Constrain your information to trusted voices.

"The successful warrior is the average man with laser-like focus."—Bruce Lee

I love this quote from Bruce Lee. However, this quote prompts the question: How does one achieve "laser-like focus"?

There's one method I believe deeply in: constrain your information to trusted voices.

To understand why constraints help breed focus, we need to understand why lack of focus occurs.

The Information Overload Problem

When I wanted to get better at personal fitness, I used to spend a lot of time looking at Reddit, looking at all kinds of different fitness blogs, comments, and websites. I waded between a number of voices that were sitting in my head. Imagine 10,000 versions of yourself sitting on your shoulders saying all kinds of different things, often contradictory, about what matters when it came to personal fitness. I suffered from classic information overload, which led to me doing nothing because I couldn't figure out what to do. NNT neatly captures a summary of the problem.

"The more information you give someone, the more hypotheses they will formulate along the way, and the worse off they will be. They see more random noise and mistake it for information." (Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Black Swan)

All that information led to analysis paralysis.

This situation is likely one you have found yourself in. It's common in today's information-addicted world.

The Power of Trusted Voices

Then, I signed up for Future.fit. Future pairs you with a single, highly qualified trainer responsible for being the one voice in my head telling me exactly what success looked like for me. From signing up for Future, I had one voice in my head that was telling me what the process would look like what things I needed to do. I was now free of the anxiety caused by information overload, the anxiety about whether I was doing the right thing. Since signing up for Future, I went from 50 workouts over the course of 5 years to completing over 250 in one year. I lost 20 lbs in the past year, thanks to constraining my information on fitness to my Future coach.

That's the power of a trusted voice in fighting information overload.

Trusted Voices = Defaults

A trusted voice is a default. From our experience with technology, we already know what the power of defaults (think of iPhones or Internet Explorer). This phenomenon is referred to as the default effect (more reading here).

The power of default is that they immediately clarify how you think about things. Rather than considering 10 different paths, there is a single one that is continously most obvious. Defaults can be the most powerful source of of reducing mental excitement and ensuring that your focus is highest.

Limiting your information to trusted voices channels the extreme power of the default effect in a positive way. This breeds focus.

How I Apply This

I've sought to apply this method to all phases of my life, not just fitness.

  • Habit Formation: When I care about how to improve something about my habits, I only listen to James Clear. (Other than fitness, this is perhaps the most clear-cut example in my life.)
  • Writing: The only voice I listen to for writing advice is David Perrell.
  • Fitness: As I mentioned, the only voice I listen to is my coach on Future, Rob.
  • Personal Development: Lately, the only voice I listen to for personal development is Michael Hyatt. I'm moving to replace this voice with Kevin, my Sphere coach.
  • Personal Life: The only voice I listen to is my girlfriend's. Funnily enough, this has coincided with our relationship being stronger (lol).

Areas I've struggled to find focus correspond neatly with those where I don't yet have trusted voices:

  • Career growth: Some candidate voices are Shyam Sankar, Auren Hoffman, Peter Thiel and Paul Graham. I don't have a clear "why" or sense of purpose here, which I consider the reason for why I haven't been able to settle on a trusted voice. What's the problem that needs to be solved?
  • Technical growth: I want to grow as a programmer and software engineer, but it's been extremely hard to find the one voice that I can hone in on. Similar to the career growth question, it's because I don't think I've defined the problem atomically or clearly enough.

I'll write follow up articles on the areas that haven't work so far to show how I found my trusted voices.

Constraints Breed Focus

I've found that it truly helps to figure out a voice to follow. By picking trusted voices, you constrain your information choice and create the conditions for focus. Focus yields results.

To constrain, focus on an uncomfortably small number of trusted voices. Ask yourself a simple question: If there was only one person I could listen to about this topic, who would it be?