I asserted that structuring the non-academic parts of your life around certain kinds of competitive, goal-directed activities would help you see the big picture when it comes to studying. Basically, pursuing competitive excellence is structured a lot like the pursuit of knowledge, but compressed into a much shorter time frame: years instead of decades. But if you can’t understand why your studies need to have a long-term focus to begin with, you will probably be skeptical.
In all of these activities, you will face certain challenges. Some you set for yourself; others a rival sets for you. When you meet one set of challenges you set your eyes on bigger ones, or on bigger rivals. At first you will certainly fail miserably at almost everything. Over time, if you continue to challenge yourself (i.e.: if you continue to fail) you will begin to excel. But it will not happen overnight. You may not see any improvement after an hour or even a week of practice.
Sometimes you may give a worse performance after a period of intense practice. Sometimes you will improve quickly and steadily for a time (especially in the beginning) and then be disappointed when you can no longer notice tangible advances from day to day, and cycles in your mood and health can mask your ascent (for a time). Sometimes you’ll feel like you’ll never get as good as you wanted to be; at other times, you’ll feel like you were never as good as you thought you were.
In the end, maybe you will be proud of yourself… or maybe you’ll fail to meet your own expectations. The activity may still be an obsession, or it may bore you; your talents may win you rich prizes, or none at all. These uncertainties concern the value of the activity in itself. But you can be confident that you will be vastly more skilled than you were originally (no matter whether you have a high or low estimate of the value of the skill itself), and your proficiency will give you a new way of seeing the world.
Tricks that once seemed like magic, techniques you once thought were impossible, that you thought that you’d never master: they’re easy now. Second nature. (And equally there are different tricks, whose meaning you couldn’t even understand originally, which now dazzle and frustrate you.)
There was no one day where it happened. There was no shortcut to the top that you wish someone had told you about on your first day. All of the hare-brained worries you had about coincidental factors which contributed to the outcomes of each individual performances; all of the petty expedients you resorted to, which might have technically gotten you closer to a win in individual cases but contributed nothing to your fundamental abilities; all of these things seem trivial. You laugh when you hear beginners fret over that nonsense. You know it’s the long years of practice that made the difference, and if you apply your new perspective to the rest of your life…