How To Seem Good At Everything: Stop Doing Stupid Shit

I read this post today, which does a great job of laying out one of the best pieces of advice I had ever been given:

Back in college, one of my best friends was a prodigious chess player. He’d won a few regional championships and was pretty highly rated. Before I met him, I’d considered myself a competent player. Back in school I’d placed in a few high school tournaments, and in general played a better game than most of my friends. I’m a competitive guy, so I’d challenge him constantly only to get trounced. It was a lot like repeatedly banging my head into a wall.

At some point, I caved and made the mistake of asking him what the quickest way for me to improve my chess skills was. What followed was some of the most insulting and profound advice I’ve ever received in my life. He pulled me aside and bluntly said “Josh, stop doing stupid shit.”

Woody Allen said that 80% of success is showing up.  Now, that’s not literally true; you can’t just show up and stand around and be 4/5ths of the way to fame and fortune.  But, it’s pretty true that if you just show up every day, do a decent job and don’t fuck anything up too badly (i.e. don’t do any stupid shit), you’re well on your way to success.  The vast majority of people just don’t put in the time to stop doing stupid shit.

But, don’t fool yourself.  Preventing yourself from doing stupid shit doesn’t just require an extra ounce of forethought.  It takes a fair bit of work.  Not nearly as much work as being a superstar, but still a bit of work:

What constitutes “not doing stupid shit” at the chessboard? At the most basic level, it means not hanging pieces or falling for basic tactics. I spent about a month addressing these issues. I bought a couple of chess books and spent a couple hours a day drilling tactics that involved spotting pieces that could be captured “en prise” (about to be hanged) and basic tactics such as forks, pins and skewers. I should mention that at the end of the month I read up on a couple of openings.

In Josh’s example here, he spent maybe 60 hours of “work” mopping up the big holes in his game, fixing the really dumb shit he kept doing.  The results?

After a month had passed, I decided to start playing again. I was shocked by the drastic improvement in my playing. I was regularly wiping the floor with people rated between 1400-1550. In case you’re wondering, that’s about the rating of an average adult tournament player, most of whom have been playing for years.

Tremendous.

I’ve always valued this advice because it’s universal: there is simply no area of your life you can’t apply this to.  I guarantee, even in something you’re extremely good at, there’s still at least one dumb thing you consistently do.  It’s not that big a deal, so we gloss over it, and then it becomes a habit that we don’t even think about.  It’s how we work.  But it’s still dumb, and eliminating it could make a huge difference.

Looking at this advice again now, I’m going to add a “stupid shit” category to my time tracking template so I can systematically work on not doing stupid shit in various areas of my life.

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