Friday, June 01, 2018

The Unappreciated Key to Success

The most unappreciated element in success in any area of life--trading or otherwise--is the capacity to sustain effort.  We can think of this capacity as intentionality:  the ability, over time, to exercise free will.

For much of daily life, we follow routines.  This is efficient, allowing us to get the most done with the least effort.  A great example is driving a car.  Being able to do that automatically enables us to carry on conversations, listen to music or podcasts, etc. The problem occurs when we become so immersed in routine--so wedded to getting the most done with the least effort--that we are unable to sustain the efforts that generate distinctive performance.

Important research from the psychologist Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi identified a "flow state" in which people become capable of high levels of creativity.  The flow state results from being immersed in efforts over time--a kind of hyperfocus.  In that state of superfocus, we become capable of processing information in new ways, seeing patterns and solutions that escape us in our normal state of awareness.

In our ordinary state of mind, we can only achieve ordinary things.  All success comes from the ability to transcend routine.  But that requires effort and the capacity to sustain effort.  Successful people have developed routines that exercise intentionality:  that build the capacity to sustain flow states.  They sustain those efforts by pursuing their strengths: what they are good at and what speaks to them.  We achieve hyperfocus when we are hyper-interested in what we are doing.  If you need discipline to get things done, you know you are not operating in the sphere of your strengths and passions.

Further Reading: