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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.
A couple days ago, during a rest period of a workout, Leo asked me if I was different now than I was ten years ago. My gut reaction was to say that, no, I was pretty much exactly the same, but even a quick scan of changes in that time made me realize that I bear little resemblance to who I was. I asked him the same, and he's changed even more than I have in the past ten years.
The two big themes I noticed in the changes I went through were first that they would have been pretty much impossible to predict, and second that they were all good surprises. Of course, I'm a happy person and I'm certainly biased, so I would probably think the changes were positive no matter what.
Even knowing that we would have been incapable of predicting the changes that happened over the past ten years, we couldn't resist trying to make predictions for the next ten. That's how we spent the remainder of the rest periods of our workout. I decided I'd make my predictions public so that we can marvel at how prescient I was, or, more likely, laugh about how I was dead wrong.
At the end of each section I'm going to give some odds for each outcome. That way we can see how accurate my predictions and confidences were, and I can make longshot predictions without messing up the record.
One of the things that's missing from my writing is emotion, and I know it. I'm always trying to correct that by looking for ways to add emotion to my writing, but I rarely find them. The truth is that ninety nine percent of the time the only emotions I feel are some variation on joy, gratitude, and excitement. I don't have bad days, even when "bad" things happen to me.
I remember when I broke up with my last girlfriend. I was standing in the airport, about to leave for Tokyo, and she called. We talked for about ten minutes, agreed there was no way forward, and I boarded my plane. I loved her, had thought that she might be the one, and had no bad feelings towards her at all. But I wasn't really sad, because I felt as though we'd given it an honest shot and that we were doing what was best for both of us.
Two days ago Lucia and I broke up. Broke up is an overstatement, actually, since we weren't really ever dating. But there were a few weeks where we envisioned some sort of future together, and I was intoxicated by it.
As someone who rarely allows reality to get in his way, the distance and divergent and chaotic schedules didn't phase me. I'd found someone I really liked, and despite having little basis to believe that it would last, I poured myself into it emotionally. I do that, sometimes. I count on myself to be able to rebound from anything, so I put myself into situations where I may get hurt, physically, emotionally, or financially.
[Note: If you're in San Francisco or Austin, read the bolded part at the very bottom!]
For most of my life, at least until my late twenties, I was a slacker. I did almost nothing to help around the house, choosing to procrastinate on things assigned to me until someone else just did it themselves because that was easier than goading me into doing it. Even in friendships, I would rely on my good friends to come up with plans or invite me somewhere, and then I'd join. The only reason I got into college was because my best friend at the time, Phil, pushed me into filling out an application. I wouldn't have done it otherwise.
There were exceptions, of course, but in general I was probably a burden. I was a good friend and family member in other ways, but in terms of carrying the weight of those relationships, I wasn't putting in my fair share. It's embarrassing to say that, but it's true.
A couple years back, Todd wasn't as invested in Sett as I was. We had started it as a side project, but it seemed like there was enough potential that it was worth going full time. I wanted to do so, but Todd's priorities were elsewhere, so he worked a lot less than me. If Sett was going to continue, I would have to take full responsibility for it.
The first example I can remember was when my friends and I, nineteen at the time, bought a forty foot long school bus. The idea was so absurd and without precedent, that it seemed impossible. It was like being at a zoo, where you know that you're standing two feet away from a fully grown lion, but the invisible glass separating you prevents it from feeling real. We were ready to hand over cash and sign papers, but it seemed impossible that we would actually own this huge bus. It seemed as though some authority figure would appear out of nowhere and say, "Come on guys, this is ridiculous. Go back to school."
We bought the bus, and the world didn't come crashing down on us. In fact, the normalcy of the transaction, handing over cash for a title and some keys, was striking. What seemed like a big deal really wasn't. Buying the bus turned out to be a fantastic decision, despite everyone else thinking it would be otherwise.
We're a species that thrives on patterns, which is mostly a good thing, but it sometimes prevents us from looking outside society's canon of acceptable patterns. We all fantasize about things that we'd like to do, but then accept that they must be bad ideas because others aren't doing them. We mistake things that aren't being done for things that can't be done or shouldn't be done.
That school bus was a huge lesson for me, and not just because of what we had to learn to remodel it into a road trip vehicle. I learned something more fundamental and important, which has largely guided my life since then. My friends and I had an idea, it was derided as crazy by everyone else, but we did it and it worked out perfectly. For the first time I realized that I could do whatever I wanted to do, and it would be okay.