The Simple Strategy to Get Smarter, Boost Your Productivity, and Gain More Opportunities

This guest post is by Sonia Thompson of Try Business School. She talks about the importance of going deeper. This is the very concept upon which Deep Existence was founded. Most people live a shallow existence, but the rewards of deep living are rich. Sonia talks us through what those are and gives some impactful examples!

“What’s it like for women at work?”

I was in Olavarria, Argentina enjoying an asado (read: best barbeque in the world) with new friends.

During the evening, I’d exchanged notes with the ladies about the differences between how romantic relationships progress in Argentina and the United States.

Later the conversation turned to the plight of women in the workplace. I found their tales fascinating, especially given that at the time, their country had had a female president for the last eight years.

Did I mention that the entire conversation was conducted in Spanish?

This whole evening was made possible by a simple decision I’d made with regard to travel a few years before: go deep.

Traveling Shallow vs. Deep

When I first began traveling internationally, it was for business at my corporate job. In one role, I made it to the Czech Republic, UK, Greece, South Africa, and Italy all in one year.

And for each of those trips, my colleagues and I would spend the first day sightseeing at all the main attractions. Then we’d work more or less for the rest of the trip.

So although I made it to all these lovely countries, my experience with them was at a superficial level.

I saw all the main sites, took a few photos, and check. I could mark the country down on my list of places I’d been.

Outside the Louvre
Exhibit A of superficial traveling: This is a picture outside of the Louvre in Paris. Never actually made it inside the museum…

But if you’d ask me what the country was like, how the people were, or what life was like for them there, my responses would largely be limited to my experiences with cab drivers, restaurant and hotel workers.

I could give very few details or tell any meaningful stories about the places.

But a few years later, as I began traveling internationally for pleasure, my perspective changed.

For one, once I quit my job and started my own business, I was able to travel for longer periods of time. I could take my time exploring and getting to know a place and their people.

I could go deep.

And once I did, my whole perspective changed. Here are a few examples:

Sonia with WISER Girls
After a week teaching entrepreneurship at an all girls school in a remote town in Kenya, I was able to see and experience first hand the amazing difference educating girls can have on a community.
Lunch with new friends in Dagang
While in Dagang, a small town in China, I was reminded that a warm smile and an open heart is all you need to make new friends. Especially if you don’t speak the same language.
Andes mountains between Chile and Argentina
While traveling through South America by bus, I got numerous visual reminders of the benefits of taking the scenic route.

3 Reasons Why Deeper Is Better

Once I reaped the rewards of going deep while traveling, I was able to recognize benefits of this approach in other areas of life. Here are a few:

1. Going Deeper Makes You Smarter

How much do you remember of what you learned in high school? If much of your learning was superficial, meaning you studied to pass tests, then you probably forgot most things.

Deep learning, on the other hand, is for the long-term. One paper noted that “Students who take a deep approach have the intention of understanding, engaging with, operating in and valuing the subject.”

And over time, focused, persistent learning manifests itself in strengthened abilities and expertise. It makes you smarter.

While some think “expert” status is far outside their grasp, according to famed writer Robert Greene, we are all capable of it:

It is time that the word ‘genius’ becomes demystified and de-rarified. We are all closer than we think to such intelligence.

Through Greene’s research over the years, particularly for the best-seller Mastery, he’s identified that we are all capable of achieving mastery, a great command of a subject matter. But it requires depth.

The great danger is that we give in to feelings of boredom, impatience, fear, and confusion. We stop observing and learning. The process comes to a halt.

If, on the other hand, we manage these emotions and allow time to take its course, something remarkable begins to take shape. As we continue to observe and follow the lead of others, we gain clarity, learning the rules and seeing how things work and fit together. If we keep practicing, we gain fluency; basic skills are mastered, allowing us to take on newer and more exciting challenges. We begin to see connections that were invisible to us before. We slowly gain confidence in our ability to solve problems or overcome weaknesses through sheer persistence.

At a certain point, we move from student to practitioner…As years go by and we remain faithful to this process, yet another leap takes place – to mastery.

Prolonged deep learning leads to mastery.

