Leo Explores Great Books

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March 19, 2013

Improv Wisdom

Improv Wisdom by Madson

Improv Wisdom is a quick read that draws compelling analogies between the art of improv and living a great life. This may seem like a stretch, but the advice given is actually incredibly good. One thing I really enjoyed about the book were the suggested exercises in each chapter. The author’s suggestions made it much easier to turn good advice into personal practices.

I should mention that my review has some bias in it because my attitude about life has gradually transitioned from planning everything down to a tee to improvising through whatever situations I encounter. I can only speak for myself, but the results of this transition have been great, and being able to improvise through anything has given me a lot of confidence and personal satisfaction while taking away a lot of stress.

Introduction

  • Some people prefer to say “yes” while others prefer to say “no”. The first group is rewarded with adventures while the second group is rewarded with safety. Most people fall into the second group, but that can be retrained.
  • Improvising in life doesn’t mean you should be careless or be spontaneous for spontaneity’s sake. Life involves a mix of long-term planning and day-to-day improvisation.

Maxim #1: Say “yes”

  • In improv, the best improvisers go with the flow of whatever their partners are doing; the worst improvisers reject their partners’ “offers” and try to mold scenes to their own tastes. Saying “yes” is about supporting someone else’s dreams and ideas; it lets you share control instead of trying to keep it.
  • Try saying “yes” to as many offers and opportunities as possible. The goal is not to be a “yes man”, but to be open and courageous enough to accept opportunities that lie outside of your comfort zone.
  • Always say “yes” if someone asks for help and you can give it.
  • Saying “no” is often an attempt to control situations instead of accepting them.
  • Build on people’s ideas. Respond with “Yes, and..” instead of “Yes, but..”
  • Exercise: pick a person like a spouse or coworker and try to support all of their ideas for a week.
  • Exercise: for one day, say “yes” to everything. Set your preferences aside and note the results.

Maxim #2: Don’t prepare

  • Excessive planning blocks our ability to see what’s ahead because we lose track of what’s happening in the present.
  • Psych experiments show that when we are about to get called on, we lose track of people who are speaking just before us (because we’re preparing) or just after us (because we’re self-evaluating). Our time would be better spent listening.
  • “Don’t prepare” is not about a lack of planning, it’s about letting go of our egos and our desire to look competent or to show off.
  • Exercise: spend a day without any plans. Do things based on what you want or need to do in the present instead of planning ahead.
  • Exercise: do an activity with the intention of being immersed in whatever you are doing. If you find your mind drifting toward planning, consciously try to bring it back to the present.

Maxim #3: Just show up

  • It’s very easy to procrastinate, be lazy, etc. Woody Allen: “Eighty percent of success is showing up.”
  • Quote from the book: “Love your parents? Pay them a visit. Need to write? Sit down at your desk. Want to have more friends? Show up at a volunteer job or a class in a subject that interests you. Need to exercise? Go to the gym or walk to the park. Believe in ecology? Take a plastic bag to the neighborhood park and pick up the trash.”
  • A bit part of showing up is creating rituals or habits to trigger the behaviors you want. For example, you might get your gym clothes ready in the evening so that you’re ready to run out as soon as you wake up the next day.
  • Exercise: think of a habit you wish you had (e.g. exercising regularly or going to bed before 1am), then set up a ritual that makes it easier or more pleasant to establish the habit (e.g. arrange your gym clothes before you go to bed or set am alarm for midnight that reminds you to start getting ready for bed).
  • Exercise: change the location of a familiar activity. Try a new coffee shop, a new park, or a new gym. Sometimes additional perspectives can make an activity even more enjoyable and enriching.

Maxim #4: Start anywhere

  • There’s rarely a need to find the best place to start. All starting points are equally valid. Worrying about where to start a project often results in the worst of all possible consequences: never starting at all.
  • In improv, saying whatever comes to mind when it’s your turn to speak is often  far better than pausing while thinking of the “best” thing to say. Go with whatever you have and try to turn it into a good idea rather than trying to find a good idea before you start.
  • You can apply this maxim for speeches. Instead of writing your notes down precisely, write your speech as a series of questions to yourself, then answer the questions naturally while you’re talking with whatever comes to mind.
  • “Once it’s underway, any task seems smaller.”
  • Exercise: think of a project that needs to be done. After you finish reading these notes, go and do the first thing that comes to mind about completing the project. Repeat until you are done.

Maxim #5: Be average

  • Applying 100% of your effort often backfires because of higher expectations for results (which are often outside of your control) and heightened disappointment if you don’t succeed.
  • Striving for perfection or originality often stifles your performance and creativity. It’s like trying to hit a tennis ball as far as possible: if your arm is flexed and rigid and you’re holding the racket with a death grip, you won’t hit the ball nearly as far as you would if you were relaxed and not trying too hard.
  • Trying to come up with original ideas often blocks our natural creativity. It often happens that what is obvious and natural to you seems original to other people with different perspectives. Use that to your advantage.
  • Exercise: think of something you need to do and how you would approach it if you didn’t have to do your best or do a perfect job. Now trying doing that and see what happens.
  • Exercise: instead of racking your brain to come up with creative gifts for people, consider ordinary gifts and everyday items instead: a wallet, a sharp kitchen knife, some nice coffee, etc.

Maxim #6: Pay attention

  • What you pay attention to plays a major part in how you experience the world.  If you’re focused on your own problems or on how you’re perceived or how much something will cost, then you will miss things that don’t fall into those contexts.
  • Exercise: Pick an ordinary activity like ironing your clothes or eating lunch, and pay attention only to what you are doing while you are doing it. Don’t multitask, talk to other people, watch TV, etc. Just do the single activity and notice everything that you can. This might sound easy but it’s surprisingly hard.
  • Exercise: When you’re in an unfamiliar environment, look around and try to notice something new. Try to notice something new every time you do a regular task.
  • Exercise: Once a day, devote 100% of your attention to listening to what someone is saying. Don’t think about how you will respond or whether you agree, don’t let your eyes drift, etc. Observe how this pays off.

Maxim #7: Face the facts

  • Wishing things were different is a waste of time. Work with whatever circumstances you find yourself instead of dwelling on how some things are not ideal.
  • Exercise: identify an issue in your life that needs attention. Describe all of the facts without injecting emotions or judgments. Next, think about about what you could do with the given situation, whether it’s favorable or not. Once you’ve created a course of action, take the first step.

Maxim #8: Stay on course

  • Even when you’re improvising, you should have a general direction/purpose in mind. Keep an eye on whether you’re moving in the direction that you want to be moving in.
  • Don’t just ask yourself what you feel like doing, ask yourself what your purpose is and what you can be doing to move closer to your objectives.
  • Exercise: when you’re not sure what you should be doing, ask yourself, “what is my purpose right now?”

Maxim #9: Wake up to the gifts

  • You can look at anything pessimistically, objectively, or optimistically. While the objective view is the most “accurate”, the optimistic view can be equally useful because it helps you see things as gifts and opportunities, not just lists or pros and cons.
  • Many of us are very fortunate in a lot ways, but we don’t notice that because we rarely inspect what we have.
  • Exercise: thank people for doing thankless jobs. They make your life a lot easier but rarely get the credit they deserve. When you thank someone, take the extra step and mention something concrete.
  • Exercise: Make a list of what you have received from others today.
  • Exercise: Write a thank-you note/email every day.
  • Try to give at least as much as you receive. =)

Maxim #10: Make mistakes, please

  • Don’t be afraid of taking risks and possibly failing.
  • Being willing to make mistakes is not a carte blanche to be sloppy, it’s permission to fail as long as you learn from failure and are willing to try again.
  • When you mess up, don’t try to hide it. It’s not the end of the world, so lighten up, admit it, and move on.
  • Exercise: Take a risk. Try an unfamiliar cuisine or a new sport, read a book from a genre you typically avoid, etc.

Maxim #11: Act now

  • The essence of improvisation is action. Not talking or planning or promising, but action.
  • “You don’t need to feel like doing something to do it.”
  • Collaborate with friends to make unpleasant solitary tasks more fun to make hard tasks easier to face.
  • Your actions should always be appropriate to the situation. On some occasions, the appropriate situation might be to do nothing and observe before doing something else.
  • Sometimes changing how you do something has unexpected benefits. Try to occasionally do familiar tasks in new ways.
  • Exercise: leverage the power of friendships by making plans with someone to do something together (e.g. get in shape, fix up your houses, volunteer, etc.)
  • Exercise: take an existing habit and change it slightly. Get coffee from a different cafe, bike to work instead of driving, or shift your entire schedule to be an hour earlier.

Maxim #12: Take care of each other

  • People are always encountering hardships and suffering. Help them out however you can.
  • Be willing to share control with people instead of hogging it for yourself.
  • Quote from the book: ”It’s not my job” is not an acceptable excuse. It’s always my job, if the job needs doing and I am there to do it.
  • Deliver more than you promise.
  • Exercise: pick a friend, family member, or coworker, and look out for that person as much as you can. See what you can do to make their life easier or better or more pleasant.
  • Exercise: consider others first by spending an entire day putting everyone else ahead of yourself. Observe how this makes you feel.
  • Exercise: do a random act of kindness without telling anyone about it.

Maxim #13: Enjoy the ride

  • Not every activity is inherently fun, but you can still look for ways to enjoy whatever you are doing.
  • “If something is not to your liking then change your liking.”
November 12, 2012

Succeed

Succeed by Halvorson

Succeed is a great book about goals. The author talks about how to set goals, how to frame goals to to maximize the chances of success, and how to work with the goals of other people. The best part of the book is that it’s backed by tons of research and includes the results of many interesting studies. Some of the more interesting studies are mentioned in my notes.

A (Very) High-level Summary

  • You can frame a goal in why terms or in what terms. E.g. “I’m maintaining cleanliness” vs “I am using a rag to wipe dust off of the furniture.” Thinking inwhy terms is motivating and great for big goals; thinking in what terms helps you think about specifics, which is useful for complex or unfamiliar tasks.
  • Positive thinking is helpful, but only if it’s realistic.
  • You perform better when you believe in your abilities and, more importantly, believe that you abilities can improve (i.e. are not fixed by genetics, et cetera).
  • People whose goals are about getting better tend to succeed more than people whose goals are about showing how good they already are.
  • Intrinsic motivations like connectedness (feeling connected with people), autonomy (feeling like you control what you’re working on), and competence (feeling like you’re good at what you do) are more effective than extrinsic motivations (money, threats, etc.). Extrinsic motivations often undermine intrinsic ones.
  • Planning is a critical component of successfully achieving goals. Certain strategies like if-then rules work especially well.
  • You can build up your overall self-control by practicing doing small things that you don’t like to do.

Detailed Notes

Goal-setting

  • Telling people to do their best is ineffective because it’s not a specific goal.
  • Over 1000 studies have shown that specific, challenging goals result in much better performance than vague goals. Goals should spell out exactly what needs to be done, and the task should be challenging but doable.
  • Challenging goals lead people to persist longer, focus more, expend more effect, and use better strategies than they would have otherwise.
  • People do what you ask of them, and rarely more. Set the bar high.

Why vs. What

  • Some people think more about why they do things, others think more about whatthey have to do. Why thinking is more abstract while What thinking is more concrete. For example, vacuuming can be thought of as cleaning in Why terms and as picking up crumbs in What terms. Each thinking approach is appropriate in some circumstances and inappropriate in others.
  • Why thinking is energizing and motivating because you are linking your actions to the bigger picture. If you need to stay an extra hour at work, it’s more inspiring to think of that as developing you career or helping your company than to think about it as typing for 60 more minutes.
  • What thinking is more useful when what you’re doing is complex and unfamiliar. If you’ve never typed before, then it makes a lot more sense to think about the concrete activity of typing and hitting keys, and less sense to think about the future that learning to type will open up for you.
  • If you need to motivate yourself, think about Why; if you need to concentrate at the task at hand, think about What.
  • Exercises: 1) Think about something you haven’t felt motivated enough to start. Think about why you want to do that task, and what goals it will help you achieve. 2) Think about something you haven’t done because it’s complex and intimidating. Think about what the first step should be, and just do that. Then repeat the process. (Note: this is very reminiscent of the Getting Things Done philosophy)

Now vs. Later

  • People generally think about the distant future in abstract (Why) terms and about the present and near future in concrete (What) terms.
  • In one study, students asked to think about moving described it in What terms when thinking about doing it tomorrow (“packing boxes”, “renting a moving truck”), but described it in Why terms when thinking about doing it next month (“starting a new life”)
  • When we think in Why terms, we think more about the desirability of something — that is, whether it will be fun or rewarding or worthwhile.
  • When we think in What terms, we think more about the feasibility of something — that is, whether we are likely to succeed and what obstacles we might encounter.
  • This is why we often commit to something in the future and then have more and more reservations as the date approaches: when we commit to a long-term goal, we are thinking about its benefits, but as the time to execute approaches, we start thinking about whether we can do it. People often adopt rewarding goals that are logistical nightmares.
  • In one study, students were offered a choice of two assignments: one that was challenging but fun and another that was easy but boring. When the assignments were due in one week, students selected the easy one; when they were due in nine weeks, students selected the challenging one.
  • Being aware of how the timing of something affects your thinking is the best way to compensate for your bias.
  • In one study, students were given a taken-home survey with a 3-week deadline. Before receiving the survey, some students were put into a What mindset and others were put into a Why mindset. The What group sent their surveys in an average of 10 days sooner than the Why group.

