“Everything in moderation, including moderation.”
– Oscar Wilde
Obsession creates rapid progress.
I think finding balance is important in many endeavors. But in my experience, a balanced approach brings slow (but steady) results and isn’t always ideal.
In fact, I’ve always had a tendency to approach things with obsession. However, I’ve also been proactive about preventing burnout.
To me, that is balance.
Instead of going through life at a constant jog, I prefer to switch between sprinting and walking.
Sprinting and walking have more purpose.
Jogging is so boring! Not too fast, but not too slow either. It’s a moderate challenge, but doesn’t require any pain.
Sprinting requires maximal effort. It’s a measure of skill, strength, and endurance. There’s a lot of pain involved. It is the quickest path between point A and point B, with no distractions. You have tunnel vision. Your mind can’t possibly think about anything else.
This is execution time.
Walking is the opposite. You are purposefully taking it easy. You know you could run if you wanted to, but you want to rest and recover – but still get where you’re going. Your mind is free to explore, observe and wander.
This is the time for brainstorming and reflection.
In this article I’m going to share with you:
- Some examples of my process (learning and skill improvement)
- The key factor for achieving balance (and not burning out)
- A step by step guide for you to use
The goal of this process is to make progress at anything, quickly and efficiently.
First of all, I think the word obsession has been given a bad reputation.
Here’s the actual definition according to Merriam-Webster:
- a state in which someone thinks about someone or something constantly or frequently especially in a way that is not normal
- someone or something that a person thinks about constantly or frequently
- an activity that someone is very interested in or spends a lot of time doing
Call me crazy, but I don’t think that description sounds bad. In my opinion, the value of obsession comes down to what a person is obsessed with.
It’s time we stop thinking of obsession as a bad thing, because it’s not. It’s only as good or bad as the thing you are obsessed with.
Using Obsession for Rapid Learning
Learning is best done obsessively.
I remember when I was a young teenager (before I could drive) and I first started getting interested in health/fitness. I started buying bodybuilding magazines and fell into the trap of thinking that supplements were the golden ticket to looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger.
I would go with my mom to the grocery store and head straight for the vitamin aisle while she did her shopping. I read label after label until I understood what each vitamin/herb was supposed to benefit and how it worked. I kept doing this until there wasn’t a single bottle on that shelf that I wasn’t familiar with. (Besides all the B.S. fat burners and all that)
I was absolutely obsessed with it for a period of time. Until I felt that I had built a foundation of knowledge.
And that’s pretty much how I’ve approached anything I’ve ever been interested in.
During this phase there is no limit to how many hours a day I am willing to commit. It just depends on how many hours I have available.
By doing this I have always been able to learn very quickly. When you are obsessed, you can go from novice to intermediate in a very short amount of time.
Obviously, mastering anything takes years. There’s no way around it.
But it really takes no time at all to get to above-average, which typically means you have a good foundation.
When you are obsessively learning something new, it will take away time from other areas of your life. It’s ok though, because you will make up for that later.
Step 1 – Obsessively build a foundation of knowledge
Using Obsession for Rapid Skill Improvement
We all know that to improve any skill you must practice it. A lot.
The more you practice, the better you get over time. That’s great, but if you’re like me you are too impatient to get better over time. I want to be better now!
I’ve found that it’s relatively easy to improve any skill quickly, if you are willing to be obsessed with it for a little while.
I’ve done this with every job I had and I consistently became the best (or among the best) within the first 3 months of every job. No exceptions.
Granted, these were just jobs – not careers or businesses. Meaning, it was relatively easy to do this in my opinion. And I don’t say things like this to brag. It’s a fact of the matter that at every job there is someone who is the best and many times I was that guy. Not because I’m lucky or super intelligent, but because I was obsessed with being really good at my job.
To paint the picture, I’ll share with you how I took this approach when I was selling glasses, early in college. Before taking this job, I had already built my foundation of knowledge from a previous job. So I was able to skip straight to developing my system.
Sales really comes down to knowing the product and connecting the right benefits to the customer. I already knew the product, so I only had to learn how to identify which benefits would appeal to which people.
To do this, I approached it like any other skill. I just did a LOT of testing and made mental notes on what worked and what didn’t.
- Which days of the week had the most traffic
- What time of the day was best for selling
- How long to wait before approaching the customer
- How to start the conversation
- Which questions to ask, and in what order
- Based on the answers to those questions, which benefits would entice them
- Which features to mention and which to not mention
- When to upsell and what to upsell
You get the idea. I did this until I had developed my system. And it worked very well. I already wrote about that job, so I won’t go into it in this article.
The environment was a very friendly but, so of course the other employees were trying to figure out how the hell the new guy was breaking store records within his first month.
