Ever wonder how certain people you admire end up at the top of their fields? Over many years and despite all kinds of setbacks, some folks manage not just to weather the storm, but actually come out far ahead. They handle a world clouded by fear, uncertainty, and doubt with elegance.
You can look back on their decisions and see how right they were, even when the answer seemed very unclear at the time.
How do they do this? And how can you do the same in your life—your work, your habits, the decisions you make?
As my favorite investor, Warren Buffet, likes to say:
“Games are won by players who focus on the field, not the ones looking at the scoreboard.”
Buffet spent his whole life working in financial investments—one of the most volatile careers—and rose to the top while many with the same intelligence and abilities failed time and again.
Warren’s advice is simple and intuitive: If you want to win, improve your game skills instead of worrying about the score. But in a world full of uncertainty where you constantly look to see what others are doing and second guess yourself, it can be awfully hard to follow.
Here’s how the scoreboard holds you back, and a few things you can do to follow Warren’s advice to win at whatever it is you find personally fulfilling and important, be it your career, a hobby, a relationship, or anything else.
How The Scoreboard Makes You Lazy and Confused
You’re at the park playing a pick-up game of basketball with friends. There’s just 30 seconds left on the game timer, and you’re down by 10 points. You could keep up the fight and play the best game you’re capable of to the end. Or, you could take a breather and phone it in for the last bit of the game.
Which option do you choose? Probably the second one, right? What good is it going to do to tire yourself out for a game you’re going to lose anyway?
The rationale makes sense in the moment. The scoreboard says there’s no way you’re going to win this game, so conserve your energy.
But the problem with the scoreboard is it tells you only what’s happening at the moment you look at it. It has no ability to tell you what will happen in the future. So, it’s quite the flaw to decide what you’ll do later based on something that only tells you what’s happening now.
What if, instead of thinking about this game, you thought about all the games you’re going to play in the future? What if the goal was not to win this game, but to win more games over time than you lose. If you took this approach, you may still look at the scoreboard, but it wouldn’t dictate the way you play the rest of your game, regardless whether you’re ahead or behind.
Instead, you’d hustle and pay attention to your form and technique at every moment because you’d know that’s what would lead to winning more games later, even if you’re losing now.
That’s how Buffet made the world’s greatest investment fortune. He never invests based on what the stock market is doing (the financial investor’s scoreboard)—it’s not even a consideration.
He knows looking at the scoreboard—especially one that changes as often and erratically as a stock index—will only taint his drive for improvement over the long-term.
So how does he make decisions if he pays no attention to what many investors consider the most important numbers?
Improve Every Moment Of Your Life By Focusing On The Playing Field
What Warren does instead of looking at the scoreboard is study his playing field. He works to get better and better at learning how to see the long-term value of a company and investing in fairly priced ones that will do well for a long time to come.
It doesn’t matter if the market is up or down. What matters is what he’s doing will still make money 10 years or more from now.
For so many investors, this is a curse. They look at the scoreboard (the market indexes) and think because it’s rising, they can jump in with any old investment. Then they get burned. Or, they see the score plummeting and fear any investment they make will plummet as well. So, they miss great opportunities.
Here’s a graph of the Dow Jones Industrial Average (a popular market index) over just the last 20 years:
Look at all the booms and busts! If you made decisions every few weeks or months based on that scoreboard, you could be broke in no time—it would take only a few decisions made at the wrong moment for the wrong reasons to wipe you out.
What if, instead of fretting over the weekly, monthly, or even yearly scoreboard, they focused like Buffet does? What if they surveyed their playing field for great opportunities to improve as investors regardless what the market was doing? Their results would be much different. And, most importantly, within their own control. They could look at themselves for areas of improvements rather than cross their fingers and hope for good fortune.
What If You Led Your Life Like A Smart Investor?
How would your life change if you quit paying attention to what the scoreboards said—your friends’ paychecks and status, their relationships, the stock market, or score of your pick-up basketball game—and started looking for small but meaningful ways to improve your own situation no matter what’s happening around you.
- Do you see people with careers you envy and feel like you could never catch up to them? That’s the scoreboard lying to you. You’re not in a race with them. Even if you were, you could win by simply improving your skills at work and waiting for them start coasting.
- Feel like relationships could come or go at any time? They could—you don’t control them. But how much better and long-lasting would they be if you put in your side of the effort to be a better friend, family member, or partner. In the end, you only benefit.
- Find it hard to get outside to exercise in the dark, rainy winter? You and everyone else. The scoreboard says, “Don’t bother now; it’s useless.” But if you focused on getting yourself out and moving—even if just a tiny bit—every day, before long you wouldn’t care what the weather is doing. You’d have built the habit of exercise.
Don’t set yourself up for failure by looking at the scoreboards around you. They manipulate and lead to poor choices—giving up when you feel behind or getting lazy when you’re ahead.
Instead, look at your playing field—the place where the moves you make actually change the game. When you do, you’ll notice you no longer need the scoreboard.