Read My Book about Habits!
Check out my bestselling book on habits, Superhuman by Habit. .
Later in the day, after spending hours exploring the pyramids in Cairo, we rented some busted up four-wheelers and took to the desert behind the pyramids. Driving over a huge dune, pyramids being revealed as you ascend, is a truly breathtaking sight. You can almost imagine what it would have been like to ride a camel across the desert and to see them for the first time. One thing that would have been different back then, though, is that you wouldn't see any trash. Today the desert is littered with flattened plastic bottles, clothes, and even an occasional boot.
For a visitor, it's sad to see the trash. The desert is more beautiful than one would expect. It's full of striated rocks, fossilized shells from when the Nile was much higher, and coral from the same time. But the Egyptians, for the most part, don't notice or care about the trash. The desert has it good compared to most of the city. Every bit of street has a little bit of trash on it, and some parts have a lot.
At first, when you see someone dump a bag of fast-food detritus out of their car window, it's alarming. But after even a couple days, it seems normal. The last night I was there I had a small plastic bag I couldn't find a trash can for, and part of my brain wanted to just throw it on the street. It would be a drop in the ocean. So I understand partly why it happens: momentum.
Visiting somewhere like Tokyo is the exact opposite. Even though the city is maddeningly absent of trash cans, the thought of littering would never even cross your mind. The city is pristine, and you'll never see a resident litter. Their momentum is the opposite of Egypt's.
The more you think about it, the more you realize that momentum is responsible for a frighteningly large portion of our experience. Think about how bizarre our government is. If we were to design from scratch a good electoral system, I think it would look very little like the one we currently have. But momentum requires gerrymandering and paper ballots and two similar-but-hostile political parties.
Last night I watched a documentary produced by the BBC about drugs. They took twenty of the most abused drugs in the UK and ranked them by danger. Number one, predictably, was heroin. Two was cocaine. Any of us could have guessed those. Ecstasy, surprisingly, was nineteen. Alcohol was nine and tobacco was five.
If we didn't have momentum, or drugs, and all drugs were introduced to us today, which would become socially acceptable and sanctioned by the government? Certainly not tobacco, and probably not alcohol either. Both are devastating to individuals and society and are extremely addictive. But we do have momentum, so both of those drugs are legal and, between both, used by almost everyone.
Shifting momentum on things like drug acceptance or political systems is an extraordinarily daunting task. If it can be done at all, it would take years or decades at a minimum to make an appreciable impact. A giant boulder rocketing forward requires a lot of force to shift its trajectory even a little bit, let alone turn it around.
At the same time, we as individuals do a lot because of momentum. If you drink alcohol or smoke tobacco, you can decide to do the logical thing and stop using them. If it's important to you to have psychoactive substances to use, you could switch to pot and ecstasy, and probably be doing yourself a favor. Rather than graduate college and get a job you dislike, as momentum dictates, you can learn independently and start your own business or freelance. That's not to say that either of these changes is right for you, only that if you are going with the flow on either of them, you're almost certainly doing it because of momentum rather than reason.
The more decisions you make independently based on logic, the better your life will be. Sometimes that logic will lead you to make the same choice that momentum would have brought you to, and sometimes it won't. A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself: if I was making this decision from scratch, based on everything I know now, would I still do it this way? Any time the answer is no, you're the victim of momentum. Momentum can work for you, too, though. You rebuild your patterns and habits, and eventually momentum makes it hard to shift back to old defaults.
Photo is from "behind" the pyramids.
If you don't follow me on Twitter, you should. I've been posting photos of places I travel recently.
Anyone in Taiwan? I'm there this Sunday and was thinking of doing a small tea meetup if I have readers there.
I was enveloped by a red granite box, not much larger than myself. There was no lid, so I could look up at the red granite ceiling. I lay in the tomb of Cheops in the largest pyramid of Giza. Our guide switched off the ventilation fans for a few minutes to create silence. I imagined that I was King Cheops, risen from the grave.
The scale of the pyramids is something that can't be appreciated until you're right next to them. They were the tallest man-made structures on earth when they were built, and remained that way for 3800 years. I stared up at the ceiling and thought about how a mummy lay for thousands of years where I lay, the ceiling looking exactly the same for that entire time.
Each block that makes up the pyramids is enormous. Moving a single one a foot would be a feat none of us would attempt without a lot of friends and some modern equipment. I understand why conspiracy theories about aliens surround the pyramids. The idea that humans could have built them seems absolutely absurd. They're just too big and too perfect.
The pyramids are also a lot more precise than I imagined they were. The lengths of the sides are off by less than an inch. The angles are nearly perfect. The room that I lay in, built from massive hunks of granite, seemed to be perfectly rectangular.
Sometimes a preference can morph from being your best assessment of a particular situation into a fixture of who you are. When that happens, you're in a bad position to reevaluate and make a better decision, because your ego gets caught up in that decision. That happened to me when I decided that I preferred multi-month trips to shorter ones.
When I started traveling, my intention was to come back to the US as infrequently as possible. I hadn't done very extensive traveling, so my plan was meant to combat that. I'd stay in places for long periods of time, generally months, and really get to know them deeply.
This worked really well for me. I haven't been back in a few years, but Panama felt like a real home base. Tokyo did, too, and it still does today.
