Success and Step Ladders

I thought I'd write again on something a bit more esoteric that helped me gather the motivation and courage to recover from my brain injury. 

Psychology research scientists have proven time and time again that the human brain is impatient. This widely evidenced phenomenon underlies the psychology of drug addiction, gambling, and why we often find ourselves devouring the entire cake when we promised to only have one slice. Without being too reductive of the complex neuroscience at play here, dopamine is the critical neurotransmitter which determines a large majority of our daily decisions. However, one interesting caveat is that the anticipation of a reward promotes a higher dopamine response than receiving the reward itself (except in the instance of stimulant narcotics, but that's a different story). Anyways, with that background, here's a little lesson on steps, goals, and dreams that positively influenced my life. 

Defining a few important terms here to start:

  • Dream: something which will take 3+ months to accomplish
  • Goal: something which will take 1 week to 1 month to accomplish
  • Step: takes less than one week to accomplish

The broad, simplified idea is this: "dreams" are attained when we have the patience to piece together a composition of small goals, which can be broken down into their constituent parts (the steps). This is scientifically sound: a dream, for many, is overwhelming. "I want to get ripped like that guy David Goggins" will quickly turn into "are we getting pepperoni or sausage on the pizza tonight?". 

"I'm going to be David Goggins by Friday" is not realistic, but maybe running a 5k by the end of the month is? That's your goal. What are the steps you need to take to achieve that goal? Well, buying a pair of decent running shoes is a good start; that's a step. Running 1.5 miles on the treadmill? There's another step. At the end of the month, you've trained a few times a week, incrementally adjusting your steps to reach the goal and, boom, you cross the line at the 5k. However, your dream has not changed - you still want to be the next David Goggins, so what's your next goal? Half marathon? Well, David Goggins probably doesn't eat a lot of pizza, so how about we change the diet a little too as a second goal. This iteration of codependent behavioral changes is what will help you reach your dream.

If one person reads this and does this exercise with success, this will have been a damn good day for me. So, think: what behavior of my life do I want to change? What's a goal that I can use to influence that change? What are the steps? Write that shit down and tape it to your door. 


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Comments (14)

Mar 24, 2021 - 2:08pm

David Goggins

Can't Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds

"If you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them." - Bruce Lee

Mar 24, 2021 - 2:33pm

Yes to this book as well. This book motivated the fuck out of me. 

"Rage, rage against the dying of the light."
Mar 24, 2021 - 2:32pm

I studied biochemistry in college and found myself gravitating towards neuroscience, particularly studying the way in which our bodies and minds are influenced by the nervous system's intricate components (neurotransmitters, hormones, amino acids, etc.). Since graduating school, I have maintained a somewhat obsessive interest in endocrinology, evolutionary biology, psychology, and all the sciences that govern our best and worst behaviors. Here's a list of reading that I would recommend to anyone with even the slightest interest in the human condition:

This Is Water - David Foster Wallace: Okay, this isn't a book, it's a graduation speech from our century's greatest mind. The speech elegantly discusses how critical intellectual curiosity is for our sanity, but wow that very same curiosity can be a detriment if used unwisely.

Behave - Robert Sapolsky: Sapolsky is an evolutionary biology professor at Stanford and, in my opinion, one of the most clever minds in organic science. This book practically discusses the genetic, behavioral, evolutionary, and biological influences of the way humans.. behave. Warning: you might be tempted to get a 23andMe test to uncover your own genetic mutations (as we all have plenty of them :) ).

Stick With It - Sean Young: The only "self help" book I would recommend anyone read (defining "self help" narrowly here as one that you would find at a cafe in LaGuardia airport advertising the end all be all solution for success). Written by an extremely clever scientist (be skeptical of the advice given by anyone that's not a "scientist").

The Molecule of More - Dan Lieberman: Awesome book focusing on dopamine and its influence on all sorts of fun staff (gambling, addiction, sex, and happiness).

