Thanks to my friend Brian, I recently had the opportunity to try out Valve's new work on virtual reality. Only a couple hundred or so people have had the chance to try it so far, and most of them are people within the video game industry. I went in thinking that it would be a fun diversion, and left thinking that it will fundamentally change the world.
I've tried a lot of virtual reality devices over the years. When an ill-fated virtual reality arcade opened up in Austin, Texas, my friends and I hoarded coupons for a free game from the newspaper and played for hours. On a school trip to Houston I bought a Nintendo Virtual Boy, which I absolutely loved. And then, when getting a demo of Matterport's room-scanning software, I got to try an Oculus Rift.
All of those experiences were really great, but what Valve has managed to do is to make virtual reality so real that my brain records it as something I did or experienced, rather than something I saw. That's a huge shift, and having experienced it, I predict that it will change everything.
The Valve demo is about half an hour long. You go into a weird room that may have been a storage closet in a previous life, and put on a big prototype looking headset. The guy who operates the demo cycles you through about a dozen different demos.
You know that feeling when you're having a great day, but you forget exactly why it's so great? There's that feeling that something really good happened earlier, and its glow is being carried forward, even though you maybe don't have the original positive event in the front of your mind. I had that feeling today as I parked my motorcycle, ready to get started on work.
As I do when I have that feeling, I mentally rewound the clock to try to remember why I was in an extra-good mood. I figured it out-- I had fixed the tail light of my motorcycle. At first I felt foolish for being so happy about my tail light being fixed. It wasn't even fully broken, it's just that the brake light stayed on all the time. The brake light is behind me, so I never even see this light, making the direct effect on my life roughly zero.
I thought about this for a few minutes, and I realized that there was a good reason to feel happy about the motorcycle light. It wasn't that the light was fixed that was making me happy, it was removing that tiny little pebble of responsibility from my shoe. Almost every day I would think about fixing my brake light, wouldn't get to it, and would remember to remember it the next day.
That's the trap of these low priority tasks that sometimes don't even make it to our todo lists due to their triviality. They take up mental space, they make us feel like we're behind a little bit, but they never feel important enough to prioritize. How can I honestly say that my brake light is more important than working on Sett?
There's a concept called hedonic adaptation, which says that we quickly adjust to any increased level of comfort or luxury and cease to appreciate it. Anything good that happens to us becomes our new normal, and we look higher up the ladder, not realizing that we'll quickly adjust to those rungs as well.
The trick, then, is to suppress your hedonic adaptation, while still climbing up that ladder. If you can manage to do that, you can fully appreciate everything you already have, and future accomplishments, acquisitions, etc., will also be fully appreciated.
I don't know if it's fully possible to suppress hedonic adaptation. There's some evidence that zen monks who meditate all the time can do it to a large degree. Even if we're not going to spend all day meditating and will never fully get rid of it, though, we can easily move in that direction.
One strategy I use is to occasionally ask myself, "What's amazing in my life?" For one reason or another, this tends to happen when I'm en route somewhere, either on the subway, walking, or on my motorcycle.
One of my overarching goals in how I present myself is to be consistent. Although the relationships I have with my family, friends, acquaintances, and random people on the internet is always going to be different, I try to be the same person with all of those groups. I think authenticity is important, and this consistency is a sign of authenticity.
Try as I might, though, people who read my stuff online and then meet me in person are consistently surprised that I'm actually a happy guy who jokes around a lot and is more human than robot. I see why people expect me to be different, though. My writing tends to be serious and I'm always talking about habits or rules or working hard.
Although all of this rigidity is a big part of my life, it's also just the foundation. From the rigid parts of my life I'm able to get a tremendous amount of work done, keep myself healthy, and move towards my goals. But there's also a lot that it can't do. Rigidity doesn't build relationships or spark creativity, two important parts of life.
I think you learn a lot about someone when you see what he does when there's nothing he has to do. And I think by changing what you do when you have nothing to do, you can change what sort of person you are. I design my life to have as few as possible externally-dictated things that I absolutely have to do, and I create systems to fill that void. Every day I have sixteen hours ahead of me, and no one to tell me what to do in that time except myself.
I know that I'm more self centered than I should be. It's something I work on, not by instructing myself to be less self centered, which is too foggy a command to actually obey, but through specifically defined efforts. One of the more useful ones I've come up with is to stop and think about what experience the other person wants to have.
Maybe for everyone besides me this is an obvious social skill that happens automatically. I've found for me, though, that usually I'm just on autopilot when interacting with others. If anything I think about the experience that I want to have.
Let's say I'm arguing with a friend about something trivial, maybe the best method to book a plane ticket. He has his way, I have mine. If I'm on autopilot, my goal is probably to win the argument. Sounds petty, but I think it's true for a lot of us. If we're in an argument, we try to win. If I think about the experience my friend wants to have, though, that description probably doesn't include losing an argument to me. In fact, it probably doesn't include having an argument at all.
