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I spent the weekend in Hong Kong, which sounds a lot more extravagant than it actually was. Early last year there was a flight deal that offered a round trip flight to Hong Kong cheaply enough that the miles earned in the process were worth the price of the ticket, and the flight alone was very nearly enough to earn Platinum status on American Airlines. In other words, the flight was such a good deal that it was worth going for just two days.
And besides, I had unfinished business in Hong Kong, or rather, in Macau. Todd and I came here six years ago, and only when it was too late did we find out that the world's tallest bungie jump was in Macau. I've never bungie jumped before, and I knew I had to wait until I was back. Why jump if it's not the tallest one out there?
So yesterday we went to Macau. We bought our ferry tickets from a slightly sketchy tout who sold us first class tickets for less than coach price. Both of them said that they were only valid when used by "Hoi Pang", but we must both look like Hoi, because no one batted an eye.
Macau is essentially the Las Vegas of Asia. At the ferry terminal we saw a free shuttle bus to the Wynn, and figured we may as well use it to get to where everything is. We walked around the Wynn, which is extremely similar to the one in Vegas, except that all of the signage is also in Chinese. Starving, we ate at Red Eight, which was so good and cheap that we double checked the conversion rates on our phones.
I took a nap today. I slept for about an hour and a half, woke up, thought about doing something productive, and then went back to sleep. Sure, I'd gotten a handful of small things done before the nap, but overall it was a pretty unproductive day.
Having unproductive days isn't the end of the world, but at this point in my life, it feels like I'd better be trading productivity for something valuable: tea with a friend, visiting Iguazu falls, bungie jumping in Hong Kong. Not a nap.
It's times like these that doubt creeps in to an otherwise optimistic mind. Maybe I'm just not that productive. Maybe I'm a bad startup cofounder. A reader tweeted me asking how I can be so productive and still have so much fun, which made me feel like a total fraud. I'm not being productive or having fun, just sleeping.
For a while I tracked how good my days were, and one very clear finding was that the worst days felt like they were the new normal, but never lasted beyond a handful. Maybe five days out of a month would be unproductive days, but each one felt like it would extend forever.
In 1894 there was a major crisis in London. It seemed that there was no solution in sight, and that the city was destined to be doomed. The problem was the incredible amount of manure being deposited onto the streets by the city's horses. Horses were the way to get around, no one wanted to get rid of them, and yet their manure was a real problem.
And then cars were invented, and the problem went away. Looking back in time this crisis seems silly, but back then it must have felt very serious. Society was on a march towards doom, and no solution was in sight.
I remember this whenever people are freaking out about any of our society's problems. On any given week you can find a headline talking about how unsustainable something or other is, and how we're doomed. Maybe it's pollution, population, or wealth distribution. These are all serious problems, but they will be solved eventually.
That doesn't mean that these problems will magically disappear, of course. It's human innovation that has saved the day every time so far. If you're in a related field or want to solve one of these problems, then you should probably worry about it intensely. Dedicate your entire life to solving it. That's how these things get solved.
As you may know, my friend Sebastian and I have a bet going where we must write a blog post every single day for two years. We ironed out the terms and conditions, but one area was left slightly fuzzy-- we both travel a lot, so what happens when time zones interfere? We agreed that no one would lose because of a time zone shift, but to be reasonable.
I went west on a cruise ship, which led to me crossing the international date line, and thus losing a day. I had the twenty-fifth, the twenty-seventh, but not the twenty-sixth. No big deal, though. I woke up every day, wrote my post, and checked that box.
But then, returning east by plane, I essentially had a 36 hour day where I woke up twice. It was a bit of a grey area-- I treated it as two days for sleep and meals, but the calendar never clicked over.
I wrote two blog posts that day. I wouldn't have lost the bet if I hadn't, but when applying external forces to habits, it's important to remember that you're doing it for the habit, not for the external forces.
It turns out that sometimes, in South America, four hour bus rides take seven hours. And sometimes the air conditioning doesn't work, and it's the middle of the day in the summer. Today all of those things turned out to be true.
Unpleasant as the ride was, I found it relatively easy to focus on the positives. We were traveling for no good reason, which is always a nice thing to do, and the memory of being saturated in sweat in a moving kiln would fade.
But, actually, it ended up being a great bus ride. Those annoying kids who were kicking my seat turned out to be a team of 10 and 11 year old Taekwondo champions. They had just finished a tournament and were on their way back home to Argentina. And they turned out to be hilarious, friendly, and really good kids. And, hey, it's not like I never kicked seats as a kid.
They asked us a bunch of questions, practiced their English, told us about their Taekwondo, teased each other, and listened to the music on our phones. I was hesitant to play Lil Wayne for them, until I realized they couldn't understand a word he was saying.
