“When you work for others, you are at their mercy. They own your work; they own you. Your creative spirit is squashed. What keeps you in such positions is a fear of having to sink or swim on your own. Instead you should have a greater fear of what will happen to you if you remain dependent on others for power.”
Robert Greene (Author; The 50th Law)
“As a bee seeks nectar from all kinds of flowers, seek teachings everywhere. Like a deer that finds a quiet place to graze, seek seclusion to digest all that you have gathered. Like a mad one beyond all limits, go where you please and live like a lion completely free of all fear.”
HH Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche (Vajrayana Master and Poet)
“Don’t mistake movement for achievement. It’s easy to get faked out by being busy. The question is–busy doing what?”
Jim Rohn (Speaker; The Art of Exceptional Living)
The busier you are, the more average you become.
The small magnetic lab clock clicked. It was 1AM. I couldn’t remember what I was working on. But my boss was in the lab so I stayed pretending to be busy.
This is how most of my first year of graduate school went. I spent 18-hour days doing experiments and getting data that never got used. The thought of how much time I wasted doing mediocre work makes me cringe. That 80% of success is showing up quote by Woody Allen is a complete lie. What’s the use of showing up if you’re not actually doing anything that matters?
I made a similar mistake wrestling in high school and college. I thought busyness was the secret to success. I’d train all day long, half-exhausted, without ever giving myself time to grow or learn. Instead of watching my matches on tape and studying my opponents, I’d go to the gym to workout because that’s what I was comfortable with.
Growing up, I was constantly cramming my life with activities just to stay busy. And I wasn’t flexible at all. If I wanted to get something done, I would just attack it the same way over and over and over again. When I applied for my first real job, I just kept sending out resumes online. I sent out hundreds of resumes before finally changing my approach. Clicking send made me feel alive. Like I was doing something really productive.
Being busy always made me feel good. It was something I could brag about. I wore my busyness like a badge of honor on my chest and pointed to it when others asked me what I was up to. “How are things going?” they’d say. “Oh good, but I’m so busy!” That was always my self-righteous response. Like I was permanently in the middle of an airport traffic control tower directing planes. In reality, I was just repeating the same useless activities.
Defying Social Pressures
“I completely disagree. Having monthly evaluations is a horrible idea.” This is what one of my work friends said during a meeting with our boss. It was my first job out of graduate school and I had just started so I was blindly agreeing with whatever my new boss said.
In the meeting, the boss suggested that all employees be evaluated monthly instead of every 6 months. But it wasn’t really a suggestion. It was one of the pseudo-suggestions that started with “I really think this is a good idea…” but sounded like it was going to be done no matter what.
Everyone in the room nodded in agreement with my boss. Except my friend. He said it was a horrible idea because it would waste too much time and put negative pressure on the employees. Once he spoke up, a few other people spoke up too. They changed their minds and disagreed with my boss. What happened?
Liberation Through Defiance
Defiance liberates people from social pressure. The Solomon Asch experiment was first conducted in 1951 when Asch, the psychologist, brought together small groups of college students for a “visual perception study”. But instead of testing visual perception, the study was really testing the effects of conformity and social proof.
During the experiment, every student, except one, was a planted actor who knew the nature of the experiment. The actors were instructed to give incorrect answers to very simple questions that involved matching black lines on white cards. The real subject, who was the only one not aware of the real experiment, was asked each question after hearing the planted actors’ answers.
Again and again, the real subject knowingly answered incorrectly against clear visual evidence in order to fit in with the group. This is the equivalent of saying the sky is green just because four other people said it first. But that wasn’t the end of the overall experiment. The part you rarely hear about is that when another actor was planted in the group and instructed to provide a truthful answer in the face of a misleading majority, participants conformed much less.
In other words, all it took was one person to disagree with the majority to someone else from the social pressure they were feeling. This is the liberating power of defiance.
Defiance And Survival
Defiance is the antidote to abusive authority figures. The Milgram experiments were first conducted in the 1960′s by Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram. Milgram developed an intimidating shock generator, with shock levels starting at 30 volts and increasing all the way up to 450 volts.
Offering $4.50 in compensation, Milgram recruited 40 people for an experiment that involved the shock generator. Each participant took the role of a “teacher” who would then deliver a shock to the “student” every time an incorrect answer was given to a question. While the participant believed that he was delivering real shocks to the student, the student was actually a planted subject who was simply pretending to be shocked.
As the experiment progressed, the teacher would hear the student plead to be released or complain about a heart condition. Once the 300-volt level had been reached, the student banged on the wall and demanded to be released. Eventually, the student became completely silent (like he was dead). When this happened, a professionally dressed experimenter would instruct the teacher to treat the student’s silence as an incorrect response and increase the voltage. 65% of the participants in Milgram’s experiment delivered the maximum (lethal) shock to people. In other words, 6 out of 10 people will kill you if someone they see as a legit authority figure tells them to.
This wasn’t the end of the experiment. The less cited is the finding is that when the teacher was with two planted teachers who refused to go all the way, only 10% showed the full destructive obedience.
