Monday, March 31, 2008

The Regular Guy and Nonlinear Progress

I'm just a regular guy. A regular highly competitive emotionally driven guy. And as I'm writing this blog, I am finally realizing that our extraordinary dreams progress nonlinearly (meaning the road to the top is not a straight line.) This is a big challenge for us regular guys. Do you have the mental stamina to make it through nonlinearities (ups and downs)? How do you stay focused and committed to the impossible goals? Most people give up before the rewards. But why?

We struggle with nonlinearities because our brains prefer to think in linear terms. For instance, if you train everyday, then you expect to get faster in proportion to the number of hours you put in. "But reality rarely gives us the privilege of positive progression." Often we train very hard for weeks, months, and years and may only see incremental improvement, if any. But then if you are not disheartened and continue to persist, suddenly you'll reach that tipping point, your payday. Malcolm Gladwell's ketchup bottle story simply summarizes the fundamental nonlinearity of everyday life: We tap the bottom end of a ketchup bottle, and nothing happens, we tap and tap..."None will come and then the lot'll." Just like in life, you try, and try, and try some more, and nothing happens. But if you don't become demoralized, and truly persist, then maybe you might be lucky enough to cash in!

But most people can't see it through the end (what ever the end maybe). I think the way our minds are wired makes a big difference. Some can handle nonlinearities better than others. There is a neural and success correlation.

A little more dope please? When failure presents itself we get less doped. I mean our dopamine system drops if our expectations are not met. Our pleasure brain system is somewhat like the stock market. It monitors how we do relative to the expectations. If we don't meet 'market' expectation then our brain produces less of the pleasure neurotransmitters and you end up feeling down. And it's even worse when you succeed early then the expectations become larger - (phenom challenge). The paradox of success is that it takes more and more success to fuel the brain and the inverse is true, failure is exacerbated. "Our minds are like inmates, captive to our biology, unless we manage a cunning escape."

I know of a friend who accomplished a lot in cycling in such a short period. She started racing after doing the Aids Ride and quickly got hooked. She upgraded to a Cat2 in less than 2 yrs. And for a while it seemed that success was linear. Then she got an expensive coach, made the commitment to train harder and longer, and made the necessary financial and personal sacrifices with the belief that if she puts in the work then she would be rewarded with a proportionate amount of results. Unfortunately, success maybe more opaque than we think it is. We know what we put in: hard work with our eyes firmly focused on our powermeters. But what comes out is not always clearly evident sensational success. After 2 years of spinning her wheels, frustrated, and demoralized, she quit racing altogether. It's a shame because I think she could have eventually achieved her goal. But like many of us, who've tasted defeat once too often, it becomes increasingly difficult to stay on course.

According to researchers who study hedonic happiness. "Making $1M one year, but nothing in the preceding nine, does not bring the same pleasures as having the total evenly distributed over the same period, that is, $100,000 every year for ten years in a row. The same applies to the inverse order - making a bundle the first year, then nothing for the remaining period. Somehow, your pleasure systems will be saturated rather quickly, and it will not carry forward the hedonic balance like a sum on a tax return. As a matter of fact, your happiness depends more on the number of instances of positive feelings than on their intensity when they hit. "

In other words, you need small wins consistently. But how do you achieve this when the path to the extraordinary is nonlinear? What do you suggest? I've thought about this a lot and read a lot on neuroscience ,psychology, and philosophy.

"When the little guy doesn't know he's the little guy, he can do great things." Unfortunately, the brain is not fooled too easily. Nonetheless, I believe that a regular guy can achieve great things if he can have the right mental model to deal with nonlinearities. I'm in the process of writing a book and I want to hear your stories of nonlinear progression and how you dealt with the ups and downs as you continue to chase your dreams. Email me at THANKS!

1 comment:

fleming09 said...

Hi i just want to let u know that this blog is awesome. i came across it looking up random quotes and after reading your blog i had to print it out and put it in my football play book along with other quotes and inspirational things. i hope you dont mind. I just want to say once again that this blog was great while reading it i wanted to get up and go work out or practice. it fired me up and let me know that just because i am little or people tell me i cant that i can. i have always proven them wrong. now i am in college playing football and running track and i have to prove myself yet again and your blog fired me up to do it so i just want to say thank you