I’ve noticed that almost all my conversations about improving an aspect in life, whether that’s your finances, health, or relationships, always revolve around the skill of awareness.
Think about it. The other day I was talking to a friend about how I’ve been consistently earning money in the stock market for several years. He lost a lot of money this year with crypto trading and chasing meme stocks so he asked about my process.
I talked about how I don’t do any of that stuff and only stick to stocks I know. I use a combination of passive investing with the majority of my money, and I use a smaller amount to trade growth stocks. I call that the 90/10 rule.
My trading method is mostly based on Jesse Livermore’s system in How to Trade In Stocks. Using that method, I’ve consistently closed trades with profits ranging from 20% to 60%. And I haven’t closed a trade with more than a 10% loss in two years.
But reading that book alone will probably not make you money. As we were talking about the process of investing and trading, I constantly came back to the topic of awareness. For years, I’ve observed myself as I was investing, or at least, as I was trying to invest. Without awareness, I wouldn’t learn as much as I did.
To improve something, observe yourself first
Here’s my process for improving a skill or activity. I’ve applied this process to writing, investing, running, lifting weights, meditating, and dealing with anxiety. Here’s what it looks like in six steps.
1. What’s your aim?
I always start by thinking about what I’m trying to accomplish. I want to be as specific as I can. For example, when I wanted to improve my writing, I initially focused on writing better articles.
2. Why do you need to improve?
In my experience, any pursuit of excellence will fail unless you have a damn good reason. In the writing example, I wanted to write better articles so I could make a living. I knew that it would be extremely difficult to sell books or courses without writing effective articles. So I had enough incentive to work on my craft.
3. Who’s the best example you can find?
Once set on improving a particular skill or process, I look at a few examples of people I can study. I only look at the top 1% of performers because I only want to learn from the best.
4. What part of the process is talent versus skill?
There’s one pitfall many people often forget when they study successful people. They assume that you can learn everything from others. That’s not true. We can’t learn talent. I can’t come up with the same stories as Stephen King no matter how much I try.
Kyrie Irving and I are the same height, but I could never, not in a million years, have his ability to pass the basketball because that’s his talent. And my goal is to separate skill from talent. What are things I can duplicate? What are things I can’t?
5. What are the principles they applied?
So I look at the techniques, processes, and things top performers do. For writing articles, I learned the best writers are all true to their voice and style. And they write as if it’s the absolute truth. To write better articles, I needed to focus on confidence over pure writing skill.
When it comes to basketball, I’ve learned the main principle of Kyrie Irving is to always have a counter move. Instead of being persistent with his moves on the court, like Russel Westbrook who just keeps doing the same thing until he succeeds, Kyrie quickly adjusts if he gets resistance. And he always has a backup move if something doesn’t work.
This is a principle you can learn by training more. You can use simple rules like, “If move A doesn’t work, resort to move B.”
6. How can you make the principle yours?
Finally, I think about long-term sustainability. I want to make the principles I learn from others mine. So I tend to absorb a principle, and then do it my own way.
I always create my own theories and frameworks because that’s how put the stuff I learn into practice. Learning something from someone else is great. But it’s better if you create your own principles based on what you’ve learned.
That way you remember what you’ve learned better. And you can only apply what you remember.
Become aware of your behavior
Throughout this process, I consistently practice awareness to make sure I’m not wasting my time. I’m consistently observing my thoughts and behavior. The goal of awareness is to quickly step in when I’m deviating from the above process.
Let me give you an example. When I started improving my article writing skill, I studied many different writers. On top of that, I also looked at their social media profiles and look at how they utilized Twitter or Instagram. I also followed the ones who had YouTube channels and watched their videos.
Through awareness, I learned I was only getting confused and I learned nothing. I saw conflicting principles and couldn’t see how I could use anything to improve. I also noticed I got distracted by secondary aspects like how many followers someone has and what they do on social media. This was a waste of time.
Through the skill of awareness, I adjusted my behavior. I only looked at three writers. And only stuck to their articles—not to their extracurricular activities. Once I was done, I stopped studying all writers and focused on my own writing. I simply read articles instead of studying them.
I focused on the craft by actually writing articles and getting feedback from readers—something I still do today.
The best way to improve awareness
If you want to improve your awareness, the best way is to start meditating more. It’s not a coincidence that I started meditating around the same time I started improving my skills.
When you meditate, you practice a skill. You’re not necessarily becoming less stressed or anxious. Many companies and individuals have marketed meditation as a cure for stress in the west. But based on the books about meditation and mindfulness that I’ve read, that’s not the purpose of meditation.
Gaining peace of mind and having less stress is a side-effect of meditation. The main effect is that you improve awareness. You become good at catching destructive thought patterns within your consciousness.
You are your own worst enemy. It’s a platitude I really subscribe to. Most of us sabotage ourselves with negative thinking patterns.
One of the most important things for skill development is persistence. Everyone knows you will never improve or achieve anything if you quit. But your mind often talks you into quitting, right? As soon as things get hard, you’re thinking, “Why am I doing this?”
An unaware person listens to those thoughts. An aware person realizes it’s just another thought to observe until it disappears.
To me, awareness is the most versatile skill I can think of. There’s nothing else I use so often in life. If you’re currently trying to improve any area of your life, try to meditate as well. Work on your awareness throughout the day.
See if you can catch negative thought patterns within yourself. The moment you do that regularly, you know you’re aware.