Standard for Success
Video Length: 2:04 min
This article uses an academic context to describe how much we should be pushing ourselves in practice. What I appreciate most about this article is the assumption that all data, whether acquired through success or failure, is useful. In some ways, it redefines the way we should consider success.
As a SEAL, emphasis is placed on being perfect. Obviously, we will never be perfect, but in a culture of high-stakes missions and ultra-competitive personalities, we sometimes lose sight of what success really is. I remember vividly a time where we were presented with this idea. We were at a training block designed for high-performance combat shooting. We spent 8 hours a day for weeks on these ranges, shooting at targets from different distances while standing, sitting, and kneeling. I like to think that we were excellent shooters. Up to that point, our emphasis had been placed on being accurate. The penalty for missing a shot was the ridicule of teammates and the frustration of not being perfect. By doing this, we completely ignored the other aspect of shooting: speed. As we started having more perfect runs, the instructor of that course said to us “If you’re not missing, you’re going too slow.”
Boom. Earth Shattering. We were so wrapped up in feeling good about hitting our targets, we forgot to actually improve our shooting. His suggestion was to go as fast as we possibly could, regardless of whether we hit the target or not. From there, we were to dial back the speed until we were only missing 2 of every 10 targets. That’s where we needed to be. If we were hitting them all, we had to gradually go faster until we missed some. Suddenly, the rules of the game had been changed. We understood that the instant gratification of hearing the round strike the steel plate was a cheap dopamine hit that fooled us into thinking we were getting better. In reality, it was a symptom of our own failure to continue to challenge ourselves. We were failing to perform outside of our comfort zone. We were not as good as we could be. The test was far too easy. Suddenly, our measure of success (perfect accuracy) became indicative of failure. Armed with this new perspective, we made the test a little harder.
Design, Discipline, & Decision:
I wrote this piece under the intentionalism category because I think it is an intentional move to push yourself to temporary failure. Notice I said “temporary” failure. I made that distinction because it is only failure in the short term. In the long term, you are forced to adapt, learn, and overcome adversity. How can we do that without raising the standard? Ask yourself if you want to be comfortable and rely on cheap dopamine hits, or do you want to genuinely become better?
Name areas in which you take pride in your performance. Why do you take pride? Is it because you are comfortable being successful by a standard that is too easy? Fitness? Work? Family? Is the standard too lax in any of those areas? Be objective.
Elon Musk once said, “If we’re not failing, we’re not innovating enough.” He understands that the goal isn’t to merely be successful once. The goal is to continue to be as successful as you can be.