How To Be Good At Anything: The Inchworm Concept

by Ben Martin

losing at pokerI hated losing. Losing felt worse than winning felt good, and because of that, winning became the only escape from losing.

I knew short-term variance made poker the profitable opportunity it was. I wanted to be friends with variance, but deep down I hated it.

This is part 2 of my “How to Be Good At Anything” series. You can find part 1 here and part 3 here.

Forward Acknowledgement: This is an article of strategies I learned from The Mental Game of Poker on the foundation of how to learn. The ideas, terms and lines are taken directly, or slightly modified, from Jared Tendler’s book. Though the theories are nothing new (some frequently attributed to the psychologist Abraham Maslow), Jared Tendler brilliantly explains them in his own way and it was in his book where I truly came to understand the content. If you are interested in these topics, or if you like poker, pick it up.

“Would you like me to give you the formula for success? It’s quite simple, really. Double your rate of failure. You are thinking of failure as the enemy of success. But isn’t that at all.” -Henry Ford

INCHWORM

Inchworm is an eye-opening concept that illustrates the process of improving over time. It isn’t new, but you likely haven’t thought about it previously. When you understand inchworm you will be able to:

  1. Consistently and efficiently improve anything.
  2. Keep clear of common learning mistakes.
  3. Avoid fighting a reality you can’t change.
  4. Recognize where a skill is in the learning process.
  5. Handle the natural ups and downs of learning.

To begin looking at inchworm, take a moment to examine the natural range that exists in the performance of your greatest skill-set. Think about the quality of your decisions at your absolute best, and when you’re at your absolute worst. How good do you get at your best? How bad at your worst?

Regularly you’re performing somewhere in the middle between your best and your worse. If you plotted the quality of every decision you’ve made in the last six months on a rating of 1-100, you’d observe a bell curve.

bell curve

This bell curve shows the natural range that exists in your skill-set, and is present in every skill-set of life (though some ranges are more narrow than others). You will always have aspects of your performance that represent the peak of your abilities, and your worst. Always. You’re skills are always evolving, and that means you’re learning. If you’re learning that means there’s a range in the quality of your decision making.

Range exists everywhere. It’s especially obvious in professional sports. Golfers shoot over par on holes they’ve previously shot an eagle. Hockey players make sharp passes as well as outrageous turnovers. Soccer players acrobatically strike the ball mid-air to score incredible goals and also whiff the ball in front of an open net.

When looking at yourself, for better or worse, it’s important to be honest about the reality that range exists. Not what you wish the reality to be, but what actually is.

The right side of your graph represents your current peak in ability – generally when you’re in the zone with a great mindset. It includes all of the newest skills and information you’ve acquired. Remember, these skills are the ones learned only to the ability of conscious competence and cannot yet be considered part of your permanent skill-set.

The left side displays your worst. The mistakes you shouldn’t make but still do. The errors that occur when your mind goes blank. It’s interesting to note these lapses can be avoided and are often linked to weaknesses in your mental performance. As the aspects of your mental performance develop, you frequently perform closer to your best.

The inchworm concept applies when you look at how your range improves over time. Imagine the movement of an inchworm. If you haven’t seen one, it starts by stretching its body straight, anchors the front “foot”, then lifts up from the back end, bends at the middle to bring the two ends closer together, anchors the back foot, then stretches it’s body straight again, and takes another step forward.

inchwormWhen you reach a new peak in your ability, the front end of your range takes a step forward. Your best just became better, which also means that your range has widened because the back end hasn’t moved yet. The most efficient way to move forward again is to focus on the back end of your range and make improvements to your greatest weaknesses. By eliminating the worst part of your game, your bell curve takes a step forward from the back end, and now it’s easier to take another step forward from the front.

Consistent improvement happens by taking one step forward from the front of your bell curve followed by another step forward from the back. The implications of this concept are:

  1. Improvement happens from two sides: improving weakness and improving your best.
  2. Performing your best is a moving target, because it’s always relative to the current range in your ability.
  3. You create potential for an even greater A-game (and mental game) when you eliminate your C-game because mental space is freed up to learn new things. (Yes the quality of your mental peak of zone can improve as well.)

Two Common Learning Mistakes:

Ignoring Weaknesses

Constantly learning new things while ignoring, avoiding, or protecting your weaknesses cause a wide range in your performance. The problem is it takes a lot of mental energy to think through all the new things you’ve learned and as you lose focus there is a dramatic drop-off in performance level. So when you’re at your best you’re better than ever, but when it gets bad, it gets really bad.

To make matters worse, because performing well takes so much mental energy, it will rarely happen. Also mistakes, many of them basic, will show up completely out of nowhere. Most of the time you’ll be bad, and as your poor form frustrates you, you’ll get worse. Your confidence will drop, you’ll become anxious and nervously watch your performance level free fall deep into (your activity)-hell. (For me, poker-hell.)

Preventing this from happening is actually quite simple: you must stay focused on learning the correction to your weaknesses until it is trained to the level of unconscious competence – especially after your A-game improves. Doing so keeps you humble, reminds you of your weaknesses, and is the most efficient way for you to improve.

Comparing Your Worst to Your Best

On a run of poor form it is especially hard to maintain proper perspective, specifically of your development. While recognizing improvement may not seem like much, it can be critical to helping turn things around.

