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Conservation of Decisions

The way we make decisions is pretty interesting. Making decisions that are bad for us is easy and effortless. Think about how easy it is to decide to watch TV, eat some junk food, take a nap, and then play some video games. On the other hand, let's say that today you wanted to have a really positive day. To actually decide and convince yourself to prepare and eat healthy food, avoid watching any TV, power through your work even when you're feeling tired, and avoid wasting time on facebook is hard. Not impossible, of course, but just by thinking through these two scenarios, you can imagine how much more mentally taxing the latter is.

The trick to overcoming this is to make decisions once that will have an effect for a long period of time-- in other words, having a standard routine that allows for no variance. For example, I want to have a good sleep schedule. I can do what I tried to do for about 30 years, which is will myself to make a good decision on when to go to bed every night, which didn't work at all, or just say that computer is off at midnight no matter what, and I'm asleep by two no matter what. Now I don't get to make a decision every night-- I just turn of the computer, read, and go to sleep. All I had to do was make this decision once, and then train myself on it for a couple weeks before it became second nature.

Another huge benefit of rigid scheduling is that the schedules can be tweaked. I wanted to eat more Omega 3 fats. How do I do that? Well, if I just know that's a goal, maybe I'll go grocery shopping and figure out which foods are better, figure out how to prepare them, and make them. Or maybe I'll just dial it in by eating a couple more walnuts here and there and order salmon on the rare occasion I go to a restaurant. In my case, switching to eat more Omega 3 was simple-- I eat the same thing for lunch every day, so I just substituted a sardine sandwich and tuna sandwich for my nut/fruit sandwiches. One decision and my whole diet is improved.

Studies have shown that willpower is like a muscle. On one hand it needs to be exercised regularly to be effective, but on the other hand it's strength can become depleted through short-term overuse. If you're trying to eat healthy, exercise, work effectively, write, be financially responsible, and sleep well through micro-management, you probably won't be able to continue indefinitely. Instead you'll have a burst of a week or two where you crush it, and then you'll deplete your willpower and regress back to old habits.

Compound Interest and Moments of Clarity

On Mental Models

Everybody knows (at least in theory) about the power of Compound Interest. The idea is that with a long enough time frame (usually 15+ years), even tiny differences in interest rates can make a huge difference.

Of course, this applies to any parts of your life that compound. It just happens to be very measurable and visible with money.

But think about your job skills. If you consistently get a 1% higher ROI every year, it's going to make a huge difference in the long run. Say you're a software developer, and you increase your skills by 1% more than the average software developer. For the first few years it might look like you're wasting your time. You're spending all this extra time and effort on gaining that extra 1%, and you don't have much to show for it (a 1% improvement). But if you compound this over a career of 20 years, the end results will be dramatic. You will be much more skillful at your job than the person who only improved with an average speed.

This is nicely illustrated in The One Thing by Keller (which I'm STILL reading). He uses the analogy of a chain of dominoes. Tipping over a small one will knock over a slightly larger one, then another slightly larger one, and so on.

What I don't like about the metaphor is that this isn't how most long term things work - you don't set up everything in the very beginning, then tip a small domino and everything else just falls into place.

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