I’m feeling especially misanthropic today, so I’m going to write about something that has been on my mind for a while but that I haven’t had the guts to talk about yet: there are basically only 3 types of people – leaders, followers and philosophers (plus a few hybrids); but that is pretty much it.
Coming up with classifications like this always reeks of elitism, or something worse (me being German, I want to be especially careful not to give off the wrong impression…). But just because there are some very problematic historical connotations, that doesn’t automatically prove the original idea wrong.
Whatever I’m currently doing, I cannot help but notice that it all comes down to resources in the end: Things like time, personal energy, money, etc. And what all of these different resources tend to have in common is that they are limited – very limited in fact.
I have been reminded of that rather harshly a few times this week, in two different contexts. A person that I knew and liked, even though we did not speak the same language, passed away. Then the brother of a very good friend was diagnosed with a potentially terminal illness (still keeping fingers crossed). In both instances, it is pretty obvious what the limited resource was, or still is: Time.
I was teaching Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class tonight and for the umpteenth time, I was trying to introduce some basic prehab work to the curriculum. Things like the deep squat test, the couch stretch and other Kelly Starrett inspired material. Let’s just say it hasn’t really hit home yet… I mean, the white belts all dutifully did what I told them. And to be fair, there was one guy who even approached me after training confiding an interest in mobility stuff. But most of the regulars just looked at me like “WTF is this all about? Let’s just train and go balls to the wall!”
I’m not complaining. I too was 23 once, and I would probably also not have understood. But being in my mid thirties now, and after 26 years of martial arts and several injuries and surgeries later, I can say one thing with absolute certainty: No matter how important you think the next upcoming competition is, it’s not. Investing in long-term prehab is ALWAYS more important, and should always take priority.
I’m a very orderly person, to the point of being an anal stickler for details. I like to pre-structure my days as much as possible, following a number of habits that are set in stone. This might seem boring to most people – it often does to me as well – but I also get certain sense of security from it. I know what to do, I know when to do it, and I know it will get me the results I want in the long run.
I recently finished “The Anxiety of Influence” by legendary literary critic Harold Bloom. Besides my ongoing Hegel studies, this might have been one of the toughest books I ever read: Bloom does nothing to invalidate the common stereotype about academics being too wordy, too cryptic and too cloistered. If anything, he takes it one further: He does not even try to make a rational argument you can follow – you either get his very subtle literary and cultural references or you don’t.
As someone who is obsessed with personal development and forming the right habits, I naturally have several friends who are on the same path. So inevitably, when we meet up, the conversation drifts towards personal development topics; and inevitably, we start talking about our goals.
So friend A will say: “I want to lose 20 pounds in 6 months from now.” Friend B will say: “I want to be able to make a living from working as a professional musician in a year from now.” Friend C will say: “I want to be married 2 years from now.” Friend D will say: “I want to learn 3 new languages in the next five years.”
All legit goals (well, if marriage is your thing…). And I like the fact that all my friends are very specific about their goals, in terms of what they exactly want to accomplish and in what time span. Just like me, they read their books and blogs and just like me, they know about the importance of goal setting. You need to have an idea of where you are going in order to get there – it’s a simple as that.
There are few things that I love like the idea of personal development. Even before I learned about the whole movement that goes with it, it was a thing constantly on my mind. How to get better at skillset XY? How to manage your time most effectively? How to prioritize well? How to improve relationships? How to make a living from what you love?
I keep coming back to these questions and I find that effort spent answering them is effort well spent indeed. Just the attempt makes me feel more content.
Having acknowledged that, there is a very weird tendency of the personal development crowd to act like a bunch of stoned hippies. Yes, I’m very excited about actively tackling the big questions in my life too, and yes, that is a very proactive and positive approach to life – but that does not necessarily mean everything is suddenly all rainbows and unicorns.
There is a certain type of habit I have never talked about on this blog, even though it is what people commonly think of first when they hear the word “habit.” I call this a “mindless habit” or “micro habit,” simply because it is so tiny that other people will hardly notice it. An example would be placing your keys always in the same place at home, so you don’t have to run around like a headless chicken when you need them.
As I said, this is what comes to mind first when people speak of habits. Consequently, habits have this kind of everyday, petty convenience type of connotation – a little trick that is useful, usually time saving, but not life altering in any way.
Have you come across situations when you are about to do something right and then someone interferes, and changes your mind? Maybe you are about to leave the house for the gym but then your roommate convinces you to play videogames with him. Maybe you are about to order the chicken salad at TGI Friday’s but your brother thinks you should treat yourself to a burger. Maybe you are planning to go to bed early for once but then the girlfriend calls and off you go barhopping.
From a personal development point of view, this is the kind of situation where the rubber hits the road. It’s one thing to read all these inspiring self-help books and come up with all these great resolutions for change. It’s a very different thing when everyone around you is doing shots at the bar and you are miserably holding on to your water.
There is a question that I have been asking myself for many years, one that is most commonly asked in business, but applies to other fields as well: Should you try to find out about the needs of the market and cater towards these needs? Or should you follow your personal inclinations, hoping there will be a market for those inclinations eventually?
Or the short version: Give the market what it wants vs. shape the market around you.
I have answered this question differently at different times of my life. When I first became self-employed, I was strongly leaning towards the product-market fit option, i.e. give the market what it wants. For example, I purposefully converted my pure Brazilian Jiu Jitsu gym I was running at the time to a Mixed Martial Arts gym – based on the prediction that in a few years, MMA would be all the hype here in Germany, just like back in the States.