Small Wins Lead to Big Prizes
How momentum helped me become a pro athlete who also writes 3500 words per day.
Growing up, my “inspirations” were always the people who seemed like modern polymaths.
I’ve always been captivated by those who are able to succeed at multiple things. Bonus points if it’s at the same time.
For example, Elon Musk is cool, but what would really inspire me would be if Elon Musk built a rocket and then went home and wrote a poetry book. Intellectual diversity is what impresses me most.
Tim Ferriss impresses me because he became an entrepreneur, writer, podcaster, kickboxing champ, and tango dancer.
Leonardo Da Vinci was an incredible painter, but he also was an architect, sculptor, and theorist. He also sketched some of the most impactful drawings ever. Da Vinci was an extreme talent, but for me, as an aspiring polymath, he is “#goals”.
As I’ve begun to pursue my own form of modern polymathy, I’ve learned a lot about motivation, discipline, and hard work.
I’ve found that the key to learning to be good at multiple things isn’t talent, hard work, or grit. The key is momentum.
There are no real secrets to getting good at stuff.
I used to think that “successful people” just had some secret sauce that made them incredible. I thought that I could never get that sauce. I thought I was destined for mediocrity.
At around 18, when I realized that I wasn’t going to be a child prodigy, I reasoned that in order to appear successful, I had to work really hard on stuff and scratch and claw my way to at least some mild achievements. I had to give it my all, learn, study, and outwork as many of my competitors as I could.
I did this for years, and eventually, I started to find some success in the weird, niche sport of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. However, I still felt like an imposter. Even more confusing was that people started to look at me differently.
People looked at me like I had that same secret sauce that I thought I’d never get access to. A lot of people in my life think I’m on my way to “making it” when in reality, I’m just trying random stuff and hoping it works. I never know if I’m going to win or fall flat on my face. I’ve had both happen countless times.
The only keys to getting good at Jiu-Jitsu are the boring concepts you see in every self-help article: discipline, hard work, showing up every day, working “smarter” not harder”, and taking care of yourself.
There was never a “secret” to becoming proficient at Jiu-Jitsu, and as I’ve begun to write, I’ve realized that there isn’t a secret to writing either.
Honestly, you should just close this article and go do something.
Or, you can finish it, and then go do something.
Just like, I don’t know, do it?
Want to write every day? Pull out your pen and pad, sit down to write, and then start writing. Don’t stop till you get out 500 words. Build the habit.
Don’t have time? Make time. Get up earlier. I’m not a morning person, but I got up at 4:45 am to write the other day. Before 6 am, I’d written 2000 words.
Want to get up earlier? Set your alarm. When it goes off, get up. Don’t hit snooze. As I said, I’m not a morning person, but I almost never lose to my alarm clock because when it goes off, I shoot out of bed. The longer sit in bed, the lower my chances of getting up.
Life is hard enough, are you really going to let your alarm clock steal the day from you?
You don’t need self-help, you need to get out of bed and get going.
“At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: ‘I have to go to work — as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for — the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?’” — Marcus Aurelius
There’s a 10 billion-dollar industry that’s based on just telling people to fight that limiting voice in their heads. To Stephen Pressfield, it’s “resistance”. According to Joe Rogan, it’s “your inner bitch”.
According to my therapist, it’s my “depression and anxiety”.
Anxiety is valid, but I won’t ever let my fear own my life.
Harness the power of momentum.
A few years ago, I reached a breaking point with my mental health.
The reason that I reached this breaking point was that I was on a “downward spiral” that created a ton of negative momentum in my life. Eventually, I became so overwhelmed with depression and anxiety that climbing out of the hole I’d dug seemed impossible. Dying seemed easier than trying to “fix” my life.
I mean, how can you fix a pile of poop?
Negative momentum is a real thing — you’ve heard of “downward spirals”.
Luckily, positive momentum is also a real thing.
Small victories add up, even when you’re nowhere near your goal.
No matter where you’re at in the process, you can almost always find a small win. You can clean some stuff at home. That’s a win. You can take a shower. That’s a win. You can sit by yourself and do breathwork for 10 minutes. That’s a win.
If you can’t find a win, do nothing. Stop the negative momentum.
Winning is hard, but it isn’t as hard as it looks, and each win actually becomes easier than the previous ones.
This isn’t about “self-improvement” anymore. That term isn’t intense enough for what I’m saying. Your life depends on your ability to create momentum.
The secret that most successful people in the world don’t want to tell you is that their most noteworthy wins aren’t their hardest ones. The hardest wins are the ones that nobody sees. The hardest win sometimes is getting out of bed and kissing your fluffy pillow goodbye.
Fight like a dog for that precious momentum.
One of the hardest wins in my Jiu-Jitsu career was in the finals of a small tournament in New York. A few hundred bucks were on the line, but the prize money wasn’t even going to cover half of what I’d spent traveling to the tournament.
I was losing money by competing. I was there solely for pride, experience, and because I wanted to test myself and against some good competition.
At the beginning of the match, I took a 2–0 lead, but I got caught in a choke moments later. I spent several minutes stuck in the choke, gasping for air, moving desperately to escape, and frolicking like I was being drowned.
I basically was. My dreams basically were.
I fought like hell because that win meant everything to me. I wanted to prove that I could hang in high-level Jiu-Jitsu, and to get there I had to level up by winning smaller competitions. I was willing to get to put to sleep to build momentum.
I didn't know that momentum was what I was after, I just knew that winning felt good. Winning feels good because it creates dopamine in the brain, and this leads to momentum.
In my tournament, I somehow got out of that choke and ended up winning the match and the tournament. No one was watching, except my mom, who’d come with me on the trip. Even the referee looked away for a few moments during the match.
That win meant nothing to them, but to me, it was crucial. It gave me the confidence to put myself out there and get my next win. This created a snowball effect that took me from an insecure kid to a fairly confident adult over several years.
The caveat is that my progress wasn’t linear. Yours won’t be either. That’s okay.
Today, I can finally call myself a professional athlete and a professional writer.
If I quit writing tomorrow, I could live off of Jiu-Jitsu. If I quit Jiu-Jitsu tomorrow, I could live off of writing. I can do both at a fairly high level, and I don’t think that either one is holding me back from success in the other.
Instead, they compliment each other. This is the path to becoming a polymath — complementary skills.
When I have a bad day in Jiu-Jitsu, I focus extra on my writing. When I’m struggling to find words or write quality articles, I focus more on studying Jiu-Jitsu moves.
No matter what I do, I’m always just a few actions away from finding some momentum, and that momentum is what helps me get motivated to achieve my goals in all areas of my life. It’s also made me more confident, happier, and hopefully has sent me down the path towards becoming a modern polymath.
Momentum is the cheat code. Use it or lose it.
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I don’t say that to brag, I say that because I’m beyond grateful for each and every person who’s ever clicked on something I wrote. I’m even grateful for the haters and cyberbullies—they keep me humble.
I never expected anyone to read anything I put out. At first, this was just a hobby that I did before bed.
A year ago, I was scared to hit the “publish” button on my articles because I thought I was going to be judged or embarrassed or ashamed, and now, I’ve more than conquered that fear.
Now, I hit “publish” several times a day, every day. It’s easy for me now.
I’m really lucky and really grateful. Thank you to all my subscribers and readers and followers and friends. This was an awesome year.
I’m especially grateful to all of you who have taken the time to comment and share one of my articles, either digitally or in person. I’m so blessed, and I’m really excited to share more stories in 2022.
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Wishing you the best,