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Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Success is all about focusing on the right work-output


I saw a very beautiful video of Peter Attia, who is trying to solve one of the most vexing problem of medicine: do we become obese due to lack of willpower or due to some other factor in the body system? Like all the other doctors, he also assumed that obesity is caused because the person lacks the willpower to avoid eating rich foods or the determination to get up in the morning and follow a strict regime of exercise.

However, when Peter Attia got overweight by 40 pounds, he found that his assumption was wrong. Despite exercising three or four hours every single day, and following the food pyramid to the letter, he had gained a lot of weight ( I am sure many of you have faced this paradox in your life: that you gained weight despite all the precautions you took. ) and developed something called metabolic syndrome which leads to many chronic ailments like high BP, diabetes and others. He found that he had become insulin resistant. Why is insulin resistance important?

Insulin is like a master hormone that controls what our body does with the foods we eat, whether we burn it or store it. When we become insulin-resistant, the homeostasis in this balance deviates. Insulin resistance is a reduced capacity to partition the fuel of the calories that we take in so that we can burn some appropriately and store some appropriately. Some bodies are insulin-resistant. Insulin resistance means that bodies are unable to decide how much to store as fat and how much to burn. He realised that obese people are perhaps the victim of their body system. They become obese not because they lacked control, but because their bodies lost the control of managing this homeostatic balance.

And he found data to support it. For instance, many obese Americans in the United States don't have insulin resistance, who can therefore be treated with the injection of 'willpower'. Conversely, six million lean people in the United States are insulin-resistant. In other words, these lean people are at a greater risk for those metabolic syndrome disease than their obese counterparts.

So, Peter Attia questions the old logic of obesity? Are we fighting the wrong war, he asks. Should we be fighting insulin resistance rather than obesity? By fighting obesity, he suggests that we are unknowingly blaming the victims, and washing our hands from our responsibility. By blaming obese for their lack of willpower to maintain diet and exercise, we have avoided investigating the causes of insulin resistance. By blaming obese for the homeostasis of their bodies which can happen to obese as well as lean, we are prescribing wrong solutions and even putting lean people at risk. And by blaming obese, we are forcing obese to spin into a vicious spiral where they start believing that they lack 'the resolve' to guide their lives. Peter Attia was so disturbed with this last inadvertent effect on obese people, that he cried in the above mentioned TED talk.

In career also, it is important to focus on the right output 

For instance, what should Rohit Sharma ( the cricketer) do to retain his place in the Indian team ?  He has been scoring runs. He is in the team for last 3 years. But still he is unable to retain his place in the team. How can he retain his place in the team? If Rohit Sharma wants to achieve the outcome of cementing his place in Indian cricket team, he will have to focus on the right output. He will have to take these three steps:
  1. First step is the conscious awareness of desired outcome in your work-path: Do not focus on your traits. For instance, Rohit Sharma has been advised to work hard, have more willpower or develop patience. But this is a wrong tack to take. Our traits (such as work hard) are useful only when they help us meet desired outcome ( of getting the first job), but they are useless when they thwart us in meeting new outcome (for instance, getting promotion). Our desired outcomes keep on changing from money to job satisfaction to doing achieving significance, but we are not even aware of this change. We never know when our desired outcome has changed, but we keep on employing same strategy which worked earlier. For instance, Rohit Sharma's current desired output is to convert 50 into 100. He has hit 2 centuries and 16 half-centuries. 
  2. Second Step is about converting outcome in desired outputs: In the cricket domain, commentators and critics keep on advising Rohit Sharma to focus 'on scoring 100' after reaching 50. But this 'output' is not useful. Because, in cricket, one has to focus on every ball, not on scoring 100. Rohit has to convert his outcome of scoring 100 into an output of 'how to focus on next ball after scoring 50'. 
  3. Third Step is using the inter-dependency of the 'work' in producing the actionable output: Only when Rohit Sharma focuses on the right output, will he be able to find out why he loses focus on the next ball after 50? Is it loss of concentration due to less challenging bowling of part-time bowlers? Or is it inability to rotate the strike? Or is it loss of concentration due to physical exertion? Or is it a overconfidence in a shot - say a pull over a square leg - that is his Achilles heal? He has to 'diagnose' the right cause in his case. Just trying to have a 'focus' (which is a normal advice) is not going to help Rohit Sharma to succeed in scoring 100 after 50. This step is the step of diagnosis. For instance, Rohit should talk to batsman like Tendulkar and Gavaskar to find the mistake he is making after scoring 50 or ask them the kind of typical mistakes that happen. Or she should ask his partner ( on the other end) the mistakes he makes, or he should ask his coach.