Advice to a 25 year old man
Get Disciplined, Get Productive
Advice to a 25-Year-Old-Man on Skill Acquisition

This post arose out of an answer I wrote on the site Quora in response to a question asking: “What advice would you give to a 25-year-old man wanting to learn so many things? “

I thought this answer would make a solid blog post, so here we are. 

You can find the original answer here.

You can find/follow me on Quora here.


First of all, I want to congratulate ya.

Learning is always cool. A lot of people just say “Welp, done with school! Time to sit on the couch for the rest of my life!” (not literally…or maybe some people DO).

Secondly, I’d like to say: I am also a 25-year-old-man, so in a sense I am also talking to myself. 🙂

I have written about this before but it was in a general life context, not in relation to skills.

So yeah, I can relate. I feel that thirst, that hunger, that desire for self-expansion and self-exploration that every young man feels (though some suppress it through drugs and such).

I realllllllly want to get there too. I definitely understand. But the awesome thing is (as Nicolas said), time is on our side. We are young, we have vitality, we have testosterone coursing through our veins!

BUT…

I will also disagree with him. YES, we have time. Just not as much as we think. YES, time is on our side, but it’s also running out. Faster than we know! (queue hourglass metaphor*)

In modern society, we are sold the idea that we have alllllllll the time in the world. But you know the truth and I know the truth. We’re on death ground.

Let me throw some “cliches” at you to drive this home.

You don’t have time for everything, only for the most important things.

You can do anything, just not everything.

Work expands to fill the time allotted.

All of these are variations of “Parkinson’s Law” and the “Law of Forced Efficiency“.

As you can see, we have quite a bit of friction to encounter on the way to our goals.

The real question starts to become: “how do we mitigate this“?

I really don’t know the true answer. BUT… I’ve come up with a five part strategy that has helped me on the pursuit of learning new skills and achieving things.

Decide. Overcome. Focus. Master. Sequence.

DOFMS.

A nice little acronym, don’t ya think?

In my personal opinion, a 25 year old man should be focused on laying the foundation for his future successes along with mitigating as much opposition to those successes and goals as possible.

He should be diving into who he is through these successes and inevitable failures eventually coming out the other side with a wider, deeper understanding of who he is.

Following this acronym has helped me to do this in various stages of my life and I’m sure it will help you too.

Let’s start with the first – decide.

Decision.

Nothing gets done until you make a firm decision to do it.

You decided what to eat this morning, what to wear, and when to leave your home for work.

You decided what friends to make, what college to go to, who your significant other is.

You decided on (consciously or unconsciously) most of what is in your life right now.

In making past decisions, you may have not had a full picture of the facts. You ended up making bad decisions, some of which you are still correcting to this day (as was the case with me).

Most of our decisions unfortunately are unconscious. We lack awareness about the consequences of our actions. Some of us make decisions due to social pressure. You think you made the decision out of your own full free will. But you didn’t.

Your parents forced your hand.

Your friends forced your hand.

People you don’t even fucking talk to on a daily (or even monthly) basis – forced your hand.

You decided that you needed to please other people in order to avoid this “friction” I mentioned earlier.

As a result of this unconscious awareness and people-pleasing, we fall victim to another important law – the law of unintended consequences.

You know when you do something with the intention to be better off when you first started but you end up being worse off? To the point where you shouldn’t have done anything at all?

Yeah. THAT feeling.

Your goal in this area is to increase your self-awareness any way possible so you can make better decisions in the future. One good way to do it is to think long term. Imagine your life in a year or two (maybe even 5) as a result of making that decision. You won’t always have that luxury, as many decisions will be split-second, but you can train your brain and your nervous system to make decisions faster and with more firmness.

You can decide to not back down when people are saying “you should do this” or “you should do that”. They are looking at your life through THEIR lens. What’s good for them may not be good for you.

One good way is to practice your decision-making muscle is through making longer term decisions quicker with more definiteness while deciding to change them slooooowly.

Let’s talk skills as a “longer term decision”. If you want to get good at a certain skill, you must decide to do it. I’m not talking about a wishy washy “that’ll be nice” a hemming and a hawing.

I’m talking about a firm, definite “this is the path I’m taking and I will reach the end no matter what”. If your circumstances change, be flexible with your decisions but stick with it until that happens.

Most of our generation is paralyzed by indecision. There are sooooooooooo many choices around that you think you will inevitably “miss out”. The truth of the matter is, you will always miss out on something. The question to ask is: “is it worth missing out on?”. A good number of things are, to be completely honest.

The habit of indecision and vacillation leads down a dead end road of analysis paralysis and mental masturbation, as is frequently seen in self-development and self-help. These two grind you down to bits and reduces your willpower and decision making abilities to a metric fraction of what the could be. No bueno.

Let’s turn it around.

Say you want to get good at playing the guitar. Write it down on a piece of paper and put it somewhere where you’ll always see it. Then, you decide “I’m going to play the guitar everyday no matter even if it’s 10 minutes”.

In your case, you want to be a great researcher. Make the decision to increase your researching skills by the smallest amount (minimum) per day.

This sounds a lot like setting goals – which it is….in a sense. It’s more like a statement of intention.

To make a decision, you don’t NEED to know all of the steps. Just get started. You’ll figure it out along the way.


