Moderation is boring. Taking it easy is boring.
We remember history's greatest figures because of their extreme deeds.
Ceasar crossing the Rubicon, muttering “Alea iacta est” (“The die has been casted”) before marching on Rome and permanently changing Western history. We take inspiration from Thomas Edison's constant tinkering and willingness to jump from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm. We love to regurgitate his quotes about hard work and determination, making motivational posters with “I haven't failed, I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.” We admire Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King for braving injustice year after year, being imprisoned, beaten, and belittled without losing faith. They managed to overcome the extreme injustices of their time with extreme patience and resourcefulness. They never stopped learning and preparing, whether in prison or not.
Even in modern times, we idolize extreme behavior in all its forms. Social media is awash with videos of ever-crazier stunts, challenges, and stories. It seems the best way to get a viral hit is to do something so outrageous or remarkable that people can't help but share it.
A quick Google search will show you how fascinated we are with people who exhibit extreme traits. A whole cottage industry has sprung up around the daily habits, sleep routines (or the lack thereof), and meditation practices of the world's most accomplished entrepreneurs and artists. Stories get told of how Sylvester Stallone wrote the script for Rocky in three days or how Dwayne Johnson was down to his last seven bucks in his darkest moment.
All the people we idolize have been “extreme” in one form or another. It's hard to succeed if you're always playing it safe. Wherever we look we're bombarded with the most extreme and people who are taking things to the next level.
And it just might be because it's good to be extreme.
One of the best purchases I've ever made is the WaitButWhy Life Calendar. It's a poster that allows you to track the number of weeks in your life. In total, it has 4680 squares. Making for a grand total of 90 years. That's it. Your entire life summarized in a single poster. It's not quite 104, but it serves its purpose. I've got it pinned right above my desk where I see it every single day. It's a daily reminder of my mortality; of the fact that my days are numbered.
And it is exactly why I believe that living an extreme life is worthwhile. By living a life of moderation, by “taking it easy”, it feels like I'm disrespecting the incredibly short time I've got in this life. I don't want to lie on my deathbed and reminisce about a life where I played it safe, aimed for moderate success or happiness, and never truly pushed myself to my limits.
I believe a life filled with extremes is a good life. If you truly care about something, you'll be taking it to the extreme. If you deeply desire to change your life, you'll do anything.
In a world where a lot of accomplishments are highly sought after and competed for, the people who are willing to take things to the extreme will end up on the top of the pile.
You won't become a world-class salesman if you're not willing to study more, work harder, and make more sales calls than others in your industry. You won't become a billionaire without a work ethic and risk-tolerance that would have a lot of people shaking their head in consternation. You won't become a competitive athlete if you're not willing to train hard, dial in your diet, push through pain, and relentlessly compete with yourself. Without some form of extreme behavior, you won't get anywhere.
Intensity isn't a foolproof way to success or accomplishing some goal, let alone the only way. It's just that moderation so often fails.
When trying to pick up new habits, start a business or make a career change, most will skip the extreme approach and aim for a moderate commitment. And inevitably, moderation fails.
When picking up a new habit with moderate intensity, you won't be seeing results very quickly. And so, when the first obstacle pops up, you give up. You haven't seen any of the benefit, so why bother? When starting out with a more extreme commitment, results will be coming quickly. You might be overdoing it, at which point you can recalibrate and tone down the intensity a bit.
This also covers the concern that by going extreme-first, you risk burn out and thereby abandoning the pursuit altogether. It's easier to dial back the intensity, set your slights lower. At that point, the lower intensity will come as a relief. It'll actually be easier, leading you to stick with it for the long term.
As with almost anything, the people you surround yourself with will influence your behavior to an enormous degree.
The biggest impediments to extreme behavior are the people surrounding you. Peer pressure to conform is a real thing, regardless of what culture you're in. People don’t like it when someone goes too far when trying to accomplish something. It makes them look bad by comparison.
It's the crab bucket mentality. Whenever someone starts to succeed, the rest of the group will drag him or her down. Start to become dedicated to lifting and getting in shape? People will start to tell you “you're perfect just the way you are.” Work 70 hours a week in order to get your business off the ground? I'm willing to bet people will start to tell you should stop and smell the roses sometimes.
