Embrace The Suck: What Jiu-Jitsu, Learning Guitar, And Exam IFM Has Taught Me About Life

“Wow! I suck.”

This statement is both thought and uttered often. Those with a growth mindset, who understand what it takes to continuously improve, embrace the idea. The moment that we think or believe “Wow! I’m awesome,” is when we stop improving. Our mindset becomes fixed, and we lose all forward momentum.

Exam IFM: Investment and Financial Markets, is one of many exams given by the Society of Actuaries that provide a path to becoming an Associate in the Society of Actuaries (ASA).  I’m taking this on November 20th and in the final stretch of my intense study.

Finishing a third mock exam through Coaching Actuaries, I found out I had did a little worse than the first two. This could potentially be defeating. However, I understood that the first mock exam was at an easier level, the second at a level higher, and the third even higher still. They keep increasing the difficulty, which makes it seem that you’re making no progress.

Jiu-Jitsu is very similar. Although the classes and the technique we learn is not getting any more difficult, each of my teammates are getting better and better at their technique, and stronger and stronger with each class.  When you roll with these teammates and they roll with you, it can really seem like we’re not getting any better.  The truth is we’re all getting better incrementally.

Embrace the suck.

What I mean by that is to embrace the illusion of your suckiness, because you are getting better.

In early August I began learning how to play the guitar using Justin Guitar. It has been going well. Earlier last week, however, was the lesson on the F chord. It felt like I had just picked up the guitar for the first time.

I embraced the suck, and persisted in getting my fingers in the right place. After several days, I’m still nowhere near being able to play the full F chord with the bass string. I’m playing the simpler version with 5 strings which is challenge enough.

What usually happens when I learn something new with the guitar each day, is that I learn about at least two things that I need to learn and practice.  To get a little mathematical now, that means that if we take that bare minimum value of only learning two new things that we don’t know each time we learn one new thing, then the amount of “things” we know that we don’t know will always be one greater than the amount of “things” we do know.

This, too, can be defeating. It can be even more defeating when we try and think about all the things that we don’t even know we don’t know.  Oh, my!

The same is true in jiu-jitsu. Each time I learn and begin practicing a technique, I learn about a few others that I will need to practice in the future. It never ends.

Embrace the suck.

In this case, I mean the illusion that you suck even more than you did previously since the quantity that you know you don’t know increases faster than the quantity that you do know.

Life in general is a series of these moments. Wow! We all really suck. You can let it stop you in your tracks, or you can embrace it and let it propel you to the next level.

I say we all embrace the suck, and level up.

The Power of a Daily Affirmation

Each of my mornings include a small amount of time to write down a daily affirmation three times. I wrote about this in my post An Example of Productivity. For convenience, I will write what once was my daily affirmation here again.

 I will become fluent in Norwegian, German, and Spanish, be able to play the guitar really well, and obtain a black belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu as well as ASA and ACAS certifications.

After writing this down three times each morning, I can’t help myself but reflect on my progress toward these goals. When you reflect each morning on your long term goals, you are more likely to make them a part of your day as much as you can.

I updated my affirmation a few weeks ago because I noticed a deficiency. It was July when I last made a batch of home brew.

Now, each morning, I write the following.

 I will become fluent in Norwegian, German, and Spanish, be able to play the guitar really well, make award winning beer, and obtain a black belt in BJJ as well as an ASA certification.

Upon writing that for several days in a row, and reflecting on how poorly I was doing on reaching the goal of making award winning beer, I brewed a porter on Sunday. I also learned something new about yeast re-hydration. Apparently, re-hydrating yeast more than 30 minutes before you’re going to pitch will cause some of the yeast to starve, so timing it so that you can pitch the yeast into your wort 20-30 minutes after you re-hydrate is best.

I’m thinking of yet another update to my affirmation! Each week, I sometimes struggle on what I want to write in this blog. By including it in a daily affirmation, I’ll be reflecting on it a little each morning!

Questions from Tim, Part II

Fall break was yesterday and today, giving my wife and me a 4 day weekend in which to celebrate our 8th anniversary (which was on 10/16).  Since we are traveling, I prepared some answers to Tim Ferriss’s questions he poses to many world class performers, millionaires and billionaires in his book, Tribe of Mentors.

In Questions from Tim, Part 1, I answered

  • What is the book (or books) you’ve given most as a gift, and why? Or what are one to three books that have greatly influenced your life?
  • In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?

For Part 2, I will tackle the following.

  • What purchase of $100 or less has most positively impacted your life in the last six months (or in recent memory)?
  • How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favorite failure” of yours?
  • What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made? (Could be an investment of money, time, energy, etc.)

What purchase of $100 or less has most positively impacted your life in the last six months (or in recent memory)? 

Purchases to commit to something or try something out for a while have been very rewarding!  I started jiu jitsu in late December of 2017, and was fortunately given the rest of December to see how it went before my coach began collecting monthly dues. Those monthly dues (under $100) have positively impacted my life for all of 2018.

Along those same lines, I have been using an app called Justin Guitar to learn guitar.  Once I got past Stage 2, there was an $8.99/month charge to continue through the stages of learning.  I did not balk at that and paid it immediately.  The value that this monthly fee will provide is far more than that price tag.

How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favorite failure” of yours? 

I can’t think of a favorite failure of mine, but the collection of all the failures I’ve made since I have identified the growth mindset (vs. the fixed mindset) described in detail in Carol Dweck’s book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, and since I’ve identified the idea of investment in loss described in Josh Waitzkin’s book, The Art of Learning. I’ve written about this in my previous blog post Seeking Failure.

