It's a dichotomy I've struggled, and still struggle, quite a lot. I thought I've gotten it right when I read The Art of Learning by J. Waitzkin. He described it in a succinct, accurate and excellently clear manner. It's a very tricky point, hard to get as more than just an intellectual concept, to get it right in practice with successful consistency.
My outcomes, over time, demonstrated that I had significant issues and misguided derailments related to balancing this dichotomy and for a long time, I wasn't even aware of it.
This piece is, in small part, me working on this area, improving my understanding and fixing the issues, and in large part, a piece that was supposed to be really short but which ended up getting extended due to new ideas.
+ Show Spoiler +
P.S. I absolutely don't have the time to proof read it. Not like I'd do it normally, I just decided to write some stuff and share it.
Winning, improving and an enigmatic lady.
Real outcomes vs improving. Winning vs improving. Current state of mind vs current skills. Win and improve simultaneously vs strictly one at a time. General dichotomies. Balancing them well is important. It's strategic.
The rate of improvement is cold and indifferent when they're off balance. Likewise, the rate of improvement presents a much more welcoming and generous attitude when these dichotomies are well balanced.
In this piece, let's meet the very charming and curious lady who can also, despite being known for her stability in the pathways of reason, seem very moody. In reality, it's much more accurate to say she's enigmatic, with a lot of depth and nuance, not to be understood easily, and possibly never completely.
Let's introduce ourselves to the dichotomy of winning vs improving. This lady is quite nuanced in her manners but in her nature, there's something severe, too, not to be trifled with. Be real and to the point but simultaneously, do well with all the nuances and subtleties, too. She'll smile readily and generously. You're a welcome guest.
Be very real and to the point but close-minded, blind to anything that recedes from the concrete block to the more abstract architecture, this lady will not be very pleased. She'll find the constricted, rigid corridors you hold for your thoughts, too narrow for her to endure, a degrading torture to try complying with those. She'll retain only the most basic of niceties and she may recommend you to her book-averse friend. However, it's doubtful she'll be willing to see you again.
Be very well-versed with imaginative creativity, nuance and subtlety but rather unreal, ever missing anything concrete when asked or when needed, this lady will probably not be very pleased, too. She'll find the abstract, amorphous ways of your cognition and doing to be too devoid of anything solid to hold onto. She'll leave, feeling weird, amused perhaps. She may suggest you to her friend who doesn't mind being slightly, or perhaps not so slightly, off base. She will, however, treat you with similar seriousness that you offer to a fellow she tends to respect quite a lot, the real outcomes. That is, not very seriously.
Naturally, it's quite preferable you develop yourself to be at the level of the first guest. The one who was both realistic and imaginative at the same time, as opposed to the level of the two gentleman who came after.
They were both quite limited as they could only develop well in one part of the dichotomy and not the other. Thus, the part that was starved of proper development was derailing the part that was very well developed, bringing their total level way lower as a result. Now that we've covered introductions with the enigmatic lady whom we wish to get to know, let's move on to an example.
Let's say you've made a decision. You play to improve, not to win. You don't care about losing or winning. If you win but don't improve, it's a defeat to you. Conversely, losing but improving draws victory on your paper. If you improve enough, winning is the natural side effect. This is the reasoning powering this growth-oriented mindset.
What would you say, does that work? Say you really go at it and keep at it for say, 3 months. Does it take you further than reasonable alternatives?
The problem is, are you confronting yourself with this approach? It's rather extreme. If you say winning doesn't matter, you can amount loss after loss after loss and feel no pain, no frustration. You're improving, it's a process, so it's fine. Are you sure? Is it? Really?
If you're not confronting your defeats, directly, how can you actually match your improvement needs to your current, real level and real outcomes? If you're not confronting your defeats, how can you work on your real improvement needs?
How can you verify that what you think you need to work on is not off-base, miscalculated or derailed by a slight, albeit strategic error?
This approach tends to work very poorly. At least that's my current view. It's a more subtle version of a cop out. Trying to make improving into something easy. The real problems you actually need to work on now are never properly identified, nor do you struggle with that with which you really need to struggle and you keep failing to even begin figuring out the stuff that you truly need to figure out right now.
The general direction it tends to take on, is that of our third, more imaginative gentleman. The one who's in more of a long-distance relationship with reality.
Depending on how off-balance it is, excluding other influencing factors, it tends to create improvement path that grows on it's own, as if just for its own sake and remains poorly related, if not completely alienated, from the real outcomes, real problems and real work that needs to be done. Even if it is as challenging and hard, it's off sync.
Aside from that derailment, it can easily be intensified by the excuses, justifications, denials, lying to oneself and the like, to avoid real challenges and walk the easy path, as its lack of close eye on real outcomes leaves it vulnerable and exposed to these.