Malcolm Gladwell’s research backs this up as well. In Outliers, he made the case that the reason why some people succeed far more than others comes down to practice. A lot of it.

In the book, Gladwell referenced research from neurologist Daniel Levitin:

The emerging picture from such studies is that ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert – in anything.

It doesn’t matter if your objective isn’t mastery or to become a world-class expert. If your goal is to learn more about a particular topic, such as nutrition, a new language, or a new development in your field of work, then there’s only one way to approach it if you’re serious.

Go deep.

Read everything you can get your hands on. Look for ways to further your understanding. Find applications of the concepts in your everyday life. And practice. A lot.

Your grasp of the topic will grow tremendously. And you’ll be able to use it in various situations to add value to your life.

2. Going Deeper Makes You More Productive

There’s no shortage of people in search of how to make the most of their time. But even with all the techniques that are taught on the topic, there is a simple solution to getting more done in less time.

Go deep.

In his new book Deep Work, Cal Newport details how this approach has enabled him to be so prolific:

“On the other hand, my commitment to depth has rewarded me. In the ten-year period following my college graduation, I published four books, earned a PhD, wrote peer-reviewed academic papers at a high rate, and was hired as a tenure-track professor at Georgetown University. I maintained this voluminous production while rarely working past five or six p.m. during the workweek.

This compressed schedule is possible because I’ve invested significant effort to minimize the shallow in my life while making sure I get the most out of the time this frees up. I build my days around a core of carefully chosen deep work, with the shallow activities I absolutely cannot avoid batched into smaller bursts at the peripheries of my schedule. Three to four hours a day, five days a week, of uninterrupted and carefully directed concentration, it turns out, can produce a lot of valuable output.”

Authors of the best-seller The One Thing Gary Keller and Gary Papasan agree with this approach. They recommend blocking out four hours a day to work on your one thing. Their findings over the years show that this high level of focus leads to increased productivity, which leads to a domino effect of extraordinary results.

Bottom line: If you want to boost what you’re able to accomplish each day, squeeze out the superficial, and invest more time in your most meaningful work.

3. Going Deeper Reveals New Opportunities

A couple of months ago I was asked to help teach a tango class in Buenos Aires, the mecca of tango.

There is no shortage of tango instructors in the city. But the reason the offer was made to me, a tango novice who’d only been dancing a year, was because of my relationship with the instructor.

Talent and recognized expertise open doors. That’s where being smarter and highly productive are useful—the greater the depth of your talent and expertise, the greater degree of opportunities that come your way.

But relationships matter too. Even more so in the absence of talent and expertise. That’s my rational explanation for why I was asked to assist with that class. 🙂

In his book Never Eat Alone, Keith Ferrazzi writes:

I’ve come to believe that connecting is one of the most important business – and life – skill sets you’ll ever learn. Why? Because, flat out, people do business with people they know and like. Careers – in every imaginable field – work the same.

Getting others to know, like, and trust you requires depth. It takes time. And the greater the depths of your relationships, the easier it will be for those in your network to open doors for you.

It’s what will get people to welcome you into their home. It’s what will get them to connect you with someone else. It’s what will get them to be open to sharing new experiences with you.

My decision to go deep was what led me to develop a relationship with my tango friend. Had I not spent months in Buenos Aires going to tango lessons and milongas, I wouldn’t have learned to dance so quickly, or met fellow dancers. And had I not invested so much time in the previous year and a half learning Spanish, I wouldn’t have been equipped to communicate with the students in the class.

Going deep put me in a position to make valuable connections. And that depth prepared me to capitalize on the opportunities presented to me as a result of my new connections.

Superficial knowledge and relationships won’t get you very far.

Go deep to open up a world of possibilities.

Shallow Is Lame

Yes, it’s easier. But the rewards are consistent with the effort.

Sonia Thompson is content marketing strategist that’s obsessed with roaming around South America. She helps entrepreneurs combine the right mindset with the right strategy to grow their businesses. Sonia is also the host of the Entrepreneur Survival Summit, a free virtual conference that’s all about helping business owners think like successful entrepreneurs. Stephen Guise is a featured speaker. Go here to grab your free ticket.

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