Elite, But Relaxed
If every day is a grind, you’re doing something wrong. We’ve all heard that mastering any skill, whether it’s business, surgery, playing the violin, or fencing, requires 10,000 hours of practice. What you may not have heard is that this practice is best done in short bursts, not in long, drawn out days.
Studies have shown over and over again that the key difference between elite versus average performers is the number of hours these performers spend on deliberate practice–the uncomfortable, methodical work of stretching your ability to do execute a skill. Elite performers deliberately practice three times longer than average performers. That’s not the surprising part.
The surprising part is that the average performers worked more hours overall. When researchers compared the average time both sets of performers spent working versus the waking hours of the day, they found that average performers spread their work throughout the day. The elite performers, however, consolidated their work into short bursts. These performers’ working time versus waking time charts showed two sharp peaks–one in the morning and one in the afternoon. They spend more time in deliberate practice but only worked an average of 3.5 hours a day. The rest of the time was spent on leisure, relaxation, and recovery.
Two Signs You’re Average
There’s a right way and a wrong way to live. Feeling constantly rushed and weighed down by other people’s demands and expectations is the wrong way to live. No one ever sat on their deathbed wishing they would have been busier doing things that didn’t really matter. No one ever came to the end of their days praying for more time to be bossed around by others. The only way to rise above mediocrity is to stop being busy and to stop letting others boss you around. Otherwise, you’ll always be average. Here’s why:
1. You’re Crazy Busy All The Time
People who brag about being busy will always be average. They will never accomplish anything great or leave a legacy behind them. These people brag about busyness because nothing else in their lives is worth talking about.
Being busy does not lead to achievement or fulfillment. Just the opposite. Busyness prevents achievement and fulfillment. If you’re so busy that you don’t have time to breath, you’re wasting your life. You’ll never get anywhere in life without taking time for yourself, without taking time to sit down, look ahead, and see where you’re going.
Busy people don’t make things happen. Things just happen to them. Most people, when asked how they got into their current career or current relationship, respond with “I don’t know, it just kind of happened.” These people fall into their careers and relationships. Life just happens to them.
Productivity should be your goal, not busyness. The problem is being busy feels so good. The human brain loves feeling busy. You get a dopamine rush every time you cross off an item from your to-do list. It doesn’t matter if the item you’re crossing off is important or not, you still get a rush. On top of this, telling others that you’re busy is an ego boost. It makes you feel important. Busyness is a drug and the only way to get off of it is to start obsessing with results.
What’s the result of what you’re doing? What’s the outcome? Is there any value in spending the next 8 hours on some project your boss wants you to do or 4 hours at some even that your family or friends want you to go to? Will either of these things bring you closer to your goals? If the answer is no, then say “no.” You only have a set amount of mental energy to spend each day so you better start protecting it.
Everyone has work to do. The key is dividing this work up into discrete units of time. Divvy up your day into short bursts of extremely focused, result-oriented activities and batch these activities together as much as possible. Stop feeling obligated to attend every event. Stop feeling guilty for saying “no” to controlling people. Stop craving the dopamine rush of being busy. Put down the crack pipe. Instead, start living outcome-minded. Start chasing results and a living a life that will take you closer to your real goals.
2. You Let Others Boss You Around
You can either set your own agenda for your life or you can follow someone else’s agenda for your life. The choice is up to you.
The above Milgram experiments showed that most people are wired to follow orders blindly. Other experiments have confirmed this. For example, whether you have a flock of 200 sheep or a group of 200 people together, you only need to get 5% of the members moving in a particular direction for the rest of the flock or group to follow without knowing why.
This sheep mindset is your brain’s default mindset and it’s what you have to actively work against every day if you want to be successful. The only way to stop thinking and acting like a sheep is to stop letting others boss you around. This means setting firm boundaries with people and continuing to express your creativity and individuality no matter how much resistance you get. The problem is that creativity and individuality are commonly rejected by others.
Why do so many bosses tell you they want you to openly express your ideas during a meeting but then shoot down your ideas or make you feel uncomfortable when you finally do express them? Why does the person you’re in a relationship with tell you they want you to communicate more but when you do, they act hurt or rejected and try to make you feel guilty for what you communicated?
Studies show that most people have a negative bias toward creativity. Most people act like they want you to express yourself openly but, in reality, they don’t. These people celebrate creative individuals as heroes with their words but undermine and reject creative individuals with their actions.
The majority of the population is risk adverse. They’ve created a habit of conforming and will do whatever it takes to avoid shaking things up even if it means rejecting a good idea. The only way to rise above mediocrity in your life is to fight against these people. Stop trying to fit in with them. Stop feeling guilty just because your good ideas make other people feel uncomfortable. When you have a good idea, express it, no matter the consequences.
Rise Above Mediocrity
If you want to be average, run around all day in a false sense of busyness. Stay unfocused and only half-concentrated on whatever you’re doing at the time. Worry constantly. Plan for the worst. Try to fit in, let others boss you around, and say “yes” to everything.
If you want to stand out–if you want to get ahead and achieve worthwhile goals–get focused. Divide your day into short bursts. Stop letting other people walk all over you. Stop fitting in. Start saying “no” and start putting yourself first.
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