The Rule of Five: Level Up

(From Scott Pilgrim vs. the World)

(From Scott Pilgrim vs. the World)

Power is temporary.

By Sam Yang - Get similar updates here

You have five limbs: your arms, legs, and head. In martial arts, you can use any of these limbs, individually or in combination, to attack or retaliate. These essential assets determine victory or defeat. Like the number of fingers on our hands, that allowed us to use tools; five is a magic number.

Patterns of Five

Five is a familiar and natural idea. Look at the yin-yang and what you will see is the large yin (1), the large yang (2), and within them, a smaller yin (3), a smaller yang (4), and united in balance is the totality of the universe (5). The I Ching, or, Book of Changes is one of the five Confucian classics. There are typically five belts in martial arts: white, blue, purple, brown, and black. (More belts have been added over the years to motivate students to continue.) A clan needs at least five members. We have five main emotions; we make five-year plans, five speckled frogs on a log, the five elements of Chinese philosophy, and there are also typically five members in a boy band. (This is what makes them so hard to defeat!)

(From the cult classic, Five Deadly Venoms)

(From the cult classic, Five Deadly Venoms)

In storytelling, the three-act structure can be further broken down into five acts: beginning, complications, climax, consequences, and end. In exercise, there are five main movements: push, pull, squat, lunge, hinge. Converted, they can be: bench press, seated row, back squats, reverse lunge, and deadlift. Luniz, a rap group from the 90s even had a song called "I Got 5 On it." There are even five defenses to a punch!

The blueprint has already been mapped out; five is important.

Rules of Five

How I allocate my time:

  • Education
  • Family and friends
  • Physical practice
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Leisure

Billionaire, Li Ka-Shing's rule for allocating money:

  • Living expenses
  • Increasing interpersonal circle
  • Education
  • Exploring the world
  • Invest

People I associate with:

  • Family
  • Teachers, mentors, and masters
  • Those I can help
  • New folks and deeper networks
  • Those who offer no value except making me laugh

Top Five

There's an old story about investment tycoon Warren Buffett. One of Buffett's employees was finding frustration managing all of his aspirations. He asked the employee to name his top twenty-five important things. The employee took some time and listed them out. Then Buffett asked him, out of these items, which were his top five. The employee took more time but narrowed down it down to five. Buffett asked him what he planned to do? The employee said he would work on his top five now, giving them priority, and work on the other twenty as he saw fit. Buffett disagreed. The other twenty are the enemies of his top five, Buffett said. They steal time and energy from your primary focus. Avoid them until you have succeeded with your top five.

Five Days a Week

My ideal training volume, whether it's in exercise, martial arts, or in building a new skill. Five days a week is when I make the most gains without burn out. It's difficult to maintain this consistently, but it helps to manage my schedule and expectations if I know I'm only shooting for five. Not infinite, not twice a day but also not sporadically. I don't always get five, but my aim is to get as many of these weeks in as I can a year. Think of it as an aggregate. Knowing there is a limit to my training helps me prioritize what I need to work on during each session.

My Five-Year Rule

Power is temporary. Whether you were the tough guy in school, the prom queen, or the best Donkey Kong player, it only lasts you so long. Time runs out, and so does value. Create a new source of power every five years; whether you learn a new language, a new skill, gain a new attribute, or increase your expertise in something preexisting — somehow up your value. (Maintain your head start.) Otherwise, newer/ younger people will surpass you, as they enter the market with skills you do not have, with better stamina, newer ideas, less responsibility, more flexibility, and a willingness to work for less money. Don't let your ego have you clinging to temporary sources of power as they run out of gas.

Level up. Continuously. In Japanese, this is known as "kaizen" (改善), the understanding that, to even maintain cruise control, you must continually work to stay ahead.

Demands for value inflates while your existing value deflates. A black belt can give you five years of power, then what? A college degree gets you five years, a master's degree, another five, a certification, five more, and so on. If you stay stagnant, your value will keep diminishing — unless you do something. There is no stasis in the real world, for the world is always changing, and so are you. Even if you stand still, you are changing, your value is changing. (Regardless of your opinions about it.)

Not everyone will understand the five-year rule, and if they fall from grace, be ready to take their place. Commit to the essential (like education), then position yourself for acceleration. Abandon the old idea that you have paid your dues because you haven't. Unless you're dead, there is no "done." Stay hungry; remain a learner. You only have one life, put five on it.

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