Read My Book about Habits!
Check out my bestselling book on habits, Superhuman by Habit. .
My stepfather was talking today about a friend of his who is a competitive arm-wrestler. That reminded me of something I'd tell people, back in high school: that I'd only won two arm-wrestling matches in my life, and both were against girls. The implication was that I was very weak.
I took a weird sense of pride in saying that, and I can't really imagine why. Maybe it was a sour-grapes variety of defense mechanism.
I've noticed that I still do this today with my sense of direction. The truth is that I don't have a very good sense of direction, but I find that I bring it up at times where it's not necessary. Why? I don't really know. It's like self-deprecating humor that isn't that funny.
Making these sorts of comments implies that it's cool to be bad at things. Kids in school pretend to be bad at math, because they think that's cool. I don't think it's cool to be bad at anything. It's okay to be bad at things, but it's perverse to take a sense of pride in that.
My friend Leo suggested once that I write a post about how I make decisions. Since then I've been waiting for the right moment, one where I made a large decision in a very short amount of time. That happened today, when I decided to move to Las Vegas.
From time to time I check real estate prices in Detroit or Las Vegas. They're the two major US cities I'm aware of that were disproportionately crippled by the housing crash. Detroit more so, but it's cold up there and I've never been, so buying a house there isn't just fantasy.
On the other hand, I go to Vegas all the time, so I'm familiar with it. I like to play poker there, I have a handful of friends there, and I've been frequently enough that I have a bunch of favorite haunts. The Ethiopian restaurants are amazing.
Last night, after work, I spent half an hour looking at condos and townhouses for sale. In case you don't have this particular hobby, there are lots of condos in Las Vegas that are under $75k. The mortgage on one of these things would be less than $300.
There's a concept called Radical Honesty that was made popular by a book with the same name. The idea was that you were to be not only completely honest, but also completely forthcoming. If you met someone and they reminded you of Jabba the Hut, you'd be obliged to tell them so immediately.
It may not surprise you that this hasn't caught on. Besides being unpleasant for just about everyone, it's incredibly scary and difficult to do. I considered trying it, but balked. That's not to say that everything is bad about it, though. Telling the truth is the right thing to do in nearly every case, and there's something to be said for being forthcoming.
And there's something universally appealing about that sort of social freedom, even if not taken to its unpleasant extreme. How many among us haven't had to suppress the urge to tell someone just how heads-over-heels we are way before that's an appropriate thing to say?
A friend and I were talking about this recently. She told me a story about a guy she was involved with. She would text him a dozen times in a row and receive only a short response in return. They would make plans, and he would break them. I thought that I was going to have to deliver the whole, "he's just not that into you" speech, when she hit me with a surprise. When they finally did meet up, she told me, he was going on and on about how much he liked her and how glad he was that she was part of his life.
When you write a blog that has a fair number of readers, you get a lot of comments on your writing. I just did a quick query, and I've had over 18,000 comments here, nearly all of which I've read. Most are positive and constructive, some are contrary but still constructive, and some are malicious.
I'd guess I have less than a hundred malicious comments (which is a huge testament to my awesome readers), but they do come once in a while. They don't affect me emotionally because, frankly, pickup gave me a really thick skin, and I have enough positive feedback from people whose opinions I respect.
That doesn't stop me from thinking about the comments, though. I actually find them really fascinating. I mean-- for me to leave even a positive comment, I have to really engage with a post. I can't fathom what would cause me to leave a negative post. What's the point?
There was a comment today about how my carbon footprint is huge, how going to see MMA fights is stupid, how people who fight are stupid, and how America is stupid for hosting such fights.
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.