Get better at one thing to get better at everything

I learned a lot about success from playing Scrabble. Because success in one field has a lot of lessons for other fields.

One of the easiest ways to get better at everything in life, is to get better at one thing and then transfer the lessons over to other things you want to improve/succeed at.

I love when I see top college athletes succeeding in business, or former professional ballerinas doing amazing in the design world. They learned lessons from becoming successful and have learned to transfer them.

I've learned a lot through playing Scrabble. I wouldn't classify myself as an excellent player - I'm good enough where I'd beat most people in a casual contest but would lose every game in a local tournament.

The biggest jump in my Scrabble score was learning how to deal with reality

Looking back at the years of playing Scrabble, the biggest jump in my score was when I finally tackled a persistent mental bug that I like to call "if-only" mind. I first learned this term from Tara Brach, one of America's best known meditation teachers. Check out Tara's 3 minute summary of the topic.

Let's follow a simple example of "if-only" mind from Scrabble. You have the letters SURPRIS in your hand. "Ah ha!" you say. "Surprise!". "NOW IF ONLY there were an E on the board, I can play SURPRISE for seven letters". Surveys board. No E available. Enter If-Only mind. "There must be an E". "It's the most common letter". C'MON. Your beautiful bingo got wiped out! This is where I've seen people get stuck for minutes looking and hoping for something that clearly isn't there. Here's the thing:

The only (real) choice is to move on. It's hard at first.

At this point you have two choices. You can either lament that there is no E, or more importantly, eliminate the thoughts of SURPRISE and play the best hand you can with the letters you have and with the letters and opportunities the board presents you. *Note: maybe there is an open T and you can play STIRRUPS!

The lesson is clear in Scrabble, but is also remarkably present in daily life. "If only I had a bit more money, I could quit my job". "If only x hadn't dumped me, I wouldn't be single". Examples abound amongst the dreariest, but even very successful people often belabor the past or other things they can't change.

The three most common examples of if-only mind

  • Not accepting the past. Regrets are useless. There is literally nothing you can do to change the past. When something happens, consciously learn your lesson and move on. Dwelling on past hurts or wrongs will do nothing to move you forward. Zero.
  • Wanting someone else's life/body/etc. Call it jealousy or envy, or simply daydreaming - but wanting someone else's circumstances will lead you nowhere. Focus on where you are and what you have available. Other people's circumstances have nothing to do with you. Your job is to live YOUR life, not someone else's.
  • Having a specific expectation for how the future will play out. All you can do is your best and hope that luck and circumstances play out. Expecting something in the future that doesn't happen inevitably leads to disappointment. Focus on your execution, and success will hopefully follow.

My technique to get out of if-only mind

Here's a little saying I use, from Teddy Roosevelt. Repeat until you can actually focus on what's happening:

"Do what you can, with what you have, where you are".

Tara also has some advice if you search through her website. By the way, here's a picture of us together last year! She's a big deal to me :-).