On the cruise a friend was asking me about my days in pickup. What was the worst rejection I experienced, he asked? That's a path paved with so much rejection that it's sort of like asking which leaf on a tree is the greenest, but one stuck out in my mind.
I was at a place called Dallas Nightclub in Austin, Texas. There was a large ice-skating rink shaped dance floor in the middle, and tables and chairs around that. The music would alternate between hip hop and country, bringing a different crowd to the dance floor every other song.
My friend and I walked around the perimeter, taking turns approaching groups of girls. It was my turn, and I walked up to three pretty girls and started talking. Very quickly, I started telling a story. I can't remember which story it was, but I remember how I felt telling it. It quickly became obvious that they were not interested in my story, and I was so nervous that I was helpless to do anything but continue.
Suddenly one of the girls broke eye contact and turned away, leaving me with her two friends. Okay, there are two of us and two of them, I thought. That's not so bad. I kept on going with the story.
A friend asked my yesterday why I do so many crazy things. What's my raison d'etre? He mentioned a few specific examples, and I had reasons for each, but those reasons weren't similar to each other. I've been thinking about it since then, though. Is there some universal motivator that's behind everything I do? If so, knowing what it is might be useful.
The more I think about it, the more I think that I don't do very many crazy things. At least not when you consider the scope of crazy things I could do. When it comes down to it, I think that my search space for actions to take is just a whole lot broader than most people's.
For example, sometimes I think about where else I could park my RV. I rent a spot now, but I know that eventually market forces will cause that space to be used by something more profitable. So where will I park next? I think about parking on the street again, the easy choice. Then I think about driving across the US and parking it in New York. I think about leaving it a few hours away at my mother's house and not even living in it anymore. I think about just going on the road and not staying in one place.
Then I think about moving to Japan for a year, or buying a tiny house in Las Vegas. Living on the island for the six months it's warm per year would be an interesting experience. The thought even crosses my mind to pick some random city somewhere in the world and disappear to it without telling anyone. I think about living on a cruise ship perpetually.
I used to think that it was a really bad idea to be a cog in the system. I thought this for two reasons. First, I was personally averse to being a cog in any system, and of course any preference I have is the right one to have. Second, there were a ton of visible examples of people who were cogs in the machine and didn't really seem to be doing much.
But then last week I was at my friend's house, and he was watching the Ben Heck show. If you haven't seen it, it's a show where a very unfunny nerd makes amazing things by hand. In the episode I saw, Ben was making a soda can crusher powered by a very small motor.
If the motor was just attached directly to a crusher, it wouldn't do anything to the can. It would move fast, but there wouldn't be much torque. So he had to make gears-- cogs-- to take the input of the motor and mold it to the needs of the project. With a series of gears, he adapted the input to go much slower but have enough torque to crush the can.
With different gearing, he could have done the opposite. He could have sacrificed torque and made the gears spin very quickly.
We've started a new tradition on our cruise called BLunch, which stands for Business Lunch. One member of our gang presents some background on their business, followed by the biggest challenge they're facing, and then receives feedback from everyone else. We all take it seriously, and the group is comprised mostly of entrepreneurs, so the advice has been excellent so far.
Today the guest of honor at the BLunch had an interesting problem. She wanted to expand to make more money on her business, but her avenues for expansion were limited. Each of the most obvious and promising options were vetoed for one reason or another.
As we dug deeper, it turned out she was burnt out by her business. Aspects of it sapped her energy and reduced her motivation on the rest of it. These parts of her business made no money, but she felt obligated to fulfill them anyway. No one else in the group thought that they were worth the effort.
One thing I noticed, that I've also seen in myself, was that she was willing to accept compromise in her life, but only a finite amount. It struck me that she was "spending" that compromise inefficiently. She could completely cut out the compromise that was really burning her out, and instead compromise a little by working an a venture that her customers would love but wouldn't be particularly inspiring to her. Same amount of compromise in her life, but less burnout and more money.
The other day Todd and I were sitting in a cafe. Next to us was a guy who appeared to be a typical San Francisco yuppie. I wouldn't have talked to him, but Todd is more extroverted than I, so pretty soon we were chatting away.
He had overheard us talking about travel, so that's where the conversation went. We learned that he traveled for two weeks every month, mostly to go places to hike. I imagined in my head what that must look like-- fly business class from San Francisco, check into a nice hotel, hike around, come back.
He asked us where we normally stayed when we traveled. Friends or AirBnB, we answered. Did we ever stay in hostels? No, not really. Why, we asked? He answered that that's where he usually stayed. In an instant my perception of him changed. I'd assumed wrong.
As it turned out, he was a prison psychologist. He worked two weeks every month, and did the credit card hustle to rack up a ton of miles. He'd pick some far away spot to hike, book a hostel, and do the whole thing as cheaply as possible. No stress, very sustainable.