Now, my failures are all very good learning tools, each failure presenting new techniques to learn and bad habits to avoid.  So, it is the collection of failures that all lead to further and further improvement, and therefore, success.

Failing Exam MLC through the Society of Actuaries the first time was a hard but important hit.  It really sucked to find out that I had not attained a level of mastery with the material in order to pass it.  Learning from this failure, and using the strong foundation I had already laid out for myself, I rebounded and passed on the next time around.

What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made? (Could be an investment of money, time, energy, etc.)

Investing my time in the constant pursuit of personal improvement and growth is definitely up there. We all know what it takes to be successful professionally and personally. However, we are not all good at actually doing those things we know to do. Recognizing this, admitting it to myself, and then investing my time and energy into finding out ways I can motivate myself to get things done has been extremely worthwhile.

I now invest my time into very selective reading. I invest time into scheduling my time, which at first glance may seem like a waste, but will in fact produce more time, amazingly.  This investment was slow at first, and, like a freight train, gained momentum and is speeding along nicely.

10,000 Hours of Purposeful Practice

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, he discusses the theory of 10,000 hours.  By examining several individuals that were considered the elite in their field of expertise, he was able to find that all of them had something in common. Over the course of each of these individual’s lives, they were able to devote a lot of their time, around 10,000 hours in fact, to their craft.

It isn’t just any kind of practice. In Peak: Secrets of the New Science of Expertise, by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool, they devote an entire chapter to The Power of Purposeful Practice. It is not just the 10,000 hours of practice, it is the 10,000 hours of purposeful practice that is important.

This is a LOT.

If you practice something 1 hour every day, it will take you 27.4 years to get to 10,000 hours.  That lowers to 18.3 years if practicing 1.5 hours every day, and down to 13.7 years if you practice 2 hours every day.  You need to practice about 2 hours and 45 minutes a day at something to reach 10000 hours in 10 years.

The average adult American watches television for 35.5 hours per week.  At this rate, it only takes us 5.4 years of purposeful watching to become an expert at watching television.

This is a huge reason why most conversations are dominated by talking about what is on TV or the recent movie.  We all seem to be experts.  For some, it means talking extensively about sports, and specifically, their favorite sports team.  For others, it means dissecting each episode of Game of Thrones.

If you could go back and trade just a small portion of all that TV watching for the purposeful practice of something would you? If yes, where would you be now?

Maybe you would be an expert in coding and software development.

Maybe you would be an expert small start-up investor.

Maybe you would be fluent in 2 or 3 languages.

Maybe you would be an expert piano, guitar, or drum player.

At this point in my life, I probably won’t reach 10000 hours in my language learning, guitar practice, or jiu-jitsu that I’ve recently taken on in my life.  However, there definitely won’t come a time when I wished I had traded all the hours that I will inevitably put into these new activities for some more TV or movie watching.

Questions from Tim, Part 1

There are 11 questions that Tim Ferriss poses to some of the best and brightest individuals in the world in his new book, Tribe of Mentors. Since I’m interested in hearing answers to these questions from individuals like myself (those that are not necessarily the best and brightest, but are driven toward achieving an extremely high level of happiness), I thought I would offer my answers to them!

Here are two from his list of 11.  I will return to these questions in future posts.

What is the book (or books) you’ve given most as a gift, and why? Or what are one to three books that have greatly influenced your life? 

I haven’t gifted many books so I’ll address the second question.

Deep Work by Cal Newport helped me focus more on the most important work that needs to get done. This book also helped me identify what type of situation is best for me to do deep work in.  It helped me carve out the time I needed to study for and pass an actuary exam.

The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt helped calm my aggressive and impatient mind, especially with those who do not see eye to eye with me on subjects like politics and religion. This book dives deep into the morals of individuals and how those are the forces behind many of our fervently held beliefs.

The Art of Learning by Joshua Waitzkin was read this year, and has yet to influence me on the scale that I believe it will. Both this book and Mindset by Carol Dweck have paved a path that I will most likely continue on for the remainder of my life.

The Primal Blueprint by Mark Sisson and Primal Endurance by the same author along with Brad Kearns were read in 2016 and 2017 respectively. These offer lifestyles that will stick with me to my dying day.  There is a wealth of information in these books on dieting and exercising that works.

Finally, I would also recommend reading highly recommended books from individuals on the opposite side of your spectrum. As an example, there are many recommendations to read Atlas Shrugged or The Fountainhead, both by Ayn Rand.  I was reluctant to pick either of these books up, but finally read Atlas Shrugged. While I would never recommend this book to anyone, I do think you should pick up something from the other side of the aisle from time to time.

In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?

This question easily stems from the first. I think there have been two new things that have happened around the same time that have significantly improved my life. They both come shortly after reading The Primal Blueprint in 2016, and then shortly after reading The Righteous Mind in 2017.

The first offered me a diet and lifestyle change that I am extremely happy with. It has been over 2 years that I’ve stuck closely with the diet (with some exceptions, of course –  you have to make it your own) and have had great results.  The diet/lifestyle is similar to a Paleo or Slow-Carb diet.

I finished the second book during my absence from Facebook.  I learned quite a bit from that absence, and talked about it in My Six Month Vacation from Facebook.  In a nutshell, I’m a much happier individual when I’m not trying to change people’s opinions in the incorrect way (via Facebook).