Where Freedom Can Be Found

Last Thursday, I grabbed coffee with Matt Bodnar. Matt is an entrepreneur, investor, and a fantastic podcast host. I have been listening to his podcast, The Science of Success, for the last four months or so and can’t recommend it enough if you geek out on evidence-based personal growth strategies.

Before I met up with him, I was listening to the latest episode of his show, which was an interview with a guy named David Epstein. David wrote a book called “Range: Why Generalists Triumph In A Specialized World.” That title spoke to me.

In the interview, David talks about a study on learning conducted with a group of seventh-grade math classes. In one set of classrooms, the students were given lessons in a procedural order. Think A then B then C. In these classrooms, the students picked up the information quickly and felt happy with the teacher’s method. In the second set of classrooms, the students were given lessons in an “interleaved” approach. In other words, the lessons were entirely out of order, think C then A then B. These students were frustrated, their progress was slow, and they ranked the teacher’s ability as poor.

That’s where the expected outcomes end.

Where the first group of students learned the procedures of the math problems, the second group of students didn’t learn procedures; they were forced to match a strategy and concepts to a kind of problem. After some time in both learning styles, all the classrooms had to take the same test. The second group of classroom students outperformed the first group by a margin of 30 percentile points. The margin is credited to the learning style that forced the second group of students to capture the underlying concepts rather than merely the procedures.

In this podcast, David also talked about how important it is to try new things and not do the same things over and over so that we can grow.

Thursday night after coffee with Matt, I did what I usually do when I’m in Nashville, I went to martial arts class. I have been training in Hapkido for the last four and a half years and received my Black Belt at the end of last year. On Thursday night, my teacher Grand Master Lee wasn’t there. Master Kim, who only teaches Tae Kwon Do was there. He said he would stand in for Grand Master Lee and would work on Tae Kwon Do kicks with me.

HapKiDo has many of the kicks in TaeKwonDo, but kicks are a smaller part of the art, comparatively. Master Kim had me do front kicks, roundhouse kicks, sidekicks, back kicks, double kicks, spinning back heel kicks and tornado roundhouse kicks. With both legs.

I knew all the kicks enough to somewhat do them. But on Thursday, I did over 200 kicks, easy. It was awkward, I repeatedly lost my balance, I fell numerous times… and I grew more than I had in months in my martial arts practice.

I work out between 5-12 times a week. I spend a lot of time on my legs. Running, kicking, squatting, and jumping. My legs are pretty strong.

Today is Sunday, and my legs are still so sore from Thursday night that I haven’t been able to do any other workouts for three days. My body was used to a system of working out that some people may think is intense, but for me, it had become procedural. One hour of deviation from my usual workout system took me out for three days. In a good way.

After Thursday night’s class, I went to a friend’s house who I haven’t seen in months. I hadn’t seen him because these days if I don’t work with you, work out with you or live with you, there is a good chance you may not have seen me this year. As I got sober and focused on health, I have stayed home at night and prioritized getting a good night’s sleep most nights.

But I was excited to see my friend. I had a cigar and stayed there until about 12pm, then went home and went to bed. The next day, I felt like I drank a bottle of whiskey. I was foggy, drained, and low on energy. A year ago, a night with just a cigar, and no alcohol would have been a good night. Now it’s a nightmare. One night of deviation from my system of sleep took me out. In a bad way.

I’ve always been grateful for the way I started my career as a self-taught software engineer. I never received procedural lessons about how software works like you would in college. I had to piece and stitch the way computers work together from various lessons I picked up from multiple sources and a lot of trial and error. It was frustrating for a long time, until one day it clicked, and I knew enough to code enterprise systems that could generate millions of dollars in revenue.

I also applied that style of learning in business. I learned by doing and stitching it all together.

Now I see systems everywhere, kind of like The Matrix.

The ability to see systems is a massive advantage in life. Whether or not people see them, they are there. When people don’t acknowledge systems that directly impact them, they are subject to them in perpetuity. Systems can support creativity, freedom, health and growth, or destruction, captivity, disease, and stagnancy. Our habits are a system. Our world views belong to or are influenced by a system. We exist in an ecosystem on a planet in a Solar system. Our bodies are a collection of systems. Systems are everywhere.

Once we are mindful of this, we can exercise our will in how we engage or disengage with the many systems that make up our lives. That is where creativity exists. That is where freedom can be found. The selection and combination of systems that we each choose is our unique way of life.

Mastery of systems amplifies our creativity, freeing us from the core concept work and elevating us to design and execution. Understanding systems isn’t done best from a book. It’s done through intentional experimentation, synthesis, and reflection. The bonus of this approach is it’s also how we grow as people.

It’s frustrating and disorienting to do new things, and this is proof that we are always living within a system. When we do something different, we disrupt that system.

Think about any area that you want to grow in — health, wealth, discipline. The question is not what do you need to change about yourself; the question is what current systems are you living within that you need to disrupt.

You are the observer and the creative will, not the systems. You can change the systems at any time. Remember that.

Have a grateful day.

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