A long time ago I read about how Michael Jordan practiced. Despite being creative on the court, almost all of his practice was the basics. Free throws, three pointers, dribbling. I figured that if it was good enough for MJ, it was good enough for me, and so I've always tried to focus on the basics, too.
What's interesting about the basics is that you spend lots of time doing them, and that they have a disproportionate effect on everything else. Any incremental benefit you realize will be applied a lot throughout your life, and it will also slightly increase your performance in many other areas.You'd probably agree that this is true, and maybe even feel like it's too obvious to be mentioned. I think so too, but time and time again I see people neglect the basics and work on other things.Take sleep, for example. You spend a third of your life sleeping, and the quality and quantity of your sleep has a dramatic effect on nearly everything else that you do. But how many people are really focused on good sleep? How many people try to become better sleepers, developing good sleep habits and improving their sleeping environment?Diet is another good one to look at. The food that goes into your mouth is your only fuel. Your current dietary habits will form the basis if your lifelong dietary habits. Your mental processes, health, and emotional wellbeing are all massively influenced by your food intake. Yet how many people make their diet a priority?What habits actually make up the list of basics could be argued, but it's not really important. We all know what a basic looks like when we see it. It's part of our everyday life, it has an outsize affect on other factors, and it's not very glamorous. My "top 10" list would be something like:
There's some overlap and fuzzy borders between some of those, and you might think of a better list, but it's a start. My advice to anyone who doesn't feel like they are doing exactly what they should be doing would be to systematically work on those ten basics. I'd rate myself for each one, pick the lowest score, and work it until I got it to an 8-10.
That process isn't glorious and it's not exciting, but it gives you very high leverage on your future. Each one of the basics that you improve upon will make it even easier to work on the next one. Once you hit a critical mass where all of them are an 8/10 (by your own standards), you'll find that anything new you tackle will be much easier than you would have expected it to be. Your well being and enjoyment of life will also be at an all-time high. That's the power of the basics.
Photo is basic healthy food in a market in Wuyi, China.
Great article. Speaking of Michael Jordan, he had a quote on this topic that I have always loved:“The minute you get away from fundamentals – whether its proper technique, work ethic or mental preparation – the bottom can fall out of your game, your schoolwork, your job, whatever you’re doing.”
― Michael Jordan
I'm a little uncomfortable with "optimism." Chronic, unrealistic optimism is the cornerstone of many of the things that are driving humanity and the earth into premature death. It is, of course, part of the insane "investment" many kids are making in useless "education" that has no rational occupational outlook (I know this one personally, having just quit my academic career.). (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-happiness-advantage/201103/are-you-irrational-optimist) One of the crazier aspects of modern economics has been the realization that optimism and competition is what convinces fools to pay $25-or-more for a $20 bill, repeatedly, in clinical trials. I understand that chronic depression, the only people who are consistently less likely to fall for bubbles or scams, is bad for your personal health. The problem is that rampant unrealistic optimism has convinced us that we can wish-away climate change, peak oil, over-population, vanishing critical resources, and species extinction. I'd like to hear your take on balancing personal optimism with rational expectations. I sincerely believe you might have some useful insights.
think the basics/fundamentals are key to a good life. I put all my basics to an morning routine. In a flow of three hours I do several activities every morning, which are improving my basics.
I do my routine first in the morning so I never miss it because I am busy or anything else.
getting up early, Cold shower, Veggie shake + 1,5 L water, fresh air on the balcony, meditation, positive self talk, sport, writing, reading/listening to music, learning new language
The basics are some of the big rocks for the day and by doing them first it makes sure that all the pebbles and sand that can fill our days don't get in the way of them. I do yoga, meditation and manifesting my day every day and my days go best when I do this first thing (though if I can't due to travel I will do later in the day).
I also have a night routine of stretching, clearing meditations and sleep mask to keep out light (light and noise really disturb my quality of sleep).
While I wouldn't call it a basic I do a full day fast (only drinking water or ginger tea) once per week as a way to cleanse my body and reduce attachments to food (which can become a substitute for dealing with emotions or other issues in my experience).
