I remember reading about the famous marshmallow study, the one where they see if kids can delay gratification or not. Reading about it really haunted me, because a psychologist came to my school in third grade and did a similar experiment on us students. We could have an unspecified "big prize" later, or a small prize immediately. I walked away with silly putty.
As you probably know, the people who delay gratification are more successful, happier, etc. When I found this out, I became determined to be a gratification delayer.
I love thinking about these dichotomies-- you're either X or Y, and if you're Y... maybe you'd better start becoming an X.
A related one that I think is really practical is the split between builders and allocators. I'm not sure those are the exact best words, but I've always been bad at coming up with catchy terms for these things.
Maybe the clearest example is in spending money. An allocator looks at what he has, looks at what he needs, and tries to reconcile the two. Monthly income is $5k, so he allocates the money to his expenses. If his income goes up, he'll allocate that money, and if it goes down he'll cut back on the expenses.
A builder, on the other hand, thinks of his money not as something to spend, but as a tool. The more money he has, the more powerful that tool is. So he invests his money in things that have a likelihood of appreciating, or at least things that will hold their value. He invests more in experiences and learning because he knows that those things are building him.
This isn't just about spending money, though, it's about a mode of decision-making. A builder cultivates his friend group and thinks about which friendships he wants to be stronger in ten years. And then he takes action to make that happen. An allocator spends his time with whoever will make him feel good (or at least not bored) in the moment.
A builder takes the time to put into place systems to work more efficiently, thus building his effectiveness. An allocator gets done what needs to get done. A builder is more likely to make the hard decisions to eat healthy, rather than do what it takes to satisfy hunger in the moment.
As you may have guessed, I am obsessed with building. I can't know for sure that it's the best mode for everyone, but I'm sure it is for me and I suspect it is for everyone. Almost everything I'm doing is building.
Part of building is trying to build a ratchet into your life. You put in work and/or money up front for something that will benefit you forever, and upon which you can build. For example, I bought a cheap place in Vegas and then spend a fair bit of money and effort making it into my ideal environment. Now for the rest of my life I have a near-zero cost living situation in which I'm highly productive.
I try to build really good friendships with great people, and then I also try to facilitate strong bonds between them if I can. A strong friend group is much more durable and resilient than a single strong friendship.
And I develop habits that I believe will move important factors upwards only. I try to make sure I'm always getting stronger and healthier by refining my diet and exercise practices.
The three currencies we have are time, money, and habits. If you want to be a builder, you have to think consciously whenever you spend one of these currencies. The key is to think about the duration and magnitude of the benefit, and compare it to the alternatives.
A key indicator is sacrifice. If you aren't sacrificing anything, you aren't a builder.
Some time decisions are obvious, like whether you should allocate time towards work or watching TV. Others are a little bit less clear, like whether you should sleep eight hours, or sleep six and work two extra. And some are almost always overlooked-- like when I realized that I should exclusively spend time with people with whom I want to become better friends, not just people I have fun around.
Money decisions are sometimes the hardest ones, because society is so geared towards allocators. I actually rather enjoyed it, but having lived in an RV for eight years could be seen as a sacrifice. It was certainly strange to people. I was happy to spend money on an island that will foster bonds between friends and family for generations, but I sacrifice by taking the bus to the airport instead of Lyft.
Habits are the most overlooked, because while terrible habits are obvious, merely bad ones are often invisible. I don't think most people know that their diets are making them gradually less fit and healthy. I don't think that they know that their comfort zones are tightening around them like a noose.
Whether you're spending time, money, or willpower on building a new habit, take an objective look at what the ripples of that expenditure will look like in a few years. Will it enable you to do more? Will it ratchet your life up? Will you still be benefiting from it at all?
None of us are going to make the right choices according to those criteria every time, but we can all do it most of the time. And even recognizing when you're not doing it is valuable. I spent all Saturday last week watching UFC 200. No real benefit there, but I decided I was going to do it and was then very productive the next day to tip the scales back in the right direction.
Don't just live your life, build it.
Photo is a sculpture from SF MoMA.
updated look at the marshmallow study:
One of the interesting points here particularly in the bus vs lyft situation is that you overlook the sacrifice of time. I don't know the difference in this particular use case, but as you grow in wealth/earning potential there is a time component that should be a factor. As I've grown in my career, started a family, and taken on additional opportunities time is more valuable.
While this is obviously true sometimes, I feel like people often use it as an excuse to waste money. Like... it's only worth spending $20 for half an hour if I was actually going to get $20+ more work done in that time AND it wasn't going to deplete my ability to work later in the day AND wasn't going to put that money towards something that pays out bigger returns.
Tynan, I think that's a really great point, as I've often made the tradeoff of spending money to save time, then spent that time goofing off. I'm really curious about your point that work done now might deplete your ability to work later in the day (I'm assuming due to depleted motivation).
Like you, I have a completely open work schedule, and I'm having a lot of trouble deciding how many hours is an optimal amount of time for me to work each day. From my understanding, you've been working well over 12-hour days for quite some time now (with exceptions for travel, etc.), and I'm wondering if you have any advice for keeping motivated to work long hours every day? I can pull several 12- or even 16-hour days in a row, but I find my will gives out after too many and I end up having several very low-productivity days, or even getting sick afterwards.
I'd also be very curious about your thoughts on drive as a finite resource, or as a muscle we can strengthen (beyond optimizing habits and environment). Does pushing yourself harder make it easier to push harder next time, or does it just wear you out faster?
A lot of people, hopefully not you, are living lives of glamorized, self inflicted, slavery. I've debated writing about this for a while, because of the connotation, but it's something I think about constantly. Sometimes I see someone working and I realize that they don't have the freedom to spend their days according to their own discretion. I try to empathize and imagine what it might be like, and as a result I feel a twinge of panic. It's unfathomable.
Time is all we have. If you're in a job that you don't enjoy, and you're not consistently saving up money, you are wasting your time. I don't care if you have a Porsche or a Schwinn, a penthouse or a room in a subleased apartment on the fringes of town. You can say that life is short, or you can say that it's long, but either way, it's finite. Today's the last day just like today that you have.
There's no conspiracy in play, trying to turn people into slaves. It's simpler than that: people take the path of least responsibility, and thus put the control of their lives into other people's hands. Why do so many people give up the best hours of the best days of their lives? Because it takes no thought. Everyone else gets a full time job, so why not?
A question I think on a lot -
What's it take to do interesting and important things in the world?
That's one of the things regularly explored here - creativity, ambition, self-discipline, paying attention to numbers and getting probability on your side, relating with people, thinking clearly, establishing good habits, etc, etc.
Add this one to the list -
A willingness to suffer for what you want.