Seriousness as a force multiplier
The art of taking things seriously
Today's piece is a bit different. As we had no session this past weekend (students just finished their challenges), I instead wanted to share something that's been top-of-mind lately. If there is one mindset I would add to TKS and share with my students (something I still plan to do this year + into the future), it would be taking things seriously.
This topic came up organically on slack the other week when a student shared a post from Visakan where he writes:
"As I got older it became clearer to me that not many people are really serious about anything. Some people go their whole lives without ever having met anyone else who I might describe as actually serious, so they find it hard to believe that anybody could really mean what they say, since everything everyone says is bullshit"
There was some good discussion as students reflected on their own ability to take things seriously.
Ancient iPhone History
Ten years ago, my friend Dylan and I built our first iOS app. We were both total noobs and interested in learning more about building apps for the iPhone. I’m pretty sure I still owned a Blackberry during the first half of development! We decided to work together on creating a simple white noise app called Noisie.
At the time (2013!), the flat design trend was just kicking off. We created a simple little tool that, in our opinion, looked far better than any other app in the space. Though it looked simple, we spent a lot of time making it intuitive and enjoyable to use, despite its limited functionality. It had beautiful transitions, nice little animations and interactions, and even custom audio fading between tracks.
We released the app after a few months of development (possibly longer) into the App Store. Over the course of a year or two, we probably only received a couple thousand downloads. The price fluctuated from $3 down to zero, where it stayed until we removed it from the store. We experimented with the idea of future versions where we would have additional sounds, but that was all we could think of. It was meant to be a fun little project that we learned from, and that’s exactly what it was.
We haven’t touched it in years; the website still says: Noisie is available for iPhone, iPad, and iPod. Damn.
But what if we had decided to take it seriously? We were a year or two early for several massive trends that were coming:
Each of these areas has given way to multi-million or billion-dollar businesses that do something just a little more advanced than what we started with. If we had taken Noisie a bit more seriously, we could have begun to expand the functionality, positioning, and marketing to target some of these growing areas. We could have approached it with a more ambitious/visionary mindset instead of that of a side project. I have no doubt it could have been something meaningful.
Being too uncool for school
Effort is seen as uncool in high school. You get labelled as a nerd or a tryhard. Sometimes people even question why we are putting in the effort. Why do we care about this? It feels like a personal attack.
A lot of us carry that belief with us for the rest of our lives. We cling to the myth of the effortless — effortless success, effortless talent. It gives us a convenient excuse not to try things we might fail! How many of us have found ourselves saying "ya well if I actually tried, I would be so much better?" 🙋🏻♂️
This was my entire philosophy in high school and it was terrible! For the longest time, I never knew what it meant to take things seriously. I was always proud of how little effort I could get away with. Partly because I never had to take things seriously, and partly because I was afraid. It took awhile for me to shed this inhibiting mindset.
If there's something I think you might need to hear it's this: It’s okay to take things seriously. I give you permission. Seriously.
Trying to get serious
I have friends who will simultaneously describe me as silly or immature and serious or intense. You might be wondering, okay Steven, what do you take seriously?
Over the last 6 years, I’ve been making adjustments to continually improve my own sleep, recognizing how important it is to all other areas of my life. I've invested heavily in it, I sleep early (often forgoing other things), I cut out alcohol years ago, and most of my caffeine intake. I exercise consistently so I'm able to sleep better.
Last year I was taking marathon training seriously; I had to stop other exercises where I might get injured and focus more on stretching and my training plan.
Here's the thing though: you can't take too many things seriously. Not only is it important to have some non-seriousness in your life, but it's also physically impossible. Because if you were taking that first thing seriously, well then, you wouldn't be doing all of that other stuff.
A field guide to being serious
Seriousness is a multiplier on your efforts and life. If you are willing to take things seriously, you will grow way faster than if you don’t. I usually see people who aren’t taking things seriously, missing their growth goals, and getting upset.
In Championship Swim Training, the coaches explain there are three tiers of swimming based on how much you practice. Tier 1 offers fun and health benefits but is not enough pool time to be competitive. Tier 3 is the competitive tier where committed athletes train. Tier 2 is the dead zone, too much training to be fun, but not enough training to be competitive. You get stuck in Tier 2 and this leads to frustration.
My fear is too many people get stuck in their own Tier 2 as they struggle to commit to taking something seriously. Tier 2 often feels like enough! Coach Atkinson goes on to say:
The job of the coach is to sell the dream to the athletes [in Tier 2] and persuade them to commit to the [Tier 3] hours a week they need to become successful competitive swimmers.
Throughout the year, this is my job. We can’t demand seriousness from other people, we can only model and inspire it.
Okay let’s finally talk about getting serious
Thankfully getting serious is pretty simple. It’s not easy, but it’s not complicated.
The ingredients for seriousness come down to intention, effort, and ambition.
Intention = the things you decide to do
Effort = how hard you go on the things you do.
Ambition = how high you aim
I find it’s as simple as asking yourself: what would it look like if I was taking this seriously?
If this is hard for you, think about someone you know who takes that thing seriously. How can you tell? What are they doing differently? I’ve asked my students this exact question in coaching calls to help them balance their own priorities when they have too much going on.
And that’s it! I find myself coming back to that question every couple of months as a gut check to see if I’m on course for the things I want to be.
I’ll say it one more time for effect. What would it look like if I was taking this seriously?
This is not to say seriousness is all you need, but in the end, most of what separates the winners from the losers is taking something more seriously than anybody else.
RIP money. Hello Eight Sleep.
It’s best paired with the potential upside in taking that seriously — what is the impact going to be?