Your Direction Is More Important than Your Speed
Welcome to Self-Mastery — a place for exploring timeless ideas to become the architect of your mind, create yourself, and do less, better.
“Instead of asking how many tasks you can tackle given your working hours, ask how many you can ditch given what you must do to excel.”
— Morten Hansen
In an interview that took place before he died, Avicii gave his opinion on reaching success, which addressed a crucial problem.
Often, we’re far too brash about how long our goals might take. Like I used to be. I used to think and live as if I so desperately wanted to reach the finish line of my goals—as if I was running away from something. Perhaps, my fears in the life I once had. However, what Tim Berglin said in this interview was so simple yet resonating, it cleared the fog in my mind blinding me from how we truly should envision the journey to our goals. Here’s what was said.
“I have to ask, though, do you have any idea which songs are going to break out?” asked the interviewer.
“Honestly, no”, Tim replied. “I used to think if I really liked a song, then the crowd would love it too. Now, I’ve learnt that there’s no way to tell what will be a huge hit and what won’t. But I mean… I wouldn’t finish the song if I didn’t like it. So I make the songs, and after that, it’s up to fate”.
This response encapsulates the common cause of success. You don’t predict when it will happen, nor do you rush to get to it. When it comes to succeeding at something great, it’s about the repetitions of the work you love, no matter long it takes.
You don’t know what will be a hit, but you know it only takes one piece, one song or one message to change your life. So, because you love what you do, you carry on regardless.
Ed Sheeran was the same. Whilst working his way up, when he wasn’t as popular as he is now, he wrote one song a day and sometimes performed up to three gigs a day for years. In the beginning, his singing voice was terrible, and his lyrics were dire. But it didn’t matter how bad his songs were or what little attention he had; he loved his direction. And so he never stopped doing the work—no matter how long it would take for success to come.
Ed Sheeran admitted he came to an eventual crossroad of whether he would commit to the path of 100 percent music and singing or 100 percent acting and dancing. It all came down to whether he got the part for a big acting gig. He didn’t get the part. So he chose music. And now, some of his songs have attracted over 2-3 billion views.
Fate and time are powerful dictators. People who have done what we’re trying to do know this. I’ve learnt this over the past year. The goals that matter, the ones that stick around, are not outcome-based; they are process-based.
They’re not the ones that make you say: “I want to earn £1 million in the next 5 years or before I’m X years old”. Or “I want to be the best in the world at this”. The best goals, the ones that will help you get to meaningful places, are ones that make you focus on progress and consistency.
They’re the ones that say, “I want to work out twice every week; I want to create one logo every day; I want to do one kind thing for someone else each week.” They keep you focused on the commitments of today, so your future will be forever rewarded.
My first writing goal was to write 100 blog posts in 2020. This wasn’t a good goal because it caused me to focus on speed, not direction. I could write 100 blog posts in half a year. Then what? It didn’t encourage me to be consistent or analyse anything—I just had to reach this arbitrary result.
I ended up thrashing through my progress to quickly get to 100 as it was all I cared about. Then I lost motivation and sometimes stopped writing for weeks at a time.
Eventually, I learnt about process-based goal setting. So I changed my goal from “Write 100 blog posts in 2020” to “Write 3 blog posts a week.” This was 10x better for two reasons:
I stopped caring about the big number and the outcome.
My rate of improvement still increased at a smooth yet blistering pace.
I surpassed 100 blog posts without even realising. All because I made a small and simple shift to focus on consistency and commitment over outcomes.
It taught me to enjoy what I was doing, love it and take it in slowly, so I could soak in the journey and the fact I was moving in the right direction. I felt incentivised to keep hitting the “Publish” button on Medium, and I loved watching my writing improve, piece-by-piece.
Velocity and speed are different things. Speed is the distance traveled over time. I can run around in circles with a lot of speed and cover several miles that way, but I’m not getting anywhere. Velocity measures displacement. It’s direction-aware. A lot of people think in terms of one dimension (speed). Almost all of those people are passed by people who think in multiple dimensions (velocity).
Many people forget we need to be crystal clear in our direction. Clear with what we want to do with our lives. Otherwise, it’s like swimming through murky water, with no clear sight of the end but hoping we’ll end up somewhere nice.
We care more about the speed at which we make progress than the direction in which that progress is taking us. I was affixed to the idea of writing 100 blog posts without a clear reason why. And I throttled my drive without any true stability or consistency.
It’s like what we do when we embark on a 6-week fitness regime. We feel driven to keep up with everyone and push ourselves to achieve our ideal figure. But we fail to reinforce any meaningful habits because it’s a short span of time. So, we finish the programme, but we go back to the way we were.
To move in the right direction, with the right amount of speed in life, learn to say yes to a few things while saying no to a hundred other things. Create a mindset that knows the difference between speed and velocity. And align your actions with your thoughts.
Here are three ways to help you do that:
Ruthlessly shave unnecessary tasks, priorities, meetings and nonsense. Put your effort and energy into things that matter—nothing else.
Don’t rely on your willpower to say no. Create systems to help fend off distractions. Develop automatic behaviour using habits that encourage you to pick healthier choices during the day. Set standards and constraints. Stick to them until they are second-nature. Block unnecessary meetings and email checks. Time-block your work. “Punish” yourself with a long walk to the shops if you really want junk food; reward yourself for the good work and behaviours you do.
Learn to be comfortable with saying no. Whether it’s to yourself or other people. Put your time back into your hands. And don’t let anyone try to make you feel bad about it.
Once you know your direction, lower the sails. Let nature guide you and keep rowing. No matter the storm or strong winds. When you’re going the right way, just be prepared for what’s to come and keep moving forward.
What’s on My Mind
There are several new readers this week, and I’d just like to say thank you. This has been arguably the best week I’ve had since I started writing.
Last Sunday, in my previous newsletter, I shared a piece I wrote on core training—what I specialise in—and included a link to my first ever eBook: The Core Book. I only expected, perhaps, a handful of people to see it or care. I was happy with 1 or 2 claps and one response from a friendly reader.
Medium decided to distribute it further. And now, at the time of writing, it has 20 thousand views. It’s done better than anything I’ve published online. And my eBook went from my first ever sale (which left me amazed) to 36 sales! If one sale left me gobsmacked, you could imagine what 36 sales did to me.
I didn’t realise how many people cared for what I love writing about. And it’s created the best success I’ve seen in my first year of writing. I don’t want to get carried away, but It’s just made this year for me.
I really appreciate it. And I hope it’s just the beginning.
“Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you are right.”
— Henry Ford
Article of the Week
This week’s article is on something called your rate of innovation. Elon Musk’s secret weapon. In other words, “How quickly are you improving in your life?”. This fundamental question helps us understand where exactly there is room for improvement.
Interesting Thing of the Week
The motto of excelling at any creative work by Dave Perell and Jack Butcher. When you start creating things, you want to publish what you create all the time. Doing so gives you feedback, accountability and signals that help you improve over time. “Imitate, then innovate”.
Question of the Week
What are you most looking forward to this year?
Your support has been out of this world. Have an amazing week.