Hacks and Shortcuts

We want insights. We want hacks. We want shortcuts. We want packaged knowledge.

Books are a great example of an attempt to impart knowledge and wisdom. They encapsulate the author's journey in understanding something. And their attempt at putting together the learnings. Quite a bunch of it come from the author's exploration of other people's learnings.

To get a book, you need to spend significant amount of time contextualising and applying. A book you resonate with is someone who's expressed the seed of a thought you had in a beautiful way. A book is a way of looking at something you couldn't have, as the sum total of your experiences won't allow you to do so. The ideas that ping inside your brain, the tangents you jump to, that's what you want.

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But we are heading towards a different place. With book summaries and Blinkist. Nothing against book summaries. There are many books which are glorified blog posts and the book summary cuts across the fluff. And many books are repeating what others have said already.

Reading a book and/or a book summary and jotting down ten things to remember is missing the point. That's why, even though Twitter is filled with some amazing information, what does one learn? Not much. Because you cannot inject these learnings into your life, which is contextually different from the person sharing it.

Reading about one's life experience and assuming you know what to do now is silly. You are better off than before, maybe. But until you figure out a way of connecting it to your own internal experience, in whatever tangential or small way, there's no way of understanding.

And without understanding, there's no meaning.

A fitness challenge

Connecting this to fitness, let me introduce you to Coach Dan John's 10000 swing challenge.

Coach's challenge is simple - can you do 10,000 swings in 4 weeks, training 5 days a week? Simple math reveals that one should do 500 swings a day. Further details about the challenge are:

  • You do 10 swings, rest a bit, 15 swings, rest a bit, 25 swings, rest a bit, 50 swings, and take a much longer break.
  • That's one cluster. You do a total of 5 clusters.
  • Men are recommended to do this with a 24 kg bell, while women are recommended a 16 kg bell.

This is not an easy challenge, nor is it meant to be. Doing 500 swings in a single workout is rough (assuming you know how to do swings well.) A set of 50 swings is brutal.

A 30-day challenge takes 30 days

A complication is the fact that this takes 30 days to do. What does one get at the end of the 30 days? What's the sell?

Another common complication might be to improve on the challenge.

Why not do this in 10 days instead of 30?

Why a 24 kg bell when I can do one-arm swings with a 32 kg? Should I not be working with at least the 32 kg bell?

Why should I not do a set of 100? Why bother with the pesky sets of 10 and 15?

Why not do one-arm swings? Or better yet, snatches?

PC: Gayatri Nair

Well, here's a reason - because that's not the challenge.

One must have the basic sensibility and humility to not improve (at least the first few times) on someone with a lot more coaching experience under their belt.

There are only two options when you read a training plan or challenge by a coach. Ignore it. Or follow it to the letter.

All the questions and improvements you have in your head will be resolved and transformed into learnings and better questions in 4 weeks, once you have the 10,000 swings under your belt.

A 30-day challenge requires 30 days of commitment. It requires you following the steps. While you might've done kettlebell swings for a few years, your lens on creating a challenge will be different from a coach who's worked with 1000s of people.

There are no shortcuts to doing 10,000 swings. You cannot learn the same from 1000 swings (vs 10,000.) That's not saying you won't learn anything from a thousand - but it will not be the same.

Packaged solutions are average solutions

But we live in an age of shortcuts. In an age of compressed knowledge. Of hacks and improvements. The age of hustle.

We think replacing rice with millets will solve all our problems. Or replacing rice with roti. Or not eating carbs. Or not eating fats.

We think going to the gym daily will solve our fitness problems.

We think slotting a packaged solution into our lives will take care of it.

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It won't.

The ideas in a book, the fitness challenge, the "30 days of no sugar", the "I will read for 30 minutes daily" - they all need you to spend time with them. As you struggle through it, as you figure out why and how it applies to your life, you learn.

The insights come after. Not from the packaged version of the idea but the application of the idea. You will make mistakes, you will misunderstand, but as you teach yourself, you will learn.

The whole is more than a sum of the parts

You will have questions during, and after. You will doubt yourself. You will be confused. But that's okay.

When you look for a packaged solution, you are thinking of removing one stand-alone part of the machine and slotting an upgrade. The problem is not ONLY in the part but in the whole.

Going to the gym daily won't resolve your waist size. Eating better, sleeping better AND going to the gym will get you closer. But what will truly close the circle is letting go of wrong expectations, of living your journey, and trusting the process.

Your operating system keeps upgrading itself. That's the only way.

My way of understanding the books I read, the conversations I have, and the exchanges with my students and family is to write about them.

Wood block stacking as step stair, Business concept for growth success process
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What I've realised is reading a book or studying a course is the first step in a journey. Not the last. The completion of that task indicates that now the real learning starts. And many times, you might realise it is not a tool you want to utilise. There are many average books out there. Or many good books which don't connect with you. That's fine. Drop it and move on.

When you find a book, a challenge, a tool, a mentor - well, that's a path to travel for a few weeks or months or years.