Read My Book about Habits!
Check out my bestselling book on habits, Superhuman by Habit. .
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?
Two months ago I wrote a blog post about how I was going to learn every language. At the time I had just finished the Pimsleur tapes for Romanian I and German I, and was moving on to German II. I've now finished a complete Pimsleur course, German I - III, and figured I should write about it while it's still fresh in my mind.
The short version is that I love Pimsleur, but it's not perfect and it's not for everyone. The best method of language learning is full immersion with studying. If your primary focus is to learn a language, I would recommend that over Pimsleur by a landslide. For all the information you could ever want on that, check out my buddy Benny Lewis' book about it.
Pimsleur, on the other hand, is perfect for people who want to learn large usable chunks of languages without impacting their schedule. Right now, that's me.
The Pimsleur method is based on spaced repetition, having to recall words at specific intervals needed by the brain to commit them to memory. Every day you listen to a 25-30 minute tape, which requires you to respond to prompts. I'd say it's roughly 50/50 in terms of listening and repeating.
I really enjoy talking about risk, but it's always better to talk about concrete examples rather than theories. My recent post about the disasters encountered on our island trip got a lot of people riled up about the risks I was taking, so I figured I'd use that as an opportunity to talk about risk, why I take the risks I take, and how risky they actually are.
Before I get into that, it's worth saying that I'm human and I make mistakes. I expect that I will always be human, and thus prone to mistakes, so the best I can do is learn from them. Having someone fall asleep at the wheel and allowing our boat to be untied in a current without the motor starting were both mistakes that should have been avoided.
That said, I have a much different risk profile than most people. I'll explain this in detail in a second, but something to consider is that while the principles that go into my assessment of risk may be universal, the resulting profile is not. In other words, just because I think a risk is worth taking doesn't mean that it's worth it for you, too. We all have different values and priorities.
One of the fundamental pillars of my relationship with risk is that I'm completely willing to take bad outcomes. Really bad outcomes, in some cases. By widening the range of bad things I'm willing to accept, I give myself more upside. Obviously these choices must be considered individually, not just accepted with an attitude of "take every risk!"
I woke up to a familiar sight. Outside the vehicle I had slept in was Brian, on the phone, trying to get us help with our latest predicament. And, just as last time with being stuck in mud, our unfailingly benevolent neighbors came to our rescue.
"I don't let anyone besides my dad work on my motor. He could have you going in forty five minutes."
I didn't believe him for two reasons. First, it seemed absolutely impossible that we could be in possession of a functioning boat. Him fixing our motor would violate this apparent law of the universe. Second, I have an inappropriate hubris that prohibits me from fathoming that experts could possibly fix something that I was unable to fix.
Our motor wasn't working in forty five minutes, it was working in about fifteen. Perfectly. And the gear oil was checked, the shaft was lubricated, and a new choke lever was fashioned out of a screw.
As I write this, I am hunched over my laptop, which is held at an awkward angle because of the steering wheel in front of me. Carpal tunnel syndrome is imminent. Out of the window to my left, if it wasn't so foggy and dark, I'd be able to see our island. This island trip has not gone according to plan.
I had the not-so-genius-in-retrospect idea of driving through the night to Nova Scotia. I argued that we could each drive three hours or so, sleep six, and we'd arrive in the morning ready to tackle the day. That's not how things turned out, though.
From Boston, I drove us to the Canadian border. Exhausted, I turned the reins over to Ben. Ben continued my proud tradition of maintaining around 100mph (great roads, no cops), which came to an abrupt end a couple hours into his shift when he hit the biggest pothole I've ever seen. At 100mph. The tire popped and was completely shredded by the time we came to a stop in the shoulder.
Our rental vehicle, a faux-luxury Buick Verona, which we had been upgraded to, does have a spare, but it's a tiny one that can only go 50mph. That sounds like a bad thing, and is indeed bad in many cases, but there turned out to be a silver lining. Brian took over the driving, set the cruise control to 50mph, and eventually fell asleep at the wheel. I woke up as our car was cruise-control guided into the median ditch.
I'm sitting in the Kansas City terminal, waiting for my next flight. The barbecue restaurant there serves shockingly large portions, which, combined with waking up early today, has me feeling sleepy.
I should work, I think. My eyes are half closed, though, and I can't imagine thinking through tough problems like the one waiting for me on Sett. I think about writing a blog post, but my past few days have been weak, so I want to be awake and do a good one. I think about doing some basic todo list stuff, but I'm already losing concentration after the first google search.
Okay, but if I'm not going to work, what am I going to do? The answer turns out to be downloading an episode of Restaurant Stakeout. I'm not proud to write that sentence.
I think I've seen about two episodes of that show. The first I saw at my aunt and uncle's house. Not knowing anything about the restaurant business, I found it really fascinating. Then I was on some red-eye flight and I saw an episode on the in-filght entertainment system.
I'm on a late flight back from Vegas, I didn't get enough sleep, and I'm exhausted. I hadn't done my German tape for the day yet, so I put my headphones in, propped my head against the window, closed my eyes, and did it. I'm sure my neighbor, if she could hear my stilted German mumbles, thought I was crazy.
I finished the tape and the captain announced that we were forty minutes from our destination. Factoring in the time it takes to do the final descent, where I won't be allowed to use my computer, that gives me about fifteen minutes of time to make use of.
My first inclination, tired as I am, is to waste the time. Close my eyes and take a lttle nap, read a book on my phone, listen to some music, or just flip through screens on my phone aimlessly. Fifteen minutes seems way too short for me to write a blog post.
But then I think about how tired I'm going to be if I get home and still have to write the post. Begrudgingly, I whip out the laptop. May as well outline the post or get the intro down or something. Now I've got more of a post written than I thought I'd get done in fifteen minutes.
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.