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Prompted: Approach is Everything
What are you optimizing for?
Good afternoon. I hope you had a great weekend!
The same way we all have 24 hours in a day, we all have to wake up, brush our teeth, eat breakfast, go to work, etc. Zoom out far enough and we all look pretty similar, but today’s newsletter investigates the differences in how we do those things.
I hope you get value from this and as always, thanks for reading!
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It isn’t what you do, but how you do it.
- John Wooden
Approach is Everything
There are many paths to achieving a great life. With so many options, what we do doesn’t matter nearly as much as how we do it. There is no checklist that guarantees you’ll build the life that you want, but people from all walks of life have built meaningful lives focusing not on what they are doing, but on the purpose and goal behind everything that they do.
We can agree that some things are inherently good like exercise, meditation, reading, and caring for others. Most of us would do pretty well if we prioritized these every day, but how we approach them makes defines the outcome we can expect.
Are we reading because we’re trying to finish 20 books in a year or reading because we want to understand a new subject? We can read the same book, but the outcome will be different depending on our approach.
For most of us, life is almost entirely on auto-pilot. We move from one activity to the next without stopping to think about how we’re approaching something or why we’re doing it.
At our worst, we don’t even consciously decide what we’re going to do. Instead, we wake up and float through the day doing whatever feels good from moment to moment.
If we consciously choose to invest our time in worthwhile pursuits we’ll be better off than if we relied on the unconscious mind to decide our fate, but approaching everything we do with a specific end in mind can supercharge the outcomes.
Working out is great, but approaching it with a specific intention (like losing weight, building muscle, or completing a race) turns exercise into training. Without intentionally deciding how we approach something, it’s no better than checking a box on a sheet of paper. A specific goal creates meaningful impact from actions that are otherwise a mundane piece of our daily routine.
We admire people who are able to keep their goals top of mind and optimize for them in everything they do. Monks live in extreme conditions to optimize for clarity and stillness, athletes dedicate their lives to their sport and their body, and activists devote their lives to a cause. Everything they do is optimized for their end goal.
They know what they are hoping to accomplish and not only prioritize activities that move them closer to that goal, but optimize everything they do to serve their larger purpose.
We all plow through 16-18 hours of life every day, but how many times do we stop to ask what we’re optimizing for in everyday activities says about what kind of life we’re building?
What am I optimizing for with everything I do in a day? For example, am I optimizing for speed/convenience when eating breakfast or I am fueling for the day?
Are there 1 or 2 recurring themes I’m optimizing for throughout different activities?
What point of optimization would make the biggest positive difference in my life?
“In the simplest case, an optimization problem consists of maximizing or minimizing a real function by systematically choosing input values from within an allowed set and computing the value of the function”
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Thanks for reading! I’ll see you next Sunday.