Hi Tynan, can you describe your daily meditation practice? Do you do it while sitting? Thanks!
I would add two more, contentment/gratefulness and personal finance. Although arguably p.f. has an upper limit where learning more doesn't help that much anymore.
“Contentment makes poor men rich,
Discontent makes rich men poor.”
I heard once that in poker, the best player is the one that masters the basics better than the others. This is true for life! I had a question : why do you include "procrastination" in your list? What are the benefits? The underlying process?
I'm trying to apply that on programming. So, for me, it'll be,"The best programmer is the one that masters the basics better than the others."As you said, we can apply that quote on almost anything.Enwil
Great points. Take optimism for example. How much does ones attitude towards events that happen effect the eventual outcomes of their life? If you're always positive, you'll deal with failure better and your successes will be all the sweeter.
Benjamin Franklin had something similar, which he called his 13 virtues. Each week he'd focus on one of them, so that each year he had spent 4 weeks on each. Quick google search came up with this - http://thirteenvirtues.com/
An aside: when a private tour guide showed us a manor house in England she said that B Franklin attended the Hellfire Club which met there and that he was not squeaky clean as he would have people think. This could imply a double standard or an attempt to spice up the tour or take a swipe at the USA. We know from historical writings that Franklin did some good things which are worth emulating.
Good Post, Ty - Here are some basics we can look at getting in place to help find relaxation during our every day work and play - and an explanation form the perspective of oriental medicine.
Genki-informative-thank you-could you help with explanation of foot relaxation,please. When in China I found acupressure foot massage relaxing to the whole body.
Hi - sure, I would write something here but Imhave already written a full Newsletter on exactly this matter here:- http://clinicgenki.com/en/blog-five/
I hope this provides some useful information for you...
If you want to totally screw up your life, here's my advice: cultivate some bad habits. That's how most people do it. Very few people screw up their lives by drinking once, but a lot of people screw it up by developing a drinking problem. I've never heard a story of someone who went to Vegas for the first time and lost his entire fortune, but I've heard plenty of stories of people with gambling addictions who have blackjacked their way to bankruptcy. Even breakups are far more likely to be caused by habitual bad behaviour than by a single action (even in the case of cheating, a lot of couples stay together).
This is because a single action doesn't have all that much leverage on your life. But habits, on the other hand, define us as people-- literally. What we do regularly becomes a label. Bob's an alcoholic. Tom is a cheater. Raymond is a gambler. Habits change ephemeral verbs (Tom cheated) to nouns. Once you're defined by your habits, it takes a lot to change that. If Bob doesn't drink for a night, he isn't magically changed into tee-totaler. You are your habits.
And that's why habits are my religion. I write about them all the time, from every single angle, and that's mostly a result of being fixated on habits in my own life. If you can change your habits, you can change who you are. So I pay very little attention to rare occurrences and work on my habits constantly.
If you break your wrist or your knee, it screws up your life immediately, and likely does some damage to you for the long-term. You'll probably have somewhat lower peak athletic capacity, and have to be more cautious around the once-damaged area.
That's obvious in the case of a large trauma, but less obvious are the everyday actions we take that have ripple effects throughout our lives.
Taking the time to clear the decks of distractions, clean up and either finish or officially cancel old projects, making incremental improvements to diet, learning minor time-saving techniques that add up (keyboard shortcuts, typing faster, etc)... the gains to these are largely invisible, but they have a positive ripple effect going into the future.
If you have a great idea on Tuesday, you might not attribute it to being better rested and sharper-thinking because of dietary and sleep hygiene changes you made a few weeks before. But indeed, the ideas that are most useful to us are the ones right at the edge of our problemsolving ability.
The flipside is the debt you build up from bad choices in passing. Since quitting fried and microwaved food a while back, I noticed better energy levels. How many times have I been able to avoid a stupid argument or deadlock because I was slightly healthier and clearer-thinking? I've been 100% consistent with my fitness regime. How much of that is attributable to better sleep? Or, phrase differently -- how many more arguments would I have had, and how much more often would my positive habits have broken down if I'd been eating fried foods and sleeping more poorly?