Our instincts for something generally suck at first. This is nearly always the case. So, the “trust your instincts” advice is generally hogwash. If you just started playing chess or skiing or living life, please don’t follow your instincts. Most expertise is counter intuitive.
How, then, do they get better? By disciplining ourselves to build habits.
So, if you wanted to develop instincts for using your time effectively, you need to commit to training your mind to build habits over time. Or, if you want to develop instincts around your field of work, you need to have a habit to continuously study your field as you would have in school.
Let’s consider the time example. Imagine you want to spend your time trusting your instincts to lead you to the most effective uses of your time. Unless you are naturally disciplined, you might need to begin with a checklist. Create a daily checklist which covers your top priorities. The level of granularity will be directly proportional to your lack of discipline at that point. So, in my case eight years back, I had a very granular checklist for the day.
Over time, you’ll find yourself needing the granularity less. As an example, I used to run through a quick and simple morning checklist until a few months back. It made me feel like I was notching up quick wins. I don’t feel I need it anymore because I’m confident I can hit the ground running. But, I used this for many years.
Similarly, you can then convert daily checklists to weekly checklists. When I made that switch four years or so ago, my weekly checklist was very long. It was still very granular. The next edit made it shorter. Then, shorter again. My current version, as of two days ago, requires me to just spend a minute to go through it – it is just part of a weekly check in with myself. After years of training, I can feel my instincts slowly getting better.
And, if you care for a more specific example, I used to count 30 minutes of reading a non-fiction book as part of my daily checklist eight years ago. Then, I would count the rough aggregate time on a weekly basis. I stopped counting this a while back. I enjoy reading and trust myself to do so. But, I can’t say the same for exercise. In 2011, I began with trying to just exercise 3 times a week. This moved to 4 in 2013 and 5 in 2015. Now, we’re up to 6. I still track this carefully as I still resist it despite enjoying it. I hope the exercise habit will kick in in full swing in a couple of years.
Why do we resist stuff that we know is good for us? We all have a force within us that resists all positive change. Steven Pressfield calls this force “the resistance” – the most toxic force known to humans. So, don’t take it personally. Most of our instincts suck at first. But, they can get better. We just need to work at them over time. I’ve intentionally emphasized how long it took me to develop some rather basic instincts. Then again, I wasn’t disciplined at all and needed to do a lot of work. You probably are a lot more disciplined than I used to be. So, it’ll likely be a much quicker process for you. I hope it is.
But, if it isn’t, take heart. It’ll still likely be faster than my 8+ years.
It still isn’t easy. But, let’s, as a rule, not confuse easier and better.