Positive Thinking

  • Positive thinking is good, but only if it’s realistic. Studies consistently show that believing that you can succeed although the journey will be challenging is much more effective than blindly believing you will succeed.
  • People who expect to succeed with difficulty end up planning more and working harder in pursuit of their goals.
  • A good exercise is to think about a goal that you have, think about how great it would be to succeed and then think about the obstacles that you might encounter. Repeat this several times until you have several positive motivations for success as well as several plans for potential roadblocks.

Believing in Yourself

  • You will perform better when you believe in your skills and abilities.
  • You will also perform better when you believe your skills and abilities can improve and are not fixed quantities.
  • Terminology: entity theorists believe intelligence is innate; incremental theorists believe intelligence can be developed.
  • In a study by Carol Dweck, students with poor English skills were offered a course on remedial English. 73% of incremental theorists were interested in the course while 87% of entity theorists were not interested.
  • Outlook on skill development affects relationships, too. Those who see personality as innate tend to look for a partner who will see them as perfect — and tend to quit if things become difficult. Those who believe personalities can develop tend to look for partners who will help them grow and see times of trouble as learning opportunities.
  • In one study, people were offered the opportunity to talk to someone charismatic and someone who was socially awkward. Talking to the charismatic person was presented as a learning opportunity while talking with someone awkward was presented as a chance to look (relatively) socially competent. Those who believed shyness was innate preferred the situation where they would look good; those who felt they could improve their shyness preferred to spend time with the charismatic person.

Subconscious Goals

  • Most goals that we pursue are actually not goals that we consciously think about. For example, when we are driving after work, our goal is to get home, but it’s not something that requires our explicit concentration.
  • Different environments can trigger different goals. In one study, students played a game with limited resources where each player had to balance his profit motives against depleting the resources for the whole group. Players who were subconsciously exposed to words like “helpful” and “fair” were 25% more cooperative than players who were not exposed to such words.
  • Goals are contagious. That is, seeing someone else pursue a goal — even if it’s someone you don’t know — makes you more likely to pursue the goal as well. In one study, students were presented with one of two stories. In the first story, the main character has a free month, and he spends that time volunteering. In the other story, the main character spends his time working to make money. Both groups of students were given a task where the goal was complete a task as quickly as possible, and where finishing faster meant being paid a higher reward. The group that read the story about someone making money earned 10% more at the task than the group that read about someone volunteering.
  • The caveat is that you will not adopt just any goal that you see someone pursuing, but only goals that line up with your own interests and desires.

Being Good vs. Getting Better

  • There are two principal types of goals: those where you want to show how good you are at something and those where you want to get better at something.
  • Terminology: goals focused on being good are called performance goals; goals focused on getting better are called mastery goals.
  • Performance goals tend to be all-or-nothing: you either demonstrate that you’re good or you don’t.
  • Because there’s so much at stake, performance goals are very motivating. However, when things get tough, it’s much easier to become dejected and quit. For performance goals, believing you don’t have what it takes tends to become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
  • Mastery goals often lead to great achievements because as long as someone is improving, they are unlikely to give up.
  • When tasks are easy and rewards are at stake, people with performance goals tend to do better. In one study, students were to play a game similar to scrabble. Half were told that the purpose was to be compared to other students (a performance goal) while the other half was told that the purpose was to learn how to play the game well (a mastery goal). Half of the people in each group were offered a reward for doing well and half were not. When there was no reward, both groups performed about the same. When a reward was offered, the group with performance goals scored 50% higher than the group with mastery goals.
  • When tasks are hard, people with mastery goals tend to do better. One study gave students a set of difficult problems. Those in the mastery goal group were unaffected by interruptions or whether the problems were unsolvable — they just kept working. Those in the performance group gave up more quickly and reacted poorly to distractions.
  • In medical school, students with mastery goals counterintuitively get better grades than those with performance goals. The mastery goal group’s test scores improve during the course of a semester while the performance goal group’s scores decreased, especially when people didn’t do well on their first exam.
  • Studies show that people who are focused on being better show greater interest and enjoyment in what they do, have a heightened attention to the process, and have a greater sense of value about what they’re learning. They are also more willing to ask for help and don’t see it as a sign of failure.
  • Students who focus on being good are more likely to experience depression. Also, the worse these students felt, the less action they would take because they saw their situation as unimprovable. The students who focus on being better are the opposite: the more depressed they get, the more action they would take.

Optimism vs. Pessimism

  • Optimists tend to focus on maximizing gains while pessimists focus on avoiding/minimizing losses.
  • Terminology: promotion focus — optimizing gains; prevention focus — avoiding losses.
  • In terms of development, promotion-oriented parents praise and reward their kids when they do something good and withhold love when they do something bad. As a result, their kids grow up believing that they need to do well to gain something (love). Prevention-oriented parents punish kids who do poorly and don’t punish them when they do welk. As a result, their kids grow up believing they need to do a good job to stay safe.
  • When you are pursuing a promotion goal, you become more and more motivated as you get closer and closer to success. When pursuing prevention goals, you become more vigilant as you experience negative feedback.
  • In one experiment, people were given as a task and a goal. The goal would either be phrased as a promotion goal (earn $4, plus an extra $1 if you do well) or as a prevention goal (earn $5, minus $1 if you don’t do well). Halfway through the task, people were given a progress update. When told they were doing well, the people pursuing the motivation goal became more motivated while those pursuing the prevention goal became less motivated (because they felt safer). When told they were not doing well, the reactions switched.
  • The advantage of pessimism is that you think through all of the things that can go wrong, which makes you better prepared for them.
  • Optimists tend to be more motivated by positive role models while pessimists are instead motivated by cautionary tales. Note that this means encouraging is not the right reaction for everyone — some people need to be encouraged to achieved their goals, others need to be warned of the risk of not achieving them.
  • Optimists tend to prefer product descriptions that emphasize lots of features and new technologies; pessimists prefer product descriptions that focus on safety features and the manufacturer’s reputation.
  • Optimists feel excited and happy when they reach a goal; pessimists feel calm and relaxed.
  • Prevention goals makes us use conservative strategies while promotion goals encourage risk-taking.
  • In one study, students were paired up and told to perform a mock negotiation. Some of the “buyers” were told to think about the best case scenario and how to achieve it, others were told to think about the worst-case scenario and how to avoid it. The buyers who were focused on the best case scenario ended up paying approximately 15% less than those who were focused on the worst case.

Goals and Happiness

  • People whose goals center around imagine maintenance and financial gain are less happy — even if they’re successful.
  • People who pursue goals due to external pressure don’t work as hard — even if the goals are noble and worthwhile
  • Human beings seek three things: relatedness, competence, and autonomy.
  • Relatedness is the desire to be connected to other people — to love and to be loved.
  • Competence is the desire to be effective at whatever you are doing — to have an effect on your environment.
  • Autonomy is about having the freedom to choose what you’re pursuing and working on.
  • Goals that satisfy these criteria include making and strengthening relationships, improving yourself physically or mentally, coming to terms with your shortcomings, etc.
  • Goals that do not satisfy these criteria include the pursuit of fame, money, approval, and so on.
  • We generally turn to the more superficial goals when we are in situations that make us feel robbed for relatedness, competence, or autonomy.
  • We get the most motivation and satisfaction from goals that we choose ourselves, not goals that are chosen for us.
  • When students feel a sense of freedom in a classroom, they are more interested in learning. Students who feel controlled, on the other hand, lose their intrinsic motivation to learn. In one study, young kids were given a chance to play with crayons. Half of the kids were offered a reward for drawing. The next time the kids were assembled there was no reward, and the kids who had received a reward the previous time no longer had any interest in drawing.
  • Things that undermine intrinsic motivation: rewards, deadlines, threats, surveillance, etc.
  • Almost any sense of choice is better than none. In one experiment, children took a computer-based arithmetic course, with half of the students not making any choices and half of the students getting to make irrelevant choices like the color of their avatar. The students that got to make small choices liked the course much more than the students who didn’t make any choices.
  • In a nursing home, some residents were allowed to decide how their rooms were arranged, how to spend their time on activities, and whether they wanted to take care of a plant. These residents ended up happier and healthier than those who did not get any choices, and their 18-month mortality rate dropped from 30% to 15%.

High-level Summary

(note: this is the author’s summary, not mine)

  • When something is easy, focus on demonstrating that you can do it (as opposed to focusing on getting better).
  • When it’s hard to get started on a goal, think about the big picture and why you are pursuing that goal.
  • When a goal is hard, think about the specific details of how to achieve it.
  • When you need to do something quickly or you need to be creative, think about your goal in terms of what you’ll get if you succeed.
  • When you need to do something carefully, think about your goal in terms of what you risk if you fail.
  • When you want to have fun, focus on getting better instead of demonstrating that you’re good.
  • When you want to be happy, focus on goals that address our universal needs for relatedness, competence, and autonomy.

Other People’s Goals

  • Sometimes you have the chance to help others reach their goals, or you’re in a management position that requires setting goals for your employees.
  • One strategy for helping people adopt goals is to give them a sense of choice and personal control. You might not be able to give them a choice about which goals to pursue, but you can at least provide freedom in how to pursue them. Let people participate in decision making, if possible.
  • Sometimes making public contracts can be helpful because people don’t want to fail at something they publicly promised to do.
  • You can use cue words (discussed in the Subconscious Goals section) to put people in the right state of mind.
  • Try to make goals contagious by finding role models and sharing their stories with your team.
  • Carefully frame goals as opportunities to become better or opportunities to be good.

Avoiding Mistakes of Goal Pursuit

  • One common mistake is not acting in a timely manner. We have free time throughout the day, but choose to use it on distractions or things that are not very important. Over time, we start believing that we’re too busy to make real progress.
  • You need feedback to adjust your direction. If you don’t get feedback from external sources, you need to create it yourself. If you neglect to get feedback, you might end up at the status quo because there’s nothing telling you to change course.

Planning

  • Planning is the best strategy for avoiding mistakes of goal pursuit.
  • A good plan will spell out exactly what will be done, and where, and how. In one study, students were told to write and submit an essay within two days of Christmas. Half of the students were also asked to describe when and where they would write the essay. These students were more than twice as likely to finish the task (71% vs. 32% for the control group).
  • If-then rules are extremely effective for getting things done. Make plans of the form, “If I find myself in situation X, then I will do Y.” Smokers trying to quit were 6x more effective when they made if-then plans (12% vs. 2% for non-planners). The reason if-then rules work so well is that your mind can trigger actions automatically when the “if” condition is met. Even if you’re not consciously thinking about dieting, if you made a decision that if you go to a restaurant then you will order salad, then as soon as you enter a restaurant your brain will remind you of your intention.
  • Think about the obstacles that might arise as you pursue your goal. Make an if-then plan for each obstacle.

