That summer, I played one of the greatest games of all time. Call of Duty 4. By the end of the season, I had clocked twenty-four days of game time.
I had eight weeks free. Fifty six days. Say I slept for 8 hours each night. For forty four days of that summer, I was either sleeping, or playing Call of Duty.
I learned two important lessons from that experience.
One. When you are obsessed about something, you get really good. If you’re obsessed and you have talent, not many can compete with you. This applies to careers too. You cannot compete against obsession plus natural talent.
Two. Choosing the easy option sets a precedent.
Call of Duty has something called Veteran mode. When you play through the story mode on that difficulty, enemies respond quicker and do more damage, you have less health, there are less checkpoints and objectives are tweaked to make them more tricky.
I played through the campaign for the first time on Veteran.
It was hard. There were a lot of times when I was angry, frustrated, on the brink of rage. But I pushed on. It took a couple of weeks but I eventually completed it.
In the following years I played several more Call of Duty games. When I played through their campaigns for the first time I chose easier difficulty levels. When I went back to complete them at Veteran level, I couldn’t. No matter what I tried I just couldn’t crack it.
I think it has to do with the difference between choosing the hard option first and choosing the easy option first. Choosing the easy and then trying to conquer the difficult means I have to step my game up considerably. I have to re-learn how to play. Choosing the hard means I get a baptism by fire. It means I know nothing but how to play at a high level.
When I started college, I signed up for four subjects. Psychology, physical education, human biology, and government and politics.
The first week was a trial week where you could choose which subjects to stick. I didn’t even go to the class on government. People said it was hard. I had a pretty full schedule already.
That pretty much set me up with a take-the-easiest-route mindset. It was a dangerous approach to have at such a young age. When confronted with something easy and something that is hard and challenging, I chose easy. Every time.
It took me several years to reverse that tendency.
Now when I have a choice between two alternatives, the first thing I ask is, which will benefit me the most? I used to ask, which is easier? Now the difficulty is irrelevant.
If they both look to be of equal utility, then the next deciding factor is, which is harder? If we can’t determine the outcome, then a good rule of thumb is to sway towards the route that will challenge us, that will make us work harder and be smarter, that will require more effort to overcome, that will demand that we become better.
It’s like walking in the jungle. There are two paths. Both are overgrown. Taking one means you will have to clear the path. The next time you come to this intersection, you have the choice between a path you’ve been down, that has been cleared of obstacles, that is familiar, and one that still needs clearing. It’s alluring to take the easier path every time.
Our choices set a precedent. After choosing the easy over the hard for the first time, the next time it becomes easier. We’ve done it before. It’s comfortable. It takes more and more effort to break that cycle.
How we choose now impacts how we will choose in the future. Do you take the easy option? Or do you take a deep breath and attack the difficult?