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I've been wanting to write this post for a long time, because it's the kind of post that will allow me to write more posts, linking this one as background. Because it's so important, I've been waiting for the right time to write it. Sometime like now, when I'm fed, tea-caffeinated, motivated, and have a few hours with no anticipated distractions.
Expected Value, or EV, is the fundamental building block of decision-making. If you don't understand it, whether by name or not, you are not making optimal decisions. If you do understand it, at least you stand a chance.
EV is a term that describes the mathematically predicted outcome of an action. The EV of you finding a dollar on the ground is one dollar. Whenever you find a dollar on the ground, you gain one dollar, so that's the value of that event.
Let's say that you and I are going to flip a coin. If it's heads, nothing happens. If it's tails, you give me a dollar. The expected value for you is negative fifty cents because half the time nothing will happen, and half the time you'll lose a dollar.
I travel a lot. Not as much as a lot of business travelers, but maybe in the top 1% for independent travelers. That means that I spend a lot of time on planes, in airports, and experiencing just about every air-travel scenario possible.
People get to airports ridiculously early in fear of missing their flights. I almost never get to the airport more than forty-five minutes before my flight departs, and have only missed three flights in that time. One was because I had bad information on how long it took to get to the airport, another was because the guy driving the canoe to the airport stayed up all night doing cocaine and then slept in, and the most recent was because I forgot I had switched my flight to an earlier one. I've never missed a flight when I got there forty-five minutes early.
Now, this only applies if you don't check bags. If I can travel for months on end with a half-empty nineteen liter backpack, I'm sure that you can travel for any duration with the largest-allowed carry-on.
Check in for flights generally closes an hour before the flight takes off. Sometimes this is a soft deadline and you can actually check in later. It's best, however, to check in online twenty-four hours before your flight. Almost every airline in the world allows this, and you can choose a good seat.
When I think about a lot of the good things that have happened to me over the course of my life so far, a huge number of them can be directly attributed to my willingness to act very quickly. I think that the benefits of near-instant decision making, even/especially on big decisions, are hugely underrated.
Right now I'm on a train running between The Hague and Amsterdam in the middle of a five-country two-week trip. The flight cost me $300 because I saw a deal pop up and booked the flight within minutes. I wasn't planning on going to any of these countries, but the opportunity knocked and I answered.
Living with the pickup artists in Los Angeles was a major turning point in my life. I continue to benefit from that decision, even though I was probably the least qualified person to live in that house at the time. The only reason I got the spot was because I called immediately upon finding out that it was open. Many others were considering it, but while they were waffling, I pounced.
The decision to purchase the island happened within 72 hours. Maybe it would have stayed for sale forever and we did have the luxury of time, but maybe not. Since that time I haven't seen nearly as good an island for sale in that price range.
Later in the day, after spending hours exploring the pyramids in Cairo, we rented some busted up four-wheelers and took to the desert behind the pyramids. Driving over a huge dune, pyramids being revealed as you ascend, is a truly breathtaking sight. You can almost imagine what it would have been like to ride a camel across the desert and to see them for the first time. One thing that would have been different back then, though, is that you wouldn't see any trash. Today the desert is littered with flattened plastic bottles, clothes, and even an occasional boot.
For a visitor, it's sad to see the trash. The desert is more beautiful than one would expect. It's full of striated rocks, fossilized shells from when the Nile was much higher, and coral from the same time. But the Egyptians, for the most part, don't notice or care about the trash. The desert has it good compared to most of the city. Every bit of street has a little bit of trash on it, and some parts have a lot.
At first, when you see someone dump a bag of fast-food detritus out of their car window, it's alarming. But after even a couple days, it seems normal. The last night I was there I had a small plastic bag I couldn't find a trash can for, and part of my brain wanted to just throw it on the street. It would be a drop in the ocean. So I understand partly why it happens: momentum.
Visiting somewhere like Tokyo is the exact opposite. Even though the city is maddeningly absent of trash cans, the thought of littering would never even cross your mind. The city is pristine, and you'll never see a resident litter. Their momentum is the opposite of Egypt's.
I was enveloped by a red granite box, not much larger than myself. There was no lid, so I could look up at the red granite ceiling. I lay in the tomb of Cheops in the largest pyramid of Giza. Our guide switched off the ventilation fans for a few minutes to create silence. I imagined that I was King Cheops, risen from the grave.
