What Keeps The Amateur From Becoming A Professional?


I’ve been thinking about what separates those who fail and those who succeed.

There’s the obvious factors: beauty, talent, luck, intelligence, drive, lack of physical or mental deficiencies, etc.

But what separates the people who do good, from those who do great? Because everything I mentioned above will only take you so far.

A few examples come to mind:

  • What’s the difference between the entrepreneur who stays in business for five years compared to the one who stays for 50?
  • What’s the difference between the artist who makes money as a side hustle, and the one who’s displayed in famous galleries for thousands of dollars?
  • What’s the difference between the “normal” person who loses 10 lbs in a month, but gains it back, and the person who loses 10 lbs in a month, 50 lbs in a year, and keeps it off forever?

Asked simply: What keeps the amateur from becoming the professional?

Simple question, but complex to answer. There are tons of variables, but I’ve noticed two that stand out.


1. Don’t take your foot off the gas after an achievement.

The first example I’ll use is myself. When business isn’t going well, I’ll work my face off ⏤ extra hours, late nights, and frugal spending. I’ll do whatever it takes to bring myself back to my “standard.” But when business is booming, and I’ve been growing at a rate I’m pleased with, I relax. Take a random day off to explore the city? Sure. Eat at that fancy restaurant and buy a bottle of wine? You bet! Spend a grand on two pairs of leather boots in one day? Abso-fuckin’-lutely. (True story.)

Because, why not? I’ve earned it.

The second example would be from my 1:1 clients. When I first start working with some of them, they’re excited and motivated to change, so they progress rather easily. But because they’ve done well, they start to slack off and try to “get away with” things like not tracking as diligently, missing workouts, or eating out more often.

They say to themselves, “Because, why not? I’ve earned it.”

Those three words⏤”I’ve earned it”⏤are a slippery slope if we aren’t careful. Used minimally and appropriately, they can reward and reinforce our favorable behavior. But used too often, and it can be the difference between us staying an amateur, or turning pro.

What to do next: As author Seth Godin calls it, we have to push through “the dip.” When you achieve something, there is high reward. But after a while, the reward vs. effort is reduced, or we use too many “I’ve earned it”‘s, so we relax or give up. We have to keep pushing. We have to break through our self-imposed glass ceiling. We have to keep our foot on the gas.

2. Amateurs set goals. Professionals create systems.

When it comes to money, I rarely set a goal to make [X] amount this month. My brain doesn’t work that way. I could set a goal for $5,000 this month or $15,000, and it still doesn’t tell me what I need to do today to get a step closer to that goal. It also doesn’t tell me what I need to do next month to match that amount, or make more, ideally with less effort.

For fitness, I’ll sometimes use a daily habit-based approach with clients. We set an outcome goal (e.g., lose ten pounds in 12 weeks), then we set daily process goals (e.g., walk 10,000 steps, eat protein with each meal, etc.) that will get us one step closer to that outcome goal.

Here are some concrete examples of systems you could use in your life:

GOAL: Land your dream job.


1) Apply for one job.

2) Read for 30 minutes on a specific skill that’s required by your dream job.

3) Ask one specific question to a person who has the job you want.

GOAL: Lose ten pounds in 12 weeks.


1) Weigh yourself every morning.

2) Track your calorie intake (or take pictures of each meal before eating).

3) Some type of movement (lifting, walking, stretching, etc.) daily.

GOAL: Be a more positive person.


1) Write down three things you’re grateful for before bed.

2) Give one compliment to another person.

3) Unfollow two (or more) people on social media who consistently upset you.

But the key is to focus on refining your systems, not on reaching goals. The goals are great for pointing you in the right direction, but they distract you and keep you from being happy in the process.

Naval Ravikant, CEO of Angel List and one of my favorite people, said “Desire’s a contract you make to be unhappy until you get what you want.”

What to do next: Pick one area of your life that you’d like to improve and create your daily system. Remember, make these actionable steps you can measure. You can measure how many compliments you give in a day, but “be more positive” is too vague. If you’re looking for a daily system for fitness that has been proven effective, I literally created Automated Fitness for this reason. I tell you exactly what you need to be focusing on each day, and how to double your results with half the work. And as a thank you for being on this list, you can get it here with a 32% discount. Buy it, or don’t, but make sure you start refining your systems today.

via James Clear

If you have more qualities that take people from good to great, I’d love to hear them in the comments below. Like I said, I love this stuff.

But for now, it’s the weekend ⏤ and even professionals enjoy an end-of-the-week bourbon. (Or three.)



P.S. This post was inspired by Farnam Street and James Clear. You should check them out.

P.P.S. This was originally sent to my email list. If you liked this, you should sign up to get emails like this once per week.

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