It's best to avoid people who are not extreme. These are the people who are just playing it safe in every single area of their life. People should have at least one area they're dedicated to or obsessed with. Whether it's model-building, running ultramarathons, collecting stamps or writing Harry Potter fan-fiction. Even if just in one particular domain, your friends should be extreme. I'd be happy to hang out with someone with an intense, all-consuming fascination of 17-century Nigerian art who otherwise just works a normal 9-5 job. Obsession and extreme behavior provide spice to your social life.
There are areas of life to be extreme in and others where it might not be the best choice. A lot of people are very extreme in their desire for drugs and opioids, but I wouldn't necessarily recommend picking up that particular habit.
Deciding where you want to be extreme is just as important as the act itself.
Diet & Exercise
Nowadays, it's considered ‘extreme’ to reject all forms of processed foods and to fast regularly - something that our ancestors would've considered the most logical thing ever. 70% of Americans are overweight or obese yet people will take you aside and tell you to eat more as soon as you embark on a serious gym routine and diet.
If you want to look great naked and cut down to 8% body fat, cut out any processed and pre-made food. Go back to the basics: vegetables, meat, fish, nuts, and water. Go exercise daily, be it running or weightlifting.
Work & Entrepreneurship
Want to start a business or have dreams of founding a venture-backed startup? Go for it. Commit completely and start working 70-hour work weeks if that's what it takes.
Many people will tell you you're crazy, that you shouldn't live to work. However, you know that moving fast solves almost any problem and that small successes compound. Keep pushing out new features and making extra sales calls. Keep writing on your blog to build an audience and keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Waking Up Early
To many high-performers, waking up early is the only way they managed to be half as successful as they are. Countless writers, statesmen, athletes, and businessmen have had the habit of waking up several hours before everyone else. The peace and quiet is a perfect time to work, study, and focus.
Jocko Willink, the former Navy Seal commander, wakes up at 04:30 every single day. By the time most people wake up, he's already had a full workout and a decent amount of work under his belt. Yet most would consider you crazy for even suggesting waking up that early.
Investing & Finances
Want to get rich? So do many others. Only very few people are actually willing to educate themselves and put in the work, though. There's a difference between ‘wanting’ to become rich and devouring dozens of books on investing, wealth generation, entrepreneurship, and business management.
Wall Street Playboys, is an amazing blog that pushes young and intelligent people to be smart about their career development and financial growth. Their number one post lays out a basic framework for how anyone can go from zero to $1 million in 10 years. It's not easy and only one in every thousand people will actually do it, but the opportunity for extreme action is there.
In his book Ultralearning, Scott H. Young lays out the strategies and tactics you can use to learn almost anything in record time. Want to learn four new languages in a single year? He's done it. Want to become a top 10 finalist in the Public Speaking World Championship? It's definitely possible. It just requires a different mindset and a willingness to put in a shitton of work.
This also ties in with my own work. I set the goal of publishing 100,000 words on this blog in 2020. I barely wrote 10,000 words over the course of 2019. So why the massive jump in the scale of my goals? Because it forces me into action. I cannot afford to slack off. I pressure myself into generating results. So far, I've already published 35,000 words.
Being extreme works.
Being extreme and making big moves is useless if you're not consistent. Fact is that most people only intermittently work hard. They get motivated by some quote on Instagram and work hard for a couple of days before giving up and forgetting about it.
This is where consistency comes in. The most important habit you can cultivate is to show up every day and to put the work in. Regardless of whether you're motivated or not, just show up and work. Not every day will be great, nor does it have to be. You just have to show up. Little bits of effort, repeated often enough make for amazing results. It's the application of building up accumulated advantages. Professionals show up every day, amateurs only when they feel like it.
It really is both a sprint and a marathon. There's no use in burning out by trying to hold yourself to impossible standards.
High intensity, combined with great consistency is the best strategy you can adopt. It's what James Clear calls your average speed. Ideally, you're extreme in your willingness to work and dedicated enough to show up every single day and put in the work..
Be consistently extreme. Be willing to go the extra mile, every single day.