Eat That Frog
Here are the four levels of competence and something to think about your time management.
Mark Twain once said, "Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day."
Though, it's debatable whether he actually said something like this. Nevertheless, if you can get past the visual, this little piece of advice is priceless.
Brian Tracy in his book, Eat That Frog, talks more about this proverbial croaker.
Your “frog” is your biggest, most important task, the one you are most likely to procrastinate on if you don’t do something about it. It is also the one task that can have the greatest positive impact on your life and results at the moment.
The first rule of frog eating is this: If you have to eat two frogs, eat the ugliest one first.
This is another way of saying that if you have two important tasks before you, start with the biggest, hardest, and most important task first. Discipline yourself to begin immediately and then to persist until the task is complete before you go on to something else.
Think of this as a test. Treat it like a personal challenge. Resist the temptation to start with the easier task. Continually remind yourself that one of the most important decisions you make each day is what you will do immediately and what you will do later, if you do it at all.
The second rule of frog eating is this: If you have to eat a live frog at all, it doesn’t pay to sit and look at it for very long.
The key to reaching high levels of performance and productivity is to develop the lifelong habit of tackling your major task first thing each morning. You must develop the routine of “eating your frog” before you do anything else and without taking too much time to think about it."
The singular important common denominator in the lives of all successful people is this: they almost always open their day with a productive morning. They have a routine that they stick to no matter what.
Most people we call gifted, they are usually the product of relentless discipline, dedication and hard work. When you look at a creative person, say a poet, a writer or a painter, maybe a musician or just any successful person, you may be tempted to think that there's something special going on for them. That, they wake up every morning to great flashes of brilliance or something from some other world descends upon them. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Whatever you wish to master, give it a bit of time every day and before you know it, you'll be frolicking about in the same pond of creativity and competence as the best of the best in your field. Per psychology, moving from incompetence to competence has four stages. It is a skill anyone can acquire. I came across the hierarchy of competence in multiple works, but Graham Fitch's succinct description of it in Practicing The Piano is my favorite. Here are the four stages by Mr. Fitch (in italics), with some of my own commentary:
1. Unconscious Incompetence (The Novice)
We don’t know that we don’t know.
This might manifest in an overly confident attitude, thinking that can't be all that hard or that it won't take long to master. We are blissfully ignorant of what is really involved.
At this stage, we underestimate, if not completely deny, the usefulness of the skill and the effort required to reach that state. We take up meditation and we think that we'll master it in just a few weeks or months. Or that, I won't need as much time to champion it as the adepts before me. Or worse still, that I'll just do it for a bit of fun and that'll suffice to elevate my consciousness to unimaginable heights.
We are tempted to think that Sachin Tendulkar or Mozart were just born with those talents. Or I'm so intelligent that I can clear that prestigious entrance exam without ever lifting a book and so on. The novice leaves things to chance, prays for the best and hopes for unreasonably favorable conditions to come through. Only if there's a tremendous willingness to learn backed by a disciplined and determined effort does this person progress to the next stage.
2. Conscious Incompetence (The Apprentice)
We know that we don’t know.
“Ah! This is much harder than I thought. I’m not sure I can accomplish this.” Motivation and encouragement are often needed at this stage of learning as this is where it is easy to give up.
Most people when they take up anything, at first, they expect a lot to happen with a little effort. But eventually you recognize that there's a great deficit between where you are presently and where you want to be (or imagined you would be). This is the second stage; you are aware that you don't know. A decision needs to be made now. Do I continue well knowing it'll take a lot of time and effort or do I give up and just rejoice in watching other masters rather than becoming one myself? An overwhelming majority of aspirants give up at this stage. But, those who don't and are not ashamed of making mistakes move to the third stage.
3. Conscious competence (The Journeyman)
We know that we know.
This is the stage that lasts the longest. It still feels difficult and awkward, and yet we believe that, after much more work, we will reach our goal. We are constantly striving for the right tools for the job, slowly chipping away at problems and challenges.
There's this clumsy effort, and sometimes external assistance, required to demonstrate your skill. You are clear about what you know and what you don't. You are able to do what you intend to do but it's not effortless. It is taxing you and the person in front can see your challenges and struggles. By and large, however, you are able to accomplish the task. There's anxiety, nervousness, uncertainty coursing through your veins along with your competence. If you don't give up, you make giant strides. The journeyman (or journeywoman) soon moves to the final stage then.
4. Unconscious competence (The Master)
We don’t know that we know.
At this stage, we can play our piece [of piano] with no conscious thought. It feels easy, and we often wonder why we ever struggled. We are on autopilot, and can take risks or go with the flow.
By now, the skill has become your second nature. There's a natural effortlessness and ease. People around you think you are gifted or talented or that you had some special access to resources. You don't wait for some inspiration at this stage, you create it. Indeed, you become an inspiration yourself.
Whether you wish to master the art of happiness or meditation, build body or lose weight, be successful in your business or job, just remember that it is possible, there’s hope, it can be done. And, it is done by learning that skill, mastering it and putting it to use. That's how an Elon Musk builds a string of profitable companies or a J.K. Rowling writes a series of engrossing books. It all begins by having a daily discipline and sticking with it. Inspiration, motivation etc. flow from all directions for the one who’s disciplined.
As Bill Gates said, “Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.”
A little bit every day goes very far. Be done with the boring or difficult things in the morning. The thing you wish to avoid the most, just do it. Plan your morning the night before so you are ready to jump straight into action the moment you are up. Do it, do it, just do it. Don't waste your mornings on emails, messaging and lazing around.
A rich man commissioned Mulla Nasrudin to make a portrait of his wife. “Don’t worry about the cost, just paint the finest picture of her,” he said. After several sittings, Mulla presented the portrait but the customer wasn’t pleased.
“This doesn’t look like my wife at all,” he said. “This is one ugly woman.”
“Sir,” Mulla replied politely, “if you wanted me to paint an apple, you shouldn’t have handed me a pear.”
Results come from actions alone. Not from daydreaming, procrastination or affirmations. Right action coupled with the right skillset yield the results we seek. If you want to save more, the primary focus must be on income and not expenses, for example. If you wish to progress, your time must be invested in things that matter.
No matter how much you admire or kiss it, the frog is not going to turn into a prince. In fact, if you don’t eat it, it’s going to just sit there and croak all day. You may as well gobble it down. Ketchup?
P.S. At the Black Lotus launch in Bangalore, I am looking forward to sharing the dais with Mr. Bhavish Aggarwal, Co-founder and CEO of Ola, one of the world’s largest ride-sharing companies. You are welcome to join me. 18-Jan-2019. Free Entry. Details here.
This article first appeared on os.me.