What Is the Mediocrity Trap?
For the most part, we live bearable lives. They’re “good enough.” There are few highs or lows; life resembles a relatively steady line, one neither particularly great nor awful.
But do you know what a flat line on an EKG means? It means you’re dead.
This complacency we all settle for is something termed the “Mediocrity Trap.” And it’s time to get the hell out.
The reason most people live, in author David Deida’s words, a “relatively secure and comfortable, but dead” life is simple: it’s easy, safe, and familiar. But it’s still a dead life.
Change Your Environment or It’ll Change You
Don’t set goals; design systems instead. Design an environment that automatically enables small progress every day. Soon, you’ll get to a point where you don’t think about it. It takes no willpower at all. It’s just your life.
Want to lose twenty pounds? Then start eating better and drinking water every day. Better yet, go for a jog. Don’t think about it. Do it.
Want to write a book? Don’t say, “I’m going to write a book by December 31.” That’s exhausting. (I’m already stressed just thinking about such a venture!) Just write every Monday and Thursday. Don’t think about it. Do it.
Want to pay off your loans? Save up for a house? Win the championship for your adult soccer league? Create an Etsy store?
Don’t set the goal. Design a system that gets you closer every day. Start going, start doing, and the results will follow faster than you could have believed possible. Setting a goal can create the feeling of impossibility for success. There can be daunting failures and drops in momentum. But by simply creating a new reality for yourself, you are setting yourself up for a new self entirely.
Be a Rebel (a.k.a. Embrace the Weird)
The standard pace is for chumps. Most financial advice out there—save money, diversify your investments, pay off small credit charges every month—is designed to help the lowest common denominator, the average Joe with the least amount of financial sense.
Therefore, if you want to build wealth, be a rebel. Do weird things. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket? “Put all your eggs in one basket, and then watch the basket,” said Andrew Carnegie, one of the richest men in the history of mankind. Diversify investments? Irving Kahn, a hugely successful investor who died at age 109, once quipped, “I would recommend that private investors tune out the prevailing views they hear on the radio, television, and the internet. They are not helpful.” Warren Buffet agrees, saying, “A good investor has the opposite temperament to that prevailing in the market.”
The standard pace is for chumps, and standard advice is meant for the lowest common denominator—this is not the stuff you follow if you want to become 100 percent financially independent.
Much like your health goals, there is an infinite supply of information on how you could get your money in order. Obviously, what works for you won’t work for everyone. The key is simply finding something that works.
What You Believe about Yourself Is What You Become
To achieve success bigger than you’ve ever experienced, you first need the mental capacity for it. Until then, you’ll probably never reach the level of success you’ve always wanted, and if you’re unfortunate enough to inherit it without earning it first, you risk destroying your entire life. (How many “successful” people live horribly imbalanced and empty lives?)
Once you start to believe, really believe, your brain starts operating under that assumption. Your brain operates under the rules of your belief system; if you want big success, your brain must believe it first. Everything your mind acts on is guided by your beliefs; if you don’t believe, your brain takes that fact and acts accordingly.
The truth is, most people don’t really believe they can achieve greatness. They don’t believe they can actually live an extraordinary life. As a result, this becomes true; they aren’t successful. They settle for good opportunities, believing great ones just don’t come around. They don’t attract opportunities. In fact, they actively miss them—even when they’re right at their feet! As researcher Jim Collins wrote in his landmark book Good to Great:
Good is the enemy of great. And that is one of the key reasons why we have so little that becomes great. We don’t have great schools, principally because we have good schools. We don’t have great government, principally because we have good government. Few people attain great lives, in large part because it is just so easy to settle for a good life.
If You Want to Succeed, You Can’t Just Be Interested
People who are merely interested say things like this:
- I want to lose twenty pounds.
- I want to go to bed earlier.
- I should drink less coffee.
- I’m going to cut out dairy this month.
- I need a new job.
- I’m going to write a book this year.
None of these are specific, lasting, or measurable. They’re not founded on a firm bedrock of motivation and commitment. This new change might’ve been made in a particularly pumped-up moment, but as Dr. Carol Dweck remarks in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, “Vowing, even intense vowing, is often useless… What works is making a vivid, concrete plan.”
People who are committed say things like this:
- I am someone who lives a healthy lifestyle.
- I am 100 percent committed to this twelve-week marathon training plan.
- I am canceling the next month’s social engagements so I can focus solely on getting a new job.
- I will save $500 each month instead of spending it on bars and fast food.
- I will do whatever it takes.
Behavioral change and achieving success aren’t complicated. Bestselling author and speaker Jim Rohn once said, “Success is neither magical nor mysterious. Success is the natural consequence of consistently applying basic fundamentals.”
These fundamentals are enabled through commitment. Once you’re committed to doing whatever it takes, you can work to achieve anything you want
When you fully commit and act on that commitment, your environment comes to your aid. Obstacles suddenly disappear. Problems become opportunities, and bad luck upgrades to good favor.
If You Tolerate Mediocrity, That’s What You Get
“Remember: we all get what we tolerate. So stop tolerating excuses within yourself, limiting beliefs of the past, or half-assed or fearful states.” —Tony Robbins
You get what you tolerate. If you tolerate mediocre circumstances that are merely good enough, that’s what you’ll get. But if you only tolerate excellence, if you only allow yourself to have high standards, that’s what you’ll achieve.
What are you tolerating right now that you need to change? What areas of your life have very low standards? Are you willing to settle for an exceptionally crappy job, relationship, diet, or sleeping schedule because you’re not willing to raise your standards?
If you tolerate mediocrity, that’s exactly what you’ll get. I’ve learned life is constantly testing you, seeing what you’ll put up with. Typically, you get what you accept, and if you take the first lowball offer you’re presented with, that’s as high as you’ll go. Want a better relationship, income, health, sleep quality, car, house, clothes, influence? Then refuse the mediocre offer and negotiate for the top-tier one.
Welcome to Life Outside of Mediocre
Mediocrity is exhausting. It’s extraordinarily tiring to continue wallowing in a subpar job, relationship, and place in life.
But here’s what happens when you decide to upgrade from ordinary to extraordinary.
Life gets bigger. Like, way bigger.
In her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Dr. Carol Dweck describes the “growth mindset” as the belief “that effort or training can change one’s qualities and traits.” It means you become whatever you want. You can be as good, as skilled, and capable as you make yourself to be.
Life outside of mediocre is not crowded, yet the opportunities expanded a thousand times. Tim Ferriss put it this way: “It’s lonely at the top. 99 percent of people are convinced they are incapable of achieving great things, so they aim for the mediocre middle ground. The level of competition is thus fiercest for ‘realistic’ goals, paradoxically making them the most time- and energy-consuming.”