I'll try to think of some more and maybe I'll do another post with a list of solid reads for anyone interested in this little niche category, but those are awesome reads to start with.

"Rage, rage against the dying of the light."
  • 1
Mar 25, 2021 - 12:48pm

That's awesome man, I was a neuro major in undergrad and I have always found the applicability of the material to self-mastery one of the most fascinating parts. I'm curious if you can relate to this - when I learned more about evolutionary history and the biological basis behind motivated behavior, I found myself becoming more compassionate toward other people because I could better understand why they were driven to do something. 

Also, any tips for keeping up with these extracurricular interests once you start an analyst program? I'm going to be starting FT in July and I really don't want to lose my connection to these topics (although I will be doing biotech banking so it's going to be in my face all the time, just not in exactly the behavioral fashion I'm passionate about).

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Mar 25, 2021 - 7:25am

Took a entrepreneurs workshop many yrs ago and this was a big area of discussion and has helped me frame my thinking and provide happiness and sanity.

Two ways to view (literally) goals / dreams. Program referred to this as "The Gap". One creates a sense of accomplishment while the other leaves you with constant inadequacies. 

1. Measuring where you are to where you want to be is like reaching the horizon. A mental construct that is impossible as it moves with your progress. So you achieve things but lack the satisfaction of the achievement.

2. Measuring where you are from where you were is all about progress. The whole idea that there are no unrealistic goals, just unrealistic timeframes. So you look at where you are vs. where you were and celebrate the successes. Now think about what you needed to do to make that progress and apply it to the next step of growth. Rinse and repeat.

For "Doers" you will ultimately get to the same place, but option two is a lot more fun and will provide you with a lot more energy to push forward vs. the daunting task of reaching the horizon. This can apply to small or big projects, managing a career, fitness, weight loss, literally anything. Break the dream down to steps. These become the goals. Break the goals down to action items. Now it's just a checklist of to dos. Celebrate (literally) each milestone (buy something, have a nice meal, treat yourself, etc.) Look back three months / 6 months / 12 months and see how much progress has been reached. You may find the dream actually changes or evolves.

Mar 26, 2021 - 9:33am

I'd like to ask a fairly specific question concerning the second point. What if you are unhappy today with yourself, compared to say, a year ago? 

I've found myself constantly working and constantly trying to do better. Not making up for past mistakes, but trying to go forward. I was unfortunate enough to have my group cut after last summer in IB. I've found myself in the fortunate position of finding a job in an area that is very challenging to enter, but that I simultaneously have doubts about entering that exact space, since it wasn't what I thought I was going to do. I do think of myself as a "doer" as well.

That said, I find it difficult to look backward and see myself as happy today with I was very close to having. I'm generally happier with that which I had, but do not have now. Perhaps I found myself caught in the mindset of having things that I didn't have yet, acting as if I was already there. Or being right on the precipice of having the things I wanted, only to watch them disappear. I don't know. I was right there where I wanted, and now I'm not.

Now I'm moving to Baltimore, not New York. Now I'm taking a job in a shrinking industry, not a growing one. Now my next career steps are muddy, not clear.

How can I feel good about the work I'm doing now. I'd appreciate any advice. Again, I feel like I really should be happy with what I have, but when I look at what I could have had, I can't help but think negative thoughts. Thanks

Mar 26, 2021 - 12:02pm

To me it sounds like you are still comparing your current self to your future self. I'm doing X but I really want to be doing Y. I understand your situation was changed for you. That's a tough blow but still something you have to overcome. So if your ultimate goal is to be X and you were somewhat career pathing to that and got a gut punch, you're still currently at Y. Look at what needs to be done to get to X. Compare back to your current Y and you'll see you're closer to being back ont rack and enjoying the progress (hopefully).

Some people live in "the gap". They're always there. They need to acquire skills in the arena of "being present". Sometimes that means you need to change your present. Enjoying what you're doing with whom your doing? If not Change your present so you do provided it also helps push you to your desired future.

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