Well, let's say you've made a decision and it's very different. It's the complete opposite approach to the focusing on improving route. Fuck all the improving over time and process-oriented crap. There is a process, of course but winning now comes first. Winning is what matters in the end, so it is what matters when you start, too. I have to win, more and more, now. Real outcomes, no bullshit, no promises, real outcomes, better and better, now.
I just do everything and give it my all to win, now. When I win enough times, naturally I'll improve. Not only will I improve, I'll improve directly at winning, too. I will never lose touch with real outcomes. I won't be one of those fantasy-land, dreaming weirdos who think they're gonna somehow get real good by some wacky scheme of re-inventing the wheel of improving.
Fuckheads. Can't just get their ass over to do any real work on their shit. Enjoy your dreamland, dipshits. It's the only place they can find solace, given the immeasurable and infinite level of failing they're able to reach with anything real.
With or without the sharpness of tongue and less than courteous remarks, this is the general reasoning behind this approach. Real outcomes have to be now, in some form or shape, or they'll never be there.
What do you think? Does that work? Does that lead, over time, to meaningful, real outcomes? Reaching mastery levels in the discipline of choice?
What if you just keep losing? Since your primary focus is on real outcomes, how do you maintain perspective when they're not there? You'll just keep calm and keep adjusting until they are there? What if you keep calm and really keep adjusting for a long time and there are almost no real outcomes, no real improvements to be seen?
You're just gonna keep adjusting it until it works, like Edison, you'll just find the 10 000 ways that don't work, before finding the one that works, and then the real outcomes will be there?
What if you do it for a really long time and the line of real improvements is flat as it was, occupying almost the same vertical geometry as the timeline of you going at it?
What if there are real improvements but they're not enough? What then? You're just gonna focus harder on winning, and try way harder, and work way more, and then still work more and then some more? What if works for a while but then it's just not nearly enough? You still only have 24 hours per day, is that your version of being realistic and attaining real outcomes?
This approach tends to work very poorly, too. At least that's my view. It's actually not realistic. It prioritizes and focuses on being realistic and keeping to the real outcomes and yet, ironically, it's unrealistic. It starts with a misguided and unrealistic notion that you improve real outcomes by focusing on real outcomes.
By definition, real outcomes come from real causes. There's all this quantum mechanics stuff and that's fine but practically speaking, real causes come before real outcomes. By inference, it makes sense that real causes must involve a real process and the real outcomes are at the end of the chain of that process.
If any element before the last one - the real outcomes - is not functioning properly or missing, how can such a process produce real outcomes?
Let's say you've made a decision and your approach doesn't follow, or even resemble, either of the two approaches above. Instead, it integrates them and applies one, the other, or both, when it makes sense, where it makes sense, how it makes sense, to degrees that make sense, based on whatever the criteria and variables of the individual predisposition, training, environment and general conditions happen to be.
The reasoning is that neither real outcomes nor improvement process represent a complete enough approach but even more to the point, it's an unexplored terrain, full of unknowns to be figured out. There's no just mindlessly going at real outcomes with self-contradictory claims of being "realistic". Just as there is no sheltered improvement path that somehow doesn't need to be in direct, close and continuous way of meeting with, and adjusting to, real outcomes.
There's no reliable way to avoid the necessity of struggling and failing a lot in order to figure out a much of it, most of it, or almost all of it, sometimes. This approach isn't really focused on any one element in particular. It's focused on configuring and adjusting all the elements into something, into a way of going about it that actually works well in practice, for the given individual, based on precise individual needs, preferences, predispositions etc.
In other words, winning and improving, real outcomes and the process, being real and growth, it is all a tailor-made suit. There is no magic, universal way that works well for everyone and anyone. There are many ways that fit somewhat alright, somewhat but visibly off too, or completely don't fit, based on a type of a person, what kind of a learner they are, what way of developing themselves works for them.
Regardless of that assessment, even when it fits somewhat alright, it still involves many adjustments and tweaks, often tricky ones, easy to miss or get wrong. To actually make it work for that particular person, in order to get a satisfying, quality rate of improving and learning, there is no shortcut or some super easy, prefabricated solution to just copy and apply. At least that's my view.
It's figuring it out for oneself and failing thousands of times on the way. However, in this process of figuring it out for oneself, one becomes more like the first gentleman in our story. That is, the fellow who isn't just realistic, blunt and to the point or just imaginative, creative, well-versed with all the nuances and useful abstractions. He's real, to the point but at the same time, he does well with all the nuances and subtleties, too.
He has a pretty fine relationship with our enigmatic lady, the one kind enough to represent the dichotomy for this piece. It's good to keep this relationship fine and well, as this is a key factor in attaining real outcomes and real improvements on the way, and this is accomplished by the acts of balancing and individually figuring it out in practice.