Episode 5: Making Choices - All I want Is... Everything
Humans as a species are very poor at making choices. The longer the menu at a restaurant, the longer we take to decide what we want to eat. Our mind wants to try more things than our body can manage. When IIM students decide to go on student exchange to Europe, they want to travel to every country possible within the 3 months. Every group of friends has that one person who says yes to every plan - plans which are on simultaneously at the exact same time. We want to eat, watch Netflix and scroll through our Instagram feed at the same time.
In the world of investments, we choose 50 stocks and invest some money in everything. For e.g. if you had INR 100 - you will put Rs. 2 in 50 stocks instead of focusing on 10-12 stocks that you think will give you 2x to 5x returns. How are you going to be better than average if you want a piece of every stock out there? In the name of diversification, people hide their laziness to do the mental work of deciding on a few ideas that will give them the best outcomes.
Why do we exhibit this behaviour?
Millennial lingo calls it #FOMO - Fear of Missing Out. However, if you think deeply you realise that this is a very sticky human trait across generations. It is because we don't intuitively realise that choosing something means not choosing something else! We love keeping our options open. No opportunity should be lost!
In the list of common qualities of the world's most successful people, the one that stands out as the most common is the ability to focus on one thing. They are prepared to let go of everything else. You may have heard of this famous story about Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. It is also spoken about in the Bill Gates Netflix documentary. 'When Bill Gates first met Warren Buffett, their host at dinner, Gates’ mother, asked everyone around the table to identify what they believed was the single most important factor in their success through life. Gates and Buffett gave the same one-word answer: “Focus.”'
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Focus necessarily means not choosing everything else. It is a hard thing to do. We are always tempted to keep all our options open all the time.
Think about this - there are people who think they can study for an exam, prepare for a dance in their best friend's wedding, go and play football on turf with their friends, look after their health, have a full time job, be abreast with all the latest shows on various streaming platforms and also be a day trader in the stock market all at once. I can tell you one thing for sure - this person is unlikely to crack that exam and is likely going to lose a lot of money trading apart from losing a few friends.
You can't say I will prepare for CAT and also look for funding for my venture at the same time. I would never invest in such a person - it means you are not committed to either.
Have you seen products which seem to offer everything - they have every feature in the world and none of them are world-class. The best products in the world have figured out how to delight their users by focusing on a few things (often just one thing) that make them special.
Mark Zuckerberg famously wears only certain types of clothes to avoid expending mental energy on something he doesn't consider very important. Choosing what to wear every day requires effort. Why should he spend time thinking about something that doesn't align with his long term goals in life? “I really want to clear my life to make it so that I have to make as few decisions as possible about anything except how to best serve the community,” he said in a town hall when asked why he wears the same clothes every day.
How can you avoid FOMO and Focus on what's important?
- Have a single overarching goal you want accomplish over the medium term - all decisions should align to that one single goal
- Break down daily, weekly and monthly activities with focus on smaller goals which tie into your larger goal. All energy for work (not your leisure time) should be expended only on these. Say no to everything else.
- Practice mindfulness - Staying in the present. Easy to recommend. Tough to practice. Is it possible to do only one thing at a time? For e.g. try not to look at the phone while talking to your parents or friends.
- Meditate and Visualize. Remind yourself daily what is truly important. Cut out everything else. Remember only one goal can take top precedence. You can't say 9 things in my life are equally important. The moment this happens you are back in the FOMO trap.
If you're writing the CAT and you are serious about cracking it then for the next 25 days you cannot be prioritising anything else above it. Say no to everything else that comes in the way. It is a small price to pay in order to stay focus on the core job. If you find yourself unable to do it, then recognise that you never really wanted this very badly.
If you want to be better than the average Joe, you need to choose and decide and stick to that path without getting distracted. You cannot be everything. You will never get everything. Make a decision and stay focussed. It is a necessary condition to become world-class.
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Curated Story of the Day
The greatest CEO of our times left us with pearls of wisdom that are timeless in their appeal. Today, I take you 23 years back to Steve Jobs' speech at WWDC 1997.
Anything I say will dilute the message. Just listen to the great man.
You can read all previous 4 Growth Stories here. They will be free forever!
- Episode 1: Always Overestimate Yourself
- Episode 2: Building on Strengths vs Worrying About Weaknesses
- Episode 3: Cut Your Losses - Know When To Give Up
- Episode 4: Dealing With Envy
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