Overcome.

The biggest enemy you’ll face in your life is the guy in the mirror. Scary, huh?

Most of the obstacles towards achieving all of the things you want to do in life are self-generated. Decisions, remember?

You must win the fight against your self-doubt, your laziness, your procrastination, your desire to take the easy way out… on a daily basis.

Once you do, you’ve already won half of the battle.

When you make a decision to do something you’ve never done before, you will ask yourself: “can I even do this?”

But no, you’ve gotta take that voice out. You’ve got to know that pretty much anything you want to do, you can do it.

Overcome it. And once you do, I swear you’ll feel 10x better about yourself and have more self-esteem in the process.


Focus.

This is the key part of the equation.

Where focus goes, attention flows. Remember that.

I think focus is a word that’s thrown around like a football, but few people know what it means.

Focus means being able to hone in on a single aspect and drill it down, executing it to the highest degree. It means blocking out all other nonessential information to the activity and narrowing the world to that single activity. Nothing else matters. Focus means blocking out all of the emotions you feel towards something and honing in on a nonobjective completion. It doesn’t matter what you feel…just get it done.

Very powerful worldview, huh?.

Focus is unfortunately undermined by external activities at every opportunity. Internet. Phone. TV. Social Media.

All of these things take away from the ability to do “deep work” as Cal Newport explains in his very important book.

Our generation is constantly distracted. Our reward centers have been rewired to thrive on constant stimulation and unfocused activity.

We’re bombarded with the distraction and stimulation of sites like Buzzfeed and Facebook that keep us scrolling, scrolling, scrolling down a black hole of nothing with substance. These sites give us little hits of dopamine here and there, keeping us hooked and away from other valuable activities.

The ability to engage in focused, intentional activity will do more to enhance your career and life than you can imagine. Developing concrete focus is a skill. It’s not something you’re born with.

You say you’re a researcher. This skill? Massive for you. I’d imagine that the ability to focus when it comes to research is as valuable as an oasis in the desert for your field.

Once you conquer that, boom. New skill set added. Move on to the next.

The only real way to accomplish this is again, through “deep work“. This type of work combined with deliberate practice will ensure that you master your skill set.


Master.

Now that you’ve focused on what you want to do – you must master it…or come close to it.

Think of mastery like one of those “curve graphs” that you learned in high school math. The other line will come close to it – but it will never reach it.

Achieving a high level of proficiency in a certain skill will elevate your quality of life dramatically. What skill is it?

In your case for research – knowing how to weave different strands of information together into one coherent structure may be the skill you need to master. Or it may be focused as I mentioned earlier. I dunno, I’m just going off the cuff. What do highly regarded researchers in your field do? What are they highly skilled at?

The path of mastery will also give you a high sense of fulfillment in whatever you choose to embark on. Extremely high skill in an area is the difference between struggling to get by and having people barge down your door begging for your expertise.

Even if you don’t attain mastery but come close to it – you will feel 10x better about yourself than if you didn’t.


Sequence.

You’ve mastered the skill or you’re as good at that skill as you want to be. Now, move to the next.

You say you want to do a lot of things. I might ask… in what order?

Don’t hop from skill to skill to skill. Becoming a “jack of all trades” is a romanticized fantasy. You can be awesome at several different things….or you can be mediocre at them all. It’s your choice.

One of the best things I did was create a “skill tree”. It works like this:

Figure out what foundational skills will help you develop other skills.

Let’s go back to the guitar example. I want to be a great guitarist. What is the absolute bedrock skill to help me master this?

It might be something like time management + cultivating the habit of focus.

I need to manage my time more effectively so I can practice for X number of minutes a day.

I need to have focus so I can engage in deliberate practice, enabling me to get better at guitar.

That is the absolute bedrock. The rationale is that this will flow into other areas as well. How you do one thing is how you do everything.

Then, make a list of things you could do that will relate to this skill.

Make a list of everything you want to get better at and organize them by sequence. Again, you’ll want to organize this by how you want YOUR life skills to flow. If you have a new priority to learn a certain skill (like for your job), then you’ll want to organize that by priority.

Putting this all down will free up your mind. It’s all right in front of you. You don’t have to drudge up through your subconscious memories to remember what you should be attempting to master.

Remember – take it step by step.

You’ll also need metrics to measure. Is your execution for this skill better than it was the last time? Did you do it quicker? Did you do a better job?

A good method to measure that would be to write it down or create an Excel sheet. What gets measured gets improved.

If you’re attempting to strengthen a skill without any objective measurements to compare against, you’re just wasting your time.


“Beware of endeavoring to become a great man in a hurry. One such attempt in ten thousand may succeed. These are fearful odds.” – Benjamin Disraeli

This is not an overnight thing. You don’t wake up one day and say “YAY! I’m a master!” and have all of the happiness and the acclaim that comes with it.

It’s not gained in pieces of big success. But through small advantages day by day.

You have to work up to greater and greater levels of decision. Greater and greater levels of focus. Greater and greater levels of planning.

Just know that this is a tremendous path you’re on but one that certainly worth it.

The ability to choose how you want to develop yourself will allow you to contribute more value. More value equals a greater “going price” on the market. A greater “going price” means you’re actually going to be able to gain great control over your career, and of course – your destiny.

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