So why is he engaging in an argument that he doesn't want to have? Maybe he figured out a cool trick for booking flights and wants to share it with me, but my pride is preventing me from listening. Maybe he sees me as an authority on travel and wants me to respect his own abilities in that area. Maybe other topics I've been bringing up have been boring and he'd rather be an active participant in an argument than a passive listener of something boring.
I don't notice that I have a million rules for myself until someone hears about one, asks if I have others, and the conversation lasts for hours. I know that even with all of the discipline I've built over the years, I'm still susceptible to making impulsive decisions in the moment, so I make rules for myself. In my brain those rules have special status as being immutable and important.
To give you some examples of rules I have: I'm not allowed to break my diet while in San Francisco, unless I'm in a social situation (and then I must eat as close as possible); I no longer book trips unless I'm going with friends or visiting friends; I wasn't allowed to watch movies in theaters in 2013; I don't allow myself to spend any time dating until 2015.
Today I thought it might be interesting to walk through an example and discuss how it was created and how you can make your own.
One of the least productive states of mind to be in is the one where you're racking your brain to make a decision that is not important or should have already been made. Besides wasting time, this practice depletes your will power, which is one of your most valuable resources and could be spent pushing towards your goals. The main reason I have a million rules is to trick myself into rarely or never going into that state.
"Are you kidding me? I've been telling everybody that you write a blog post every single day!"
Sebastian just learned that I fell off of my writing-every-single-day habit, and became outraged. One thing led to another, and before you know it, we'd shaken hands and a bet was made. Both of us will be writing a blog post every single day for the next two years. I can say that with certainty, because we've also bet $10,000 on it.
There are some bets you make because you think that you have an advantage and you can exploit it to make money. This isn't one of those bets. Writing every day for two years is incredibly hard, and I don't think that I have an advantage over Sebastian. He's just as likely to be able to complete this as I am.
I'm willing to make this bet because it puts me in a situation where I can't fail. I'm not willing to lose $10,000, so my only other option is to succeed by writing every single day. Maybe there's a 2% chance of something weird happening and me losing by accident, but if that's true, than the expected value of this bet is a loss of only $200. In return for that, I get a 98% chance of having 730 blog posts in the can, and the improvements in my writing that go along with that.
I want to produce at a superhuman level. Looking back over a year, I'd like to wonder just how I got so much done in such a short period of time. At my best I can execute to that standard, but I'm not always at my best. It's possible to have this level of productivity by killing yourself and burning the candle at both ends, but that's not sustainable. I want high productivity to be my regular speed, not the absolute maximum I can sprint.
One big trick to improving productivity is minimizing the number of routine decisions you have to make in a day. These decisions are taxing to willpower and focus, so by eliminating them you can keep your reserves for the work that matters.I wear the same clothes every day. I never have to think about what to wear, and I never think about buying new clothes. I eat the same food every day, so I don't have to think about meals, cooking, or grocery shopping. I have fixed schedules for Sett (every day), writing (every day), gym (MWF), dinner with friends (Sunday), meditation (every day), language tapes (every day), and almost everything else I do regularly.
That means that every day I know exactly what I'm going to do, and I don't have to think about it or negotiate with myself. If I didn't have a schedule for all of those things, I would either not do them consistently, or I would drain my willpower every day just getting myself to start them. The power of eliminating all of those willpower-based decisions can't be overstated.
On a broader scale, I put long-term restrictions on myself to eliminate temptation, a precursor to draining decisions. I've restricted myself from making any effort towards meeting girls until 2015. I don't allow myself to consider big projects other than Sett. I specify external conditions to trigger actions, like deciding that I'll buy an airplane when it costs X% of my liquid net worth.
A couple months ago I watched the Wolf of Wall Street with some friends. As the credits began to roll, I started to consolidate my opinion on the move. Did I love it? Did I hate it? I could come up with decent rationale for either. Depending on the second my friends asked my opinion, I could have just as easily said that I liked it or disliked it.
The truth is that I had a neutral opinion on it. It had good points, it had bad points, and they mostly cancelled each other out. It wasn't a great use of time, but it wasn't a horrific waste, either. What was interesting, though, was that I felt compelled to have an extreme opinion of it. I figured that I must have loved it or hated it, and I tried to gauge which side of that I fell on.
If you watch TV, you'll notice that no one is ever neutral about everything. Either something is wonderful or terrible, righteous or evil, a tragedy or a triumph. I don't know if we're imitating TV or TV is imitating us, but it's not an accurate representation of how life is.
I've been making an effort to give myself the full spectrum when forming opinions of things, and of course I've noticed that I'm actually neutral on a lot of things. I don't love lifting weights, but I don't hate it, either. If I really pay attention to how I'm feeling, I'm basically neutral when I'm under the bar. I've also realized that there are some people I just don't have a strong opinion about. I'm not avoiding hanging out with them because I hate them, just because I'm neutral about them.
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.