The scale of the pyramids is something that can't be appreciated until you're right next to them. They were the tallest man-made structures on earth when they were built, and remained that way for 3800 years. I stared up at the ceiling and thought about how a mummy lay for thousands of years where I lay, the ceiling looking exactly the same for that entire time.
Each block that makes up the pyramids is enormous. Moving a single one a foot would be a feat none of us would attempt without a lot of friends and some modern equipment. I understand why conspiracy theories about aliens surround the pyramids. The idea that humans could have built them seems absolutely absurd. They're just too big and too perfect.
The pyramids are also a lot more precise than I imagined they were. The lengths of the sides are off by less than an inch. The angles are nearly perfect. The room that I lay in, built from massive hunks of granite, seemed to be perfectly rectangular.
Sometimes a preference can morph from being your best assessment of a particular situation into a fixture of who you are. When that happens, you're in a bad position to reevaluate and make a better decision, because your ego gets caught up in that decision. That happened to me when I decided that I preferred multi-month trips to shorter ones.
When I started traveling, my intention was to come back to the US as infrequently as possible. I hadn't done very extensive traveling, so my plan was meant to combat that. I'd stay in places for long periods of time, generally months, and really get to know them deeply.
This worked really well for me. I haven't been back in a few years, but Panama felt like a real home base. Tokyo did, too, and it still does today.
Now I travel much more frenetically. I'm sitting in Paris working on a blog post, but by tonight I'll be in Jordan. My last meal was in Brooklyn, New York. Over the next week I'll also travel to Cairo, Amsterdam, and Hong Kong.
One of the hardest things in life is deciding what to do next. Think about what life would be like if you knew every single step that you had to take to get where you wanted. Some of the steps would be tough, but if you knew that what you were doing was the best thing you could be doing, I have the feeling you'd be able to walk that path pretty easily.
But that's not how life is. If you're anything like me, a large percentage of your time is spent trying to decide what it is you should do. I mean that on the micro level, like whether or not you should go to that party tomorrow night, and on the macro level, like what business you should start.
A heuristic is a mental shortcut to make decisions. Always split aces and eights is a heuristic for some decisions in blackjack. An easy heuristic in deciding what to do is to just do something good for someone else. It may not always be the optimal thing for you to do, but it's almost always a good thing for you to do.
This is true for two reasons, as far as I can tell.
I have four books that I've published myself. Three are on Amazon as paperbacks and Kindle, and a fourth is only available on Kindle. Despite all sorts of other projects I've worked on, my books represent nearly all of my income. Just ten years ago, before good self-publishing tools became available, this would not have been possible.
Although I don't make a very large income, the ROI of time spent on my books is incredible. I wrote Make Her Chase You in approximately one week six years ago, and it still makes hundreds of dollars per month. At its peak, before I got a crazy one-star rating, it made about $4,000 per month. Superhuman by Habit still hasn't settled into a predictable sales pattern, but it's already sold several thousand copies.
I didn't realize that these numbers were exceptional until Superhuman By Habit started to hit some Amazon bestseller lists. I googled around and found that all of my books have or are on track to sell more than the average publisher-produced book.
I've also been helping a friend work on her book, and the experience has made me realize that I've picked up a lot of knowledge on how to sell a book on Amazon, and that knowledge could be useful to other people. I've already written before on how to write the book, so this is about how to make money on it.
As you must know if you read my blog regularly, I really enjoy making extreme resolutions and then sticking to them. One was deciding in 2012 that I wouldn't date until 2015.
I had a weird mental shift in 2012. I've always wanted to settle down and start a family, but until 2012 I would add the word "eventually" to the sentence. At some point a switch flipped and I realized that if the next girl I dated ended up being the one I settled down with, I was ready.
Being in the early stages of a startup, I didn't feel like I had time to invest in a relationship like that. And I wanted to really focus on work. So, much to the chagrin of grandchild-wanting family members, I stopped dating.
Overall, it worked. Three years may have been a little bit too long, and there were definitely times I wished I was dating, but overall I had great focus and made good progress. I'd give the experiment a B+.
I can't believe the year's over already! As I look over my past year, it feels like the things that happened last January were just a few weeks ago. Trips blended together to create a whirlwind of a year that, as asual, was packed with a lot more than it feels like at first glance.
This was a frustrating year for Sett. At times I really got into the groove, but a lot of times it felt like I was putting out fires and struggling to figure out how to make Sett earn money. It's a bittersweet decision to stop actively working on it, but it feels good to start this next year without that obligation. I've already written about this in detail, so I'll move on.