When You Know the Fundamentals, Succeeding and Failing are Choices

It has been a tough week for me, but unlike many, I have resisted the temptation to blame outside forces for my failures, for the most part. While I do complain about certain things that do not involve me when I fail, I always come back to the conclusion that my failures are the result of bad choices I have made, especially if I know the basics involving something.

Some time ago, I wrote about how I want to make money playing blackjack, and outlined a plan on how I intend to do this. Well this very plan requires me to be extremely disciplined while playing, knowing how much money to bet, and when to leave. I did not do this on Tuesday, and because I was not disciplined enough to only play a certain amount, I lost $180. I had to go to the bank and get money the next day, and I felt very ashamed for doing so.

However, one thing I do know is that because I knew my fundamentals for playing blackjack (play until you hit your stop loss or stop gain, then leave), I chose to lose. I stayed at the table, chasing money desperately, for nearly 4 shoes. And because I was chasing, I was betraying a lot of the fundamentals of playing by the book in blackjack, and I was messing up on my counts when counting cards. I was in panic mode, and it caused me to drop my fundamentals. And I paid the price for it, literally.

I had a similar experience when bowling this week. I missed more spares than I have in a very long time, and I couldn’t blame anyone but myself. Having been dedicated to being technically sound when bowling, the only accurate thing I can say about missing spares is that I chose to miss them. Yes, this sounds like I am beating myself up. But I am not. Because I know I can succeed because I have the fundamentals. And the next time I will choose to succeed instead of choosing to fail. It is that simple.

The statement “when you know the fundamentals, succeeding and failing are choices” implies that you are willing to place copious amounts of pressure on yourself to achieve great things. It requires the ability to stare yourself down in the mirror and admit that you are responsible for your failures (if you know the fundamentals). If you want to succeed at anything at a level that is beyond simple maintenance or mediocrity, you must know the fundamentals involving the activity that you want to improve, and you must be able to understand that the fundamentals provide the foundation for your success or failure. If you know the fundamentals and do not succeed, you have made a choice to not succeed. If you want to be good at anything, you must be comfortable accepting this statement.

This leaves the burning question: How do you know that you are fundamentally sound at something?

I will admit, it is not an easy question to answer, since it seems that every activity has its own set of experts, each with their own list of fundamentals surrounding an activity. For me, developing the fundamentals in something is a three step process:

First, you need to get information about what every expert says on the subject, or at least as many as you can. Some experts are going to present different kinds of information, what is right and what is wrong, and so forth. That is alright. Just make bullet points of what the most important things are.

Next, look for commonalities. This is why playing by the book in blackjack is so important. Its because it is widely agreed on that it yields the most effective way to play and not lose so much money. Many blackjack experts agree with it. So if 12 different experts mention the same thing in their list of fundamentals, that probably means it will be very effective.

And finally, create modifications to the fundamentals you have discovered. To do this, you will have needed to followed the fundamentals that you have discovered in the last step for a while. People say not to reinvent the wheel, but oftentimes reinventing the wheel will make a newer, better wheel. The most important way to do this properly is to experiment while still having the very basic fundamentals down perfectly.

To provide an example, I am currently learning to golf. I first started golfing in 2011, but I was never really serious about it, even when I played a little bit with my buddies in 2013 and 2014. But now I am serious about it. Here are how I intend to develop in golf, or anything that I wish to get better at, for that matter.

The very first thing is to get information from experienced golfers, and make notes about what information I get.

Then I will compare these notes to see what stands out. The group of things that stand out are the solid fundamentals of golf that I need to pay the most attention to.

After practicing these solid fundamentals for a while, I will pick and choose things that I think I can modify, and then practice those.

Now this leads to another burning question: How do I know when I have mastered the fundamentals?

When you can describe what you are doing and why you do it, and can physically do it without thinking, when it is second nature, that is when you have mastered the fundamentals. Also, and the entire article is about this, when you know that certain actions are almost guaranteed to produce certain results, that is when you know you have internalized the fundamentals about an activity.

So the next time you do badly at something, ask yourself: Have I internalized all of the fundamentals? Do I still have more to learn? You might surprise yourself.