in life

The Fallacy of the Well-Rounded Person

“I haven’t read your last 5 emails. Shorten your emails or stop emailing me these book-length updates.”

The message flashed across my laptop screen at midnight. That’s not the response I wanted to get from one of my advisors – someone who’d been nothing but helpful as I stumbled through the process of trying to start a company in college.

I’d sent him a six-paragraph “update” on the progress I’d made since we last talked. Big mistake. To that point in my life I’d never been a busy person – never understood that busy was not, in fact, spending 4 hours in class, 2 hours on homework and 6 hours hanging out with friends… then answering the 3 emails that had accumulated during the day. Busy was having a full-time job, family and friends to spend time with, and hundreds of emails piling up in your inbox every day. Busy does not have time to respond to two-page emails from ambitious college students.

I had to change something. So I did – I read several blog posts and a short book on business communication. I learned how to write succinctly, communicate a point, and understand the context in which your recipient will receive your note.

It worked! I’ve been a *much* better communicator since, and now consider it one of my strengths. That, and writing blog posts that few people read.

This is how I’ve improved at everything I’ve done: realize I suck at something, learn how to suck less, and practice. In my experience, this goes against people’s prevailing mental model of how self improvement happens.

Being well rounded is a flawed concept. The well-rounded person does not declare “I want to be better!” and immediately start improving their health, relationships, sociability, financials, intellect and cooking skills all at once. If you know much about behavior change, you know that’s doomed to failure. Effective self-improvement is not like a balloon inflating evenly, but more like a piece of metal being hammered and shaped at different times. Self improvement comes in spurts based on where you focus.

This is absolutely true in my life. Over the last few years, there have been times where I drastically upped my confidence and social skills but improved very little in terms of my health or fitness. In business, there have been times where all I did was learn how to manage and lead a team, and others where I rapidly became better at user acquisition and marketing. Each of these came at different times, and all have been (and still are) incredibly beneficial.

This idea really crystallized for me when I went to Brazil last month to visit some friends who are actively trying to improve their social skills. They’ve gotten out of the country for 10 months to actively focus on improving their ability to connect with other individuals by working on being more honest, forthright, charismatic and energetic. It’s awesome.

This focus on improving one thing is highly underrated, and it’s allowed them to progress much faster than if they’d tried to “get better” in an unstructured way after work or whatever.

I’m now working on building a bunch of new habits (implementing a protocol to boost my testosterone, testing a nootropics regimen for the first time) and am working to keep this focused approach in mind. Ultimately, I think the best way to rapidly improve is to do the following:

  1. focus on one area you want to improve
  2. get to a point you’re happy with
  3. create habits that ensure continued improvement in that area
  4. Repeat in a new area you want to improve

Paradoxically, the fastest way to improve is to not improve in most areas of your life. Do this and you’ll quickly find yourself becoming more of the person you want to become.

  • Benji

    Awesome post!

    • justinmares

      Thanks man!

  • Garrett H

    Which blog posts/books helped with making your communication more succinct?

  • Ben A

    Awesome post, totally agree – the way to improve on something is to commit to it. I think that part of the reason for this is when you have one clear area you’re focused on, your subconscious mind is constantly mulling over ways to improve in that area. You’ll start to dream about it, you’ll find yourself thinking about it in the shower. That singular focus increases the time you spend on it linearly, but the improvement exponentially. Just my 2 cents.

    • justinmares

      Excellent point. Thanks dude!

  • Ben A

    Side note: your friends are working on becoming more honest, forthright, charismatic and energetic? Sounds stupid…