Now I travel much more frenetically. I'm sitting in Paris working on a blog post, but by tonight I'll be in Jordan. My last meal was in Brooklyn, New York. Over the next week I'll also travel to Cairo, Amsterdam, and Hong Kong.
One of the hardest things in life is deciding what to do next. Think about what life would be like if you knew every single step that you had to take to get where you wanted. Some of the steps would be tough, but if you knew that what you were doing was the best thing you could be doing, I have the feeling you'd be able to walk that path pretty easily.
But that's not how life is. If you're anything like me, a large percentage of your time is spent trying to decide what it is you should do. I mean that on the micro level, like whether or not you should go to that party tomorrow night, and on the macro level, like what business you should start.
A heuristic is a mental shortcut to make decisions. Always split aces and eights is a heuristic for some decisions in blackjack. An easy heuristic in deciding what to do is to just do something good for someone else. It may not always be the optimal thing for you to do, but it's almost always a good thing for you to do.
This is true for two reasons, as far as I can tell.
I have four books that I've published myself. Three are on Amazon as paperbacks and Kindle, and a fourth is only available on Kindle. Despite all sorts of other projects I've worked on, my books represent nearly all of my income. Just ten years ago, before good self-publishing tools became available, this would not have been possible.
Although I don't make a very large income, the ROI of time spent on my books is incredible. I wrote Make Her Chase You in approximately one week six years ago, and it still makes hundreds of dollars per month. At its peak, before I got a crazy one-star rating, it made about $4,000 per month. Superhuman by Habit still hasn't settled into a predictable sales pattern, but it's already sold several thousand copies.
I didn't realize that these numbers were exceptional until Superhuman By Habit started to hit some Amazon bestseller lists. I googled around and found that all of my books have or are on track to sell more than the average publisher-produced book.
I've also been helping a friend work on her book, and the experience has made me realize that I've picked up a lot of knowledge on how to sell a book on Amazon, and that knowledge could be useful to other people. I've already written before on how to write the book, so this is about how to make money on it.
As you must know if you read my blog regularly, I really enjoy making extreme resolutions and then sticking to them. One was deciding in 2012 that I wouldn't date until 2015.
I had a weird mental shift in 2012. I've always wanted to settle down and start a family, but until 2012 I would add the word "eventually" to the sentence. At some point a switch flipped and I realized that if the next girl I dated ended up being the one I settled down with, I was ready.
Being in the early stages of a startup, I didn't feel like I had time to invest in a relationship like that. And I wanted to really focus on work. So, much to the chagrin of grandchild-wanting family members, I stopped dating.
Overall, it worked. Three years may have been a little bit too long, and there were definitely times I wished I was dating, but overall I had great focus and made good progress. I'd give the experiment a B+.
I can't believe the year's over already! As I look over my past year, it feels like the things that happened last January were just a few weeks ago. Trips blended together to create a whirlwind of a year that, as asual, was packed with a lot more than it feels like at first glance.
This was a frustrating year for Sett. At times I really got into the groove, but a lot of times it felt like I was putting out fires and struggling to figure out how to make Sett earn money. It's a bittersweet decision to stop actively working on it, but it feels good to start this next year without that obligation. I've already written about this in detail, so I'll move on.
A quick preface to say that a lot of people are in real poverty through little or no fault of their own, and that's a sad thing. I would like for them to have it better, and agree that to some degree it's worth forcing the richest to pay for them.
That said, I think that there's way too much focus on wealth inequality, and not nearly enough on how great we have it, even at the lowest levels.
Earlier this year, I visited a couple castles in Romania. One was new and it was truly beautiful inside and out. The ceiling in the main hall was a retractable stained glass window, a happy overlap in timing of the last of the castles being built and the earliest mechanisms of that sort.
Across the country, though, I also visited an older castle. It was built some time around 1400, but was in use until 1920. Now it's a museum, so you can see it as it was last used. And I'll tell you-- castle or not, I have a lot more luxury than that in my RV.
If you've ever led a group of more than a couple people, you know that timeliness is a big factor. If there's any leeway for people to show up late, someone is going to do it every time, which means that nothing starts on time. Then when people see that things don't start on time, they come late to compensate.
This happened on day one of our big transpacific cruise this year. Several people were late to things the first day, and it became obvious that this was going to be the standard if something wasn't done about it.
So we came up with the idea that anyone who was late, even by a minute, would have to do one pushup for every minute late.
The problem was immediately solved. People were late once in a while, but generally just by a couple minutes. Nearing dinner we could be seen all over the ship looking at our watches, calculating the time necessary to be ready, and hustling if needed.
At last! I'm going to start this gear post with a promise, since everyone's been so patient: the 2016 Gear Post will be out on or before the Monday following Thanksgiving of 2015.
The bad news is that I fear my gear posts are going to slowly become more boring over time. While my main goal is to have the very best gear to travel with, my secondary goal is to have as little of it as possible. At this point my backpack is half empty, and a handful of items are being eyed for removal for next year.
But that's the great thing about great gear. It fulfills a need so wholly that nothing else is needed to share the burden. And, in some cases, like clothing, the gear is of such quality that spares aren't necessary.
So, without further ado, the 2015 Gear Post. As usual, many of these links are affiliate links, as this is one of very few posts that I make money on. Some products are given to me for free. While I do try more gear because of this, I never list anything that I don't think is necessary and the best in its category.