Raise The Floor
If we wish to keep on doing the things we do, our greatest gains rarely matter as much as our greatest losses. You may very well have heard me describe this phenomenon as a bias for raising the floor, compared with a bias for raising the ceiling. It’s not the popular way of thinking, but it’s one that lends itself to success over time.
There’s a psychological bias with which we’re burdened that often causes us to overvalue the good and ignore the bad. It’s often wrapped up in a focus on snapshots rather than trends over time.
We see this in myriad examples:
- Business coaches who take snapshots of their Stripe accounts on record days (not mentioning the months of meager sales)
- Movement coaches who post their PR lifts, dazzling tricks, or awe-inspiring end ranges of motion (glossing over the injury that occurred in the process)
- Economic reports focusing on jobs created (ignoring jobs lost)
It doesn’t matter how much we win when playing a game if we can’t continue to play the game. Progress isn’t progress if it unduly increases risk along the way. Unfortunately many people bring a wildly myopic focus to their goals, thinking in terms of days, weeks, or months rather than years. They focus on short term gain often at the expense of long term sustainability.
We’d be better served eliminating the zeroes from our lives and mitigating risk of failure.
Consider a simple example…
If I want to write a book (or books), writing 10,000 words in a day is deceptive.
Was I able to write any other days of the week? Or did I burn myself out for a record high?
In the case of writing I’m far better served by ensuring that there are no days in which I write zero words. Every day that I write one sentence is one fewer days that I write zero sentences. This is a vote for consistency however small it may be.
What we’re after isn’t a process of fizzling. We’re after the rolling averages. Each day we keep a bargain with ourselves is a day we trust ourselves a bit more. What most people neglect is the fact that big changes emerge from a multitude of tiny changes across time. The small shifts set the stage for a far greater emergence.
However, this does of course require patience, something far too many lack. It also involves thinking precisely inverse of the way most do.
If you were to hover over my shoulder at the office, you’d never see me chasing a record revenue month. Instead you’d most often see me finding ways to reliably increase my lowest-earning months. Those are the months that set the true boundaries for how much I earn (and keep) in my business.
It’s not very sexy, but it does create a much more robust foundation.
I was approached recently by a colleague who wanted some advice. In the past few years she has 10x’ed the number of people who follow her, and yet despite the huge growth spurt she hasn’t managed to pay herself any more. She was confused how I seemed to have put together a much bigger business despite having only a fraction of the audience (and not having a team to back me up). After talking with her it was clear that two things were happening:
- She was focusing on the wrong metrics, and
- She was massively increasing her risk even as she grew.
Growth at the expense of security and sustainability is not growth you want. It doesn’t matter how big business is if it’s built on top of a powder keg (as every major bailout should have shown us).
So what do we do with this nice-sounding idea?
First, clarify what actually matters. Ideally you’re able to think beyond next week. In the next year, or five years, or ten years what is most important to you?
Then, investigate what metrics actually matter in pursuit of this goal or priority. Be wary of tracking things that don’t move the needle on what matters most. And while we’re on the subject of tracking, develop a habit of tracking the rolling averages. Every complex system is characterized by ebbs and flows. The ups and downs are normal. But is the weekly or monthly trend in the direction you want?
Lastly, link your metrics to something over which you have agency. Words written per day is a good metric for me because I have direct control over that. Likewise the number of pulls per week on the deadlift is a nice metric because I can increase it simply by putting myself in front of the barbell more frequently.
Does your average miles/day walked increase each week? If you increased your average by only 1% each week, you’d end up with over 60% increase by the year’s end. That may seem like slow going to some, but it’s a pace that doesn’t unduly tax one’s internal resources. It’s a pace that reinforces success and a sense of efficacy. It’s a pace you could conceivably maintain until you die.
Raise. The. Floor. It’s the only way to build a future you can sustain.
Originally published on The Ecosomatics Institute Blog