life heuristics, motivation

Finding your rhythm for excellence

A question I been thinking a lot about lately is: what is the best way to establish a routine in order to improve at something important?

One thing I’ve noticed about biking is that after three weeks, it’s become more of a habit then a conscious decision – and interestingly the consequence is that the outcome of each ride, whether I ride faster or slower that day, matters less than just the fact that I keep riding. Progress, especially in something large and intricate, takes a lot of time. Our human need for gratification sometimes gets in the way of maintaining steady rhythm in order to put in the necessary work as we are constantly thinking about whether or not we are improving. If we plateau in our performance, we may get discouraged.

One way to get around this problem might be what Drew Houston suggested in his commencement speech at MIT this year, when he said something to the lines of:

But it was a fascinating challenge. I was possessed. I would think about it in the shower. I would think about it in the middle of the night. It was like a switch went on — suddenly I was a machine.

In the middle of all this, my mom and dad wanted all of us to come up to New Hampshire to spend a family weekend together. But I really wanted to keep working on my poker bot. So I pull up in my Accord and open the trunk, and next I’m dragging all my computer stuff and all these wires into our little cottage. The dining room table wasn’t big enough so I started moving all the pots and pans off the stove to make room for all my monitors. This time it was my mom who thought something was wrong with me. She was convinced I was going to jail.

I was going to say work on what you love, but that’s not really it. It’s so easy to convince yourself that you love what you’re doing — who wants to admit that they don’t? When I think about it, the happiest and most successful people I know don’t just love what they do, they’re obsessed with solving an important problem, something that matters to them. They remind me of a dog chasing a tennis ball: their eyes go a little crazy, the leash snaps and they go bounding off, plowing through whatever gets in the way. I have some other friends who also work hard and get paid well in their jobs, but they complain as if they were shackled to a desk.


Obsession definitely is a cure for this problem, in fact it’s probably the best cure because it doesn’t take any conscious will or volition. It almost sounds little magical, if you manage to find the thing that you become obsessed about then discipline is secondary.

That’s all fine and dandy, but what if you’re not obsessed about anything just yet? One thing might be to keep seeking and find your passion that will absolve you of the responsibility, but in the meantime there is something else that you can start doing right now. It’s not as glamorous or easy as being obsessed, but something within your control.


I call it: Having a rhythm. It involves building a routine in which you practice the thing you want to prove at every day, and instead focusing on the immediate outcomes of each day, you focus on the process, and rest in your confidence that over time you will improve. It’s not easy, and I haven’t figured it out exactly – but one thing that biking is taught me the setting aside time for it each day, especially in the morning we don’t have any other distractions or obligations, really helps.

I keep you updated on how it goes. If you have something that works for you, or thought along similar veins, feel free to share them below 🙂


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