Whether we are talking about athletes, artists, or academics, the story is the same. If you want to fulfill your potential then you must practice a specific skill for a long time with remarkable consistency. Mastery is never an accident.
- Paul Erdos, the fantastic mathematician, published over 1,500 papers before establishing himself as a thought leader.
- Famous composers put in 10 years of under appreciated work before earning recognition.
- Greek legend Milo picked up a young calf every day until he developed incredible strength.
Of course, whenever “experts” share stories about successful people they often leave out a key ingredient of the story. How, exactly, do top performers fall in love with boredom that can come through repetition? Perhaps more important, how can you fall in love with boredom when you’re trying to build a habit that you know you should do, but you don’t really want to do?
Let me share two strategies that work for me.
How to Fall in Love with Boredom
First, there is very little hope for falling in love with a habit that you truly hate. I don’t know anyone who legitimately dislikes an activity and somehow falls in love with doing it. It doesn’t add up. It’s very difficult to hate something and be in love with it at the same time (Your ex doesn’t count).
Let’s say you dislike working out, but you know it’s good for you. If you want to fall in love with the boredom of going to the gym, then you have two options:
1. Increase your proficiency at the task.
Even tasks that you are good at will feel monotonous some days, so imagine the uphill battle you’re fighting if you are constantly trying to do something that you don’t feel skilled at. The solution? Learn the basic fundamentals of your task and celebrate the small wins and improvements you make. With our workout example, let’s say you want to learn how to do a proper deadlift or bench press. Practicing these new skills in the gym can be fun and making tiny improvements each week builds momentum. It’s much easier to fall in love with doing something over and over again if you can look forward to making progress.
2. Fall in love with a result of the task rather than the task itself.
Let’s be real: there are some things that we should do that are always going to be a hassle. Running sprints might be an example. Very few people look forward to setting their lungs on fire.
I find that I have more success in situations like these when I shift my focus away from the actual task and toward a result. Sometimes this is a direct result of the habit I’m trying to perform. Other times, it’s a result that I invent. For example, you can make a game out of not missing workouts even if you don’t enjoy the workout itself. Let’s say you have done two sprint workouts in a row. Your goal is to fall in love with becoming the type of person who doesn’t miss workouts. You’re not worried about how you perform. You’re not worried about if you’re getting faster. You’re not worried about getting six-pack abs or any other type of result. For the most part, you’re not even thinking about the workout. Instead, you’re simply focused on keeping your workout streak alive.
This is basically the Seinfeld Strategy applied to exercise. Your only goal is to “not break the chain.” By shifting your focus away from the activity you dislike, you’re giving yourself an opportunity to fall in love with the boredom of sticking to the streak (something you do enjoy).
The Power of Patience
I was speaking with a friend at the gym recently. He had decided to change his weightlifting routine despite making good progress with his old program. I asked him why. He made a few excuses before eventually saying, “Basically, I got bored.”
It has taken me years to learn this lesson myself, but I’m starting to believe that a beautiful blend of patience and consistency is the ultimate competitive advantage. Success is often found by practicing the fundamentals that everyone knows they should be doing, but they find too boring or basic to practice routinely.
- Thanks to readers Roshni, Sebastian, and Jonathan for suggesting this topic. As always, I love hearing about the topics you’d like me to write about and welcome any feedback you have on how to make my work more useful.
Featured photo credit: Julie Edgley via flickr.com