I’d smile and say “they need glasses to see, it’s not that complicated guys..”
The truth is, I was holding out on them.
Within 5 minutes of walking into my store, I already knew everything I needed about the customer:
- The style they were looking for
- The price range I could get them to
- Which benefits of the warranty package (where sales people make the majority of their money) I would entice them with and which I wouldn’t mention
- How I was going to get them to buy at least 2 pairs (we didn’t get much commission when someone only bought 1 pair)
- My response to any questions/concerns that they would predictably have
From that point on, the job was easy. I had a system that consistently worked very well. (And I eventually shared it with my coworkers and they saw their numbers go up as a result.)
I take this same approach with everything.
There are varying degrees of obsession though.
In the case of an easy job like that, it didn’t really take away from other areas of my life.
Bigger goals require more obsession. More obsession takes up more of your time.
When building my first business, I didn’t see my friends for months at a time.
Step 2 – Obsessively develop a system that gets results.
How to Avoid Burnout
You can’t pursue something obsessively for years on end without burning out.
You’ve gotta have the self-control to take preventative measures against burnout.
It’s just like going to the gym. If you don’t recover properly, you eventually get injured. You can’t make progress when you’re injured. Even worse, you actually go backwards.
There’s 2 parts to this:
- Ongoing maintenance
- Extended rest
During your obsession periods, you still need to take care of yourself. Eat a balanced diet, exercise a few times a week, and get a decent amount of sleep.
You don’t need to be perfect. Remember, during these periods your absolute focus will be on either building your foundation or developing your system. You simply want to do enough to maintain everything else in your life and don’t let anything else go to shit – especially your health and key relationships.
Once you’ve built your foundation and developed your system, it’s time to take a break.
You need to give yourself a breather from time to time, even if you don’t feel like you need it. Take some time to recover, mentally and physically.
You should still be working towards your goal, but with your system on cruise-control. Not full throttle.
The downfall of too much rest
You have to be careful about taking it easy for too long. We tend to get very comfortable with extended rest and that leads to laziness.
The last thing you want is to become complacent.
Step 3 – Rest and rebuild.
The Guide to Rapid Improvement
One of the best aspects of this process is that you front-load the work.
You work really hard for a short burst, that way you can take it easy for extended periods of time. But you’re always moving forward.
You do the work upfront, so you have less work to do later.
- Build your foundation
- Develop your system
During the obsessive stages, you will eat, sleep, and breathe your obsession.
It will be the first thing on your mind when you wake up and the last thing before you go to sleep.
You will dream about it.
You will constantly talk about it.
You will literally be obsessed.
…and you’ll discover that obsession is a good thing!
How to Build Your Foundation
Dedicate any and all spare time to reading books and blogs about the particular subject.
Listen to podcasts or audiobooks when you’re driving.
Invest in information products. (Only if you can afford it and it’s legit.)
Become familiar with the terminology, common mistakes, and time-tested techniques.
Identify the experts and study them.
Become an information hoarder.
Do not stop until you have an intermediate level of knowledge, which would make you an expert compared to the average person.
How to Develop Your System
Test everything you’ve learned.
Keep a journal or use an app, whatever you prefer. Keep detailed notes.
You want to test method after method and track the results of each one.
This is a tedious process, which is why it is best done obsessively.
Figure out what works and discard what doesn’t.
Track your performance and set benchmarks.
Don’t stop until you have a refined system that allows you to perform this skill at a high level, without much thought. It should be so predictable that it becomes a habit.
When that happens, you have a good system.
How to Prevent Burnout
Once you’ve developed your system, it’s time to take it easy for a while.
The point of developing your system is so that you can take it easy, but still perform at a high level.
Reflect on your progress and brainstorm ways to improve in the future.
Spend time with the family and friends you’ve likely neglected.
Do some traveling and allow your mind to focus on things completely unrelated to what you’re trying to accomplish. These are often when some of the best ideas or insights come to me.
This is the time for preparation and planning.
Once you feel recharged, you can start the process all over again. Only this time you are moving to a more advanced level.
Repeat. Over and over.
Don’t listen to what others say about obsession.
If there’s something you want, go get it.
And don’t think for a second that you can accomplish anything great with a passive effort.
Just stop and analyze anyone who is very successful in their field. Can you even think of 1 who didn’t at least go through a phase of obsession?
The odd thing about our society is that people only receive praise for obsession AFTER they’ve accomplished something great.
No one respects the obsessed person during the process.
“A lion doesn’t concern himself with the opinions of sheep.”
The next time a lazy person tries to criticize you for being obsessed, give them a smile and say “thank you.”
Until Next Time,
What do you think? Do you agree, disagree or have any thoughts to add? Let me know in the comments below.
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