Building Self-Control

  • You have one big pool of willpower. That is, you don’t have some willpower just for dieting, some for not smoking, and some for waking up early; your willpower is a shared resource. This means that if you expend a lot of willpower for dieting, your supply will be exhausted and make it harder to wake up early. It also means that if you practice things that build self-control, you will improve your willpower across the board.
  • In one study, one group worked on avoiding sweets for two weeks while another was asked to squeeze a handgrip twice a day for as long as possible. Both groups performed better on a self-control test that had nothing to do with either activity.
  • In another study participants were given free gym memberships and customized exercise programs. After regularly exercises for two months, participants improved performance on self-control tests, but also reported many other areas of improvement in their lives: smoking less, drinking less, eating less junk food, better spending control, better study habits, etc.
  • They key to building willpower is to practice doing things you don’t really want to do: exercise daily, wake up earlier, start doing common tasks with your less dominant hand, etc.
  • Watching people exert a lot of self-control is a double-edged sword. If we simply observe someone resisting temptation, it’s contagious; if we mentally simulate what they’re doing and how hard it must be, our willpower will be depleted, too. (Note: this feels reminiscent of mirror neurons.)
  • Surprisingly, consuming a little sugar (glucose) can restore your willpower. This is why it’s better to make decisions on a full stomach, and also why people tend to be more disagreeable when they come home from work (i.e. they’ve been using up their willpower throughout the day and haven’t eaten for hours, which makes it hard to control thoughts and impulses at home). Glucose takes about 10 minutes to get absorbed into your bloodstream, so give it a little time. Note: sugar substitutes won’t work.
  • People’s actions have inertia: if you’re doing something, it’s hard to stop; if you’re not doing something yet, it’s hard to start. If you’re trying to use less self-control, it’s better to not start something in the first place than to do “just a little bit” and hope you can quit later.
  • Don’t pursue more than one willpower-demanding goal at a time.
  • Well chosen incentives can compensate for a lack of self-control. Reward yourself for succeeding.
  • Don’t tempt fate: research shows most people overestimate their self-control.

Optimism

  • Research on positive thinking has shown that it predicts: better health, faster recovery from surgery, less postpartum depression, more resilient romantic relationships, etc. Positive thinking is practically a silver bullet for life.
  • Optimists are better about maximizing happiness by focusing on the goals that really matter to them. in one study involving aerobic exercise, the more the optimists valued exercise, the more they would work out. The amount of time pessimists spend working out was unrelated to the value they placed on exercise.
  • Optimists are less likely to think about possible risks and outcomes and more likely to take risks. For example, when optimists gamble, they tend to increase bets after a string of losses; pessimists tend to get discouraged and quit.
  • After poor performances, pessimists think about how things might have worked out if they had acted differently, optimists make themselves feel better by thinking about how much worse things could have been. Guess which attitude is more productive?
  • It’s good to be optimistic as long as you are also realistic. If you are optimistic about things that are in your control, like your diligence or plan-making abilities, then that’s useful; being optimistic based on things that are out of your control, like being smart enough or being lucky enough, is unrealistic and often does more harm than good. Unrealistic optimists quit sooner when things start going awry.
  • If you are not sure whether your optimism is well-founded, ask yourself why you think you will succeed. Do other people have the same advantages as you?
  • Think about what you can do to succeed that is in your control.
  • Some ways to improve your optimism: 1) if you’re worried you lack the ability to do something, ask yourself if ability is what’s important or, as is more commonly the case, if success depends on hard work, planning, etc. 2) Think about your past successes, challenges you’ve overcome, and strategies that have worked for you. 3) Use if-then rules to address negative thoughts and risks.
  • “Visualizing success” can be effective, but only if you imagine the steps you need to take to succeed and not just the outcome.

Knowing When to Continue and When to Quit

  • People who respond to failure with “I need to work harder” persist longer than those who believe they are unqualified or unlucky.
  • Some people have more grit than others. Grit is “a combination of both long-term commitment and persistence, and is measured by agreement with statements like ‘I have a achieved a goal that took years of work’ and ‘I finish whatever I begin.’”
  • To improve grit, focus on getting-better goals that emphasize progress and improvement.
  • “Talent and will come first in study; will is the teacher of study and talent is the follower of study. If a person has no talent, [achievement] is possible. But if he has no will, it is not worth talking about study.” — Xu Gan
  • There are two good reasons to quit: 1) you have limited time and have decided that other goals are more important than the goal you’re currently pursuing. 2) pursuing your goal is costing you too much. This might mean that circumstances changed and you no longer care about the result, or you didn’t fully understand what you were getting yourself into.

Giving Good Feedback

  • Protecting someone’s feeling is often counterproductive. Telling someone “it’s not your fault” or “you did your best” are demotivating.
  • Feeling bad is an important consequence of hearing negative feedback. You need to feel bad so that you are motivated to change your actions in the future.
  • When giving good feedback, be specific about what went wrong and don’t over generalize (i.e. say “You need to brush up on statistics”, not “You suck at math”).
  • It’s okay to tell someone they didn’t work hard enough if that’s the case, but focus on things that are within a person’s area of control.
  • Praising hard work that resulted in failure can often backfire and make the recipient feel stupid.
  • 5 rules for making your praise have a positive influence:
  1. Be sincere (i.e. no ulterior motives, not over-the-top, etc.)
  2. emphasize behaviors that are controllable. In one study, kids were given an easy test, then a hard test, then an easy test. After the first test, half of the kids were praised for being hard-working while half were praised for being smart. After the discouragement of failing the hard test, the kids who were praised for being smart did much worse on the 3rd test than they did on the first one; the kids who were praised for working hard did better.
  3. Don’t compare a person to others. (That’s out of the person’s control)
  4. Don’t undermine a person’s sense of autonomy. If you say “if you keep this up, you will get a raise”, you are taking away some of the person’s intrinsic motivation
  5. Praise should convey reasonable standards and expectations. Calling someone a future Olympian puts a lot of pressure on them and can make them give up in the face of adversity.
September 24, 2012

A Guide to the Good Life

A Guide to the Good Life by Irvine

A Guide to the Good Life is a life-changing book. It presents a coherent, simple, and sensible approach for dealing with the questions, temptations and issues that everyone encounters, including like anger, grief, materialism, and existential crises.

Summary

The easiest way for us to gain happiness is to learn how to want the things we already have.

Introduction

  • People need a philosophy of life — a plan for what they want to get out of living.
  • The first requirement of such a philosophy is to have a grand goal for living. Without such a goal, there’s a risk that you will mis-live your life. That is, you might enjoy parts of it or even most of it, but spend the end wishing you had done things differently.
  • The second requirement is to have a strategy for reaching you grand goal. Your strategy will guide you through each day, telling you what you should do to get closer to your goal.
  • Today, to be stoic means to banish emotion from your life. For the original Stoics, however, the goal was not to eliminate all emotions, but to eliminate negative emotions.
  • In ancient Greece, the Cyrenaics advocated pleasure and taking every opportunity to experience it, while the Cynics advocated an ascetic lifestyle of wanting nothing. The Stoics were in the middle, suggesting that we should enjoy life’s pleasures, but not be attached to them. In fact, even while we are enjoying life, we should occasionally step back and contemplate the loss of whatever we are enjoying in order to appreciate it more, and to not be wholly unprepared if it ever goes away.
  • The Stoics advocated tranquility, which they saw as the absence of negative emotions like grief, anger, and anxiety, and the presence of positive emotions, like joy.

Negative Visualization

  • It’s valuable to occasionally visualize the bad things that can happen to you: you can lose your health, the people around you, your material possessions, and so on. One value of such visualization is that it helps you protect yourself from some possibilities. For example, if you imagine someone breaking into your house, you might start thinking of ways to make your house more secure. Another value of such visualization is that it helps you brace for bad things, some of which you’ll eventually encounter in the course of your life. Seneca, a famous Stoic, says misfortune weights most heavily on those who “expect nothing but good fortune.”
  • Most people are running on the hedonic treadmill: good and bad things happen to you, you temporarily become more or less happy, and then you get used to your new status quo and revert to your natural level of happiness. Using negative visualization helps you maintain an appreciation for the good things in your life so that you don’t become used to them and numb to their positive influence.
  • “The easiest way for us to gain happiness is to learn how to want the things we already have.”
  • We should occasionally think about losing the people close to us due to death, falling out, etc. “When we say goodbye to a friend, we should silently remind ourselves that this might be our final parting. If we do this, we will be less likely to take our friends for granted, and as a result, we will probably derive far more pleasure from friendships than we otherwise would.”
  • When the Stoics advocated living each life as if it were our last, they didn’t mean that we should change our activities, but that we should change our state of mind as we carry out our activities.
  • Many people spend their idle time thinking about things they want to but don’t have. We would be much better off thinking about how much we already have, and about how we would miss what we have if it were gone. [Personal side note: there have been numerous studies that show that periodically enumerating the things we are grateful for is one of the few activities that consistently improves happiness.]
  • It’s not a matter of optimism or pessimism, or the glass being half empty or half full; it’s about appreciating having water, and having a glass, and even appreciating the fact that something as convenient and useful as a glass exists, and so on.
  • Negative visualization is somewhat akin to people having near death experiences. On the one hand, these experiences are tragic, on the other hand, people typically emerge with a zest for living and an appreciation for the smallest things in life. The nice thing about negative visualization is that you don’t have to actually experience a catastrophe in order to appreciate life more.
  • An important thing to keep in mind is that one should not spend ALL of his time contemplating things that can go wrong. It’s good enough to remind yourself of how much you have a few times per day or per week.
  • The goal of negative visualization is not to worry but to contemplate. You should try to intellectually consider things that could happen without letting that affect your emotions.
  • Kissing your lover or watching a movie with your siblings or driving your car might be unremarkable, but if you know you’re about to experience one last kiss or one last movie or one last drive, the experiences can hit you with a surprising emotional intensity. The goal of contemplating the impermanence of what you have is to give everything a greater intensity and significance.

The Trichotomy of Control

  • The key to happiness is only wanting things that you already have or that you can be certain of obtaining. Instead of changing the world to fit your desires, change your desires.
  • The only way you can be certain of obtaining something is if you have full control.
  • There are two kinds of desires: things that are under our control (e.g. eating less) and things are that are not under our control (e.g. less rain in Seattle).
  • If we want things that are not up to us, we will be upset when things don’t work out and we don’t get what we want. We also feel more anxious during the pursuit of something we can’t control because we know that we can do everything possible and still return empty-handed. This anxiety manifests itself regardless of whether we end up getting what we want.
  • In addition to things where we have full control or no control, there are also things where we have partial control. For example, if we want to win a tennis match, we don’t have control over our opponent or how they play, but we do have control over how hard we train and how much effort we make during the match.
  • Generally, we should spend our time and energy focusing on things where we have control. Some of the things we have complete control over include our goals, our values, and our character.
  • It’s foolish to spend effort on things we can’t control at all because our effort won’t make any difference.
  • For things where you have some control, it’s important to focus on the pieces that you can affect. For example, with the tennis match example above, the best chance of winning a match is to play as best as you can. However, the outcome is not in you control, so you should not worry about it or focus on it. If your goal is to win, you will be anxious during the game and disappointed if you lose; if you focus on playing your best, you will be happy as long as you played your best.
  • An interesting example from the book is how to concern yourself with your husband or wife. The author suggests that you should want your spouse to love you, but that when you do concern yourself with his/her love, you should focus on what you can do and how you can behave to make yourself as lovable as possible. You should not focus on whether or not the love is actually there because you can’t control another person’s feelings.
  • Another example from the book is that of an aspiring author. They obviously want to get published, but their goals should only be regarding things under their control, like how hard they work on their novel or how many times they submit it to publishers.
  • By focusing on things that you can control, you might not actually change your behavior (i.e. you’re still behaving as if your goal was to get published or to win a tennis match), but you will be more tranquil as you go through life, and you will increase you chances of achieving the external goals where you only have partial control.

Self-Denial

  • In addition to occasionally contemplating bad things happening, we should occasionally live as if they had happened.
  • For example, turn your phone off for a day or eat a meal that’s simpler and cheaper than what you’re accustomed to. This is like a vaccine: exposing yourself to a little discomfort makes you more immune to it.
  • Other benefits of self-denial include cultivating appreciation for what you already have and gaining the confidence that you can withstand discomfort.
  • One way to practice self-denial is to do things that make you feel bad (like being underdressed for cold weather). Another way to practice is to not do things that feel good like having ice cream or getting a massage.
  • Practicing stoicism develops your willpower and helps you gain more self-discipline and self-control. [This is definitely true. See my notes on the Willpower book]
  • Ironically, self-denial can be quite pleasurable. If you’re contemplating a candy bar, deciding to eat it would lead to pleasure, but deciding to abstain will give you pleasure in your ability to hold back.

Meditation and Reflection

  • It’s useful to reflect occasionally — perhaps daily — on how your stoicism practice is progressing. Where is it working and where can you show improvement?
  • More advanced stoics will speak more with actions than words. A beginner will give up wine for water and then tell her friends about her self-control; an advanced stoic will drink the water and let her action speak for itself.

Advice on Duty

  • A stoic should help others without expecting praise or indulging in the feeling of helpfulness. Help someone, then move on to helping someone else.

Advice on Social Relations

  • Other people are the sources of some our greatest joys, but also of many sorrows and frustrations. Other people have a great ability to disturb our tranquility.
  • A potential dilemma for stoics is that embracing people puts tranquility at risk, but shunning people keeps us from performing our social duty.
  • One part of the solution is to associate yourself with good people who share your values.
  • If you have to deal with annoying people, remember that some people find you annoying, too. By being empathetic you will become more tolerant. Being annoyed would only make things worse for everyone.
  • When people behave inhumanely, we should not feel toward them as they feel toward others. If you feel the need to be angry at someone or seek revenge, remember that the best revenge against a person is to refuse to be like him.

Advice on Insults

  • Most people become angry (and less tranquil) when insulted.
  • One way to maintain tranquility is to analyze whether the insult is true. If it is, then there is little reason to be upset.
  • Another strategy is to consider whether the insulter is will-informed. If he is not, we can calmly set him straight.
  • Consider insults to be like a dog barking at you. When the dog barks, you make a note that it might not like you, but you certainly don’t argue with the dog or get upset by it.
  • Epictetus says: “what upsets people is not things themselves, but their judgments about these things.”
  • Specific ways to address an insult are to ignore it or to laugh it off. Laughing it off shows that you are not concerned with what the insulter thinks, and that is much more effective than a counterinsult.

Advice on Grief

  • That stoics never grieve is a misconception.
  • When you have lost something, instead of thinking about what you have lost, try to think about and be thankful for what you had.

Advice on Anger

  • Stoics think of anger as “anti-joy”.
  • The best way to fight anger is with laughter. By treating something as funny instead of outrageous, you can convert an event from angering you to being a source of amusement.
  • Another strategy for dealing with anger is to reflect on an events “cosmic insignificance.” Something that seems big now will hardly be remembered in 5 years.
  • Life is too short to spend on anger. Why experience anti-joy when it’s in your power to be joyful?

Advice on Fame

  • The price of fame is much greater than its benefits.
  • Stoics avoid things that give others power over them. Being famous means you are controlled by others: you have to do things to keep your status, avoid things that will cause you to lose you fame, and so on. Fame enslaves us.
  • To maintain our freedom, we should be indifferent when people approve or disapprove of us. This advice is consistent with not concerning ourselves with things that are out of control.
  • It’s hard to give up wanting admiration. It’s helpful to realize that in seeking admiration, you have to do what other people define as good, instead of what you define as good.
  • Ironically, not seeking people’s admiration will make you more admirable because of your self-confidence.

Advice on Luxury

  • Not needing wealth is more valuable than being wealthy.
  • If you expose yourself to a luxurious lifestyle, there’s a danger that you’ll lose your ability to enjoy the simple things in life.
  • You should eat to live instead of living to eat. Food is a particularly challenging temptation because we face it daily.
  • In addition to a simple diet, we should favor simple clothing, housing, and furnishings.
  • Ironically, not caring about wealth and living frugally makes it more likely that you’ll end up wealthy. If this happens, you are free to enjoy your wealth thoughtfully, keeping in mind that it may disappear, and being careful not to let it undermine your ability to enjoy a simple life. [Personal side note: there are many pleasant ironies in this book.] The school of Cynicism encouraged its adherents to live in abject poverty; the school of stoicism believes wealth is fine as long as you are not attached to it.

Advice on Old Age

  • When death is close, instead of being depressed, you can appreciate what you still have. While the young don’t value time because it seems unlimited, the elderly don’t take anything for granted.

How to Become a Stoic

  • Don’t boast or advertise to people that you’re going to become a stoic. Just work on it quietly.
  • Don’t dwell on the past. Seneca asks, “[What point is there in] being unhappy, just because once you were unhappy?”
  • Don’t try to master all of the techniques at once. Negative visualization is a good place to start. Try to practice at least once a day, if only for a few moments.
  • After negative visualization, move on to the trichotomy of control, which helps you manage anxiety.
  • Part of stoic joy is not just joy in a particular thing of event, but joy in life itself.
September 19, 2012

The Millionaire Fastlane

The Millionaire Fastlane by DeMarco

Despite its incredibly cheesy title, The Millionaire Fastlane is awesome. It’s a book that everyone should read. It offers a very compelling alternative to the “Get Rich Slowly” philosophy.

Here are some detailed notes and highlights from the book:

  • Observation #1: If you want to keep getting what you’ve been getting, keep doing what you’ve been doing. Corollary: If you’re not getting wealthy, then STOP doing what you’ve been doing.
  • Observation #2: People who drive Lamborghinis and jetset around the world did not get there because they “Got Rich Slowly” by investing in mutual funds, clipping coupons, and maxing out their 401Ks. Those techniques are not an effective road to wealth.
  • The “Get Rich Slowly” approach is faulty because it takes a lifetime of work, it’s dependent on getting lucky with your investments, and even if you do get rich, you’ll be too old to enjoy it.
  • Except for very few people (i.e. lottery winners), wealth is not an event but a process. People focus on events like selling their company or winning a big contract, but the real story is not the events but the processes and hard work that made those events more likely. If you skip the process, you won’t get the events.
  • People come up with all kinds of reasons for why they “deserve” to be wealthy: they come from a prestigious background, they have a great business plan, they think positively, they are “doing what they love”, and so on. None of that stuff matters. Becoming wealthy is not about having the right prerequisites; it’s about taking smart risks, putting in the hours, and not quitting.
  • There are three financial roads:
    • The Sidewalk — living well today at the expense of having more security tomorrow. The Sidewalk’s destination is being poor.
    • The Slowlane — sacrificing today so that you can be better off in the future (the opposite of the Sidewalk). The Slowlane’s destination is mediocrity.
    • The Fastlane — working hard today on something that people value so that you can become wealthy in the next 5-10 years.
  • Sidewalkers: view debt as an asset which enables them to buy more stuff, value spending over saving, and live a life of instant gratification. Sidewalkers don’t plan for the long term and blame external factors (taxes, “bad fortune”, etc.) for their situations. Because the Sidewalk is all about the short term, it doesn’t work well in the long term, and you end up mortgaging a stable future for a pleasant present. The sidewalk is a precarious place to be because external events like job cuts, recessions, interest rate hikes, etc. can be devastating for someone who lives paycheck-to-paycheck and doesn’t plan ahead. Note that being a Sidewalker doesn’t mean you are poor. Plenty of rich people like athletes and lawyers make a lot of money and then immediately spend it. This means that making more money will not help a Sidewalker because their philosophy urges them to spend whatever they make.
  • Being wealthy is not about money, fancy cars, expensive vacations, or vacation homes in Fiji. Being wealthy means being healthy, being surrounded by great friends and family, and the freedom to live life how you want to live it. DeMarco calls these the 3 Fs (family, fitness, freedom).
  • Faux wealth is the illusion of wealth. It’s having nice, flashy things that you can’t afford which take away your freedom and make you even more dependent on your existing sources of income.
  • If you think you can afford it, you can’t. When you buy something cheap, like a candy bar or a pair of $10 sandals, you never ask “can I afford this?” or “how can I make this purchase work?”. If you are trying to justify a large purchase to yourself, then you can’t really afford it.
  • Wealth, like fitness, requires hard work, discipline, and delayed gratification.
  • A good process creates events that others view as luck. People see how you’re lucky to go to the school you went to, lucky to find success with the product you launched, and lucky to sell your company; they rarely realize all of the work and sacrifices that went in to get lucky. Thinking that people get rich because they are lucky is a very disempowering belief.
  • Sidewalkers tend to pursue wealth events (lotteries, casinos, etc.) instead of processes. They assign control of their financial future to others (banks, employers, etc.), which greatly increases the chances of becoming victims and having poor results.
  • The Slowlane is a poor choice because wealth is best enjoyed when you’re young, and not after decades of soul-sucking work. Furthermore, there are many factors outside of your control (like how your 401K does or whether your house price will appreciate), and it’s possible that after all of your sacrificing and patience, you still won’t end up wealthy. Plenty of people lost 50% or more of their savings during the recent housing and financial crises.
  • Slowlaners: give up their time for money (spending an extra 2 hours on something is “worth it” if it saves $10), budget aggressively and look for deals and coupons, and believe that compound interest will make them rich. Some of these strategies are fine (it’s not bad to look for deals or to have a budget), but the problem lies in these strategies being the entireplan instead of being part of a bigger plan. Slowlaners sell their Monday thru Friday so that they can enjoy Saturday and Sunday — both literally and figuratively. People wouldn’t trade $5 for $2, so why would trading 5 weekdays for 2 weekend days make any more sense?
  • “By working faithfully eight hours a day you may eventually get to be boss and work twelve hours a day” — Robert Frost
  • In general, jobs suck because you have limited leverage (being 50% more productive will not get you a 50% raise) and limited control (what if you’re fired? What if your company is doing poorly and forces you to take a pay cut? etc.) General problems with jobs: you’re selling your time (and your life) for money, the experience you accumulate is limited (you’d learn much more running your own business for a month than working for someone else for a year), you’re subject to the whims of your boss/employer, you have to deal with office politics, and you have almost no control over your income.
  • The problem with the Slowlane is Uncontrollable Limited Leverage. This means you don’t have a lot of control over your income and you don’t have opportunities for huge wealth accumulation. When you have a job, the measure of your value is time. If you want to do 20% more, you have to work 20% more, but the problem is that there are only so many hours in one day. You can double your work hours and be miserable, but you cannot 10x your work hours. On the other hand, if you have your own business, growing revenues 10x is certainly possible. Basically,time has no leverage.
  • Another problem with the Slowlane is that compound interest does most of its work at the end of your waiting period. When you see charts that show that investing $10k will yield $2.5 million in 40 years, that seems great. What is less obvious is that your investment is $600k in 30 years and $160k in 20 years — almost all of the wealth is accumulated in the final decade. Having an extra $2.5 million in 40 years is not nearly as nice as having it now, but it’s also much worse than having an extra $50k/year for the next 40 years. To top it all off, what if the stock market doesn’t grow as much in the future as it has in the past? What if you have a heart attack in 30 years? What if inflation makes your $2.5 million feel like $200k?
  • A survey by the Harrison Group found that 10% of those with a net worth of >$5 million got there through passive investing. Age data wasn’t provided, but it’s obvious that these penta-millionaires are not young.
  • Quote from the book: “Think about it. Have you ever met a college student who got rich investing in mutual funds or his employer’s 401(k)? How about the guy who bought municipal bonds in 2006 and retired in 2009? I wonder if that guy driving a $1.2-million car can because of his well-balanced portfolio of mutual funds? These people don’t exist because the youthful rich are not leveraging 8% returns but 800%.”
  • The Slowlane is filled with hope: hope that your stocks go up, that you get a promotion, that your employer stays in business, and so on. Hope is not a good plan. If you don’t control the variables in your plan, then you can’t control the outcome.
  • Slowlaners believe education is the way to raise value. You only have 10 hours per day to work, so if getting a degree or certificate or whatever raises your hourly rate then you’ll be making more money. The problem is education is expensive in terms of time and money. Becoming a doctor will get you a $200k salary, but it will also take 10 years (leaving you fewer years to work) and saddles you with a lot of student debt. Furthermore, you become an indentured servant to your loans, which means that even if you decide you no longer want to be a lawyer/doctor/etc., you’re kind of stuck because you have big bills to pay.
  • Watch out for the advice of “Financial Gurus”. They rarely get rich following the advice they give out — they get rich by writing books and giving seminars and the like. When you take financial advice from people, make sure that what they are teaching you is what actually worked for them.
  • Dangers of the Slowlane:
    • What if you lose your health by the time you’re ready to retire?
    • What if you lose your job, hit a ceiling on the corporate ladder, work in a dying industry, etc?
    • What if your home value plummets instead of rising like you planned?
    • What if you’re not happy living a frugal/basic lifestyle?
    • What if the economy hits a recession? The stock market sometimes loses half its value over a few years — what if that happens right before you planned on retiring?
    • What if you get too frustrated with frugality and go on a spending spree (i.e. become a Sidewalker)?
  • The way to build wealth quickly is to dramatically grow your income while controlling your expenses. E.g. your income triples while your expenses go up 10%.
  • Differences between Slowlane and Fastlane millionaires:
    • Slowlaners take several decades to accumulate their fortunes; Fastlaners usually take 10 years or less.
    • Slowlaners need to live in middle-class homes; Fastlaners can live in mansions.
    • Slowlaners let the market control their assets; Fastlaners control their own assets and have the power to change their value.
    • Slowlaners are employees; Fastlaners are employers.
    • Slowlaners user mutual funds and stocks to get rich; Fastlaners use them to stay rich.
    • Slowlaners let others control their income streams; Fastlaners control their own income streams.
    • Slowlaners use their house as part of their net worth; Fastlaners use their house for residency.
  • The Fastlane is all about Controllable Unlimited Leverage. You want maximum control over your success and you want your success to be scalable (so that you can get a 100% return or a 1000% return, not just a 10% return). The Fastlane road is all about business, self-employment, and entrepreneurship, and about building wealth rapidly.
  • Fastlaners view debt as a useful tool for growing their systems, time as their most important asset, and making something of value as their primary means of wealth accumulation (in contrast, Slowlaners view passive investing as the means to getting rich).
  • The Fastlane is all about “Get Rich Quick”, but that is NOT the same thing as “Get Rich Easy”. It will take a lot of work and you might spend 5-10 years focusing on your business before you reach the kind of success that you want. The upside is that once you’ve reached your desired level of wealth, you will have the freedom to do whatever you want for the rest of your life.
  • The Fastlane mindset requires that you be accountable, not just responsible. Being responsible is admitting when you’re at fault for something; being accountable is changing your behavior so that it doesn’t happen again.
  • In terms of building wealth, the goal is not to do the heavy lifting, but to create a system that does it for you. Again, this doesn’t mean avoiding work, but it does mean being resourceful and optimizing and automating relentlessly. For example, let’s say you have to build a pyramid out of heavy stones. The Slowlane approach is to carry the stones yourself, one at a time. Of course, this will take decades. The Fastlane approach would be to spend the first few years designing something to move the stones for you: a crane, a pulley system, whatever. After your up-front investment of thought and effort, the pyramid will be easier to build once you have your machine.
  • The key to the Fastlane is producing instead of consuming. Don’t be the guy who buys a franchise, be the guy who sells franchises. Don’t be the one buying products you see on late-night infomercials, be the one selling them. And so on.
  • A few examples of Fastlane projects: write a book (lots of work, but then it makes money forever without you having to put in more work), make an invention (lots of work, but then you get royalties for a long time).
  • “Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go.” T.S. Eliot
  • In the Slowlane, the main variable that you can tweak is time. You can work 12 hours instead of 8, or invest a weekend into a workshop. In the Fastlane, there are many variables you can tweak: conversion rates, production costs, advertising spending, pricing, etc. You might be able to increase your profits 5x or 50x in one year if you make the right choices.
  • One important aspect to consider if the size of your potential market. If you have a hot dog stand, then you’re an “entrepreneur” but your growth potential is limited. You can sell 50% more hot dogs at your stand, but you can’t sell 100x more hot dogs unless you do something different (buy more stands, go into a different business, etc.) Your profit potential is based on two things: the size of your target market (local < national < international… the internet is a lot of help here) and how much you impact each person (tiny impact < moderate impact < huge impact).
  • In the penta-millionaire study cited earlier, 80% of millionaires made their wealth by either starting their own company, or working for a small company that had explosive growth.
  • Slowlaners buy depreciating assets like cars and electronics; Fastlaners buy appreciating assets like patents, businesses, and cash flows.
  • Many industries have a standard multiple that defines a business’s value in terms of its cash flow. For example, if your advertising shop makes $100k/year in profit, and the multiple for the advertising industry is about 2.9, then your business is worth approximately $290k. Multiples range from 3-5 for traditional stores to 6-10 for computer and engineering related businesses to 15+ for things involving patents, medical devices, etc. If the multiple for your industry is 10, then making an extra $1 of profit raises the sale value of your business by $10. How’s that for leverage?
  • Money trees are a great way to build wealth. A money tree is a business system that lives and grows on its own. Examples of money trees:
    • Rentals. You can rent out real estate, permission to use your patents, play your songs, etc. Your investment is the effort and cost to product/acquire the product being rented, and then you can collect rental payments without doing a lot of extra work.
    • Software. If you put something up online, you implicit get the leverage of having it available all over the world, 24/7. Things that are too niche to work on a local level can be big successes with a global audience.
    • Content. When you write a book, create a CD, etc. you can make a lot of money selling your content. Again, the time investment is paid upfront and then you can profit from the same product for a long time.
    • Distribution Systems. If you create a system that others use to make money, you can make a lot of money. This includes storefront that wholesalers use (e.g. Amazon.com), Apple’s App Store, franchise creators, etc.
  • The best money tree is actually money itself. When you have money, you can move from borrowing to lending, from customer to owner, etc. The difference between Slowlane and Fastlane is that the Slowlane starts with $5 and waits for it to compound to millions. The Fastlane starts with millions and uses interest as a source of income (not a source of growth)
  • Law of Effection – the more you affect people’s lives (in terms of effect/life and # of lives affected), the richer you will become. It’s all about scale and magnitude.
  • When you’re starting a business, the best business structures are an S Corp or an LLC. They all offer limited liability and tax efficiency. Avoid partnerships and sole proprietorships, which do not limit liability.
  • Choices you make early on will have the most impact. If you change course by 1 degree in the beginning of a 5000 mile trip, it makes a huge difference. If you make that change in the last 100 miles, you’ll still end up in about the same place.
  • You can make two types of choices: what to think and what to do. The first step to making better choices is to work on how you think and perceive things — that will dictate the actions you decide to take. For example, if you want to build wealth, you first have to believe that you can do it, that you don’t need to wait until you’re retired to be a millionaire, and so on.
  • If you don’t believe something and it stands in the way of taking action, then find the evidence you need to change your belief: look for stories of people who have done what you want to do, figure out how they did it, etc.
  • People who react to your goals and dreams with doubt and discouragement should be ignored. Befriend people who are where you want to be and who encourage you and inspire you to be your best. Find a mentor. A lot of times, your spouse will be you biggest detractor or your biggest supporter.
  • If you want extraordinary results, you need extraordinary thinking.
  • Two good techniques for making choices:
    • Worst Case Analysis (WCA)
    • Weighted Average Decision Matrix.
  • WCA: What’s the worst case? How likely is it? Is this an acceptable risk?
  • WCA makes it very easy to eliminate bad choices.
  • WADM: figure out what factors matter to you, give each of them a weight, rate on your choices on each factor, and then multiply these ratings by their weights to get the score for each choice. For example, let’s say you’re looking at apartments, and the 2 factors you care about are location and price, with location being 2x as important as price. If apartment A gets a 5/10 on price and an 8/10 on location, its score is 5+8*2=21. If apartment B gets an 8/10 on price and a 6/10 on location, its score is 8+6*2=20. Based on this, you should go with your apartment A.
  • Your time is precious, don’t waste it (on video games, tv, etc.) and don’t trade it away for pennies (e.g. wait in line for 4 hours on Black Friday so that you can get a $30 discount on a TV). Don’t value your time at zero. Your time is finite and always decreasing — treat it as such.
  • You have free time and indentured time. Indentured time is for stuff you have to do: brush teeth, shower, commute to work, work, etc. Free time is everything else. Money buys free time and eliminates indentured time.
  • Your debts are parasitic because they force you to work harder and longer. Your mortgage, car payment, credit card bill, etc. all force you to work more than you had to if you bought less stuff. Having to work limits your choices. When you’re making a big purchase, consider its time cost. Is that $50k BMW worth 1 year of your life?
  • The key to controlling parasitic debt is to control instant gratification. It’s much easier not to each chocolate cookies if you don’t bring them home from the grocery store, and it’s easier to avoid debt if you don’t buy useless things. When you’re thinking about buying something, think about whether you really need it, whether you’ll still be using it 6 months from now, and so on.
  • Fastlaners are frugal with time while Slowlaners are frugal with money.
  • Learning new things, mastering new skills, etc. can open up a lot of doors for you.
  • Fastlane education is about learning specific skills to grow your business skill. Slowlane education is about increasing the intrinsic value of the person being educated. It’s best to learn from doing things in the real world than from books and professors.
  • If you don’t think you have time to dedicate to learnings things, multitask by learning while you drive, exercise, walk, sit on the toilet, etc.
  • Focus on topics that interest you or on areas of your life that need improvement.
  • Don’t waste your money on expensive ($3k+) seminars and workshops. Those make the speakers rich but are rarely worth the money for attendees.
  • There’s a big difference between interest and commitment. Interest is reading the book or wanting to build a website; commitment is applying what you learned and buying the domain. From Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture: “The brick walls are not there to keep us out; the brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. They are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough.”
  • Failure is the sweat of success. You can’t build your cardiovascular strength without working hard and sweating, and you can’t experience success without failure.
  • People fear failure because they overestimate the worst-case consequences. But the worst case of failing at business is usually going back to work or trying again. That’s not that bad!
  • There are smart risks and idiotic risks. Stupid risks have limited upside and unlimited downside. For example, not keeping a backup of your work saves you a little bit of time and money, but it can be devastating if you lose your only copy. In contrast, smart risk don’t have a lot of downside, but have big upside potential – investing in your own business is a good example.
  • People don’t take action because they’re waiting for *someday*. Someday I’ll start a business, someday I’ll do this or that, etc. The problem is, *someday* never comes. Making plans but not acting on them is dangerous and paralyzing. Make *someday* today.
  • 5 Laws of Effection
    • Commandment of Need – Nobody cares about a business whose sole purpose is to let its owner get rich or do what he loves. Never start a business just to chase money, start a business to chase needs, pain points, etc. The amount of money a business earns is a reflection of the amount of value it has provided. The “do what your love” meme is nice, but in order to work, what you love must solve an actual need. (People don’t pay to satisfy your need to do what you love, they pay for you to solve their problems.) On a side note, don’t turn your passions into derivative businesses (e.g. you like bodybuilding so you become a personal trainer). Derivative businesses don’t make money quickly and they endanger your passion. You do need to be passionate about your business, however, and you will need to find a source for the passion. That might involve being passionate about solving a problem, or being passionate about paying off your mortgage, or something else. Basically, you want a compelling reason to get out of bed every morning and give 100%. Passion erases the suffering of work.
    • Commandment of Entry – The harder it is to enter your business, the better you business will be. If all it takes is a $100 distributor kit, then you should wait for a different opportunity. If you violate this commandment, you have to be truly exceptional at what you do (e.g. anyone can play poker, and you have to be really great at it to make real money as a player). If getting into your business is an event, then there’s a low barrier to entry; if getting into it is a process, then there’s a high barrier to entry. If “everyone is doing it”, then you want to do something else, because “everyone” isn’t wealthy. When everyone is buying houses, sell yours. When everyone is selling stocks, you should buy. And so on. When “everyone” is doing something, that’s a red flag.
    • Commandment of Control – You’re either in control of your financial plan or you aren’t. You can’t let someone else drive if you want financial success. This means you want to sell franchises, not buy them; offer affiliate programs, not use them; accept rent and royalties, not pay them; and so on. If you are on the wrong side of these systems, it means your well-being in someone else’s control (e.g. the franchise owner wants to raise fees or the affiliate program decides they don’t want to do business with you anymore.) If someone can flip a switch and ruin your business, then you’re playing Russian Roulette with your financial plan.
    • Commandment of Scale – There are levels of business scale: community, city, state, region, national, and international. The larger your scale, the bigger your leverage. Profit = units sold x profit/unit. If there is a cap on the number of units you can sell, you’re not going to go very far! When you’re thinking about a business, think about whether it can scale from $2k in profit to $200k, whether you can potentially support millions of customers, and what your best case potential might be. If the business has little room for growth, think about entering a different business.
    • Commandment of Time – Can the business be automated? Are margins large enough to hire others to do your work? Could you (eventually) get the business to operate without spending much of your time on it? Running a coffee shop is an example of a business that violates the commandment of time. It requires a lot of work, and the margins are rarely large enough to hire someone to do the work on your behalf — that means you can’t extricate yourself from the day-to-day business.
  • Summary of 5 commandments: don’t invest in businesses that don’t address needs; don’t trade time for money; don’t operate on a small scale; don’t relinquish control; don’t let the startup be an event instead of a process.
  • Starting a business is a big decision. Don’t treat it lightly, otherwise you’ll just be starting a hobby (and will get paid like a hobby).
  • Some specific Fastlanes which satisfy all 5 commandments:
    • Internet – it scales globally and a lot of work can be automated with software. 7 broad categories of internet business models:
      • subscription-based – charge a regular fee for using some tool or data
      • content-based – charge people to read or distribute your content
      • lead generation – charge businesses for connecting them to consumers (great for fragmented industries)
      • social networks – target ads and products at a specific group of people
      • brokers – connect buyers and sellers together (paypal, ebay, CarsDirect, etc)
      • advertising – like brokers, except they charge advertising fees instead of per-transaction fees
      • e-commerce – sell goods and services online
    • Innovation – invent a product and then manufacture and distribute it. Note that most people think innovation requires radically new products, but there’s a lot of money to be made in small improvements (e.g. look at the evolution of television sets or cell phones). Invention is part of the process, but distribution is where you make money (whether you do it yourself or license your product for someone else to distribute). If you make a great product but can’t distribute it, you won’t make a dime. Author’s quote: “writing a book is not a business; selling the book is.”
    • Iteration – take something that violates the commandment of scale (buying a franchise, buying and renting out real estate, etc). You won’t make a lot of money if you own 1 Starbucks, but if you use the profits to buy a second, and then a third and a tenth, your income will grow dramatically. The downside is that iteration can be very slow.
  • Opportunities are everywhere, people just don’t see them. Whenever you hear people complaining or you observe inefficiencies, those are great opportunities to start a business!
  • If you have a great idea but someone is already doing it, don’t worry and do it anyway! There will always be competition, and you should aim to be better than them, not to run away from them.
  • Forget chasing big ideas and instead try to take something and make it better. Starbucks, McDonald’s, Walmart, etc. are all iterations of ideas and businesses that had existing for many years.
  • There are code words that suggest opportunities. When you hear one of the following, there might be a great business opportunity ahead:
    • “I hate..”
    • “I don’t like..”
    • “I’m frustrated by…”
    • “Why is this like this…”
    • “I wish there was…”
    • “I’m tired of…”
    • “This sucks…”
    • etc.
  • When you hear about discomforts and inconveniences, think of how you could address those complaints.
  • When you chase opportunities, you will occasionally fail. What matters is what you do after you fail — do you try something new, or do you give up and move back to the Slowlane? Oftentimes, a failure drives you in a better direction (e.g. the discovery of penicillin or Flickr pivoting from being a video game to being a photo-sharing service).
  • The price of freedom is money. Whether you want to buy a nice car, start a non-profit foundation, or work on your personal dream project, not having to worry about money is what lets you focus on those things. Figure out what you want so that you can work backward and figure out what you need to get there.
  • Step 1: What do you want? Be specific: a 3000 square foot house, private school for 2 kids, a summer home in the Caribbean, etc.
  • Step 2: Figure out the monthly cost. For example, $3k/month for the house, $2k/month for private school, $1k/month for the summer home, etc. Add your living cost (e.g. $4k/month for groceries, clothes, health insurance, etc.) Multiply by 1.65 to account for taxes. E.g. in this case, you have 1.65 * (6k+4k) = $16500/month pretax.
  • Step 3: Figure out your targets. Your goal net worth should be about 20x of your yearly requirements (5% return is a good, safe ROI to assume for your assets). Your money system/business goal should be about 5x of your monthly requirements, so that 40% goes to taxes, 40% goes into the money system, and 20% goes into your lifestyle.
  • Step 4: Make it happen. Note that if your goal is $50k/month in profits, you’re not startings with that, but just keeping that in mind as your target number. First you build your profit to $500/month, then $5k/month, then finally $50k/month.
  • Living beyond your means is never a good idea. The difference between Slowlane and Fastlane is that Slowlaners seek to shrink expenses while Fastlaners seek to grow income.
  • Customer complaints are some of the most useful feedback that you will get. There are 4 types of complaints:
    • complaints of change – you changed your product and existing users don’t like change. These are hardest to decipher because sometimes people complain because your changes are bad, but sometimes they complain because they just don’t like change. Tread carefully.
    • complaints of expectations – the customer didn’t get what he expected. These are very useful because they show that you either have to work on delivering more utility or on lowering expectations.
    • complaints of void – the customer wants something that you don’t offer. These complaints are a goldmine because they show you what customers wish they could do with your product. Solve your recurring complaints and you will have a lot of happy customers.
    • fraudulent complaints – complaints from customers who are trying to exploit the business. Respond gracefully and then move on.
  • The key with complaints is realizing that you can’t please everyone all of the time. You should be nice to all of your customers, but that doesn’t mean you have to do what each person asks for.
  • A terrific way to grow your business is to have amazing customer service. When you surprise and delight your customers with your service, they will do your advertising for you. Figure out what kind of service your customers expect and then exceed it: if they expect a call with 24 hours, try to call within 1 hour; if they expect to have to search for your contact number, put it in bold at the top of the webpage; etc.
  • On the flip side, no matter how awesome your product is, if people deal with crappy customer service then they’ll be left with a bitter taste in their mouths.
  • Don’t approach your business from only one angle. You don’t want to have a single strategy for your business success (e.g. “I’m just going to compete on price”). You want a multi-pronged attack where you work on your marketing, your execution, your product, your customer services, your ideas, and so on. You can raise prices, lower costs, sell more to existing customers, find new distribution channels, and so on. Don’t just focus on one thing to the exclusion of everything else.
  • The best way to figure out where to go next is to list to the rest of the world. You should come out with a minimal version of your product and then see how customers react. Their reactions will guide you during your next iteration.
  • Make sure you have a great accountant and a great lawyer. These people are very important because they have “the keys to your castle”, so to speak. Search for them like you would search for a business partner: they should work hard, be trustworthy, have the same vision as you, and so on.
  • If your business makes money, then eventually you’ll run into competition. The best way defend against competition is to build a brand that people trust/admire/love.
  • Steps to brand-building:
    • Have a unique selling proposition. This is what sets your business apart from *everyone* else. If you don’t have a USP, then by definition, you’re just like everyone else. A good USP addresses a benefit (e.g. Zappos USP is the ability to purchase shoes without worrying about returning them), be specific (“lose 20 pounds or your money back” instead of “you will lose weight”), and be clear and concise. Finally, make sure your USP is true. If you promise people something, make sure you deliver on it 100% of the time.
    • Good ways to stand out from your competitors: polarize people, arouse emotions, encourage interaction, and be unconventional
    • Talk about benefits instead of features. For example, if you’re selling cufflinks, talk about the benefit (“you’ll look elegant and classy”) instead of features (“they are made of expensive metals”). A good way to think about benefits is to think about your features, think about the advantages each feature offers, and then frame those advantages as benefits.
    • Use price as a branding weapon. Price implies values, and you should use this to your advantage. If you have a great product that you underprice, you’re undermining your own efforts because your great product will look “cheap”.
  • Scattered focus leads to scattered results. Focus on one business at a time instead of pursuing many different projects at once.
September 19, 2012

