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Most of what we do is subconscious, driven by our habits. The rest is conscious, primarily driven by our principles. In addition to dictating our conscious actions, principles also guide which habits we decide to create.
If we want to improve ourselves and become more effective, our habits and principles are the places we can get the most leverage. A good habit like eating healthy can affect nearly every aspect of our lives, just as a principle like always telling the truth can improve our relationships and lower our mental load.
Just as I don't think there's a universal set of habits that's right for everyone, I don't think there is a set of principles that's right for everyone. Even so, it's always interesting to hear what others' principles and habits are, to use as inspiration for creating our own.
I follow my principles very closely, but not completely. Sometimes a situation calls for deviation, and other times I simply fail to stick to my principles. The former is okay, but the latter is something I try to minimize. With that in mind, here are four of my own.
When I write about "average people" or "average Americans", I often get flack about it. Some people call me elitist. Occasionally I get called something worse. Then there are the comments about how if everyone did something that I suggest, it wouldn't work anymore, or that the average person isn't exactly the same as me, so he may not be able to do everything I can do. All this boils down to a pretty good topic for a post.
Who exactly am I talking about when I talk about average people? The best way to define my usage of the term would be to say that I'm talking about people who live lives of defaults. They go with the flow and conform to society's expectations of them. That doesn't mean that they're all exactly the same-- there's enough chaos in the world to make everyone completely unique. But although the expressions of their principles are unique, the actual principles are pretty much the same. They do what's easiest. They may have big dreams, but they have low goals. They work as hard as they have to. They don't make independent decisions.
That's not to say that they ALWAYS fit exactly into this mold, only that they usually do. And there's a bell curve, of course, with some people being dead average, some people being mostly average, and then way out on the fringes there are weirdos like myself, and probably even weirder people than me.
Why do I rant about average people so much? It's not because I hate them or think poorly of them-- it's actually because I believe that they're capable of much more and would have better lives if they made the effort. Mostly I think it's a shame that so many people are plodding down this worn trail when there's lots of undiscovered wilderness to explore. I have some contempt for their actions, but not for them as people.
You know that dream where you're at school with no pants on? I don't have that one, but I have one that's almost as terrifying: that I'm in school WITH pants on. I dropped out after a year and a half and am extremely glad I did so. I think that too many people are going to college these days, and that although everyone calls it an investment, no one is doing even the most basic cost/benefit analysis of it.
But even if you agree with me on school, you may find yourself trapped there. Some parents put enormous pressure on their kids to go to school, and I understand that it can feel like you have no choice. I think you always have a choice, but let's assume you don't. You're in school-- what should you do?
I'm going to assume that you're not going down a path like law or medicine, where you really do need to be in school. If that's the case, only a small part of this advice will apply. For everyone else, here's my advice:
1. Realize that your degree is worth nothing, but the process you go through to earn it can be worthwhile. If you coast or cheat your way through school, you will have wasted four years of your life and tens of thousands of dollars. All of your decisions should be made while thinking: what will put me in the best position four years from now.
Standards are an interesting thing. They don't dictate exact performance, but they do sketch out a ballpark. If you expect yourself to read a book a week, you may not actually do that, but you'll probably read a book most weeks. If a boss tells you to have something done one month from now, you'll probably get it done sometime around then. Not two weeks earlier, but not two weeks later, either. Standards work to guide performance by creating an idea of what is acceptable and what is not acceptable. They shape our priorities, trying to maximize the amount of acceptable things we do and minimize the unacceptable ones.
It's interesting to think about where our standards come from. Why is forty hours a week the standard for a full week of work? Why isn't it less? Why isn't it more? Is that standard really right for everyone? Our societal standard for healthy eating is to eat anything that qualifies as non-dessert, preferably not entirely fried, and then a small amount of something that is dessert. Most people hover around that-- no one eats ice cream for every meal.
It's no secret how I feel about, well, pretty much all societal standards, and since you're reading my blog, chances are you don't subscribe to all of society's standards either.
When you DO subscribe to these standards, you don't ever need to police yourself. Society will keep you there automatically through peer pressure. If you don't work very much, people will call you a slacker. If you don't work at all, your mom will call you and tell you to get a job. If you work too hard, unless you're in a specific industry which has a high standard for work quantity, people will actually encourage you to work LESS. You'll even see this on my blog, where suggest that I ought to have more balance/fun/etc.
One day last week I drank too much tea too late in the day. Instead of going to bed at my normal 1:30-2am time, I went to bed after 3am. The next morning I woke up around eleven, feeling a bit slothful for sleeping in. Usually I make some nice green tea in the morning, but I skipped it that day, half because I had overdosed on tea the day before, and half because it was almost the afternoon. I sat down at my computer, but instead of doing my daily planning, I started researching Persian rugs.
By one in the afternoon I was still sitting at my computer in my skivvies, having done nothing more substantial than gain a comprehensive amateur understanding of what to look for in a Persian rug, and maybe answering a handful of medium-priority emails.
