It’s Like Going Into An Exam
In the “In Search of Greatness” documentary, Wayne Gretzky says that nobody studied the game of hockey like he studied the game of hockey. “As a player,” he says, “each and every night, I watched every game. I could tell you who was playing well in January, how many points each and every guy had in the league, who was physically hard to play against. I studied it all.” When later asked to describe how he felt in the locker room before a big game, “I was relaxed,” he said. “I never worried about it. It was like my dad always says, ‘it’s like going into an exam.’ If you study for your exam, you get to that exam and you’re like, ‘alright where is it?’ The kids who were nervous were the ones who didn’t study for the exam…By the time game time came around, that was the easy part.” (File next to or below: The Origins of Calmness).
The Correlation Between Output Quality and Process Mood
Seventeen months after their album Nevermind became the No. 1 album in the world and brought Nirvana a global audience, the band got to work on what would be their third and final album, In Utero. Two months earlier, the band’s three members received a letter from audio engineer Steve Albini. In his pitch to produce In Utero, Albini spelled out “my methodology and philosophy.” Albini brings to mind Sam Altman and the good-mood productivity hack when he writes, “I have worked on hundreds of records (some great, some good, some horrible, a lot in the courtyard), and I have seen a direct correlation between the quality of the end result and the mood of the band throughout the process.” I quote Voltaire again: “The most important decision you make is to be in a good mood.”
The Best Filet Needs No Sauce
Staying on the topic of production and editorial philosophies, filmmaker Casey Neistat once explained his “general ideology” to a younger filmmaker. Essentially, Neistat likes his edited videos to look like they’re not edited. “I don’t like filters, color correction, transitions, digital effects, fancy font treatments or titles,” he writes. “I think they’re cheap and easy…They’re not a demonstration of creativity but something prepackaged.” Whereas younger creators aspire to make their videos look like what is seen on TV, Neistat says he aspires to be like the very best steak houses. “Expressing creativity using the most basic, accessible methods is the hardest thing to do and the purest. The very best steak houses serve their filet on a plate with nothing else. Shitty franchises cover theirs in sauce and other shit to distract you from the fact that you’re eating dog food.”
Procrastination: A Voice From Our Paleolithic Past
One of the reasons we Homo sapiens survived and other species of human didn’t because of one crucial Homo sapiens’ adaptation: complex planning. This is unique to our human brain: it can come up with a plan or an idea, then it can think about it abstractly, then it can evaluate if it’s going to be successful or not, then it can decide to put energy/motivation into it or not. The example Cal Newport always uses: the caveman has the idea to charge the mammoth and jump on its back and bash in its head with a rock. The brain goes, I don’t think that’s a reasonable plan, so I’m not going to make you feel motivated to do that. Then the caveman has the idea to sharpen a spear and throw it at the mammoth from a distance. The brain goes, I believe that could work, I’ll put some motivation behind that. This still happens today. When you have some sort of busy work on your plate, until you feel like there is a threat—e.g. if I don’t get this done today, my boss is going to yell at me—of negative consequences, it can be hard to get the motivation. When you come up with some ambitious but arbitrary self-development initiative—e.g. I’m going to get up at 4:30 am every morning and work on my novel before work—it can be hard to sustain the motivation. Cal’s theory of procrastination is that when you procrastinate, your brain is calling you out. It believes that your idea or your plan is as unreasonable or haphazard an idea or plan as charging the mammoth with a rock. It is not convinced that the effort will lead to something positive in the future. So “procrastination is not a character flaw but instead a finely-tuned evolutionary adaptation,” Cal writes. “You shouldn’t lament procrastination, but instead listen to it. Treat it as a sign…[as] a constructive source of criticism — a voice from our paleolithic past telling us that although it likes our goals, we need to put a little bit more thought into how we’re going to get there.” If you want motivation or discipline or energy, convince your brain. That what you’re trying to accomplish is important. And that you have the right plan for accomplishing it. (For more from Cal: Crafting A Deep Life: Career, Work, and Life Rules From Techno-Philosopher Cal Newport).
A friend of SIX at 6 sent me this short video about The Curious Case of Kip Fulks. Fulks cofounded Under Armour and grew it to over $50 billion in sales. In college, he was walk on turned scholarship lacrosse player at perennial power Maryland (and then played professionally for ten years). He now owns and operates Big Truck Farms and Brewery where he has learned from scratch how to craft beer. The thread running through Fulks outsized successes: doing less, better. Also an avid bow hunter, Fulks analogizes it to bow hunting. If you’re thinking about anything but the monster bull at 50 yards, he says, “you mess something up.” “Go deep,” he says. “Don’t do anything else—that’s my point. If I would have stopped along the way and said, ‘oh I want to be a stockbroker,’ or, ‘I want to learn how to kite surf’—no I don’t have fucking time for any of that shit. I had to learn how to brew and grow hops. So for the last seven years, that’s all I’ve been doing…If you’re struggling in life, I ask you if you have consistency.” (File next to or below: Progress is a Magnitude of Consistency).
Play The Infinite Game
Watching the Fulks video, I thought of this line from Finite and Infinite Games: “An infinite player does not begin working for the purpose of filling up a period of time with work, but for the purpose of filling work with time. Work is not an infinite player’s way of passing time, but of engendering possibility.” I first came across that line in a newsletter sent out by Nat Eliason. “It beautifully captures two kinds of work,” Nat writes. “Work you must do to fill some expected quota of output. Work you want to do and thus put more time into.” Nat goes on to propose that one’s goal should not be to be more productive. One’s goal should be to get to a place where one does not think about Productivity—how to get more done in less time. “As a simpler analogy, no one would argue you should try to be more productive at playing with your child, walking your dog, or cooking dinner with friends,” he writes. “Those are all activities we enjoy filling with time and so should not be attempting to minimize the time they take.” The Fulks’ of the world resonate as we watch them fill what they work on with time. “I wasn’t that good at lacrosse,” Fulks says. “I just didn’t stop.” He just didn’t care how much time it took to get good. He was playing the infinite game.