The only way to prove the back end of your range has taken a step forward is by analyzing your worst, and comparing it to your previous worst during a previous tough stretch. Under intense pressure you rely heavily on the skills at the level of unconscious competence. So, for better or worse, what shows up at that point gives you a perfect view of your greatest weaknesses.

Comparing your worst to your previous worst and seeing improvement in the midst of a tough stretch will give you the much needed confidence boost to recover to your best.

I hated losing, but I’m now at peace with it. Growth is difficult. Mistakes happen, and negative emotions are going to be there. When you’re at your worst it is time to work hard to make it a little better, so it won’t be as bad tomorrow; it’s the one thing you can do to make your dreams a reality.

“Without some failure, you can’t learn what’s needed to achieve greater success. Real failure only happens when you give up.” – Jerad Tendlar

P.S. If you want to accelerate your success in implementing these strategies and reaching your goals, we’d love to help you. Apply today to our Mentorship Coaching program and we’ll gladly offer you a free coaching session to see if we’re a good fit.

About Ben Martin
Ben believes success requires hard work and the right information. Philisophical and enthusiastic, he is a devoted competitor with a fascination for psychology, specializing in mental performance. Combining healthy social, mental and physical lifestyles, Ben pursues the frontiers of poker as a young professional.

Visit my website →

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Karim Saleh September 27, 2012 at 8:45 pm

Ben! 😀

Unreal article bro. I love the clarity and how you deliver the article with the precision of a surgeon. Every word seems like it is in the right place and I feel like it is potent shit. There were times I had to read slowly and make sure that I was getting the most out of the reading content. All these articles are a test of my framework, and I’m glad its helping to solidify the matrix. Keep up the great work! 🙂

In my experience, I first came across a similar concept on an article on “Willpower” (Steve Pavlina website). What I read was that our “willpower” as we call it (i.e. when we feel motivated to get shit done and make shit happen) has its limits. In other words, we can’t have willpower all the time and be go go go all the time. We will burn out and have way less energy to start with if we spend it on the wrong things. We end up screwing ourselves over. He suggested that we invest our willpower to build an environment/lifestyle that supports us. When we don’t feel at our best, our environment encourages us to get back to our best. In a way it is a different take on a very similar concept to what you have explained. You allow for yourself to have those negative emotions or patterns and in those times remember that things were worse once…and they are a dream compared to what they previously were ‘at a lower level’. I think that is related to the concept of gratitude. When I am grateful for what I have, it seems like I am never are at my worst…Always Solid B game + (or is it an illusion- that one’s for my ego 😉

While what you said is true, I believe it can also be applied to other areas of your life…like knowing how your energy levels work and what you neglect for your self care when you aren’t at your best. Am I drinking less water than what I need to be drinking considering I don’t feel like I’m at my best? Am I cutting out your valuable sleep for pretending to get shit done so I don’t feel bad? Am I supporting myself to get myself back to my peak? (eating well, managing my thoughts, nourishing my body) Where am I burning energy that I could be redirecting to get me back on track? Why am I doing that? What’s important to me? …annnnd go!

Of course, those are messages for me 😉 But, everyone has their own internal messages. Hopefully those examples relay what I was trying to get across. Being an inchworm (which is a new term for me but I like it) at first it seems like what is this bullshit? This sucks, I am not going anywhere! That also of course is part of the illusion. Now, I love it…I love being in the trenches making my way through the mess knowing its all making me stronger. Occasionally, the moments of doubt creep in like ‘holy shit am I really doing this’? Yes I am. I am a crazy mofo. Doubt is a liar 😉

Keep em comin Ben!
Much love!

Benjamin October 2, 2012 at 1:22 am

First, thanks! I’m honoured you’ve enjoyed what I’ve shared Karim.

I think you’re absolutely right that preperation(what I would broadly describe as what you do before you perform, and I believe you called your environment), even unintentially, determines how ready you are to perform your best. It’s one of the one the topics I’ll be discussing in my next post.

As for your range; it’s a concept that’s relative to you, and only you. If you’re always performing at what was once your B+ game, you’ve grown; That’s worthy of celebration, so be damn happy about it. You’re basically the old you, so good at being you you could do it all carrying a ghetto blaster on your shoulder and still be better. Ooooooo it feels GOOD!

If you are truly incapable of producing your old c game, then the back end of your range has taken a step forward. Now what was once B game, is now your C game. As you absorb new information into your A game and take a step forward from the front end of your range, you can turn back to eliminate your present worst again. Growing is forever, so get a good ghetto blaster; it’s going to get a lot of use.

Cam October 2, 2012 at 12:58 pm

Wicked comments guys. 🙂

Nomadic Samuel October 5, 2012 at 6:28 pm

These are great tips. I love the concept of the inchworm. I’ve also compared progress to chipping away at an iceberg. It may not seem like major improvement are happening overnight but over time it’s certainly significant. Also, I really identify well with your point of not ignoring weaknesses. I think many of us have a tendency to try and sweep these under the rug, but for real progress this needs to be avoided.

Cam October 6, 2012 at 11:15 am

Thanks for commenting Samuel! I like your approach to comparing progress to chipping away at an iceberg. That’s a good metaphor. Going to go check out your site now.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: