In a previous
life website, I used to post Short Thoughts all the time, but they crowded out the more thoughtful long-form pieces, and so now I've collected them into one never-ending list here.
The Ultimate Guide to Minimalism
Keep it simple.
Great Customer Service - Mistakes
When a business makes a mistake, that is the time that you can really shine in your customer service. If a restaurant gets a dish wrong, they should not only fix the mistake and make sure that the dish is not included in the bill, but offer the coffee at the end free of charge too.
This is because this is a fantastic opportunity to show how much you care about your customers, not just as customers, but as human beings.
We all expect people to make mistakes, but when you amend your mistake twice over, you surprise the person and give them delight, which is something that very few of us experience on a day to day basis.
I wonder if this is something that we can apply not just in customer service, but on a broader basis in our personal lives and also in society?
Why It's Important To Go On Holiday
t’s not what you think. It’s not about getting away, relaxing, taking time off, seeing new things – although those are all important points.
It’s about shifting your view of the world, ever so slightly. Each time we go on holiday, and visit a new country, and have some new experiences our view on life changes, just a little bit.
It’s hardly every earth shattering, although I can think of my trip to Vietnam and Cambodia in 2010 with my brother, he came back and sold all his stuff and moved there within a month. I wasn’t quite so brave – it took my three years to follow him.
Each time you go come back home, you feel slightly different. Do that enough, and eventually, that imperceptible shift becomes a wide gap between how you want to live your life, and how it is right now.
Watch how things will change…
Business vs Morals
"It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s strictly business.” Michael Corleone (The Godfather)
In his brilliant essay “On Duties”, Cicero expounds his conception of the best way to live, behave, and observe moral obligations. He specifically gives an example of a grain dealer who arrives at the port with his ship and is aware that there is plenty of more grain on the way to the same port. Should he inform the sellers that this is the case, and in doing so destroy his own chances of selling the grain at a higher-than-normal price?
Most people nowadays would answer this with a resounding yes, giving reasons such as the fact that the seller in simply offering goods at a certain price, and not actively deceiving the buyers, or that he or she may well as the responsibility to shareholders to sell at a hight price.
But what about our responsibility towards humanity?
Should You Believe a Sales Pitch
The more I traverse the internet, the more websites I find with young men (and the occasional woman) writing lots of articles about how to live a better life by doing x, y, and z.
The huge problem I have with these sites is that they are trying to sell you something, and so the question has to be asked, do they actually care what they write about, or are they simply hoping that you will buy their course, hire them as mentors, or click on an advert or affiliate link?
Perhaps, just perhaps, we should be far more careful when we read things that are actually sales pitches, and be constantly asking:
What’s in it for them?
Because if someone is telling you that to improve your life you need to buy their shit, then what they are really asking you to do is to help them improve their lives by making another distasteful sale.
Temptation as A Challenge
We all have things we want to achieve in our lives which require us to delay gratification and say no to something else we want, which is often more immediate.
I like to see these temptations as challenges So when a pretty girl calls me on a Friday night to come out for a drink, and I’ve got boxing early on a Saturday morning, I have to say no because I want to prioritise my fitness over my social life, at the moment.
This is a tough choice, but the right one if I want to achieve my goals.
I enjoy going out, especially in the presence of pretty girls.
My previous business partner in my first startup used to tell me:
Are we worrying about something that hasn’t happened yet?
This is because we started we nothing but a logo, a set of business cards, and a website.
Now I understand, focusing on what truly matters means dealing with the issues that are right here, right now.
To start, you often need less than you think.
To continue, you also often need far less than you think.
The Real Cost of Cheap Shit
I’ve got a leather messenger bag that I’ve had for other ten years. It originally cost me £100 ($150) and I felt that was expensive at the time, but ten years later, it’s the cheapest bag I have ever bought.
This bag has been all over Europe, around Asia, in San Francisco, in South Africa, and I used to take it every day to school, and now I still use it on a daily basis. I touched upon the relative cost of things in my essay about my short visit to Rome, and it really is true.
The problem with cheap stuff is that it breaks, and then needs to be replaced, so it ends up being more expensive, and also more time consuming.
We also need to wonder about the moral question of buying the same shit goods over and over again, creating an endless cycle of cheap labour, environmental issues, and a race to the bottom for price, quality, and care.
I have often thought that boredom is something that mostly strikes the stupid, but intelligent individuals can also be afflicted – but find it much easier to find a solution.
We only have a short time to digest all the possible entertainment available in our lives, but a long time to do what actually matters, and that’s probably the best use of our time if we ever find ourselves bored.
Worst case...read my essays!
I’m not a big fan of goals. The issue I have with them is that it often means caring about something that we cannot control. The problem with doing this is that it can lead to negative emotions such as anxiety, or even a complete breakdown accompanied by a sense of failure because you didn’t reach your goals.
However, that’s not to say that goals cannot be useful.
The way I use goals is this. I imagine what I would like to achieve, and then I start to try and understand what types of behaviours, especially on a daily basis, will allow me to achieve what I want to achieve. Then, I go away and completely forget about the original goals and just focus on the remaining positive behaviours that I’ve discovered I need to implement.
This has the added advantage of probably taking you to your goal, but removes the stress associated with having goals.
The problem about the traditional way of doing things is that once you write a goal down, it can be a straightjacket because we often change as we try and strive for our goals, and so our goals themselves should change.
This is like trying to hit a bullseye but the dartboard moves after you have thrown the dart – not easy.
So remember this:
- Control instead of chance.
- Process instead of outcomes.
There is a wonderful line in Negotiation by Brian Tracy.
The future belongs to the askers. The future belongs to those people who confidently and boldly ask for what they want, and ask again, and continue to ask.
This is incredibly true for a whole variety of reasons, the main one being that it opens up opportunities that weren’t there before.
However, you do need to ask, and it can be tough to strike the courage to do so, because of the innate fear of rejection that we all possess, and that is why it’s important to practice smaller asks first.
Ask for everything, hotel upgrades, discounts at restaurants, anything.
Ask “why not?”.
Get used to asking for small things, and before you know it you will have the courage to ask for big important things, and that’s when life begins to get really interesting.
Reading Stoic literature, it becomes easy to imagine that we should reserve Stoicism for those eventful moments in life – the loss of a loved one, a failure of a business, or any other type of accident or incident.
In fact, Stoicism is just as great with the small annoyances of everyday life. For instance, if you turn up to a business meeting and your counterpart doesn’t show up, it can be annoying, but it can also be a great opportunity to remind yourself to keep a cool head.
Fortunately for me, I had a really awesomely designed cappuccino to cheer me up and remind me that these things, and worse, do happen from time to time, and it is best just to accept them with a smile.
A Technique for Filtering Out Time Wasters
A brilliant technique for filters out time wasters is to give them some work to do. Most time wasting comes in the form of someone asking you to do something, and so the technique works by asking them to do something before you can start.
In many cases, that person won’t bother doing what you asked, and so you have relinquished the responsibility of doing what they asked.
This works for two reasons:
- It adds a cost to asking you for something. Nobody values anything that is free, either financially or effort-wise.
- Many people are lazy and won’t do what you ask, and so it will save you a lot of time and effort.
Being Scared of Nothing
Recently I had the chance to stand on the edge of a cliff with a large drop and it was interesting to observe how my own mind and body reacted to the event. My legs were weak, my pulse quickened, my breathing was heavier, and a voice inside my head was urgently telling me to head back to a safer standpoint.
The incredible thing is that I was simply standing, something which I have taken for granted for over twenty-five years, and yet here I was reduced to a wreck by empty space.
I was, quite literally, scared of nothing.
This is a really interesting experiment to test whether one has truly overcome the fear of death, as many philosophies of life instruct us to do.
I clearly haven’t.
The assumption should be this:
Anything that is said to anyone else may well become public knowledge.
So the key to confidentiality is to keep information on a need to know basis, and be constantly challenging who actually needs to know.
The greater the members of an organisation, the exponentially greater the communication pathways.
And so the best way to keep things secret is to to keep it to an inner circle, and when in doubt, reveal less than required.
Of course, we are getting ahead of ourselves, we should first ask if and why secrecy is required in the first place.
Stop and Think
One of my key insights in the last few years has been the fact that taking the time to stop and think is almost always beneficial.
There is a tendency to get so caught up in our daily lives that we forget to take a step back and objectively review what we are doing.
The best way to implement this habit is to actively schedule the time to do it.
And if you don’t feel you have the time to do this, then you need to do it even more urgently.
I was recently ill for a few days, and I barely ate any food during that time.
When I eventually broke my fast on a simple tomato soup, it tasted great. I assume this is because it was the first sense of taste in two days.
I found it incredible that a simple tomato soup, something that I would take for granted on an average day, would have such a profound effect.
It felt incredibly nourishing and just the right thing to have.
The tomato soup also made me realise that the ancient philosophers were absolutely right, we can gain vast enjoyment from the simplest of things, as long as our approach is right. Restraining ourselves from pleasure, and sometimes even from necessity, can be great for ourselves, even if it is just as a reminder of how much we already have.
This also made me realise how important it is to ensure that we fuel our bodies correctly. Of course, I have known this cliche most of my adult life, as it is repeated ad nauseum pretty much everywhere, but I’ve never really implemented it in my own life.
I always take care to put the correct fuel in my little Honda Julio, and yet I wouldn’t hesitate to poison myself with junk food or alcohol.
Obviously, this is sheer absurdity.
I am now in the position of wondering how long it will take me to make my first slip up in fueling myself properly. I estimate a day or two, as soon as I’ve forgotten about my period of sickness, and how refreshing my simple tomato soup was.
Progressing in life can be analogous to building a brick wall. There is only one way to build a brick wall, and that is one brick at a time.
There is only one way to get fitter, and that is one workout at a time.
The student who is learning at school can only get better one assignment at a time.
Sometimes it can be disheartening to think of the long road ahead in any endeavour.
The trick here is to focus on laying your brick for the day.
Change is Scary
Perhaps the number one fear in the world is not public speaking, but change. Change from being an audience member to being the show.
Change from being alive to being dead.
Change from our comfortable, soft lives to something that’s, well, different.
One small tidbit is worth remembering is that change is inevitable, so you might as well walk alongside it, instead of being dragged along kicking and screaming.
Those who ask, are those who will receive.
Asking questions is how you change the status quo.
Asking questions makes you think.
Asking questions makes you think “why?”.
Asking questions makes you think “why not?”.
Asking questions makes you reevaluate how things currently stand, and opens up a world of possibilities.
Asking questions strengthens you character. We grow up in a world where rejection is seen as harmful, when in reality we should embrace it, because it is feedback, and feedback is precious. It guides us, it points us in the right direction.
There is often little to be lost in asking for something, and much to be gained.
On the Value of Things
I briefly discussed in my essay Three Hours in Rome, that the price of things relative to their value is often skewed.
I started to think how this applies to so many things in life. I find that the $3 worth of petrol that I put into my little Honda Julia – a cheap 50cc motorbike – is full of value. I can get around town for up to a week without needing to top up the tank again.
Compare that to something like ordering a cocktail at a bar ($5 to $7, here in Phnom Penh) and we can see how things quickly start not to make sense. I get far more utility and value from my $3 of petrol than I do from my $7 of alcohol.
Another example, my rent works out at just under $17 per day, and I am fortunate to live in a beautiful and spacious apartment, where I can sleep, shower, relax, and also work. This provides amazing value to my life, and yet for $17 I would be lucky to be able to cover a dinner out with a drink or two.
Cooking at home, on the other hand, is often fantastic value. I eat quite simply, most vegetables and legumes, and I can whip up a meal for $1 to $3, which gives me a feeling of having a double or triple bonus. I get to eat exactly what I want, prepared how I like it, I am fully aware of everything that has gone into my meal, and it is also several times cheaper than eating out.
So the point in this, just make sure that you are aware of the relative value and price of the different components of your life, because a little money can go a long way if spent properly.
Right Now is Good
It is strange how the human mind works. Many of us constantly worry about what will happen, even though we are terrible at estimating how any given situation will make us feel.
If we ever took the time to stop and look around, we would notice that things, right now, are probably not so bad, but we are fantastic at quickly learning to take almost anything for granted.
So stop thinking, and take a look at things around you, it is not half ad bad as you imagine.
Patience is a virtue.
Any time spent thinking about it will tell you that there is very little wrong with being able to be patient.
It appears as if there is a tendency for each generation to lose a little patience as we move forward through time, and this is partly due to the unflinching advance of technology.
However, there are huge advantages in being able to restrain our immediate thoughts and feeling, and taking the time to consider things before taking action.
- We increase our chances of reacting correctly.
- We don’t fall for common traps and fallacies.
- We allow for Reason to step in and take control.
On Skipping Breakfast
Most sources will tell you that skipping breakfast is a bad idea, and they may well be right.
However, I’m tackling this from a different point of view.
Firstly, I like big meals, and skipping breakfast allows me to have a big, satisfying lunch and still keep within the overall limit of what I should eat in a day.
Secondly, I like to do my serious work in the morning, and having an empty stomach allows me to keep my focus razor sharp.
It keeps me hungry, it keeps me foolish.
On Being Busy
Busyness is often worn as a badge of honour, but I prefer to think about it in the same manner as a veteran shows his missing limb. It is a pathological reaction to the requirement we have to feel that what we are doing has a purpose.
After all, the busier a task makes you, the more important it must be? Right?
There is no correlation between the importance of what you are doing and how long or difficult it is.
Learn to be at ease with not being busy, and still knowing that ou can do what you need to do, as well as what you need to do.
There is more than enough time for the important things in life, but not enough time for the distractions.
Problems Into Solutions
It can be difficult to be a solutions-person.
You know what I mean, the type of person who doesn’t run around like a headless chicken, but has that uncanny ability to be able to provide solutions that make sense, to almost any problem.
These people, they aren’t able to do this because they know more than others, or because they have more experience.
It’s about becoming a deep analytical thinker instead of a shallow thinker. Be careful, this has nothing to do with the amount of time you spend considering something before you decide a course of action. In fact, you may find you are quicker, because you have already given yourself a framework for deep thinking, and so when a problem comes up, you can quickly identity a host of great solutions.
Regarding problem-solving, I normally try and listening or understand the problems, and turn them into actionable goals, because goals put you in the correct frame of mind to find solutions.
So, problems to goals, goals to solutions.
Get out there and solve!
The Top 1%
Since the 2008 financial crisis, a lot has been said about the so-called top 1%, but what many middle middle class people in economically advanced countries don’t realise, is that they could well be part of the top 1%, of the world.
I recently read that with assets of around half a million dollars, this is enough to put one into the top 1% of the world in terms of wealth, and also in terms of lifestyle.
And just owning a fridge puts you ahead of 75% of the world in terms of wealth.
It’s very easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the rest of the world lives the same as you do, when in fact that is simply not the case.
Even when we look at something as ubiquitous as Facebook (which I no longer have), only a billion or so out of the seven billion people alive today have it.
While perhaps this is slightly immoral, I take a lot of comfort in knowing that I belong to the top few percent in the world in terms of wealth, because it makes me realise how stupid I am when I am pine after material goods that I don’t need, and wish that I had more money than I have at the present moment.
I’ve already got it better than most, and yet I’m still not happy.
It’s an absurd situation to be in, and yet I know that I am not alone, the reason why countries with larger economies suffer from much higher rates of depression is because once we have it good, we want it great, and the human instinct for desire, if left unchecked, is all-consuming.
There are videos of American teenagers crying because their parents didn’t buy them the right car for their sixteenth birthday. Not that they didn’t get a car, just the exact car they wanted.
These children are not thankful that they have parents, that they have lived to see their sixteenth birthday, that they have received a car for their birthday, or many of the other far more important things that they take for granted. No, they are upset because they received an Audi instead of a BMW.
This, perhaps, is the very definition on how we shouldn’t live. Basing our happiness on external materials goods is perhaps the worst possible thing you can do for your own phycological health. A year or so ago I lost my two film cameras, and by the end of the same day I realised that while yes, I had lost two film cameras, I gained something far better, the experience of dealing with a material loss, and being undisturbed by it. I actually ended up enjoying the fact that I wasn’t letting the loss get to me, and continued my life completely as normal – except with a stronger lock on my front door.
The thing is, is that no amount of material goods will ever satisfy you if you are not satisfied right now, in the present moment. A computer will not make you happy, neither will a car, neither will a phone, or jewellery, or a house, or even a lot of money.
A great technique that I learned from reading a few Buddhist and Stoic texts is that of breaking things down to their component parts, to see exactly what they are.
For instance, if we take the iPhone, which is something that many people want to own. I have owned one for about a year, and I am convinced that if it broke or was stolen or was lost, I would completely fine. Would I buy another one again? Sure, I think it’s a wonderful tool and I also love to be able to take my work with me without needing to carry a computer.
So when some people get upset because either they can’t afford one, or their parents won’t buy it for them, etc etc, it’s ridiculous, because an iPhone is just a bunch of metal, plastic, silicone, and glass components arranged into a package with some computer code stored inside and the ability to connect to the internet.
I mean, we don’t desire the individual components inside the iPhone, do we? No-one goes around: “Oh, I wish I just had the M3 motion co-processor inside the latest iPhone, then my life would be complete.”
And badly wanting the iPhone in it’s entirety is just a bad, and just as stupid.
Our attitude should be: If we can have it, great, if not, no problem. And when we have it, we should keep in mind that it can be taken away at any time. Either quite literally by other people, or purely by a chance accident or malfunction.
So this essay is actually a reminder to be grateful about what we already have, and to cultivate our reasoning faculty to understand that we are already incredibly lucky, and anything extra is just the icing on the cake.
So take a deep breath, and realise that you’ve just experienced the ultimate luxury.
Exponential thinking is really, really difficult.
Imagine a piece of standard a4 paper, and imagine that you could fold it 50 times. How thick would the resulting folder piece of paper be? I’ve received estimates of anything between 15cm and 80cm.
The real answer is something close to 70 million miles, which is roughly the distance between Earth and the Sun.
The reason people get this so incorrect, is that our brains are not wired for exponential thinking. In the past, if you spent twice as much time gathering nuts, you would get approximately twice as many nuts.
Unfortunately – or should that be fortunately? – we live in a far more complex world than our nut-gathering ancestors, and so we are far more exposed to exponential growth.
The trick is learning to be aware of it.
Normally, I am quite good in dealing with upcoming future events. Things like large proposals at work, deadlines for big decisions, and so on.
However, lately I’ve noticed that for some of the really important events in my life, I almost tend to shut down a week or two beforehand and not be able to lead a normal life until the events comes to pass.
I reviewed this type of behaviour, and I came to the conclusion that it is borne out of a misunderstanding of how life works, and what we control.
In a nutshell: everyday is the most important day of your life, because it is your life.
There are so many forces at play that dramatically change the course of our lives, and most of the time we are not even aware of them, and they are completely chance based.
So that upcoming event, while still important, is only one of thousands of factors that will affect your future.
Why Short Thoughts?
I have gained a huge amount of enjoyment from writing these short thoughts. They are a form of instant gratification, but they also allow me to get the essence of an idea out there, and build up a library of topics that one day can be investigated further and then turned into in-depth essays, giving the subject a full exploration.
Some may argue that they are superficial, because what can one say of value in a couple of hundred words? Perhaps they are right, but I see them more as the first brush stroke on a new canvas.
(Not) Learning From Accidents
A few days ago I had a minor accident on my motorbike. It could have ended badly, but, fortunately, it didn’t.
I overtook a fellow motorcyclist who happened to be speaking on a mobile phone stuck between his ear and helmet, and as he reached for the phone he swerved to the left smashing into me.
I managed to stay on my feet, but he hit the tarmac – relatively unharmed, but somewhat shaken.
However, the incredible thing is that he picked himself up and started driving again, and then continue his chat on his phone.
And we say humans are rational beings.
What can you do with 1% of your day?
Fifteen minutes is approximately 1% of your day. Ever since I became aware of this fact, something has changed.
Because fifteen minutes is not just 1% of your day, it is 1% of your day, because each day is all the life you’ve got.
We are what we repeatedly do.
Watch three hours of TV every night? That’s 12% of your life wasted, congratulations.
Focus on how and why you spend your time, it’s the only truly finite resource we have. There is the right time for work, for play, for doing nothing, and even for wasting time.
The key word here is balance.
The first priority is to accept that things are not in our control. Don’t ever make the mistake to think that you can actually influence outcomes. Just concentrate on the process, and let the chips fall where they may.
The second priority is to embrace change. Nothing will ever stay the same, nor should it. The past is seen through rose-tinted glasses because closer times invite jealousy, while distant memories bring admiration.
So don’t wish for things to be as they were, or to be different.
You should want things to happen exactly as they happen.
Let the Arrow Fly
Unfortunately, not matter how hard we try, we are not masters of our fate.
The world is a random place, sometimes it is beautiful, sometimes it is cruel, but the one thing you can be certain, is that your plans will not be respected.
So what can we do?
The best way to live and stay sane in a world that is inherently chaotic, is to be comfortable letting the arrow fly.
So practice shooting, choose the best bow, find the best conditions and time, but once you let you arrow fly, you have to know that there is nothing else you can do.
The target might move, causing you to miss, or a sudden wind may take it off course. This is none of your concern, as you have already done your part.
Remember, your responsability ends the moment you let go, so you should not worry about a flying arrow, just concentrate on your next shot.
Having patience is generally seen as a positive trait, although there are some that would argue that having too much patience allows others to take advantage of you.
While this may certainly be true, the advantages of having enough patience far outweigh the disadvantages of having too much patience.
I’ve experienced cases where people who I respect deeply are turned into animals because of something as simple as a waiter forgetting to bring their mango juice at a coffee shop.
Don’t be an animal, be a human being and use your rational facilities to cultivate patience, because most things in life are not worth getting worked up about.
Things Take Longer Than You Expect
I have gotten so used to deadlines that are never met, that whenever anyone tells me that something will take x time to complete, in my head I always estimate that it will be at least 1.5x or 2x.
The strange thing I find is that while human beings are terrible estimators, we are all pretty bad at knowing that we are terrible estimators.
Few economists predict economic crashes, and yet after the fact they write large tomes on why it happened.
The issue is that we never bother accounting for those unknown unknowns, they things that you didn’t even consider considering.
How to fight this tendency? When it comes to timelines, become a hardline pessimist – hope for the best, prepare for the worst.
I was recently doing projections for up to five years for my business, and, of course, I realised that is it absolutely ridiculous because, I don’t know what will happen tomorrow, let alone 1825 days from now.
However, the exercise was useful in thinking through things.
The Prussian general and military strategist Clausewitz famously said:
No campaign plan survives first contact with the enemy.
More recently, the boxer Mike Tyson paraphrased him:
Everyone has a plan ‘till they get punched in the mouth.
So the idea here is that planning should make you aware of the challenges ahead. It is not about creating a rigid roadmap that you have to follow to the letter.
How to Make Someone Responsible
I recently had coffee with a senior executive who had recently quit his job at a rival company.
Discussing his tenure there, he described what I have heard many times when it comes to management in Asia:
Giving people responsibility, and then still telling them what to do.
This of course, is utterly stupid. You cannot hold someone responsible for their actions if you tell them what they should and should not do. Yes, there are barriers to the freedom in decision making, but within these constraints, they should have absolute freedom to operate.
You can give a manager responsibility and not allow her to hire the best people she thinks are right for the job. If you do that, you instantly remove the full responsibility from that person.
I’ve recently made the decision to turn off all notifications from my phone, with the exception of the ringing sound when I actually receive a phone call.
It is an incredibly liberating decision. I used to receive hundreds of notifications a day, and my guess was that I checked my phone more than 200 times per day.
Analysing my behaviour, it felt like this was almost an obsessive-compulsive disorder, and it was having a negative impact on my life.
Now I check my phone every few hours, and I can batch reply to all the messages and notifications as I see fit, and I find that I also use my phone far less than before.
The issue isn’t technology, it is us. We don’t stop to think about how the advancement of technology is not always positive, that what we might gain inconvenience we may lose in other ways.
On Deep Work
I’ve spoken before on my reasons for leaving Facebook, and an unexpected benefit has been an increased capacity for what can be termed “Deep Work”.
This is when I get in a state of mind where I can effortlessly spend long stretches of time involved in meaningful work. The requirements for this? Less distractions, notifications, and superficial communication.
Essentially, a quiet room.
What is incredible about this type of work is that it does not follow the 80/20 rule, but goes much further than that. I estimate that I do 99% of my meaningful work in what probably amounts to less than an average of 30 minutes of work per day.
The awesome thing is, I am just getting started with this, and like anything, I expect to get better the more I practice.
Being able to consistently do deep work is a huge plus. At exactly the time when there are more and more distractions, the results from deep work are exactly what everyone in the world values most.
Negotiation in Life
Negotiation is a way of life.
We all have to convince other people of certain things, we might be a mother trying to teach our children to behave properly, or a high level executive trying to turn our team into leaders.
I have found that the best way to negotiate for long-term success is focusing on what the other person wants, and making sure that they leave the negotiation feeling awesome, like they received not only what they wanted, but perhaps even more.
Of course, doing this while not getting royally fucked over is an incredible skill. It requires the expert navigation of what I call negotiation line items. It means always asking for something in return, no matter how trivial, and having a crystal clear goal in mind.
The final requirement is that you also have a line in the sand, things that you simply cannot compromise on, and that you make the reasons behind your logic understandable to the other party.
Defining Your Core Principles
The other day I was asked about the core values of my work at a design agency. I ended up sitting down and writing for about three hours, and I was actually amazed that I had not sat down and clearly defined what I believe my core values are for my work.
I ended up with clear head about the type of company I want to lead in the future.
The issue with not having clear core values, is that it is easy to become like a ship with no direction. You also have no clear internal message to the outside world, which means that each situation has to be analysed, and a response crafted. When you have clear values, the answer is almost always clear.
I invite you to do the same one day, asking yourself the same questions that were asked of me.
Each Monday morning I set a timer for 25 minutes and then spend that time writing in my journal. I currently use Day One App, but it can anything from a physical journal to a simple text file, the medium is not so important.
The reason I do this is so I can take stock of my previous week, the week ahead, and also my life goals, my philosophy, and general feelings . Twenty-five minutes is long enough to get everything down most of the time and short enough that it doesn’t feel like a chore.
The idea behind this is to lead a far more deliberate life, where one isn’t just dragged along in the current but is actively swimming towards a destination.
Also, it is so interesting to then take a look at what one was writing in the past, and then compare it to now. The idea of a philosophical journal is nothing new, thousands of years ago individuals far smarter than me were recommending the same course of action.
The Joys of a Quiet Night In
As afternoon turns into evening, I always begin to feel the urge to leave home and go into the city.
I guess this feeling is borne out the need to feel important. Getting out there and being seen, meeting friends, being served at restaurants, this are all things that begin to suggest that I am “someone”, which of course is true – everyone is someone.
I have started resisting this feeling, and I am reaping the benefits. I love reading, and it is incredible just how many books one can enjoy by spending evenings in reading.
Looking back on my reading list, I can’t help but smile at how much I have learnt, and also all the adventures that these books have taken me on.
Reading is magic.
You Are On Earth
You’re currently on a ball of mud and fire rotating at 1,674 km per hour, which itself is navigating around a huge ball of fire at 108,000 km per hour, and both of these objects are part of the solar system which travels at 828,000 km per hour.
So what are you worried about exactly?
Moving Towards or Away
Every decision, every action, every thought, either moves you towards your goals and the type of human being you want to become, or away from it.
Think of everything you do as a vote towards who you want become.
On Doing Little
While there are millions of people who will tell you how to be productive and achieve and do more, very few will instruct you in how to do little.
It’s actually quite tough doing little at all, because it can turn into sloth, or you may become a degenerate and indulge in all of life’s pleasures.
The Question that Will Give You Anything You Want in Life
Life is made out of choices, and those choices are often made of compromises. So you can create the life you want by learning to manage and solve the compromises you make.
For years I struggled to keep my weight in check. I managed to lose around 30kg, and then a few years later went almost back to square one.
Then, I started asking myself the following question:
“Would I rather have the body I want, or do I prefer to go out drinking / eat this cake / have a pizza / etc”
By keeping this question in my head ready for each time I had to make a choice, it was easy to do the right thing.
Waking up in the morning and getting on my scooter to visit the gym, simply became:
“Do you want a six pack, or do you prefer to lie in this morning?”
The answer is obvious, each and every time, and I am (very) slowly improving.
The People Who Need it Most Won't Read This.
I’ve noticed an interesting trend in several of the philosophical texts that I’ve been reading lately.
There is the assumption that “we”, the philosophers, are somehow separate from the man in the street, or the masses.
By philosophers this I mean anyone who contemplates a philosophy of life, which most definitely will include anyone reading this, because if you somehow stumbled on the path of reading this article, you’re clearly thinking about life and philosophy.
I’ll pick out just one example out of many, and that is from Seneca’s On Shortness of Life:
Nor is it just the man in the street and the unthinking mass of people who groan over this – as they see it – universal evil: the same feeling lies behind complaints from even distinguished men.
The funny thing is that the masses don’t believe they are different to us, because they cannot see the difference between us and them, because in outward appearance and actions we may appear similar, while in fact we may as well be two completely separate biological species.
The masses consume and don’t ask questions, while we do the exact opposite, we create questions, we challenge the traditional ways, and we look to lead a better life, and not one that has greater material wealth than before, but one that has more freedom from desires, consumerism, anger, and negative emotions.
A serene, peaceful existence.
Life is Everyday
As we can only live in the present, we should change our mindset. Because most of our lives are repeated habits, we should take the utmost care in what we do, and also how we think – each and every day.
Doing that exercise workout is not one workout, it’s you as someone who works out. Having one beer is not one beer, it’s 365 beers this year.
You get the point.
Creating a Startup - Lessons in Uncertainty
I recently started a new company which had an incredibly strong start, hitting our financial targets for first 18 months in our first month, which obviously was quite unplanned, and that’s bring me to one of my favorite topics:
I’ve become quite good at dealing with uncertainty in the last few years, especially since I started reading and studying Stoicism, and creating a new company is a really practical way to test these ideas out in the real world.
I can tell you what I don’t know:
- Where our office will be in the next two months – we are likely to outgrow our current office quite shortly.
- In fact, I’ve got very little idea how many people I’ll have working with me at the end of the year.
- How many sales we will have, and how much money we will make.
And you know what? I’m actually comfortable with that. Anyone who tries to predict any of the above (or anything else, for that matter) is simply deluding themselves.
There is no-one alive today that can predictably and repeatedly forecast the future, there are simply too many variables. Yes, there will be some people who appear to able to do this, but then we come back to the Million Monkeys with a Million Typewriters Eventually Writing the Full Works of Shakespeare argument.
An interesting question is how does one stay calm (or even sleep at night) if this uncertainty is always at play? Well, one simply has to let go, and accept that this is the way things are.
Plans are Guesses, But Often Worthwhile
I’ve got a business, and I try and avoid as much as possible to make detailed plans of anything more than 30 days away. I always like to call plans for what they are: guesses.
If you start to replace the word “plan” by “guess”, then suddenly things become a little more light hearted. I’m a CEO, and so to the board of directors, I recently presented my Yearly Business Guess.
However, guessing about the future does have it’s benefits, and it’s very often worthwhile doing.
The First Thing to Control
If you want to improve, it can be difficult to know where to start. I was thinking this the other day:
Everyone is starting from a position of weakness.
After all, we’ve all done things we should not have, and we know we haven’t followed the right way to live, otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this.
- Perhaps you’ve let yourself get overweight.
- Perhaps you find it difficult to control your emotions and your life is worse for it.
- Perhaps you simply cannot cope with the pace of modern life.
However, we can all begin from the same starting block: breathing.
Taking the time each day to take ten, twenty, fifty, controlled slow breaths will do incredible things to you life.
Just try it.
Todo Lists vs Scheduling
I’ve always been quite fascinated about productivity.
At high school, and my one year of college, I managed to stay productive for 7 years by declining to do almost all homework assignments. This worked quite well because I valued other parts of my life more, but my teachers were a little exasperated, to say the least.
Nowadays that I’ve got a leadership role at Mäd (www.mäd.com), a company that does a whole bunch of really interesting things, I can’t afford to not be productive, and interestingly enough I’ve begun to see how my old high school approach is actually useful.
The issue with not doing stuff should be a case of priorities vs the time available to actually get stuff done. There is almost always more work to do if you want to find it.
The issue then is not the amount, but being able to prioritize what is important both for yourself and the organization that you’re part of.
Thus is why todo lists are actually a fairly bad way of managing what you want to do. Because they are so easy to create, one ends up taking way too much on board, and then either over working, or doing things faster and sacrificing quality.
The better approach is to schedule things on your calendar. It’s a reality of life that we have a limited amount of time available, both during the working week and also in life in general.
Scheduling tasks forces us to confront this reality and ensure that we focus on what really matters.
Everything else? It can slide.
Believing You Can Be Wrong
I've stated before in my essays that people generally don't like to be told that they are wrong. It takes a special person to receive criticism and straight away take it in a constructive manner.
I know that I need to stop and let criticism sink in prior to being able to process it positively.
However, I've recently understood that many of the beliefs and ideas that I've held for a long time are not correct, and it's been a wake up call to understand the true nature of things.
Now I've reached a stage where I am skeptical of myself, of what I can achieve, and if what I now believe is correct or not, or even if it actually matters at all.
While this is perhaps not a great permanent state of mind, it's probably a step on the right path to building a solid framework for analysis the world and situations around us.
So give this a try:
Assume you are radically wrong, and truly step in the shoes of someone who takes a near opposite viewpoint to yours, and try to understand both the what and the why.
Tracking for Success
I’ve often believed that if you keep track of something that is under your control, you will naturally improve the outcome.
This is because you make thousands of small changes in your life because buried in your subconscious somewhere is a little voice that is trying to make you improve those results.
I read somewhere once that a man lost a huge amount of weight purely by tracking his weight and plotting a line into the future showing where he wanted to be, and he didn’t consciously make a decision to lose weight, but it happened anyway.
I decided to keep a list of all the books that I was going to read, and I’ve ended up reading a huge amount, probably more than I’ve read my whole life. This has had a wonderful effect on my life in many ways.
It wasn’t a conscious decision, but each time I went to update my list, I had a great feeling adding a book title there, but also a reminder that I should read more.
So if you want to change something in your life, tracking it is not a bad way to start.
The Simply Joy of Going to Bed Early
A few months ago I started suffering from insomnia. I was completely unable to go to sleep for a night, and then the next day I would crash to sleep from exhaustion, and the following day I would skip sleeping completely.
The reasons behind my insomnia I believe were the stress of starting a new business, and also a fairly unhealthy lifestyle based on eating in restaurants and drinking alcohol. I probably put on close to 7kg in around 3 months, which is quite shocking.
However, I've managed to solve my insomnia, and in the process I've discovered the simple pleasure of going to bed early. I'm still catching up on all my lost sleep, but also I find that it's a great end to any day, being in bed early.
I tend to listen to classic music, read books, and (quickly) review my next day.
The incredible thing about this, is that is it accessible to most people, anywhere in the world, regardless of economic status.
In general, the best things are, but we've forgotten that.
The Freedom of Scheduling
In the past few months I’ve started scheduling more and more of the things that I need to do on a calendar (I use Google Calendar, but that’s incidental).
What I’ve found is that it is very easy to say “yes” to everything, but having to physically estimate the amount of time required and then block it out of one’s available time brings things back to reality.
If we believe that excellence is the by-product of continuous good use of time and correct decisions about the relative importance of things to do, then this scheduling approach is obviously the right thing to do.
I was somewhat scared about ruining the ability to be spontaneous, but I realized that this is not a big issues, after all one can simply leave blocks of time empty, or change things on the fly as situations change.
This year I’m going to go full immersion and try to schedule everything, and see how it goes, I have a suspicion that it will make me far more aware of the time I spend, as well as enable me to further concentrate on the things I value most.
How We Treat Animals
In most countries, if you took a knife and brutally killed your pet dog or cat, you would face severe consequences due to there being laws regarding the cruelty to animals.
And yet, each year billions upon billions of animals face squalid conditions and painful deaths in order to feed our addition to both their flesh and also to the consumer products that are derived from them, such as leather shoes and crocodile skin handbags.
And this is not only completely legal, but every person knows about it.
In science fiction movies we portray evil aliens that come to our planet to simply consume our resources, or, alla Matrix, futuristic robots that keep us trapped to use us as resources.
And yet, this is exactly how we act today with our use of the animals that we share our planet with.
My feeling is that one day we will look back at this time of history with it’s factories of death and ask:
What the hell were they thinking?
Living Life in a Thoughtful Manner
During the five years prior to reading this short thought, I’ve been making a concerted effort to live my life in a more thoughtful manner.
The main way that I have managed to achieve this is by asking the simple question:
Why is a wonderful question, and if asked enough times in a row, it can often strip away layers of old-fashioned thinking to reveal a simple and yet unappealing truth:
We don’t truly think about most of what we do.
And research has backed this up. As we go about our day to day business, many of our actions are completed out of habit, on autopilot. While this is advantageous because you don’t have to remember every single turn in the road to go home from work, it can also cause issues when we simply believe that something is right because we have been told so, or because we have been engaged in a certain behavior for time immemorial.
The habit of eating meat is a great example.
Most people eat meat not because they have sat down and thought about it, and reached a conclusive judgment regarding the pros and cons, but purely because their parents, and friends, and family, and most people around them, ate meat, so it feels like a natural thing to do.
This is a dangerous way to live because you don’t end up exposing yourself to other ways of thinking, which might turn out to improve your life immeasurably.
After all, if you haven’t spent the time to examine the way you life, what are the chances that you are doing it the best way possible? Or not even the best way possible, but just one of the better ways?
It’s essentially a coin toss.
So, ask yourself:
Dealing with Stress
I am someone who can get stressed quite easily. All it takes is for something not to happen the way I expect it, and suddenly I can find myself stressed out wondering what the options are and how badly things will turn out.
I’ve been doing this for about three years, and actually things have got better in my life, not worse, and I am also slowly learning how to deal with stress.
I do this by focussing on the long term, and also reminding myself that I need to keep doing the things I enjoy, such as reading and writing, and placing my current perceived problems in the scope of my whole life, and sometimes the entire cosmos.
After that, any issue I might have starts to look very small indeed.
While I am not a big believer in New Year’s Resolutions, I did actually make one recently, and it was about ensuring that I track, daily, some of the things I care about.
Tracking is pretty awesome because it leads to a few things:
- Accountability – by seeing the numbers (and by the way, you should track things by boiling them down to numbers) you can easily hold yourself accountable for discretions.
- Awareness – When you have enough data, normally that is after a month or two of tracking, you can actually become aware of trends in your habits and lifestyle, and like those trends to how you feel as an individual and then make changes accordingly.
- Improvement – This level of awareness just discussed then leads onto to improvement, as for some reason I’ve found there is a human tendency to automatically want to make the numbers look better than they are, and by tracking daily it is a reminder to you in every action that you do.
How to Handle Luxury
I think the first thing to understand is that there is a difference, a really big difference, between living well and having a good life.
The former, in many cases, actually impedes the latter, as once triggered, human desires have repeatedly shown to have no bounds.
There is no the end to the race when you are running on the hedonistic treadmill.
"The body is to everyone the measure of the possessions proper for it, just as the foot is of the shoe. If, therefore, you stop at this, you will keep the measure; but if you move beyond it, you must necessarily be carried forward, as down a cliff; as in the case of a shoe, if you go beyond its fitness to the foot, it comes first to be gilded, then purple, and then studded with jewels. For to that which once exceeds a due measure, there is no bound." Chapter 39, Enchiridion of Epictetus.
There is nothing wrong with luxurious goods and experiences in by themselves, only the incorrect way of handling them.
The best way to think of luxuries is that they are, and should be, transient and that you should be lucky to be experiencing them. This simultaneous heightens the enjoyment while protecting you from a surplus in desire.
I’ve recently set up some simple daily rules/objectives for myself, and they are:
- Work Deeply
This is a start, now think of yours.
Against Social Media
For over a year and a half now, I’ve essentially not used Facebook, and I’ve now also gone on an Instagram sabbatical.
This is an unusual step in our society where not being on social media can often feel like there is a parallel universe that you are missing out on.
However, when we remember that our online lives are inherently shallow representation of real life stored in binary format on computers, it’s quite easy to see that it is better to live the real life.
Would you prefer to live an exciting and fulfilling uncatalogued life, or a meticulously recorded life of someone you are trying to pretend to be?
Searching the Opposite Of Your View Online
One of the wonderful things about the internet, and in my usage, Google Search specifically, is that I can easily look up the opinions of others who disagree with my opinions, or perhaps with the opinions that I am trying to form.
The latter may seem strange, for surely one does not have opinions before you actually hold them? Well, in my experience, people tend to hold clusters of opinions, even if they do not know enough on a subject to actually hold an opinion.
For instance, if you are a strong believer in climate change (and good for you!), then you are also likely to be anti-war and pro-abortion, and also against the death penalty.
I’m not yet sure why this is the case, but it is.
The best way to pop this type of opinion bubble is to actively seek opinions that go against your core beliefs and try and really understand them, and then one of two things will happen:
- Either you will change your opinion based on a new logical argument which is better than your currently held beliefs.
- Or, you will find that your current opinions get stronger as the opposition has failed to make a dent in your armor.
Either way, they are both positive outcomes, and one of the best ways of doing this is to actively use an online search engine to find articles, essays, and books that are diametrically opposed to your world view, and then absorb them deeply.
Thinking About Death
Death is an interesting subject, most certainly because it something that everyone will experience, at some point, and because it’s also something that overall defines our experience of being alive.
So, it’s worth spending time thinking about death.
On my way to work this morning, I was staring out of the window of my taxi, seeing the city life go by, and I wondered — how am I going to die?
This instantly places all my other problems into a correct perspective, and also makes me realize how lucky I am to be alive, today.
Thinking In The Long Term
One of the key advantages of thinking in week and months (or years/decades, if you are truly dedicated), is the reduction in stress, and also the build up of unassailable advantages.
It also means that your decision making changes, sometimes dramatically,
This means having strict goals, and flexibility with the plan.
A Different Take on Diversity / Inclusivity
At my companies, we don’t care if you’re black, gay, female (or something in between). If you were born in Mexico City, Milan, or Tokyo. If you have a degree from MIT or are self taught.
To us, the above is about as relevant as the colour of your eyes, or the length of your index finger.
What really counts:
- Are you talented?
- Do you have a strong work ethic?
- Do you play well with others?
- Do you buy into our vision?
- Can you help build things that add value to the world?
Let’s keep things simple, and focus on what people achieve, not their superficial differences.
How to Read 52+ Books a Year
I’m a voracious reader, but I’ve not often reflected about how I end up reading so many books. It’s only when I look back on the list of books that I’ve read over the last few years that I find it surprising.
So, how to read at least a book a week, each and every year?
- Read more than one book at a time — I tend to carry one book in my bag, keep one book in the bathroom, one in the living room, and then also have one or two in my Kindle/iPhone/Macbook.
- Take the time to read — obviously, this is very much required. Coming home from work, don’t watch two hours of tv or mindlessly browse social media, but spend time in front of a good book.
- Invest — Books are damn cheap compared to most form of entertainment, so no real excuse here. Worst case, you can find tons of free reading material online.
- Enjoy learning — It doesn’t matter what types of books you read, you’re bound to learn something. If you enjoy the process, you’ll be far more likely to keep reading new books.
That’s it, nothing complex.
Work Consuming Life
In a discussion last night, the topic of wast wealth came up, and work vs life balance.
I know people that have 10-figure net worths, and they entire lives are consumed by business and money.
There is not a single moment of their day that they are not surrounded by some form of business associates.
They’ve swapped the 9–5 grind for 24/7 consumption.
Is it worth it?
I doubt it.
Why Do We Have Job Titles?
I’ve recently started a new company, and I’ve got 3 team members. In our first meeting, the subject of business cards came up, and, so follows, the job titles to put on them.
I then struck out and asked why we needed job titles in the first place. After all, we all know what we’re doing here.
And so we’re just ignoring the job title assignment “thing”.
Now, I am thinking about whether even a 30 person organisation (another company I have), needs to job titles. It’s going to be an interesting experiment to remove job titles in an organization that already has some, but I don’t expect people to simply turn up and have no idea what they should be doing just because we changed their employment contracts, their business cards, and their email signatures.
If that was the case, it would highlight far bigger problems!
This is definitely something I will explore in long form in the future.
Applying the Flywheel Concept to Our Personal Lives
In Jim Collins’ fantastic book Good to Great, there is an interesting concept called the Flywheel effect.
Essentially, a cycle of things that you can keep doing, that builds up momentum. This is how companies can keep growing and becoming better.
I am beginning to think, why can’t we create a flywheel for our own personal lives? What are the various things to focus that build momentum in what we do?
These are interesting questions.
Accepting that you have mostly no control over how your life will turn out to be, and being okay with that, is the first step.
Remembering that you can control how you react to the events that happen, but not whether they do or do not happen.
Simple to write it out, difficult to execute.
The Importance of Keeping a Journal.
I’ve recently reached the two year mark of keeping an almost-daily journal.
This has been incredibly useful, as each day I look back on what I was writing one or two years ago on the same day, and it is interesting to see how my priorities and goals have changed.
It also enables me to get perspective on how I dealt with problems, and how now those problems seem so small and irrelevant, and yet while I was living through them they really felt like a big deal, and sometimes caused me sleepless nights.
Now, I just remind myself that in a year or two I’ll be reading whatever I write, and it won’t seem like a big deal, so why make a big deal of it right now?
Let’s stop losing sleep over the little things.
Three "Whys" In A Row - Ouch!
I recently read two extremely interesting books by the business leader Ricardo Semler, who took a small company in Brazil called Semco, and turned it into a huge conglomerate, employing over 3,000 people, all while constantly questioning how things are done, and turning the workplace into an experiment for democratic decision making.
The books are:
- The Seven Day Weekend
And I would recommend that you read them in this order, as The Seven Day Weekend does tend to build on Maverick!
In his books, Ricardo is constantly asking Why.
- Why do we put looks on equipment storage at our factories?
- Why do we ask employees to dress in a certain way?
- Why do we ask employees to turn up at a certain time?
- Why do we ask employees to drive two hours to our headquarters, instead of having lots of small offices dotted around town?
Turns out, this is a great approach, not only for business, but for our personal lives.
So, take a look at the way you live, and ask yourself Why. Then do it again, and then do it again.
You’ll find that by asking the Why question three times in a row, you will often end up with the answer:
I don’t know.
That’s the start.
How Long Does It Take?
I had an interesting experience the other day, in regards to being able to objectively compare the performance of work in a small team vs a large team, with many variables being kept the same.
So two projects (let’s call them “Big” and “Small”), both to do with designing icons for for digital products. I was the lead and wrote the brief for both projects, and I had the same designer execute.
Project Big was for a product that was backed by a large conglomerate and had input from the entire C-suite of executives, and even the board.
Project Small was for a product that I own, and nobody was going to approve anything, the result was just going to be accepted.
Please bear in mind, the same designer worked on both project, and project Small actually had more icons to design.
Project Big was completed in two and a half months, and ended up with a lovely set of icons, and everyone was happy. Value was delivered.
Project Small was completed in two and a half days, and ended up with a lovely set of icons, and everyone was happy. Value was delivered.
What do you think of that?
It’s a bit too easy to go…of course the way Project Small is setup is great, it was 30x faster, etc etc…
However, for certain types of business and goals, large amounts of capital and people are required, there is no “bootstrapping” option available.
And so, you trade money and time for very large goals, and so it’s not surprising that there are different results.
It’s not worse or better, just different.
The problem is when a Project Small behaves like a Project Big.
However, if you can make a Project Big work like a Project Small, then you’ve hit the jackpot.
"Stress primarily comes from not taking action over something that you can have some control over."
Interesting words from Jeff Bezos, and very true as well.
Procrastination is the mother of stress, and by ensuring that you don’t procrastinate on the things that you can address in your life, you can remove stress easily.
Of course, it’s not always obvious what those things should be, but if you think hard enough, you’ll get there.
Already many of us are stopping living in the real world. Sure, the real world is where we sleep and eat. but many of us work, live and play in the virtual world.
I’ve noticed my ability to concentrate has gone down since I’ve owned a smartphone (last 3 years). I’m not sure what the solution is, except the obvious one — giving up the ubiquitous device.
Lots of change coming, but I’m not holding my breath that it’s all positive.
One bit of advice: you can’t go wrong with a real, physical book!
Knowing What To DO
ssuming you’ve got the skillset, the biggest hurdle to accomplishing something worthwhile is knowing what to do, followed by being disciplined enough to do it.
Talent is quite overrated.
The Iceberg Issue - The Complexity of Simplicity
In theory, it should be relatively trivial to follow a rule like this:
Keep it simple, stupid.
In practice, external simplicity requires a large dose of discipline:
You need to be able to understand the problem you are trying to solve, and then come up with an elegant solution.
You need to be comfortable swapping internal complexity for external simplicity.
Essentially you're building an iceberg, where the vast majority of an iceberg (90%+) sits underwater, hidden from sight.
This is a great metaphor for building simple and usable products. It is necessary to do a massive amount of unseen work to ensure that the users’ experience is exceptional.
For example, we can take the conceptual idea of “settings”. A lazy way to handle different ideas in regards to a product is to make everything optional for the user. Add an on/off switch, give them various settings to customize the usage, and so on. This is what B teams end up doing.
The problem is, most people don’t really give a shit about your product,they are using your product to do something else!
Nobody wants a to-do list app, but they do want to stay organized and get things done in a timely manner.
"People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole." Theodore Levitt
So let’s remember this, and create something that helps people solve their problems, and gets out of the way as much as possible.
So, speaking specifically about settings, when it makes sense, don’t give an option to the user.
1000 Words a Day Keeps the Doctor Away
Looking back over the last few years, I have noticed a powerful correlation between regular long-form writing and the amount of enjoyment, serenity, and productivity in my life.
Whenever I have had times in my life where I’ve written a lot each and everyday, things seem to go right, I feel like I am winning.
I cannot be certain if it’s the long-form writing that causes these feeling, or if it because of these feelings that I end up writing a lot.
Or, it might a two-way street, a positive feedback loop. My guess is that it is a little bit like smiling. If you’re happy, you smile more, but it also works the other way…if you smile more, you end up in a better mood!
And so, taking the time and effort to write at least 1000 words per day is a key habit for a healthy mind. It forces discipline to ensure that you take the twenty or thirty minutes required to sit and think and type, and it also allows your mind time to think deeply about things that otherwise would go unnoticed, and can lead to uncanny insights.
I tend to do my writing early in the morning with a cup or two of coffee, before the distractions of the day take over.
However, it is becoming clear to me that if I could rid of all these distractions, I wonder what I could achieve!
This question from Sun Tzu comes to mind:
Can you imagine what I would do if I could do all I can?
It’s a strange feeling having lived all over the place, and not having one place any longer that I can call ‘Home’.
- I spent the first four years of my life in Venice
- The next three years in Palermo, Sicily.
- Then twelve years in London
- Then back to Palermo for three years.
- Then Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where I’ve been for the last four years.
So now I’m in a situation where the concept of home doesn’t exist any longer. This is a strange way to live, and I’m somewhat envious of those that have a city to call home, while I feel like a permanent tourist.
However, this has led me to have a unique perspective on what home is, and I want to reflect on this matter in today’s essay.
So, what do we consider a home city?
- A city where you speak the native language
- You know the local customs
- You have a sizable amount of friends, acquaintances, and perhaps even family members living there
- You work or do business there.
- And so on…
So basically, it boils down to three main areas:
This is now becoming more and more of a strange way of looking at things, especially in light of the potential for remote work and the highly connected world we live in.
I own a business in the same city where I live, but I hardly go to the office. I’ve probably been in twice in the last three weeks. For all intents and purposes, I might as well be on the other side of the world.
However, for a lot of people, this is not the case. They are expected to turn up every morning Monday to Friday at 9am, and they physically have to be there.
So if that is a requirement, then suddenly where you earn your money does have a large impact.
The concept of home obviously calls back to family, but that is not necessary for an individual to feel “at home”.
If you’ve moved to the other side of the world for a long, long time, it may well feel like home even though all your family members are thousands of miles away.
What often ends up happening is that the friends you meet that are also in the same position become a certain type of family to you.
This is one point where I’ve failed quite miserably. I’ve lived in Cambodia for four years but I still don’t speak the language very fluently, and I haven’t made a big effort to integrate myself with the local community.
I believe this is harder the further away you go, because general cultural gaps become larger with distance, unless you factor in some of the old Commonwealth countries (I would do ok in America or Australia, for instance).
I guess there are two main decision branches here.
You go “native” and fully embrace the local culture, but this can be very difficult when there is a large gap, which is something I’ve experienced in Cambodia, with the vast majority of the population being uneducated.
You swap the local culture immersion of something else, a group of foreign friends, hobbies, passions, work, and so on. This is the path I’ve taken, but it’s not a sustainable way of living.
Eventually, everyone needs a home.
Simplifying the 24 Assets
I’ve recently been reading a great book called “24 Assets”, which essentially discusses the incredible transitions that have happened in the last few hundred years, as power and wealth has been transferred from those who own land, to those who own factories, to know those who own ideas.
This can be quickly understood by reviewing the top companies by market capitalization. Let’s take a look at the top five in US at the time of writing (2017):
- Apple ($808.6B)
- Alphabet, Google’s Parent Company ($685.4B)
- Microsoft ($588.6B)
- Amazon ($478B)
- Berkshire Hathaway Inc ($462.3B)
In a nutshell, the assets that produce value now are different than those that produced value before, and it’s worth reviewing what these assets are.
These are the 24 assets listed in the book:
- Registered Intellectual Property (IP)
- The Philosophy
- Product for Prospects
- Core Product
- Product for Clients
- Marketing and Sales Systems
- Management and Administration Systems
- Operation Systems
- Key People of Influence
- Sales and Marketing
- Management and Administration
- Business Plan
- Risk Mitigation
Pheww! That’s quite a list. While comprehensive, I think it is easy to get lost, and there is not enough focus on the key things when there are so many items.
A Simplified Version
I would reduce to the following:
- Content & Data
- Methodology & Team
- Products & Services
I would then take Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle (read “Start With Why” to learn more) and filter the above list through this way of thinking.
- Brand — What makes you wake up in the morning? What do you stand for? How is this “why” presented to the world?
- Methodology & Team — What’s your unique way of doing things?
- Systems — How do you ensure consistency? How do you do deliver at scale? How do you repeat success?
- Channels — How do you get your product out to the market?
- Products & Services — What you’re selling.
- Content & Data — Additional things you might provide to the market, often free of charge, or via a service. Not all data you will externalize, but you can still sell it! (Think Facebook and Google, how they allow advertisers to make targeted adverts without giving away your personal details!)
I often play tennis with my brother, and during this time I always ensure that I leave my phone at home.
It’s a great feeling to be completely disconnected and enjoying the present moment, and not thinking about taking photos or communicating with people who are not there.
Keep the idea of “living in the moment” when you see people posting photos of their life in Instagram or any other social media.
They are recording that moment at the expense of being fully present and enjoying life.
Is this a tradeoff worth making?
Short Thought on Perspective
It occurred to me today that regardless of any tragedy that happens in my life, or anywhere, for that matter, there will always be people experiencing the exact opposite.
During the September 11 twin tower attacks…
- How many dates were going on around the world?
- How many lovers were sleeping together for the first time?
- How many people were telling jokes?
- How many children were being born?
Lately I’ve gone back to my old habit of waking up at five am, and what I have (re)discovered in the pleasure of taking time.
The wonderful thing about waking up early is that the “real” world is several hours away, and so one can enjoy taking time over what is often a rshed morning routine.
Having several hours to do things without notifications, emails, phone calls, meetings, and generally other people, can lead to some interesting insights.
And it’s also enjoyable being fully alert by the time work starts.
Killing By Not Being There?
An interesting point that was raised in a discussion this morning.
We could be in Africa right now saving children, but we’re not, and so they are dying.
Is that the same as actually causing their deaths?
Ever since I started writing short thoughts I have appreciated that they are a brilliant way to capture nascent ideas without the overhead of spending a lot of effort to consciously develop them.
These short thoughts are often the outcome of discussion and reflections that I’ve been having for years, and when something clicks — it goes into a couple of paragraphs, ready to be developed at a later time.
Give it a try.
Dealing with Problems
Often many of our problems, if ignored, will go away with time.
The problems that do not go away with time, are the ones we need to focus on.
Often the larger perceived problems are the simpler to deal with, it’s the smaller issues that can actually hide the real problems in life.
Humans are imperfect creatures.
Our evolutionary toolset has failed to keep up with the changes that we have created, and so what were once systems that helped us to survive and flourish, are now systems that cause us to be unable to live a good life.
Change is now such an important factor, that it cannot be overlooked. The difference in the way of life between 27,650 B.C. and 27,550 B.C. were negligible. If we look at the difference between the early twentieth century and the early twenty-first century, we will find that practically everything has changed.
Paradoxically, while no humans have ever enjoyed such a high standard of living as we now enjoy in 2017, the very changes that have made this a fact also cause us considerable distress.
For many, the primary danger in life is themselves, with suicide being the top killer of men aged twenty-five to fifty-five.
Now, the way to a good life is to fight our base impulses, and use psychological tricks to ensure that we can flourish even as change is all around us.
Short Thought On The Scientific Method
If we are truly to understand the world, our place in it, and give meaning to our lives, we must have a solid foundation to understand how the world works.
The Scientific Method is the process that allows us to understand what we know and what we don’t know, and, more importantly, change our beliefs based on new evidence as it appears.
That final point is crucial.
I don’t currently subscribe to a religion or believe in any god. However, if there was irrefutable proof that a god did exist — if he revealed himself to the world — then I would change my opinion.
So, there is a logical chain of assumptions and understandings that any modern person must pursue.
When you have this understanding, you start to look at the majority of the world as quite strange in their beliefs.
Taking The Time to Think
Lately I’ve been spending a huge amount of time thinking, reading, and writing, and I haven’t done much else for several weeks.
While, of course, this is a luxury, it is also a very good thing to do to ensure that you review what you’re doing, how you are doing it, and if it has any value at all.
Default behaviour is extremely dangerous, because it lacks thought, and we run the risk of going through life in autopilot mode, and only realizing towards the end how badly we have lived.
A few days or week of pause once a year to reflect, are a good swap in return for a lifetime of living a good life.
What's The Worst That Can Happen?
This is a brilliant question, and the basis for a technique called Negative Visualization. It is interesting how thinking what could be worse can be beneficial to our lives.
Taking this a step further, we can think of absolutely the worst thing that could happen to us in the next few days, week, months, years, and then write it down, and then wait and see what actually happens.
You’ll find that the worst case scenario hardly ever plays out.
"I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened." Mark Twain
I was reminded of a particular way of thinking from Epictetus.
Every situation has two handles from which it can be held. One is intolerable, and you will find that the other is often not just tolerable, but actually positive.
Try and hold life with the second handle.
Flat Tire on a Ducati
I was riding with my brother in the Cambodian countryside, with the ultimate aim of going from Phnom Penh to the coast, when we ran over a large nail and ended up with a flat tire in the middle of nowhere.
The first thing that was said:
And now the adventure starts!
It was great that we manage to keep our wits and good humor, even thought it could be hours before we would be getting on the road again.
In the end, it only took us 30 minutes and $0.75 (yes, that’s not a mistake!) to get back on the road, as a few locals gave us directions to a mechanic who did an emergency patch job — you don’t find many sport bike spare tires in the third world countryside.
A Simple Definition of a "Philosophy of Life"
I recently (re)read The Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy, which is a fantastic read.
I especially love the introduction, when the author asks not what you want in life (cars, financial success, etc), but what you want out of life.
That’s a difficult question.
However, it’s one worth asking and thinking about, because developing a simple definition of a “Philosophy of Life”, could be as simple asking the following question:
What’s your grand goal of living?
And by this I mean, what is the goal that, above all others, you would not sacrifice for anything else?
Running Out of Things To Say
Now that I’ve gone and written close to 300,000 words in essay and short form, I start to have difficulty on what to write about. Of course, there is a world of possibility, and it is probably more a case of an issue of laziness than anything else.
There is indeed so many interesting things to cover, from philosophical questions, to exploring how the world works, to simply writing fiction.
I end up stuck with ideas, and especially with the will to execute on those few ideas that I actually have!
The Joy Of Productivity
am always surprised when I finish a “pomodoro”, those 25-minute working sessions. I always feel a great sense of accomplishment in my productivity, and it spurs me on to do more. It is a positive cycle, and it is reinforced each time I do one of these productive sessions.
It may also be the start of finding a source of meaning in life. After all, if work can be a pleasure, then perhaps we are onto something here.
I would strongly recommend the pomodoro technique.
How To Act
I recently read that in some Buddhist writings there is the following advice:
Act always as if the future of the universe depended on what you did, while laughing at yourself for thinking that what-ever you do makes any difference.
This made me stop and think.
I’ve often taken a laissez-faire attitude to many things in life, including my work, and I’ve started to rethink my approach and take whatever I happen to be doing a little more seriously.
However, it is also easy to go to far with this sentiment and then be too serious.
The above advice helps you keep things in the right place.
The Philosophy of Sales
Convincing a potential customer to buy from your company is an interesting phenomenon, especially in enterprise business to business sales, those types of sales that are valued in the five figures or more.
Of course, the potential customer has a problem that they are looking to solve, and your company offers one of the potential solutions. The interesting thing to note is that the prospect does not have a choice whether to buy or not, as they need to problem solved.
The question is, will they buy from you?
And so, it boils down to creating trust that you can achieve a solution to the given problem, and that you have done similar work before, and that the price and what you are selling match well with the buyer’s mindset.
After that, you simple give your offer, and let the arrow fly.
This is where the philosophical part of sales comes in.
You actually have no control other whether the customer will buy from your or someone else, you can just give your offer and then wait, and sometimes you will win, and sometimes you will lose, no matter how hard you try to win.
And so, it is a much wiser approach to focus on the process and not the results. This is because the process is something over which you can have a lot of control in. You can create your presentation, choose which points to highlight, decide to spend extra time consulting with the customer on their issues, and so on.
However, once the price and proposal has been sent, you better stop caring, otherwise you are setting yourself up for disappointment.
You should just be happy that you gave it your best shot, and the rest is irrelevant. That’s a great controllable internal goal in sales, and a way to a satisfying career.
If You Don't Remember What You Read, Is It Pointless To Read?
By most standards, I am a voracious reader, and I enjoy spending a lot of my time reading. In fact, I would say that my idea of a holiday is reading in different places in the world!
However, when I look back at the list of books that I’ve read, even in the last few months, I realize that I don’t actually remember much. And I’m not talking the verbatim type of remembering, but just the main key points and ideas.
For instance, I’ve just finished my second (or perhaps third?) reading of Homo Deus, and while I can’t remember the precise journey of philosophical and logical arguments in the book, it has deeply effected me.
How is this possible? A large tome, most of which I don ’t remember deeply, changes the way I think about the world.
My assumption is that what is happening is that while the book, and the ideas, stay the same while I read it, I actually change when I read. The words on the page, shaping into ideas, change my own ideas about how perceive the world, and how it works, and I how I relate to both my inner self as well as the people around me.
I’ve been vegetarian for most of my twenties, and yet this wasn’t out of compassion for animals, but more of a habit. Upon reading an entire chapter of Homo Deus that is dedicated to the relationship between humans and animals, I was inspired to write an essay on vegetarianism, and also deeply think about the ethical choices I make, and especially the fact that I still consume dairy products and eggs.
And so, while this is a book I don’t remember much of, it has shaped me deeply.
So, this is why reading is not pointless. It can change our model of our we view and interpret the world around us, and if you wisely choose what you read, and more importantly, what you accept as logical arguments, it makes you a better global citizen.
Knowing What To Ignore
In the last few paragraphs of the book Homo Deus, the author Yuval Noah Harari wrote a couple of sentences that really stood out for me:
In ancient times having power meant having access to data. Today having power means knowing what to ignore.
The premise being that today there it too much information for any individual to absorb, and a lot of it is irrelevant noise.
Being disciplined enough to be able to reduce the flow of information that you receive, and focus on only the key important parts, is a great skill to acquire.
So, optimize for wisdom, not for the amount of knowledge.
Success That Breeds Failure
I took the team at Mäd last Friday to a really cool co-working space, and it was interesting to see that, as a business model, it has an inverse relationship with its own success.
If the place was consistently busy, it would cause it to not be the type of place where you would want to go and work, and it would lose the very thing that makes it attractive.
In turn, this would make some people stop going there, which would again decrease the number of total people working at any given time, which would then increase the enjoyment of working there, this attracting more people…and so on.
The same can be said for cities. I currently live across the river in Phnom Penh, and the advantages are the beautiful views, and the fact that I escape the traffic and busyness of the city.
However, on the flip side, there isn’t much going on this side of the river. If there was a lot happening, then more people would move here, and then that success would mean that this areas loses what it has right now, that quiet feeling that it is always a Sunday afternoon.
This can actually be looked at as a more general rule of life. Every success breeds the seed of failure, and we need to ask ourselves some key questions when things go right, and ensure that we try has hard as possible to not lose what made things good in the place.
Synchronous vs Asynchronous Communication
This is definitely one of those “geek” terms, but the idea is plain English is this:
Should we communicate in real time, or in our own time?
In my view, real time communication in teams should be reserved for the following scenarios:
- Discussions on Strategy and Concepts (high level views)
- Emergencies (i.e. I call you at 2am in the morning because there is a system error!)
- Reviewing and finalizing designs
Everything else is almost always done better by writing long-form messages and letting others read and reply in their own time, so they can form full ideas and build on them.
This is a critical point to understand, because it promotes speed and productivity, without destroying a healthy balance between work and everything else. Most endeavors are not sprints, but marathons, and should be treated as such.
Shifting our thinking from hours, days, and weeks, to months and years has some extremely positive effects.
Doing The Unscalable
I am quite fond of small companies, because while they cannot necessarily do earth-shattering things that large enterprises can, they do have certain advantages.
For starters, they are much closer to their customers, but also they can do things that don’t scale, and that is a big competitive advantage.
For instance, personally calling every single person that signs up to your new application might seem crazy, impossible, and a complete waste of time to a large enterprise…and it is!
However, if you’re tiny, and you go and do something so crazy, especially if you are the founder, you’ll leave an incredible impression in the mind of your customers.
Imagine how you would feel if you signed up to a service, and the owner/founder called you personally ten minutes later to thank you for signing up, and asking you to get in touch if you need anything at all.
While some may find it annoying, others will be completely blown away.
So when you’re small, do the unscalable, and offer the incredible user experience that you will never be able to offer when you grow up.
Keyboard + iPhone vs Macbook Pro
I’ll be travelling to Egypt for several weeks in a few days, and I am wondering what to take, and more importantly, what not to take.
I am actually writing this from a Magic Keyboard connected via Bluetook to an iPhone, instead of my usual MacBook Pro setup.
This is interesting because I am actually considering not even taking my MacBook Pro at all on my holiday. This is for several reasons, but mostly because I don’t want to “work” while I am away, and I also don’t want to worry about leaving it around while I travel, and it may well get stolen.
The main reason I wanted to take it was to do long form writing, but it appears to me that the combination of a full keyboard and the iPhone is just as good as a MacBook Pro, and in fact it may actually allow me to focus more than using the MacBook. It is also more comfortable to write on just the keyboard instead of having to use the entire MacBook, as now the screen and the keyboard are detached.for Instnce, Gaving the keyboard on my lap, I don’t even actually have to look at my phone at all, and it is quite a strange experience writing witohout looking, but In a way it allows my thoughts to run free. The only issue is probably having to go back and tidy up the text for mistakes and whatnot, but that probably would only take a few minutes at best, which is fine.
And so, perhaps I have now found a completely new way of writing for myself!
Stress & Living In The Present
I’ve been reading a fantastic book called “Unwind”, which clearly describes a phenomenon which I have been long aware of, but I have never taken much time to think about, even though it is part of the central teaching of various philosophies.
The core argument in this: you can only live in the present.
When you stop and think what this really means, it is kind of cool. For many people in the world, the threat of violence or real danger is essentially negligible. In the great book “War: What is it good for?”, the author makes a great point about death rates, and even how in the twentieth century, where more than 100 million people died of violence and war, it was actually the most peaceful century on record, because you have to put those 100 million people in context of the 10 billion that lived through that century, and that means that only 1% of people died a violent death.
So, most of the time, you are quite safe, and you can do a simple exercise and try and count how many seconds or minutes you were in real danger in the last month. I tried, and I reached something like 30 seconds, which were the following:
- I had a few split-second almost-accidents while driving my Vespa.
- I was threatened by someone with a large stick (long story…) but manage to cool down the situation immediately.
- I was involved in a minor crash while riding a taxi.
When we realize that the stress we feel in the modern world comes from the ancient Fight-or-Flight syndrome, where your body floods with adrenaline and other hormones to ensure that you have the best chance to survive, by essentially simplifying decision making, and redirecting attention and energy (essentially, blood flow) to the most important actions, we can understand how silly it is to get stressed by the way we live now.
When I saw “now”, I don’t mean the now that means this week or this year, I mean right now, which is often not actually a stressful situation. However, the issue is that we don’t manage to live in the real now, but our minds and thoughts flutter to the past and to the future, which often ends up causing stress in the present.
However, this is all easier said than done. I’ve suffered horrendously in my first year of being CEO, with some weeks have a terrible issue where I could not sleep one night because I was thinking too much, only to then collapse in an uneasy sleep the next day to compensate.
Looking back, this now feels really dumb, as generally situations tend to work themselves out, and there is little cause to worry about things that you cannot control.
And that is what I believe is the key to manage and reducing stress. The understanding of what is truly under your control and what is not, and then taking action on the things that are at least partially under control.
Even the very fact that you are taking action to resolve a real or perceived problem, that normally is enough to reduce a large amount of the anxiety that one feels.
Taing More Than We Should.
I’ve been thinking lately about how we live not as individuals, but as a society. Or, to put it more accurately, how individuals acts individually to act as a society, if that makes sense.
The thought occurred to me…I’m not happy with the way the world works, it feels like that human as a whole have such a great potential, and we do achieve some amazing things, but while our highs get higher, I can’t help feel that our lows are still far too low.
We’re doing some amazing things in terms of understanding more about our own health, and exploring space, while simultaneously we still are not able to deliver clean water and basic supplies to the entire world.
I have heard the argument that it is possible to do so, but we are not able because of politics, and so on. This isn’t an excuse, it is still part of “us” and the end result is still a large scale failure to give a shit about how other people live.
And so, if the world is not the place I think it could be, I started to wonder about my own role in the world, and if I am one of those people helping and hindering progress.
While I think of myself as a fairly “model” citizen, I’m not perfect. However, if everyone was like me, we could probably leave all our houses unlocked and the keys in our cars and motorbikes, because nobody would steal. Women could walk home at night, safe in the knowledge that there wouldn’t any chance that they would be raped. Police departments would be rather idle.
However, in terms of how much I consume, it clearly would not be a sustainable planet if everyone lived like me. I live with my brother, and we probably drink one to two large plastic bottles of water each day. If that is the case, that would be 7 billion plastic bottles per day. To put that into perspective, the entire United States use about 50 billion bottles per year.
So, if the world’s resources are finite, and I am taking more than my fair share of the available pie, then I must, logically, be taking from someone else. The incredible thing is that it doesn’t feel like I am taking away resources or things from other people.
I mean, I am not out in the shops fighting people for common house-hold goods. However, the way society is setup is that you can take more than your fair share without having to deal with the nitty-gritty of actually taking someone else’s share, because that is already done on your behalf. You just need to get your wallet out and pay the asking price.
With this in mind, I am beginning to seriously relook at the way I live, and see if there are changes I can make, however insignificant, so that I am taking less of a share of the world, and leaving enough for other people.
This makes me think of two quotes that I recently read.
"Be the change that you wish to see in the world."
"Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself."
Customer Experience via Hoovering
My first stop in my travel to Egypt from Cambodia was a decent breakfast cafe on the riverside in Phnom Penh to fill up prior to my 20 hour journey.
As I came in, it was just after 7am and they had clearly just opened minutes ago, but already had one large table of ten or twelve people.
They also had a cleaner Hoover the carpet. While understandable that perhaps I was very early, but I still believe that if it is 7am and you are grabbing a coffee, you probably don’t want to experience someone hovering right next to you.
Anyway, I ordered and didn’t say anything.
I wondered what would happen if this was Italy, or if I was my dad, who was infamous when it came to his expectations of service in restaurants, hotels, and whatnot.
He probably would have walked out.
And in Italy, almost anyone would complain right away, but incredibly enough this large contingent of fellow breakfast consumers seemed quite content to talk loudly over the noise, as if it’s something that didn’t agree at them so much.
They appeared to be Malaysian or Singaporean.
When my coffee came, I asked the waitress politely if they could stop hovering, and then that was that.
Her reaction clearly showed that she felt it was an obvious and reasonable request to ask, but then why is that not something she could figure out by herself prior to a customer having to ask?
It is critical when offering a service to understand your customers and proactively look after them.
So I’ve started a trip to Egypt, but I’m not there yet.
I’ve been reading and watching documentaries in regards to the pyramids, the only ancient great wonder of the world that is still standing.
They are really incredible, and shows what can be accomplished with sheer will, lots of people, and the long term end goal in sight.
Think about it…the architects that drew up the original plans did so knowing that they wouldn’t be alive to see their work actually finished, carved in stone.
What’s even more interesting is that the pyramids were likely not built by slaves, but by regular citizens.
Recent findings have shown that whoever was actually building the pyramids were treated quite well, with good housing and they were served meat and beer, and also there is evidence of medical treatment from setting broken bones to even primitive forms of brain surgery!
It’s likely that pyramid building was a part time activity for most active citizens, similar to conscription, except this army wasn’t making war, it was building monuments.
Of course, while all the people who contributed to this gigantic effort would not have been able to predict how the world would see their efforts in the future, they must have known that it would have left people in awe at their achievements.
Whether we see it as a great achievement or a stupid waste of resources is for us to explore.
A Good Morning Routine
There are countless list-based essays on optimized morning routines to ensure the highest level of productivity, but this is not what this essay is about.
I won’t make any particular recommendations, but more than anything seeks to understand what the possibilities are in the morning, mostly to aid myself to build a morning routine that allows me to flourish in my life.
If it helps you do the same, then great.
I’ve noticed a strong correlation between certain habits, and what I’ve then subsequently written down in my journal about how I feel.
Personally, I hate doing “work” in the mornings that include meetings, or pretty much anything to do with other people.
I far prefer to spend this part of the day looking inwards, but of course this is not always possible, especially if one has a career where you are expected to be present at 9am.
I find that the common sense ideas here generally prevail, and a mix of healthy food, exercise, and reading all give me a good start to the day.
The idea here is that there are certian things that have a compound effect in life. This means that the more you do them, especially in a sequential every-day manner, the more value their add to your life in an exponential manner.
One exercise session is not going to make you a particularly healthy individual. Two thousand exercise sessions over the course of ten years will make a big difference, especially compared to the person who hasn’tdon’t those sessions.
And the same it is for reading good books, for thinking, for doing high impact work, or for almost anything you can think of.
It also works the opposite way. Negative habits such as drug or alcohol abuse, worrying, will have an exponential negative effect on your life.
This logically means that you can indulge in an occasional indulgence, because if it is a relatively isolated incident, it will not be able to take advantage of the compound effect and ruin your life.
So smoke the occasional split if need be, but don’t become a dope head.
So, because this compound effect is so strong, it is perhaps the most important thing to look at while living your life. And funnily enough, life needs to be lived one moment at a time, and grouping these moments into a day at time makes good sense, because it can encourage a certain amount of healthy repetition.
So, I find the mornings are best for doing the certain positive things that I feel will have a compound return over months and years, and for me these are exercise, thinking, reading, and writing.
I tend to spend my time thinking mostly on philosophical questions, life, business, and my relations with other people.
Every other optimization advice pales in comparison to this simple advice.
Amount of Walking as A Barometer to Health
I’ve been tracking the amount of walking I’ve done each day via my smartphone, and it has given me some interesting insights and understanding about my health.
The months where I’ve felt more fulfilled professionally, where I’ve been healthier and where I’ve generally achieved more, are the same months where I’ve walked a lot, sometimes averaging seven or more kilometers per day, instead of my usual one to two kilometers per day average.
This is interesting, because obviously walking takes up a fair amount of time, and yet I appear to do more in the months where I walk more.
I have heard that walking had numerous psychological benefits, so that may well play a part.
It’s funny how many of us go on holiday each year to appreciate and enjoy nature, but as a species we seem to be doing our best to destroy most remaining natural habitats?
Why do we choose to live in cities that have little to no resemblance towards nature? Sure, we have parks and trees, if we’re lucky, but we don’t go out of our way to promote a natural environment as the default standard, and instead focus on building concrete jungles.
Perhaps this is because we are building on the legacy of our recent ancestors, instead of taking a new approach.
Do one thing at a time, a bunch of half cut trees are not useful to anyone.
Instead, focus on reaching completion. This is especially difficult for anyone who works in a job where you don’t have a finished product, which is typically management.
The larger the corporation you work for, the less impact your actions have, and it is more difficult to understand your impact on the whole.
Expectations and Reality
I traveled from Cairo to a small city by the red sea, crossing almost 400km of desert via a beautiful large road, with hardly a car in sight.
Upon arrival, the city looked quite devastated, as if there had been a recent war or some type of natural disaster. Construction sites stood abandoned, piles of rubble everywhere you looked, and empty dusty shops lined the high street.
I wondered if this was a joke that the Egyptians had played on me, telling me to travel so far to reach such a place. A little like when you climb inside the Great Pyramid of Giza, going deeper and deeper into the pyramid with less air and more cramped conditions, to eventually reach the chamber where King Tutankamn’s tomb rested for thousands of years.
It was an empty room, with nothing inside. No inscriptions, no artifacts. While the granite stonework was impressive and the journey inside the Pyramid was a reward by itself, I could not help to draw parallels to my journey to Horgada.
And then, we turned into a place of such beauty, and it was even more beautiful after having witnessed the terrible conditions of Horgada.
This shows how we need both the sweet and the bitter in life, as being able to experience and live in the bitter makes the sweet so much sweeter.
Giving Customers No Choice
I went to a restaurant in Cairo yesterday where there is only one dish, called Koshari.
The only choice I received was small, medium, or large.
I went for medium, which turned out to be a good idea as the portion was huge.
This is a great example of when keeping things simple and not giving customers a choice really works out.
The dish was a mix of rice, noodles, pasta, lentils, chickpeas, fried garlic, tomato sauce, and an optional spicy sauce that you could throw in.
The restaurant was quite full, and my food came right away as of course they are constantly serving up this dish.
While serving one dish only is a clever twist on the restaurant idea, it does put pressure on ensuring that the dish is great, and the service is fast and friendly, because there is nothing else that matters.
Over all, a brilliant idea, executed well.
On Holidays, Revisited
I’ve become to have the same viewpoint of holidays as I do with reading books.
It’s not that important if you remember everything part of all the travels you have ever had. In fact, it is unlikely that this would be the case, and photography can help in this regard to jog the memory.
The far more important part of travelling is not what you remember, is what happens to you while you are travelling. After a journey to a far away foreign land, you should come back with new ideas on life, and it should stretch your understanding of what “life” is.
This especially through if you are from a more developed country going to a less developed country, or vice versa.
That is why it is important to travel, because there is the possibility to come back with the potential of being a better person inside of you.
The Contradiction of the Modern World.
I am sitting on a Bangkok Airways flight from Phnom end to Bangkok, and on the back of the seat in front of me there is a United for Wildlife branded seat cover, that is actually on every seat on the plane.
This is clearly an initiative by Bangkok Airways as some type of CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) initiative. While this is commendable, and perhaps a % of their revenue goes toward good causes like the preservation of wildlife, there are also glaring contradictions.
For instance, this is a one hour flight, and they served the entire plan a rice and chicken lunch (mine went to waste, of course) with no other options.
So, at the very same time as having advertising showing the initiative to save animals, Bangkok Airways are fine to serve 100+ people chicken for lunch.
Of course, there is nobody at Bangkok Airways to blame for this, everyone there is just doing their job, and there is actually nothing wrong here, when seen through the usual prism, it’s only when you start taking a logical look at the world that it starts not to make sense.
So, how to combat this type of hypocrisy? Well, it’s rather impossible without making drastic lifestyle changes on a personal level, and even more difficult to do this across society, but in some ways we are improving.
At least now we are acutely aware of how much damage we are doing in the world, but we just don’t make it enough of a priority to do that much about it. While back in the industrial revolution people didn’t actually know how much environmental damage would be caused by their factories.
I am also a walking contradiction. For instance, while I am vegetarian, I still drink milk and eat eggs and other animal products, which, ethically, is just as bad as eating meat. In fact, you could argue that being vegetarian is almost worse than eating meat, because it is just a show of ethical behavior, instead of actual ethical behavior.
Travel Can Be Disappointing
Modern travel in the 21st Century is an interesting paradox. It is easier than ever to travel, and cheaper too.
You can reach almost any country in the world within 24 hours or less. These are journeys that would have previously taken weeks, or sometimes even months, of travel.
However, at the same time, travel I imagine is now less rewarding than it once was. With the advent of globalization, more and more of the world is beginning to feel the same, and the cultural differences, while still there, are not quite as large as they once were.
Couple that with the fact that the world has now been fully discovered, and that you cannot have a true adventure any longer, as tourists crawl to every nook and cranny you can think of. The only solution is to seek the truly dangerous places in the world, those countries still plagued by civil war, or those that have lost any effective government and are run by local warlords.
There is a theme that I have noticed across many things in life, and it is that the very characteristics and features that make something good, are often the very same that take that goodness away.
While cheap air travel makes visiting the pyramids in Egypt or Angkor Watt in Cambodia so much more accessible for you, it also makes it more accessible to the thousands of people that you’ll be sharing that experience with on that day, as you queue up to take the photos from the famous vantage points.
Only a handful of times have I felt a sense that I am having a unique experience, and once was going to Angkor Watt during a tropical rainstorm, which kept all the other people away, and so I essentially had the place to myself.
The second was staying in another temple complex in Cambodia after closing hours, and wandering around and exploring.
Several other times I’ve experienced isolation by cycling up remote mountains in Sicily, climbing through the jungle near the coast in Cambodia.
The rest of the time, you just feel like you are stuck in a bad video game, where there is only one path you can wander down, and you know already what is going to happen.
And so, travel is still a positive experience in life, opening up new possibilities and giving you insights into other cultures, but perhaps it is best if you seek the less trodden path, and find something unique.
When Do We Become Us?
Obviously we are all in a state if change, that much is obvious as time goes by and we change, both physically and mentally.
In fact, I look back at the boy who went through high school, and while I can understand what he went through, he isn’t me.
But also, on a more physical level, what is me? I’m the atoms that make up what I can see is my body, but that arrangement is constantly changing. A glass of water isn’t me, but if I drink it, it will at some point become me.
That’s puts some perspective of being one with the world. There is most likely food in your stomach that is currently partway through digestion, making an incredible transformation from bring one thing, to being you.
The concept of ‘I’ is a slippery one. Even as I write these words, my opinions and thoughts keep on being active and experience change, so I’m not quite the person that I just was. Much like the concept of a river, you can stand in the river, but it won’t be the same river each time you stand in it, as the water flows past is always different.
Does Quantity Give Significance?
On my recent trip to Egypt, I saw an abundance of ancient ruins, some that were close to 5,000 years old.
Of course, the initial reaction so seeing such monumental constructions is awe, and quite rightly so, because it is all impressive.
However, several thoughts came to my mind, and I want to explore two of them.
- Were all these huge constructions in ancient Egypt a complete waste of time?
- Does quantity give significance?
I’ll explore point one in another essay, as it is not so relevant to the point at hand, and so let’s focus on the second point.
What I am essentially asking is: does a quantitive change of enough magnitude give rise to a qualitative change?
If I go to the desert and use my hands to create a small pile of rocks, nobody gives a shit. If I somehow manage to get enough resources together to place two and a half million blocks of stone, each weighing around two and a half tonnes into a shape and size that resembles a mountain, it becomes a world wonder.
If I have a small business with a handful of employees, nobody takes me seriously. If I have a cutting edge technology company with tens or hundreds of thousand of employees, my word may sometimes be mistaken as gospel.
Why is that?
My gut feeling is that because we are seeing the end result of a long and difficult struggle, and it is not within the scope of human imagination to understand fully how something so large (the Pyramids, Google) can be built, especially as they require tens of thousands of people working in a coordinated manner.
Interestingly enough, most of us do not tend to give the same significance to natural phenomena. After all, nature has created mountains which make the Pyramids looks insignificant by comparison, and with regards to corporation, the entire planet is an ecosystem which works harmoniously together, which makes the complexity of a modern large conglomerate seem like mere child’s play.
So it is about how much human effort was involved in creating the thing in question, that is why we give significance to larger things. Or, perhaps this leads us to the conclusion that it is not the size that matters, but the overall skill required?
Not everyone can build a Pyramid, create Google, or paint the Mona Lisa, so perhaps we value these things because they require incredible amount of vision, skill, and so are naturally rare and valuable.
Strange beasts we are!
The Pyramid of Learning
I just came across this concept while reading a book called ‘Learn Like Einstein’ while sitting in Bangkok Airport waiting for a flight to Moscat, which is my connecting destination to where I want to end up, Cairo.
Seeing as I’m heading to see the real pyramids, it’s worth spending the time exploring this concept further.
In a nutshell there are three main categories of learning:
- Input learning
- Demonstrators learning
- Participatory learning
In terms of retention:
- You retain 5% of what you hear in a lecture.
- 10% when you read.
- 20% from audio processing.
- 30% from demonstrating
- 50% from group discussions
- 75% from practice by doing
- 90% by teaching others.
Depending on the type of skill, either all or some of the above will be applicable. Obviously you won’t get so far learning judo when all you do is read, you definitely need practice by doing.
The is why I like to take complex issues and subjects and write about them, because it becomes a way to teach others as well as myself, and normally before I write an essay I will already have discussed the subject to death with various people and gathered opinion points.
The best learning is when the pyramid is not seen as an binary choice, but as a process that knowledge goes through, and then you gain a deeper understanding.
Of course, this is really only applicable to knowledge that is both useful and applicable in your life, as the above can be very time consuming to do, and it is probably only worth doing for a certain number of subjects at a time.
By definition, learning deeply means concentrating on a subject at the expense of other things.
This fact needs to be understood and accepted, and if you keep a long-term view, you will see that if you build a strong foundation of knowledge and understanding, you can then move onto other subjects which interest you but perhaps are not so related to what you’ve studied before, and you will be able to grasp core concepts quite easily.
This is because learning, in itself, needs to be learnt. This is perhaps the foundation that everything else is built upon.
Writing A Guide On How To Live
Let’s be clear that I don’t have everything figured out, and that I don’t know fully how to live, yet.
I am hoping that my thinking deeply and reading and writing this book, I’ll be able to take the cloudy ideas that have been forming in my head for the last ten years and actually develop a framework for how to live. By this I mean a life that is, as much as possible, removed from bad things and that is both meaningful and pleasant.
I’ll be using myself as a type of human guinea pig, testing ideas both in the philosophical sense, and also in the practical sense. While this will be an incredibly unscientific and subjective study, that is all that I can offer to the world, and I hope that it is useful to you in some way either as a sign post of how to behave, or as a warning flag of what not to do.
One definition of success, a common one in fact, is about how much of something you have. Money, experiences, sexual partners, and so on.
There are numerous problems with such a definition of success, and yet it can, in the short term, feel quite good.
Another way to approach success is to feel successful with your current situation, and view the world in a different manner. The very fact that you’re alive is a huge success, don’t just think of all the people that have previously lived (100 billion) but think of all the people that haven’tlived! There is a huge potential for life, but most of it doesn’t get to anything, so just being alive is already an incredible event, regardless of your current situation.
Being able to switch your success mindset from measuring how much you have or want, to being able to appreciate what you have right now, is the key to having success.
This is because this definition stands alone, and is not defined by other people and their measuring sticks, which is a terrible place to store your self worth.
Hot Air Balloon Death
Yesterday, January 5th, there was an incident in the ancient city of Luxor in Egypt, where one person died while a hot air ballon was landing.
I previously wrote about my nervousness in the days leading up to this trip, and that so soon afterwards an actual deadly incident happens, makes me wonder if I was right to worry.
Of course, for any student of philosophy, the answer here is a decisive “no”. I should not worry, because whether the hot air ballon crashes or not is not up to me, and so I might as well take the time to enjoy the ride as much as possible, and leave the rest.
Building A Wall
A while back I wrote a short thought about how life can be analogous to building a brick wall.
Let me quote it right here:
Progressing in life can be analogous to building a brick wall. There is only one way to build a brick wall, and that is one brick at a time. There is only one way to get fitter, and that is one workout at a time. The student who is learning at school can only get better one assignment at a time. Sometimes it can be disheartening to think of the long road ahead in any endeavor. The trick here is to focus on laying your brick for the day.
That last sentence is very important. If you want to improve your lot, then you need to focus on taking one step forward each day, no matter how small.
You may just pause for a few minutes to reflect on your life and where you are headed, that’s good enough.
But what is truly important, is that you only live your life today. You can’t live it in the past, and the future is not guaranteed.
So today is your chance. Today is where you improve, or you don’t. Where you live a good life, or a bad one.
A really great way to motivate yourself to keep this type of behaviour going is to make it trackable in some way. This could be as simple as putting a calendar on your wall and crossing off each day that you hit your goals, or it can be physically seeing the fruits of your labour come to be, like in the case of building an actual brick wall.
The awesome thing about tracking is that it makes behaviour far more sticky, because you consciously focus on trying to create a behavioural chain (i.e. lots of days of consistent behaviour) and soon enough, that becomes as important a goal as the actual end goal. It can also become incredibly satisfying when you can look back and see your progress. It has this tendency to lift you up in the present moment, regardless of your circumstances.
Taking a Day Off
One shouldn’t work every day. You should try to improve every day, but whatever it is you do for a living, make sure you take a break.
This gives you the dual advantage of being able to concentrate on other things, and also being able to come back to work in a more focused manner once you decide to.
The weekend is an obvious time to take a break.
However, you should approach work in such a way that taking a break is not mandatory, but pleasurable in its own way.
Because we will spend a large part of our lives working, make sure the work you do is something that you can be passionate about.
Keeping a Cool Head
I was asked the other day why I don’t get angry. This is an interesting question, and I had to think about it for a short while.
The main reason why I don’t get angry is that I accept things for what they are, and so I am not frustrated with the world around me. I expect for people to act irrationally, I expect things to break, be stolen, and I even expect that I will also let myself down from time to time.
With this in mind, what would I have to get angry about? Nobody gets angry at things they are expecting, it’s the unexpected that catches us at a weak point, makes us frustrated, and causes anger.
Life Is Meaningless
I have often wondered about what the point of life is, how it came about, and why I am here.
Perhaps one day, scientists will be able to create life at will, mixing the correct number of chemicals in a test tube and applying just the right amount of current, and life will be this banal recipe, akin to instructions on how to bake a cake.
But we are not there yet, life is still special in some regards.
Having easily rejected the religious stories, then there is little left to suggest that at this point of time, there is any particular meaning to being a member of the Homo Sapiens Sapiens species, a type of pink hairless monkey that has evolved from apes and chimps.
This leaves me quite confused, because it then logically follows that there is little point to being alive, except that I may be curious about what happens next, and the fact that I am hardwired to wish to survive, because my mammalian anscestors that wanted to survive more than some other mammals generally did, and so that is an evolutionary trait that has survived through the ages.
That said, it is interesting to note that many people nowadays, for multiple reasons, choose not to live.
Now, considering that we am alive and I wish to stay that way, it makes sense to look at building a strategy for making the most of our limited time as something that is alive.
We have to accept that we are carrying a large amount of evolutionary baggage that we no longer need, and that managing this baggage is perhaps one of lifes’ biggest challenges.
One option is to reject modern society, and go back living as we once did, and face the types of challenges that we are truly built for.
The other, perhaps even more difficult option, is to embrace modern society, and find ways to deal with how out of touch it is from our evolutionary roots.
For instance, when you have a stressful situation at work, or you are about to give a public speech when you are not used to it, the unpleasant feeling that you experience is the fight or flight response, which was incredible useful when our anscestors faced mortal danger, but it really isn’t so useful now that we have essentially eliminated the chance of dying a violent and brutal death.
And yet, this feeling still arises when we have situations that we deem as stressful, and it hinders us instead of helping us.
There are dozens of examples that one could give of this type of behavior, from our incredible ability to remain unsatisfied, regardless of the amount of stuff we accumulate or achievements that we complete, our constant preoccupation with both the past and the future, but rarely for the absolutely present moment, which we flitter away. For our detachment from the physical realities of the world, the fact that we will age and die, the fact that almost everything we hold dear right now will break, or just simply disappear.
If we can overcome these challenges, I suspect that we may find that life, regardless of what happens, can be rather pleasant, and we can appreciate the incredible chance events that have enabled you, right now, to be alive and read these very words.
What Can One Do With A Full Time Effort?
I haven’t applied myself to something full time for years, ever in my life. I normally always abandon or change my priorities after six months or less, and that is probably my biggest weakness.
However, I also see a sliver of hope, in the fact that I have managed to achieve a few small things with my life, and that if I were to apply myself, I may perhaps be able to achieve something much greater.
However, that lies in the Tomorrowland, that mystical place where there is endless motivation, and everything always goes according to plan.
Plans Are Now Light
Due to the advent of instant messaging, the world has got a lot faster, but in some ways, we have also lost a lot.
Plans are now made at the last minute, and also cancelled at the last minute due to the fact that you can quickly make an excuse and bail, when in previous times you would make the plan and then not be able to inform the person an hour before that you cannot attend. I believe this then held people more accountable.
Advantages of Centralization of Advertising
There has been a trend in the advertising industry of ad-spend moving from traditional advertising (TV, Billboards, etc) to digital advertising (Google and Facebook Adverts).
While I have spoken before about how the advertising industry is quite a horrific industry, hell-bent on subverting your willpower to make you crave things that you don’t need, and doing so by playing on basic human insecurities, there is also an upside here.
As advertising becomes more centralized, with Facebook and Google taking the lion’s share of online digital advertising spend, it then gets easier to actually block all this advertising by using one of many available tools that automatically block all adverts as your browse the internet.
For every dollar that is spent online, it is one dollar not spent in the real world, and so that means that there are less billboards and signs to blemish real life (and the type that cannot be ignored easily).
So in some ways, things are getting better.
Of course, you are what you think, as in the long term that will seep into your actions, and if you spend enough time thinking about life and how to live it, not even advertising will be able to sway you from a good path, one that avoids the default life philosophy of Enlightened Hedonism.
The Temptation of Food
Food is one of the best and most difficult battlegrounds for self-control. This is due to the facts that in developed countries food is
- Very readily available
- Most of it is unhealthy processed food
Additionally, the body needs food, so it’s about which food you will eat, not whether you will eat, and so you can ignore the problem, but it must be tackled head in.
But because it is very much a daily thing, that is why it is a fantastic opportunity to exercise self-control and start to make great choices on how you live.
Experiencing a Dollar Bill
It’s a strange thing, a dollar bill, when you think about it. A piece of paper that everyone is chasing, and that, in most cases, can be swapped for anything. It is the ultimate status symbol in our society, but when you think about, a rather mundane thing.
Rubbing it between your fingers, it’s not quite paper, but a tough starchy substance, and the various imagery presented on the bill call back to a more historical time, away from all the digital noise that we are now presented with.
A single bill is rather inconsequential, but it is interesting that with quantity, say a million of these dollars, they somehow become quite meaningful.
The fact that wherever you go, you can swap this bill for for service and goods in very useful, but perhaps the best things in life, tranquility, happiness, education, don’t necessarily require even a dollar bill, and in fact may often be hindered by it.
Turning What You Have Into An Advantage
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how we can look at our own weaknesses, both at a personal and and organizational level, and turn them into our advantages, into a source of strength.
At first, this may seem quite paradoxical, obviously weakness, if defined properly, are just that, weak. They are your soft spots, where if you get hit, it hurts.
However, if you look deep enough, you may just find that these so-called soft spots can give you an insight into why you are different, and then you can go about finding ways to exploit that difference to your advantage.
And so, looking at your own constraints and finding creative ways to exploit them to your own advantage has been a favourite tactic of generals since recorded history. I’ve written about how armies have quite literally burnt their boats to give themselves no option of retreat, but today I want to look at another example.
The Mongols were particularly effective at this idea of exploiting their weakness to their own advantages, mostly by exploiting the fact that they were essentially invincible in an open battlefield against any enemy because of their large number of fast-moving horse archers that would decimate the enemy before they had the chance to close ranks. The problem, however, is that their enemies knew this as well, and so stayed nicely put in fortifications that didn’t suit the Mongol fighting style.
So the Mongols would use retreat and fake a rout and then the enemy would chase them out to the open battlefield where then the Mongols would turn back and destroy them.
So the Mongols always wanted to fight the enemy on their own terms, when it best suited them.
What is interesting in this analogy is how the Mongols later also became masters at siege warfare and essentially become an unstoppable force for a long time.
On Social Media
I’ve been slowly coming to the conclusion that there is something wrong with me. I used to be incredibly motivated, almost like a machine in terms of getting things done, learning, and generally kicking ass. This lasted until I was around fifteen, and it felt quite effortless.
Then, something changed.
I stopped being able to concentrate for long periods of times, and my work suffered for it. I’ve managed to make up for my lack of concentration by sheer effort, but it’s noticeable how little I can concentrate now.
I’m currently 27, and what I’ve noticed is that my slow down in the ability to concentrate has gone hand in hand with the rise of my use of social media.
I’ve given up Facebook, but I’ve always stayed in Instagram, and yet I’ve recently gone back to Facebook, and then given it all up again.
Instead if sharing photos in Instagram when I’m on holiday, and now journal privately in Day One, a journalling app, and also all my photos are kept on Google Photos so I can review photos from months and years ago. It’s quite nice not having the pressure to share the perfect photos, because these memories I am keeping are just for me.
However, that’s not really the main benefit of giving up social media. My ability to concentrate, while not back to my previous levels as a teenager, have grown stronger and stronger the less I use social media.
So far, this experiment has gone well.
However, it is worth exploring why social media has this effect on the brain.
Why does it frazzle our ability to concentrate and think deeply, and is the problem social media, or is it a larger overall problem?
Is The Best Worth Living For?
Many people, especially the wealthy, but its not limited to them, like to show off about how they can only have the best. While in these circles this is something to be envied, such as the fact that their palate can only tolerate expensive fine wine, in reality, perhaps we should pity them.
I had an experience recently where I was sharing a modest bottle of wine with a pretty girl, and having a great time, and later on some extremely wealthy people that I knew joined our table and started ordering wine that was around thirty times more expensive ($30 vs $900 a bottle). So, I had the opportunity to directly compare the two bottles as I was drinking them.
Did the more expensive bottle taste better? Perhaps, but I am not a wine connoisseur, and I feel that it is far more important to be surrounded by a good company than good wine. However, we have to consider who is better off in this situation. I can quite easily take enjoyment from my $30 bottle of wine, and have a great night, while these far richer individuals could not do this, perhaps because they would be ashamed to be seen drinking this type of wine, or perhaps because they really could not enjoy drinking it because they are used to far better wine.
So, it is actually far easier for me to gain enjoyment out of life in general than it is for these people. If their Bentley is broken, they’ll be annoyed and have to wait for a replacement appropriate transport (probably another car that they own). I can just hop into the first taxi or rickshaw that I encounter, and off I go.
It also makes me far better at connecting with others in the world. While I am in no way poor by world standards, I am not extremely wealthy either, and I have had a taste of what it’s like to live in crappy apartments and live life watching everything I spend. This means that I can connect with a far wider range of people because I understand them!
So that is my question for today. Is it worth being the type of person that only wants the best, or is it actually better to be happy with whatever is at hand?
I strongly believe that the latter option is by far superior, because it increases the overall enjoyment that you can gain in life, regardless of the things outside of your control, and surely that’s one of the definitions of invincibility?
Regret Minimization Framework
This is a famous framework created – or perhaps popularized – by Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon.com
The idea is to think long term, and not to let the noise of daily life interfere with the really important decisions in life.
For instance, he was going to quit his job halfway through the year, thus giving up on a potentially large bonus at the end of the year, and if he had thought of things in that way, he may not have started Amazon.
Instead, he understood that when he was 80 and looking back, he would not regret quitting to start his own company even if he failed, but he would regret not trying at all.
This is a great way to think about decisions in life, as it gives you the focus on what’s important and what isn’t, and often it means that you prioritize a bias to action instead of waiting for something to happen.
It was quite interesting tonight to see The red moon. But this is something that only happens every 150 years and so this is the last time that I see a red moon of my life. Of course, every time that I look at the moon it could well be the last time I look at it, butI’ll never know. However, this blood moon is a stark reminder of the impermanence of my life and how I take many things for granted each and every day. There is an important lesson to be learned here and that is that We never know when will be the last time that we do something. So if we take the approach that everything in life. Could end at any time. It is interesting to think that in150 years time that will be people looking at the red moon and that nobody will remember me they will have their own lives, Their own problems, and society will be completely different to how it is today. It is even more interesting to think of all people that have looked at Red moons in the past.
There have been at least 1000 Red Moons since rational human beings have walked this planet.
Think of all the millions of people that have stared up in wonder, without scientific knowledge to uncover the secret of why a moon turns red, and what they must have been thinking. This type of historic moment is always worth contemplating because it allows us to link ourselves to past, where we all come from, and it’s a great opportunity to stop the noise of daily life and just reflect.
It was a bittersweet moment looking at the red moon tonight, as I knew this is something that I’ll never see during my lifetime, and that’s rare, because deep down, we always believe we have more time, and that’s the reason why we mislive. While keeping death as a companion in our thought perhaps allows us to appreciate far more of what there is in the world today.
It’s interesting to note how in life there are many boundaries to how we can act. Some are created by the very laws of the universe, and other have been created by the shares stories that humans create, and some live just in our own heads.
Typically, most behaviour is governed by a set of four types of boundaries:
Each of these create one side of a square (or box, if you wish) and we have to frame our decision making within this box. For the first three types of boundaries, we can decide to ignore or overcome these boundaries, while the fourth type of boundary is something that we cannot overcome, unless in the future we find a way to bend the very laws that govern our existence.
Rules for a Better Life
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the daily mechanics of how to live a better life, regardless of who you are, and what situation you find. My gut feeling is that somewhere, somehow, there must be a universal equation or way of living that is best for what we characterise the human existence.
In the end, it needs to come down to something that is simple enough to execute on a daily basis. However, like a medical student that requires years of study before being allowed to be a practising doctor, perhaps a student of life also needs to study and practice for years before being able to live a simple daily life.
Bye Bye Facebook
I quit Facebook. I deactivated my account, with no intention of going back.
I don’t believe that there is anything wrong with Facebook, or social media in general, per se, but I do strongly believe in the need to keep our lives as simple and as uncluttered as possible.
While my physical life is quite spartan and clutter-free, my digital existence is anything but. I have so many logins for various emails, social media networks, websites, and apps, that it actually becomes an issue to manage my identity across all these platforms and networks. That’s also why this website doesn’t run on a content management system that requires upkeep and a login. I’ve just kept it as simple as can be.
Additionally, I’ve been reviewing everything in my life to see where I actually draw value from. Facebook didn’t make the cut. I didn’t get the feeling that Facebook was adding anything to my life, but rather it was detracting. It was detracting my attention span and my time. Memes and videos and funny quotes filled up my timeline, but perhaps that is a reflection on my general poor choice of Facebook friends, than an issue with Facebook itself.
However, attention and time are some of the most precious commodities we have, and I feel it’s a shame to throw them away on something that’s actually quite meaningless.
I also noticed that the more time I spent on Facebook, the worse I felt about my life, when I am normally quite pleased with it. This is undoubtably part of the Grass is Greener on the Other Side Syndrome that I discussed a while back. Most people curate their social media profile, so that it becomes an artificial curated garden, and not an actual representations of their real life. This is bad news because as we browse other people’s profiles, we start to get a feeling that our life doesn’t measure up, even if it does.
While I will obviously miss out on some things, I think the trade off will be worth it in the long run. I’m sure that I will cut more than 50% of the notifications that come from my phone, and that I’ll be able to appreciate the real world even more. I’d noticed that I started to just browse Facebook on my phone during any downtime I had, while waiting for someone at a coffee shop, or just travelling to somewhere in the city.
I think I’ve lost the ability to just be, without needing to do something. This is the starting point to being able to appreciate everyday life that much more, and I’m glad I’ve taken the first step.
This is going to be an interesting few months ahead as I get used to this new life (this may seem overdramatic, but I’m sure it will feel this way).
I’ll write a follow up essay on my post-Facebook life in a few months.