How can you become World Class at what you do?

Avthar’s Weekly Newsletter #19 (9/6/2020)

Hello from New York City!

It’s labor day weekend here in the USA, so that means a long weekend, with time to rest, reflect and catch up with loved ones. 

This week, I’ve been pondering the question: “How can I apply the principles of training and performance of elite athletes to the knowledge work I do?”. 

One aspect present in sports but not in knowledge work is coaching. So this past week, I started working with a coach as an experiment.

I’ve realized that being present and peaceful is the foundation for my success in my career pursuits, as well as in my relationships and friendships, so I’m approaching coaching with the clear goal of helping me improve my control over my internal state. I’m hoping that coaching will help me better protect my internal state, stay maximally present, and notice unwanted past influences and bad habits and help me overcome them. (Shoutout to reader and new friend Vishnu R for the push to try coaching!)

To my surprise, the first session was a fruitful one:

  • My coach helped me crystalize my vision in life: to live a peaceful life of contribution.

  • We discussed “being” vs “doing”:  I have a bias to action, which has helped me succeed as a student, entrepreneur and techie, but in their words, “I can’t do my way to a peaceful life”.

  • We also discussed the effects of growing up in a competitive schooling environment and how that might lead me to be externally oriented rather than internally oriented in my life, which is counterproductive to my optimal performance.

As always, I’ll be sharing more about the experiment as it unfolds.

Earlier this week, I fleshed out more of my vision for avthar.com, my umbrella term for my website, newsletter and upcoming podcast. I also envisioned where I want to take it over the next 6 months. I’m excited to share both the long term vision and 6 month goals with you in an upcoming essay. Here’s a sneak peak in mind map form:

I ended the week with a productive Saturday with my writing group doing a Crossfit for Writing session, which, as the name suggests, is a workout for your mind.

What’s in this week’s newsletter?

This week, I want to share some of my favorite books on high performance and my takeaways from a recent read which is causing me to design my life, “The Power of Full Engagement”.

As always, let me know which parts spoke to you by replying to this email or hitting the comment button.

Thank you for reading and please enjoy!

With gratitude, 

Avthar


Avthar’s Top Reads on Success and High Performance

I’ve been fascinated with high performance from a young age. Perhaps it was competing at the International Junior Science Olympiad (the olympics of science for high schoolers) at 15 and coming home empty handed that kindled within me a desire to become world class at what I do and figure out how to get there.

Since then, I’ve devoured several books on the topic in search of frameworks and themes which I could apply in my pursuit of mastery. 

I started by reading “Outliers: The Story of Success” by Malcom Gladwell [📚Book, Summary], which deconstructs the factors behind the success of people like Bill Gates and the Beatles. (Fun fact: I read outliers while in a volcano national park while on a community service project in Costa Rica.) 

I then moved onto books like: 

  • “The Art of Learning” by Josh Waitzkin, which gave me a toolkit for cultivating an internal state conducive to world class performance [📚My takeaways]

  • “Mastery” by Robert Greene, which lays out a comprehensive pathway to finding and becoming world class at your destined skill, by examining the likes of Da Vinci, Mozart and Einstein [📚Book, Summary]

  • and “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, which introduced me to the concept of flow states, states where your sense of self disappears and you’re totally absorbed in your activity. Flow states are crucial to producing our best work. [📚Book, Summary]

Other books I’ve enjoyed on the topic include “The 4 Hour Chef” by Tim Ferriss [📚Book, Summary] and “Peak: Secrets from the new science of expertise” by K Anders Ericsson [📚Book, Summary]. Fun fact: Anders Ericsson authored the paper which originated the famous 10 000 hour rule.

This past week, I encountered another promising book on high performance that I’d like to share with you: “The Power of Full Engagement”.


The Power of Full Engagement

In order for knowledge to be useful, it needs to be the right time for you to absorb it. We can all think of a book we started and abandoned, only to come back to it years later and find it profound. 

“The Power of Full Engagement” is one of those books for me. I’ve tried to read it previously, but only succeeded this time due to the burning desire to balance the demands of my full time job at a tech startup, my side projects (blog, this newsletter, upcoming podcast), as well as my friendships and relationships.

Here’s my top takeaways so far:

  • 🔑 Managing energy is the key to high performance

  • 🌊 Humans are rhythmic creatures. The oscillation between stress and recovery (intensity and calm) is inherent to human nature. Examples include: breathing, heartbeat, circadian rhythm.

  • Energy needs to be spent and renewed. Fatal errors come from not spending enough or not renewing enough. In modern life, most of us spend too much energy and renew too little.

  • There are 4 fundamental sources of energy, we must cultivate each one to succeed in performing well and living a fulfilled life. They are Physical, Mental, Emotional and Spiritual. They are all interconnected.

  • 💪 Physical energy comes from our sleep, movement and diet. We can renew it through good quality sleep, a healthy diet which promotes energy and focus and exercise.

  • 😊 Emotional energy comes from experiencing positive emotions like enjoyment, challenge, adventure and opportunity. We renew emotional energy through affirming, enjoyable and fulfilling activities, like connecting with friends and family, as well as  creating or making something.

  • 🧠 Mental energy comes from our cognitive capacity to organize our lives and focus our attention. We renew it through preparation activities like the daily or weekly review, periodic work using the Deep Work or pomodoro methods, as well as through exercise.

  • 🙏 Spiritual energy comes from our values and purpose related to something bigger than us. Spiritual renewal comes from sources like reading spiritual books, gratitude, journaling on your purpose, prayer and meditation.

  • 🕒 Designing life architectures and routines around optimally spending and renewing the 4 kinds of energy will help us reach peak performance.

The theme of building renewal into our day was especially striking for me, since we usually try to squeeze every bit of productivity from a day. I’ve since spent time brainstorming how I can renew each of the 4 forms throughout my week and recommend you do too.

In addition to the book, here’s a two great summaries to get the key points:

Animated Summary by Productivity Game

TEDx Talk by co-author Tony Schwartz: The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working


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I hope you have a week full of success, happiness and peace. 

Thank you so much for reading!