Inaction vs. action

Most people talk about how action leads to outcomes.

What few people talk about is that inaction is sometimes better than action. Especially when it’s in the wrong direction because people learn the wrong lessons.

For example, Olympic gymnast coaches often won’t take students after a certain age because they may have learned improper form.

I find unlearning improper form often takes more effort than learning the right form from the start.

However, the difficulty is in having enough clarity to know what “good form” looks like.

Many times, good form lies in the unconsciously incompetent quadrant of learning.

Meaning, it’s hard to know what you’re learning is actually improper form if you’ve never been exposed to good form.

To hedge against the downside risk of unconscious incompetence:

  1. Find people who’re the best at the thing you want to do and spend time with them to learn what good looks like.
  2. Be very cautious before taking new opportunities.
  3. Be determinately optimistic about the future.
  4. Be intentional about the skills you want to learn or assumptions you want to test upfront.
  5. Know that it’s okay to spend time searching.

Contrary to popular advice, don’t default to action.

Act when you’re confident about the direction your skills are compounding.

Instead of working back from a goal, work forward from promising situations. This is what most successful people actually do anyway.

In the graduation-speech approach, you decide where you want to be in twenty years, and then ask: what should I do now to get there? I propose instead that you don’t commit to anything in the future, but just look at the options available now, and choose those that will give you the most promising range of options afterward.

It’s not so important what you work on, so long as you’re not wasting your time. Work on things that interest you and increase your options, and worry later about which you’ll take.

Suppose you’re a college freshman deciding whether to major in math or economics. Well, math will give you more options: you can go into almost any field from math. If you major in math it will be easy to get into grad school in economics, but if you major in economics it will be hard to get into grad school in math.

– Paul Graham, What You’ll Wish You’d Known

What aren’t you thinking about?

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