Let’s get this out of the way:
We can’t be the best at everything.
For high achievers, that can be difficult to accept. We work so hard to embody excellence in what we do, that settling for competency can seem wrong. It’s why when we want to form new habits and skills, we turn to those we consider the best in the relevant field for advice.
It’s also why we tend not to get the results we want.
Nir Eyal is the author of Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products. In one of his classic blog posts, Eyal reveals that finding success in the little things we love comes not from thinking like an expert, but learning like an amateur.
Amateurs operate on passion. They have a goal they want to achieve – lose weight, write a book, build a car – and they do so through incremental steps. As Eyal puts it, “an amateur is a consistent practitioner of a healthful habit“.
The initial steps of the process are small. A budding swimmer looking to achieve a certain time in the 500m freestyle, for instance, starts not by immediately trying to break that time, but by setting a goal of how many laps they can swim in a day.
This goal is what Eyal calls an MEA – a Minimal Enjoyable Action. An MEA is an action that strengthens our habit without diluting the pleasure we receive from the activity. We enjoy it, so it feels almost effortless, and therefore becomes a consistent practice.
Every day the swimmer returns to the pool, and every day they do a few more laps. Not only does this boost their stamina, allowing them to swim faster and stronger, but by consistently meeting their targets, they are also boosting their willpower.
Before too long, they will be ready to try to break that time without that monumental pressure that comes from leaping into a competitive task that replaces passion with challenge.
Challenge defines the expert, as does the ability to overcome it. But doing so takes time, energy, and severe effort. As I said before, we can’t be the best at everything. Without the ability to focus on what matters most, true excellence is unobtainable.
If you just want to play guitar so you can perform for a few friends, you don’t need to have the skill of Carlos Santana. Learning how to wisely invest your money doesn’t mean expecting to see Warren Buffett levels of return.
It’s ok to be ok. The sooner we accept that, we can spend more time enjoying what makes us happy while recklessly pursuing that which makes us great.