two hours per day for my upcoming variety show performance, doing maintenance work in the gym, and attempting to immerse myself in the Spanish language.

I could feel myself slowly running out of energy, and I knew I had to do something to get the gears running smoothly once again. I thought about researching some new productivity ideas, or lifestyle strategies that may have allowed me to prolong my run.

What happened instead was some friends invited me to go watch the Kentucky vs Wisconsin basketball game. I was in a completely anti-social mood, and lacked any degree of social momentum. However, I’d been grinding for several weeks so I decided to go anyway.

I was in a weird haze for the first half of the night, and had difficulty maintaining any level of conversation. People would ask me questions, and I’d give them one word response before immediately turning myself back towards the television.

I didn’t even care about the game either. The only reason I went to the party was to socialize, and get out of the haze I’d been in all day. Towards the end of the night, perhaps aided by my sleep deprivation I began making jokes, and enjoying myself.

On one level it was too late as the party had already died, and we were getting ready to leave. However, on another level those 3.5 hours of sitting awkwardly before finally pushing myself into a social mood was exactly what I needed.

Despite last night being a late one and getting lousy rest because of it, I feel better than I’ve felt in a long time. I’ve been a lot more social today as well, and I’ve effectively put myself into an upward spiral both socially and in general.

It’s interesting, however, because despite knowing I’d feel better after socializing I was reluctant to go out. I see this tendency in lots of other people as well. They prioritize the search of obscure tactics, and magic pill solutions over simply focusing on the fundamentals.

They research “Super Foods” before eliminating highly processed foods, and establishing a balanced diet in general. They research the ideal weightlifting program, and refuse to begin exercising until they’ve found it.

They become victims to complete analysis paralysis. They get stuck in an endless mental circle jerk. One that’s extremely difficult to escape.

As Sebastian Marshall recently wrote on his blog, there’s a lot of power in marginal gains. If meditating in nature provides me an additional 3% productivity boost over meditating indoors that’s certainly a change I should implement.

However, indoor meditation may provide me a 15% productivity boost over not meditating at all. Obviously meditating in nature is better even if this is the case, but you’ll probably never even think to meditate in nature if you don’t first commit to meditating in general.

Again, marginal gains can produce significant results when compounded over time, but these gains should only be pursued when you’ve already taken advantage of the processes that can consistently produce significant results over a short period of time.

Don’t get stuck in an endless mental circle jerk. Focus first on what you know will produce significant results, and only after you’ve implemented what you already know should you then partition your focus chasing those off the wall solutions that will produce marginal gains.


Post written last weekend, just a little behind in publishing.

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