Willpower

Willpower by Baumeister and Tierney (Amazon)

The high level summary of the book is that willpower is like a muscle: you can exhaust it, but you can also make it stronger. The authors cite a lot of interesting studies that talk about all of the ways that willpower is weakened, as well as some strategies for improving your self-control.

Here are some notes and tips from the book. (Warning: reading these notes might slightly spoil reading the book, which is definitely worth reading.)

  • When people are asked to list personal strengths, self-control comes last; when people are asked which virtues they wish they had, self-control comes first.
  • Marshmallow experiment: children were left alone in a room with a single marshmallow. They were told if they didn’t eat the marshmallow while the researcher stepped out for 15 minutes, they would get a reward. This test of willpower was highly predictive of high school success: kids who held out for the full 15 minutes scored an average of 210 points higher on the SATs than kids who caved in during the first 30 seconds.
  • Using willpower feels physically exhausting even if you’re not doing anything physical.
  • People were asked to watch a sad movie. 3 groups: one was asked to suppress their emotions, one was told to express their emotions, one was just told to watch the movie (control group). The first two groups both had less stamina for a subsequent willpower test compared to the control group. It doesn’t matter how you’re applying self-control to your emotions: if you are using self-control, then you are depleting your supply of willpower.
  • Terminology: “ego depletion.” This is the term that describes a diminished capacity to regulate thoughts, feelings, and actions.
  • Experiments show that “depleted” persons don’t show a single telltale emotion, but instead experience emotions more extremely – sad things make them extra sad; happy things make them extra happy; tempting things make them extra tempted; and so on.
  • Researchers have noticed that cravings are especially strong during withdrawal. This might be because the act of resisting cravings depletes one’s willpower.
  • Stress depletes willpower.
  • Research generally shows that 1) willpower is finite and becomes depleted as you use it and 2) the same supply of willpower is used for everything.That is, you don’t have a bucket of willpower for dieting and another one for not smoking — you have one big bucket, and if you use it up for not smoking then it will be harder to diet since you’re tapping into the same willpower supply.
  • 4 broad categories of willpower:
    • control thoughts (e.g. ignore something, think about nothing while meditating, etc)
    • control emotions (e.g. escape a bad mood)
    • impulse control (e.g. resisting a candy bar or alcoholic drink that’s in front of you, or some other temptation)
    • performance control (e.g. managing your effort, time, speed and accuracy, etc)
  • Zeigarnik effect: uncompleted tasks and unmet goals tend to pop into one’s mind. Once the task is completed and the goal is reached, however, this stream of reminders comes to a stop.  For example, if you listen to a song, your mind moves on; if you listen to a song that’s abruptly cut off in the middle, your mind will continue inserting bits and pieces of the song into your stream of thoughts, reminding you that you’re not “done” listening.
  • For a while, it was thought that the Zeigarnik effect continued until you actually finished a task, but experiments show that the effect goes away as soon as you make concrete plans. (This is why GTD is so effective.) In one experiment, students were asked to think about an important exam. Half of the students were told to write down specific plans of what/where/when they would study. Afterward, all students were asked to do a word association test. The group of students that did not write down any plans created more word associations related to studying because studying was still on their mind; the group who wrote down their plans did not demonstrate a similar bias during the word association test.
  • Making choices is exhausting. Researchers did an experiment where they showed college students a various assortment of trinkets. One group of students was asked to think about which trinket they wanted. The other group was asked to make a series of choices between pairs of trinkets (“would you rather have the candle or the toothbrush?”, “The brown candle or the red candle?”, etc). After this process, students were asked to hold their hand in ice cold water for as long as possible (a standard willpower measurement). The group which had to make choices did significantly worse than the group which did not.
  • Even pleasant choices will cause ego depletion. People were asked to create a wedding registry. Some people reported looking forward to this process while others reported dreading it. If creating the registry was limited to 4 minutes, the group that dreaded it felt depleted while the group that looked forward to it did not. However, if the creation was stretched to 12 minutes, both groups were depleted. A few pleasant decisions may not cause ego depletion, but more than a few will.
  • It’s generally much less depleting to choose for someone else than to choose for yourself. For example, people making home decor choices were much less depleted when their choices were for a casual acquaintance instead of for themselves.
  • A lot of the resistance to making decisions comes from having to give up options.Research shows people hate to give up options, even when those options are not good. In one study involving a video game, people were offered three doors with rewards. Their best strategy was to open all of the doors and then go to the door with the biggest reward. However, if doors started to disappear when out of use, people would keep going into them to prevent them for disappearing — even when the rewards they contained were not good. Closing a door was valued as a loss, and people would pay a price to avoid the loss.
  • When car buyers had to customize cars, the more choices they had to make in the beginning, the more likely they were to stick with default options at the end. By manipulating the order of options (so that complex choices like picking one of 25 colors preceded simpler choices like picking one of two engines), dealers could bump the average price of a car up by up to 1500 Euros.
  • When people are placed in front of a mirror or told they are being filmed, they consistently change their behavior, working harder at tasks and giving more truthful answers on questionnaires.
  • Simply sitting in front of a mirror makes people more likely to follow their inner values instead of blindly following someone else’s orders. This suggests that self-awareness evolved to help with self-regulation. [Random thought: does this mean CrossFit gyms should have mirrors, or does the team atmosphere already provide a similar effect?]
  • Consuming glucose restores willpower. When people in a depleted state are asked whether they’d rather have $100 now or $150 in one month, most select $100. Drinking a soft drink before they make a selection makes more of them choose $150 (the rational choice).
  • People tend to give different answers when they are in a calm, cool state than when they are not. For example, it’s easy to to agree to diet when you’re not hungry, but much harder when you are starving.
  • Researchers studied people with high self-control. They assumed these people would be using their self-control the most, but it turns out it was the opposite. The subjects had used their self-control to turn behaviors into automatic habits (or to break bad habits) so that they could save their willpower for other things.
  • Studies generally show that self-control is most helpful for performance in work and at school and least effective for dieting.
  • Kicking habits is contagious: when a spouse or sibling quits smoking, the other is much more likely to quit as well. Same things with coworkers, siblings, and friends.
  • Religious people seem to have higher willpower, on average, than nonreligious people. This causes them to live longer (again, on average) because they are more likely to go to the doctor or eat well, less likely to smoke and drink, and so on. The ego-depleting nature of prayer, meditation, fasting, etc. might contribute to why the religious often have more willpower.
  • Hyperbolic discounting: we can ignore temptations when they are not immediately available, but not when they are right in front of us. For example, given a choice of winning $100 in 6 years or $200 in 9 years, most people pick $200. However, when given the choice of $100 now or $200 in 3 years, most people pick $100. The closer something is, the more we discount the future, and the speed at which the discount is applied appears hyperbolic.
  • Social support can be very helpful. Among a group of men trying to quit drinking, one of the biggest factors of success was whether they had contacted others for help and support.
  • There has been a recent trend of encouraging children to boost their self-esteem. However, self-esteem has not been shown to improve performance at school or at work, nor does it help prevent smoking, drug and alcohol abuse, or similar bad habits. There are only two demonstrable benefits of higher self esteem: it increases initiative because it gives confidence, and it feels good.
  • The Oprah Paradox: even people with extraordinary willpower have a hard time controlling their weight.
  • Bodies resist dieting. When fat rats were put on a controlled diet, they lost weight. Once the restrictions were removed, they gradually fattened up. If they were put on another diet, it took longer to lose the same amount of weight and they would gain it back more quickly. Eventually, dieting stops working and extra weight stays on even though fewer calories are consumed. This is probably a result of evolution favoring people who could survive famines.
  • Dieters and non-dieters were split into three groups. One group went hungry for several hours, one group had a small milkshake to stave off hunger, and one group had two giant milkshakes. Everyone was then asked to taste some foods and rate them. Non-dieters reacted predictably — the fuller they were, the less they tasted. Dieters, on the other hand, behaved the opposite way. The more they ate before the tasting, the more they tasted! This is the What-the-Hell effect, where once you feel like you slipped from your daily goals, you figure it’s fine to keep slipping and just enjoy the day.
  • In another experiment, some dieters were given a lot of food while others went hungry. Then they were taken to another room and offered sandwich quarters. After eating as much as they wanted, everyone was asked how many sandwich quarters they ate. The dieters who had not eaten previously accurately stated how many quarters they ate. However, the dieters who had already exceeded their daily caloric intake had no idea how much they ate: some overestimated and others underestimated. Once the what-the-hell effect kicks in, people stop tracking and counting.
  • Resisting food leaves dieters in a depleted state. For example, while watching a movie, people had snacks placed in front of them. After the movie, they were given self-control tests. For non-dieters, whether or not they ate snacks did not use up their willpower. For dieters, it was the opposite: they used up willpower resisting snacks, and the closer the snacks were placed the more willpower they used up. This results in a Catch-22, because a dieter needs willpower to avoid food, but he also needs to eat (glucose) to have willpower.
  • Because you only have a single, shared supply of willpower, it’s most effective to focus on one goal or project at once. If you try to make several big changes simultaneously, your efforts will be undermined.
  • In general, research has shown that when doing some task, the glucose level of people who are asked to exercise willpower drops while the glucose level of people who not asked to exercise willpower stays constant. Consuming glucose replenishes willpower.
  • If you have an important meeting, test, etc., have something sweet beforehand. Try not to have arguments or make big decisions on an empty stomach. Don’t eat pure sugar, since the glucose spike will be followed promptly by a crash. Instead, eat low glycemic index foods like veggies, fruits, nuts, etc.
  • When you’re sick, your immune system uses up a lot of your glucose, leaving little for willpower.
  • When you’re tired, sleep. Sleep deprivation impairs glucose processing, which has the expected consequences on self-control.
  • Short term goals vs long term goals? Both can be effective, though short term goals seems to be more effective (i.e. “do 10 practice problems today” instead of “do 1000 practice problems over the next 3 months”). In general, the important thing seems to be that you can see how whatever you are doing is tied to your long term goal — that is, how the tediousness of day-to-day tasks propels you toward your distant dreams.
  • 3 groups of students who were working on improving study skills: one group was asked to make daily plans for what/where/when to study, one was asked to make monthly plans, and one wasn’t asked to make plans. Researchers expected daily planners to make the biggest improvements in study habits, but the monthly planners were the most successful. This might be because daily planning is time consuming and not very flexible. With monthly planning it’s easier to plan around unforeseen circumstances, and that helps you avoid being discouraged when you occasionally fall off schedule.
  • A good rule for battling the Zeigarnik effect: if something takes less than two minutes to do, do it now instead of putting it on a list (This is the Two-Minute Rule from Getting Things Done)
  • Generally, the more tired your are, the more likely you are to reduce choices to one dimension even if it’s oversimplifying: “Just give me the cheapest one”, “I’ll take the closest one”, “whichever one is highest quality”, etc.
  • When you work toward a goal, should you focus on how far you’ve come or how much more you have to do? Research has shown that people thinking about what they’ve already accomplished were more content and happy, but people who looked at what remained to be done are more likely to move on to more challenging tasks. Look back for happiness, forward for motivation and ambition.
  • Comparing yourself to others is a great motivator. When people’s electricity bills tell them that they use more than average in their neighborhood, most people immediately cut back.
  • Public info is more potent than private info. That is, people care more about what others know about them than what they know about themselves. Going public with a goal is basically outsourcing the job of monitoring, which eases the burden on yourself.
  • A simple way to improve willpower stamina: pick something that you do subconsciously, and then try to catch yourself every time you’re doing it.This could be trying not to slouch, or not using certain speech habits (like saying “like” or “umm”), or trying to do routine tasks with your non-dominant hand.
  • One strategy to conserve willpower is precommitment. The gist is to force yourself into doing what you want to do before you have to do it. For example, if you know you have a problem with sweets, you can not buy them at the store instead of buying them and letting them tempt you. If you have a gambling problem, it’s better to avoid casinos altogether (precommitment) than to walk in but try to restrain yourself (willpower)
  • One form of precommitment is to publicize your ambitions or your progress, so that you are more worried about your image or shame than about using willpower. For instance, if you are dieting and tweet your weight everyday, then knowing that any cheating you do will be publicized is a great disincentive to cheat.
  • A great side effect of precommitments is that they often turn into habits. At first you don’t eat desserts because you never buy sweets at the grocery store, but over time you simply stop craving them.
  • External order enhances self-discipline. People given a self-control in a messy lab room scored lower than people tested in a clean room. When offered snacks and drinks, people in the clean room preferred apples and milk while people in the messy room preferred candy and cola. Similarly, people did better on a self-control test administered through a well-designed website than on a messy website filled with typos and other problems.
  • Another strategy to improve willpower is self-forgetfulness, where you distract yourself from how hard something is. For example, paramedics often distract patients from their pain by talking to them about random subjects, and kids who did best on the Marshmallow test usually distracted themselves by looking around the room. The kids who stared at the marshmallow quickly depleted their willpower and caved to temptation.
  • When setting goals, people need “bright lines.” If you commit to drinking moderately, for example, then that is a very fuzzy notion. How much is considered moderate? Instead, you can set a very bright line goal of never drinking, or never having more than 2 drinks. If you make something feel like a commandment or an unbreakable rule, then you will have more success reaching your goals.
  • A few good strategies for dieting: 1) Tell yourself you can have something delicious later if you still want it. 2) The body craves sweet foods for energy, but healthy foods will work too. 3) Precommitment works, ranging from mild (keeping unhealthy foods out of reach) to extreme (gastric bypass surgery). You can also try brushing your teeth earlier, because most people don’t want to eat once they have already brushed.
  • Another strategy that works is “implementation intention.” That’s when you make rules for yourself like “if X happens, I will do Y.” This kind of preplanning (e.g. what you will do when you’re at a party with lots of food) helps you automate your reactions and behavior instead of expending effort to restrain yourself.
  • Conventional wisdom suggests that daily weighings are excessive, but research has shown that they are actually quite effective. The more you monitor yourself, the better you’ll control yourself.
  • Don’t be fooled by labels. Studies show that when people see labels like “trans fat free” or “organic”, they assign those foods fewer calories. Make sure to look at actual calorie content.
  • Focus when you eat. People eat more when they are watching TV or distracted because they are not paying attention to their food intake.
  • 3 groups told to imagine a dessert cart with delicious desserts. One group asked to imagine eating it; one group asked to imagine passing up dessert (denied pleasure); one group asked to imagine passing up dessert, but having some later if they still felt like it (postponed pleasure). Researchers expected the Zeigarnik effect (unfinished tasks staying in your mind) to make the postponed pleasure group feel especially troubled by not having dessert. However, this group actually had the lowest cravings for dessert. When the experiment was repeated with real food, the pattern was the same — the people who postponed pleasure actually ate the least dessert. It seems like saying “I can have this later” satisfies your craving to some degree and might be more effective at suppressing your appetite than actually eating something.
