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How Much Do You Care?

It’s never been easier to be exactly the person you want to be.

Unlike the vast majority of people in the entire history of the world, you, person reading this on the internet, weren’t born into circumstances that dictated that you’d have to spend most of your waking life worrying about food or shelter. Without getting up, you can access more knowledge than Plato and Galileo and Newton had available over their entire lives. You can travel faster, further, and in greater comfort than any Roman emperor. You can eat like a caveman, or you can pick up the phone and access a greater selection of food than any monarch born before WWII could summon from the farthest corners of his/her kingdom.

Similarly, it’s never been easier to reshape your body and your mind. Whether you want to look like Ronnie Coleman or Eugen Sandow or Brad Pitt, the principles behind getting to that size and shape are pretty well-established. If you want to rewire your brain and become cleverer, happier, more confident, better, those tools are out there too. They’re not even terribly well-hidden.

So the only question left is: how much do you care? This isn’t a flippant question, and answering it on a regular basis is the key to self-improvement, being happy and staying sane.

Probably best to explain via an example. I, for reasons to do with playing a lot of Street Fighter 2 as a teenager, would quite like to be the best fighter in the world. Or at least better at fighting than I am, which I would describe as ‘good in comparison to most of the population, but not nationally competitive.’ It occupies quite a lot of my thinking time. I know, right?

Could I be much, much better at fighting than I am? Absolutely. While maintaining my job and relationship, I could make sure I never miss a class (at the expense of nights out with friends) make time to drill or ask questions or take notes or get private lessons. If I wanted to change things around a bit I could work less, save money by spending less on , and go to more classes. If I was really committed, I could get a job at the gym/dojo, train all the time and split up with my girlfriend.

I don’t do any of these things, obviously. I don’t do them for the same reason that you don’t do any of these things: I like going out with my friends, I love my girlfriend, I like my job and having spare cash to spend on stuff I want. I like cooking elaborate breakfasts on a Sunday morning, not being punched in the face.

So that’s how much I care about being brilliant at fighting: enough to train quite a lot, not enough to give up elaborate breakfasts. And that’s the key. By consciously embracing the process I can fine-tune it. Instead of blaming non-existent obstacles (lack of time or cash, lack of parental involvement when I was three, lack of talent), I can concentrate on the only real one (don’t care enough), identify steps I can take to change it, then apply them at a level I’m comfortable with.

And here’s the actual secret: this is the way everyone thinks about everything, but acknowledging the process is the difference between being happy and productive and being a frustrated mess. Do you want to get leaner more or less than you want to get wasted on Fridays or eat doughnuts for breakfast? Do you want to write a book more than you want to spend your weeknights hanging out with your friends? Do you want to improve yourself, or carry on the way you are? There’s no wrong way to answer, except for pretending that the question doesn’t exist. Don’t say you can’t do what you want: admit that you don’t care enough.

It’s never been easier to do anything you want. How much do you care?

HOMEWORK: Choose something you want to do: write a book, drop two percent bodyfat, learn Mandarin or whatever. Write down five things you could do this week to get you closer to that goal – ideally one simple, a few slightly trickier, and one totally outlandish. Stop eating crisps, write a plot outline, move to China, whatever.  Decide whether or not you’re actually going to do them. Congratulations: you just realised how much you care.

About the author

joelsnape

Editor and creator of Live Hard. Fighting enthusiast, steak lover and aficionado of all things self-improvement related.

4 Comments

  • I was generally nodding furiously throughout.

    I started thinking about how broadly this might apply and couldn’t help thinking of the “talent” show contestants and their frequent protestations of intense desire. They claim that they really really really “want this”. Often how much it means to them is about all they’ve got to say for themselves.

    Often, I believe they really do care.

    Don’t say you can’t do what you want: admit that you don’t care enough.

    Very often you’re right. People make excuses. Other times there is an element of natural talent or physique that comes into it. We are not born blank slates, egalitarian though it might sound. We have different body shapes that limit what we can realistically do. No amount of wanting or belief or hard work will make a man of my stature a top basketball player. It shouldn’t be that surprising if our brains aren’t all the same either.

    But yeah, that’s no excuse for, erm, excuses. People just have to play to their strengths. Perhaps it’s about reaching your potential or not giving a shit?

    • Thanks James, I agree. The thing is, I think that you can say you really care about something and mean it, but if you don’t express that through your actions – by getting singing lessons or whatever – then it doesn’t matter. Also, I think that TV talent competitions are more like a Black Swan-style lottery than any kind of genuine way to let the best person win, so they’re a bit of a special case – but that’s a bigger subject for another post.

      I also agree about the physique thing. I’ll never be the best in the world at many of the things I like, but I could be enormously better at them than I am right now. And it’s not necessarily about reaching your ultimate potential, it’s more about recognizing that the things really limiting you aren’t what you think they are. For instance, I like bouldering, but it’s pretty far down my list of priorities and I need massive legs for squatting, so I’ll never be very good at it. But I enjoy it, so that’s fine.

  • Great post. There are two related themes here.

    One is not making excuses and admitting you just don’t care enough to do something or to do it at the highest level. “Will not” versus “cannot.”

    The second is the concept of trade-offs. In your example, you cannot be the best at fighting AND maintain a job, relationships, financial well-being, etc. This is perhaps the harder thing to come to grips with for us Type A’s that want to be great at everything. Is it better to be really, really, REALLY good at one thing, or have some degree of competence in five different things? To do the former, you have to care enough about that one thing, but NOT care about the others. To do the latter, you have to care somewhat about each but acknowledge that you don’t care enough to give up the others – because you also care about those other things. It is truly difficult to acknowledge – especially in the moment of doing or thinking about one particular thing that you love – that you are deciding to give up (OK, that sounds too negatives, maybe “sacrifice” is more appropriate) on optimizing any single thing. I guess we all have a “budget” of caring (expressed in time, energy and financial resources) that we can spend on one thing or spread among multiple things.

    The encouraging part is that, instead of beating ourselves up for not accomplishing something, we can realize that it is because we ALSO care about other things.

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