The Basics

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:

  • Meditation
  • Fitness
  • Diet
  • Procrastination
  • Sleep
  • Willpower
  • Communication
  • Rationality
  • Elimination of vice
  • Optimism

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.

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Photo is basic healthy food in a market in Wuyi, China.

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