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.

An Example of Productivity

My calendar from last week

At the beginning of each week, I try and set my calendar as much as I can for the entire upcoming week leaving quite a bit of room for flexibility and unforeseen events that pop up.

Much of my calendar is easy to put together, as a lot of my day to day activities are non-negotiable.

Non-negotiable Activities

Upon waking up without an alarm somewhere in the vicinity of 6 AM, I sit on a chair close to my bed and go through a morning wake-up routine.  First, I write the following affirmation down three times in a small notebook.

 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.

Some of these goals are extremely lofty, and if met, will take 12-20 years.  Others, like the ASA (Associate of the Society of Actuaries) and ACAS (Associate of the Casualty Actuary Society), I may be able to accomplish within the next 3-5 years.

I began writing this affirmation down each morning a few weeks before I even had a guitar in my possession.  Writing it down each morning, however, finally gave me the inspiration to start whatever process would eventually lead to making this affirmation true. I finally asked to borrow a friend’s guitar for a while.

After writing this affirmation, I then read a small section out of a book that has small tidbits of wisdom. Currently, I read an individual mentor’s contribution to Tim Ferriss’s book, Tribe of Mentors, followed by a verse or two out of Tao Te Ching by Lao Tsu.

Now that you’ve read my affirmation, my non-negotiable activities are easy to identify. I schedule many hours a week studying for the IFM exam, which I am scheduled to take in November and will help me get one step closer to both ASA and ACAS certifications. I attend Brazilian jiu jitsu (BJJ) class 2-3 times a week usually. Last week it was scheduled only once because of a bum shoulder. You’ll also notice guitar practice and language learning scheduled every evening.  As Duolingo will constantly remind you now, language is best learned right before bed.

Writing this blog has become important to me, as I love writing and want to continuously improve.  Recently, I purchased a book on writing (Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott) that I’m looking forward to reading and applying.

Obviously, all of my job related activities (class, office hours, meetings) are also non-negotiable, along with eating a breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Negotiable Activities

If I get two classes of BJJ in during the week, that is sufficient exercise if I cannot get anything else in. However, it is ideal that I fit in 1-2 hours on each of another 3 days during the week with some type of workout. That might be weight training, biking, or running.

I love reading, so I try to schedule some leisure time in for reading each night.  Since I also “read” audio books, I get a little reading in each day simply by walking to and from work.  So, the leisure reading can definitely get rescheduled if needed.

When you look at my calendar after all these activities are accounted for, there is little room for watching TV, a movie, or playing video games.  These are all things that I have gradually, over a long period of time, weened off my schedule.

To make time to watch Solo: A Star Wars Story this week, I decided to rent it through Amazon Prime, download it on my phone, and watch it while Erin drove to Kirksville this weekend for our FLATS Trail Half Marathon.  Since she always drives, she had no complaints about this.

Keeping a calendar has really helped me reach new levels of productivity.  Even if you are not ready to give up watching TV, begin scheduling it. If you forget to schedule it, retroactively fill in your past calendar with how you spent that time. Once the week is through, have a look at how you spent your time and gauge how that makes you feel.

If you don’t feel like a rock star, than ask yourself what changes you can make so that you do.

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.