The day was off to a bad start. Not a horrific start, like the kind where you lose your arm in a grain combine, but the kind where you've gotten such a slow start that the day begins to feel like a waste.
I opened up Google Calendar to plan my day, but then closed it. What's the point, I thought, when I've already wasted so much time? There was no chance it was going to be an excellent day, so my brain was trying to steer me towards just writing the day off and refocusing on the next one.
One way to break down a lifetime would be to think of it as two portions-- the part where the person became better, and the part where he coasted.
In a normal person's life, the getting better part would include everything from his first breath of air, as he learned how to see and feel and breathe, through school as he learned different things, and probably through the beginning part of his job as he developed a baseline proficiency in his trade. The coasting part would be most of his career, as he put his educational investment to work, and, of course, retirement.
There are a lot of ways to get better. You can learn new things. You can travel and see the world, thus gaining new perspective. You can build your personality. You can create a body of meaningful work. You can become more healthy and more fit. You can actively cultivate relationships with people.
I love San Francisco so much that every time I return here from a trip, I resolve to stay for a while and enjoy the city. That never happens. Next week I'm going to Tahoe, then Vegas the following weekend, and then to Austin for SXSW the week after that. Cabo or Hawaii follows in early March, but in late April comes the most exciting upcoming trip: a sixteen day cruise to Rome.
Cruises are full of old people. As best I can tell, that's because young people haven't figured out how awesome and cheap they can be. In fact, I can easily say that of all the travel I've done, cruises probably represent the best bang for the buck.
Before I tell you how to get them cheap, let me tell you why cruises, especially long duration one-way cruises are amazing.
One of my favorite aspects of cruises is that they can take you to places you may not otherwise visit. For example, the cruise my friends and I are taking stops in the Azores, Seville (Spain), Valencia (Spain), Barcelona, Monte Carlo, and Rome. Without cruising, I probably would never make it to the Azores, and those southern Spanish cities are unlikely as well. They're just too remote and too expensive to come up at the top of my list when choosing a trip.
Last night I played poker for the first time in four months. I play a reasonably big game, where you typically buy in for $500, and always have another $500 in reserve. When you play a couple times a week, like I was doing last year, your winnings and losses don't mean much to you individually. You win a thousand bucks one day, and you tell yourself that you'll lose some of it next time. You lose a thousand and you know you'll win it all back eventually.
Yesterday, though, without the context of regular play, the amount of money I was playing for struck me. Winning or losing a thousand dollars isn't really going to change my life in any way, but it's certainly a meaningful amount to me. And something about that train of thought made me realize how precarious my life is in many ways.
I'm a pretty frugal guy. A thousand dollars is a significant part of my monthly budget. In one night, just a few hours, I could have a swing that would represent a big part of my budget. That's pretty precarious.
I thought about my dating situation, which is nonexistent. What I'm most excited about in the future is having children, but there's really no clear path to that happening right now. I'm putting all of my faith in my ability to conjour something up for WifeQuest 9000 next year. I think it will work out amazingly, but maybe it won't. Maybe the critics of my approach are right and I've really shot myself in the foot. I don't think so, but who knows?
In the last post, where I wrote about how much I like working from cruise ships, I mentioned that I could share my method for booking really cheap cruises. I'm going to do that here, and share some other relevant cruise tips.
Getting Cheap Cruises
First, start at Cruise Sheet. There used to be a site called Cruise Hot Sheet that had similar information, but it stopped working, so I built Cruise Sheet.
The best cruises to look for are repositioning cruises. They are the most interesting, have the most sea days, and tend to be very inexpensive. In the fall there are a lot of repositioning cruises from Europe to the US, and in the spring those same ships reposition back to Europe.
The list of problems that don't have their roots in a fundamental misunderstanding of how things actually are is a short one. The other night I was playing poker, and one of the guys at the table was a really bad player who thought that he was really good. He and I played a hand where I surprised him and ended up winning. He was furious, threw his cards at me, and mumbled for hours about what a bad player I was.
I've certainly played hands poorly before and gotten lucky and won anyway, but this wasn't one of those times. I knew what he had, I knew what I had, I knew how much money was in the pot, I knew what my odds of catching the cards I needed to win were, and I could do the math to figure out that it was worthwhile for me to keep puting money in. All he knew was that he had better odds than me going into the last card, and I won anyway.
The guy proceeded to lose a thousand bucks or so, and I bet that this is a regular occurrence with him. I also bet he has no idea why he's lost thousands of dollars at poker. He probably just thinks that it's bad luck.
A few years ago I had an issue with reality as well. I thought: hey, I'm smart, smart people make lots of money, but I haven't made lots of money. The easy solution to that sort of disconnect is to ignore it or blame it on bad luck, but a better strategy is to examine each piece and figure out which one isn't true.