  • The best way to reduce stress is to stop screwing up by setting up your life to increase your chances of success. Successful people don’t use willpower as a last-ditch defense, they use it to set up good habits and avoid problem situations.
  • People with high self-control consistently report less stress in their lives.They use their self-control to avoid crises by working consistently, not procrastinating, avoiding buffets, and so on. They are on offense instead of defense.
  • Don’t procrastinate. Students were told a paper was due on a certain day, but that if they missed that day there would be two subsequent chances to turn in their paper. A questionnaire showed that procrastinators didn’t even write down the first two dates! When papers were graded and then compared to when they were turned in, procrastinators got lower grades (and also lower grades on the eventual midterm and final from the class). The procrastinators were generally healthier than non-procrastinators during this part of the semester, but by the time finals week came, they were much more likely to be ill — and the illnesses were generally more severe.
  • With willpower, what matters is exertion, not outcome. If you spend 10 minutes agonizing over a decision, that depletes your willpower regardless of what you decide.
  • Try not to make binding decisions when you’re low on energy, because you’ll tend to favor short-term gains. If you can’t eat, at least try to consciously assign more weight to long term consequences.
  • The best time to break bad habits or establish good ones is when other demands are low. A stressful time at work is not a good opportunity to start dieting — wait until your work situation clears up first.
  • Know your limits. Don’t set a huge goal for next month. Instead, set a big goal for a few years from now and make plans to take a step or two in the next month.Effective planning and scheduling lessens demands on your supply of willpower.
  • Parkinsons’s Law: work expands to fill the time allotted. If you set a goal like “clean the house”, it seems daunting because it will take however much time you allow it to. If you instead set a goal of cleaning a room for 1 hour, that is no longer an intimidating task.
  • Use to-do lists to avoid the Zeigarnik effect.
  • Planning fallacy: students were asked go guess when they would finish a term paper by, and also estimate the worst case date. On average, finishing the paper took almost twice as long as the worst case date implied. People tend to make rosy estimates, and you need to take this into account. A good way to do this is to reflect on past experience with similar tasks, whether the experience is your own, or that of others.
  • Change your routine to break bad habits: don’t drive by the fast food joint on the way to work, don’t eat breakfast until you go to the gym, and so on.
  • The postponement strategy that works for desserts can also works for other things. For example, tape a TV show and promise to watch it later if you feel like it. When the time comes, you may no longer feel like it.
  • The Nothing Alternative helps avoid procrastination. If you are trying to write, for example, but can’t produce consistently, you can make a rule like “For two hours, I will either write, or I will do nothing“. By not allowing yourself to do other things, you eliminate the opportunity to procrastinate.
  • “If A then B” rules that you set for yourself work well by making your responses more automatic and reducing demands on your supply of willpower.
  • Use precommitment as much as possible.
  • Measure things. The more frequently and more carefully you measure, the better.
  • Reward yourself when you succeed. Trophies for genuine accomplishments will help keep your willpower high by giving you one more reason to stay on target. Rewards should be commensurate with achievements.
  • When people are quizzed randomly throughout the day, the most common urges they are resisting at any given time are (in order of decreasing frequency): eating, sleeping, taking a break, and sex.
  • When comparing grades to personality traits, self-control is the only trait that predicts grades better than chance.
  • In a New Zealand study that tracked people from childhood until they were 32, each child’s self-control was measured with multiple methods. Higher self-control in childhood led to lower obesity, fewer STDs, better teeth, being less prone to drug and alcohol problems, being more likely to have stable marriage, and being less likely to end up in prison. Those with lower self-control were poorer financially and 3x more likely to go to have a criminal conviction.
  • A study of siblings living in the same household but demonstrating different levels of self-control showed results similar to the NZ study.
  • One thing distinguishing humans from primates and other animals is the ability to plan ahead. The smartest monkeys can project up to 20 minutes into the future. In one experiment, when monkeys were given access to as much food as they wanted every day at noon, they never saved food for later in the day even though they woke up famished the following morning.
  • Experiment: students who had been fasting were put in a room w/a bowl of radishes and a bowl of cookies. One group was told they could only eat radishes while the other was allowed to eat cookies. After staying in the room for a little while, students were asked to do geometry problems. The students who were not allowed to eat cookies and had been using their energy to resist the temptation gave up after 8 minutes while the other group gave up after 20 minutes.
  • There’s evidence that some marriages are strained because partners use their willpower at work and then come home drained in the evening, less able to control their tempers and emotions.
  • Random fact: Stroop effect was used by American intelligence during the cold war. “A covert agent could claim not to speak Russian, but he’d take longer to answer correctly when looking at Russian words for colors.
  • One researcher hypothesized that “turns in school assignments on time” and “wears clean socks” would be correlated, but he found the opposite to be true at Stanford. That is, students generally did one or the other, but not both, indicating the willpower spent on schoolwork detracted from personal hygiene, and vice versa. A subsequent experiment showed that personal hygiene plummets during exam week. This might indicate that students are trying to save time so that they can study more, but in fact students also spent more time socializing and shopping, which indicates that they simply had less willpower left.
  • People conserve willpower. When given a test of willpower followed by a task, people tried less hard on the task if they were told there would be an additional task at the end. When people were not told there is a 3rd task, and told there is a reward for doing the second task well, they excel on the 2nd task (because they are putting in 100% effort) and then do very, very poorly on the 3rd task because they didn’t save any willpower for it (they were rewarded for using up willpower and task #2 and not led to believe that there was a task #3)
  • People w/hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) are more likely to be convicted for: traffic violations, public profanity, shoplifting, destruction of property, exhibitionism, embezzlement, arson, spouse abuse, and child abuse.
  • Diabetics tend to be more impulsive and temperamental than other people their age.
  • Dogs also demonstrate ego depletion, and their willpower is similarly restored by glucose.
  • As people have more demands for self-control, their cravings for sweets increase.
  • First step in self-control is to set a clear goal. If you don’t have a goal, then there’s nothing to work towards.
  • Goals often conflict. For example, having a good relationship, having kids, and excelling at work. Conflicting goals have three averse side effects: 1) you worry more, 2) you get less done because you spend more time thinking than doing, and 3) your physical and mental health suffer. Studies show that the more goals conflict, the more people become unhappy and unhealthy.
  • An elite general was asked how she plans for the future: “First I make a list of priorities: one, two, three, and so on. Then I cross out everything from three on down.”
  • In another experiment, some students were told to write about unfulfilled tasks that needed to be done soon while others were told to write about these tasks but also make plans for how to do them. Both groups were then asked to read a passage from a novel. Students who did not make any plans experienced more difficulty focusing on the novel.
  • In another experiment, researchers approached people at a mall and asked them to do as many arithmetic problems as they wanted. The shoppers who had been to more stores gave up more quickly than the shoppers who has been to fewer stores.
  • In another experiment, people were asked to go to dell.com. One group was told to look at features available in new computers, one was asked to configure a computer with features that had been pre-decided, and one group was asked to also decide on which features a computer should have. The group that had to make decisions did worst on a willpower test.
  • In parole hearings, the likelihood of parole is closely related to time of day. Judges are most lenient in the morning and after lunch (after glucose replenishment), and least lenient at other times, when their willpower has been depleted by the agonizing decisions they have to make.
  • When people use online dating sites, the wealth of information makes them picky and unable to make a choice. People generally go out with less than 1% of the profiles they check out. On the other hand, speed dating is much simpler, and the success rate there is closer to 20%.
  • Grocery stores strategically place impulse purchases by the register, which you only encounter after depleting your willpower on all of the choices you made throughout the store.
  • One way to strengthen your willpower is to do what David Blaine does: set lots of little goals for yourself and do them. For example, when Blaine is running, he tells himself that his foot has to hit an exact spot in the pavement, and then he does it. The point is not to hit the spot, but to wire his brain into setting little goals and achieving them. Practicing making things harder than they should be and still doing them them helps you believe that you have an extra reserve of strength to reach your goals.
  • Experiment in what strengthens willpower: one group told to work on posture for two weeks (every time they thought of it, they were to sit up straight). Second group was told to record what they ate (to test if self-monitoring was exhausting and weakened willpower). Third group was told to strive for positive moods and emotions, to see if being in a good mood improved willpower. Third group failed because willpower has little effect on emotion — you simply cannot will yourself to be in love or not feel guilty or be really happy. (Emotional control relies on other tricks, like changing how you view a problem or distracting yourself with something else.) The group that did best was the one that focused on improving posture, with the most diligent members of that group doing especially well. Willpower can be measured by strength (what magnitude of what you can will yourself to do) and stamina (how long can you will yourself to do it for). The slouching group did not improve their strength, but they improved their stamina: when given a willpower test, then a willpower draining task, and then another willpower test, the group did not do better on the first test, but did not drop off as much on the second test.
  • Groups of people trying to improve an aspect of their lives were given a little bit of assistance. For example, those that wanted to get fit were given a gym membership and a those that wanted to study better met up with an advisor who helped outline a study plan. After several months, people generally improved what they wanted to improve, but they also improved in other dimensions. For example, people who stuck to an exercise program studied more diligently and people who worked on study habits also started going to the gym more. Exercising self-control in one area seems to improve all areas of life (concretely: smoking and drinking less, keeping homes cleaner, procrastinating less, watching TV less, and so on)
  • On the website stickk.com people can precommit to goals and set up penalties if they fail. 35% of people without a penalty or another person to judge progress succeed in their goals. Those with a penalty and with someone else responsible for refereeing progress succeed almost 80% of the time. Those who risk more than 100 dollars also do better than those who risk less than 20 dollars — that is, you have to care about the penalty.
  • In a study of young professors, some wrote diligently and consistently — perhaps a page or two a day; others would collect information and then write a whole manuscript in a one or two week burst. The professors who wrote consistently were much more likely to get tenure than the “binge writers.” Using your self-control to form a daily habit leads to better results with less effort.
  • Higher level thinking gives people more self-control. Researchers directed one group of people toward higher level thoughts (asking them to think about general concepts and Why types of questions); another group was directed toward lower level thoughts (asking them to think about nitty gritty details and How types of questions). The first group did better on self-control tests. Thinking about the greater good of doing something might be one reason that religious people tend to score higher on willpower tests than nonreligious people.
  • Alcohol doesn’t make people do stupid things, but it removes restraints by lowering blood glucose and reducing self-awareness.
  • A study of people undergoing cognitive factory found that they were more likely to achieve their goals if they announced them to other people, especially romantic partners. Similarly, among groups of microentrepreneurs, those who were asked to announce their savings goals and progress at weekly meetings saved nearly twice as much money as others. The increased savings were partly a result of making public commitments, but also because of the ability to hear how others were doing and compare results. A subsequent study where people merely got text messages announcing how others were doing had similar effects to in-person meetings.
  • Children with Chinese parents seem to excel more at school because instead of being nurtured and taught to believe in themselves, they are given strict goals and rules and learn to abide by them.
  • For kids, it’s much more important to teach self-control than self-esteem.
  • When imposing penalties for children, there are three important factors: severity, speed, and consistency. The punishment must be appropriate to the the transgression, come quickly after the causal incident, and be doled out consistently to be effective. Rationalizing that you want to be kind and not punish your kids whenever they do something wrong feels like a good thing but ends up undermining your lessons.
  • Children react well when reprimands are brief, calm, and consistent. When parents let something slide and feel like they need to be extra strict in the future, children just clean that punishments are random and/or unfair.
  • When teaching kids to save money, it seems that 6 year-olds can occasionally be taught to save, some 9 year-olds can be taught, and most 12-year olds can be taught. Children who open bank accounts or who grow up discussing money with their parents are more likely to become savers.
  • As children become teenagers, parents need to walk the fine line between disciplining and allowing their kids to become adults. One good strategy is to work with teenagers on setting their limits — for example agreeing on a curfew together.
  • Lack of adult supervision during teenage years is one of the strongest predictors of criminal behavior, drug use, and so on.
  • The more children are monitored, the more opportunities they have to build self-control. Parents can guide kids to sit up straight, speak grammatically, never say “ain’t”, and so on. There are other ways for kids to develop self-control, like music lessons, memorizing poems, prayer, avoiding profanity, writing thank-you notes, and so on.
  • As kids develop willpower, they learn when not to use it. For example, in the marshmallow experiment, the most successful kids tended to save their willpower by distracting themselves instead of staring at a marshmallow. In fact, being able to redirect attention takes willpower too, and is a very important skill to develop.
  • Ways to build attention include reading books and playing certain games. For example, kids have a hard time standing still, but can do so for longer if they are pretending to be guards on watch. Video games can improve focus and self-control too. When a game is hard, continuing to play without quitting takes a lot of willpower and focus.
  • The William Hill agency, an English bookmaker, lets bettors choose target weights and timelines and then bets against them. Even though the bettors are setting the terms, the house still wins 80% of the time.
  • Even simple monitoring can make a big difference. Prisoners gain weight in prison even though the food is poor. The reason is that they don’t wear belts or tight-fitting clothes, so there are fewer signals that they are gaining weight. Food diaries are a great way to monitor yourself.
  • When food is served on large plates we underestimate the calories because we don’t have a good intuition for 3D volume (if a container triples in size, we see the extra calories clearly; if it grows 40% in each dimension, we don’t notice the same calorie increase)
  • Clearing the table quickly also makes you think you are eating less. For example, you will drink more if your glass is refilled than if you get a new glass each time that you finish one (and the finished glasses stay on the table).
  • In another experiment, people were asked how much they’d pay to kiss a movie star today vs. 3 days from now. Most people would pay more for 3 days from now — a reversal of other variants of this experiment — so that they could savor the anticipation more. Delaying eating food might benefit from a similar effect.
September 19, 2012

The Fighter’s Mind

The Fighter’s Mind by Sheridan (Amazon)

Sam Sheridan is on a quest to understand how the top MMA fighters ‘tick’. In The Fighter’s Mind, Sheridan interviews dozens of great athletes and coaches in sports ranging from wrestling to jiu-jitsu to ultramarathon running.

On the surface the book is about fighting, but its lessons are broadly applicable.

  • Dan Gable, a world-class wrestler and wrestling coach, says “There is no top end, no limit. You can always add new levels, and the guys who realize this go on to do amazing things.” In the early 1950s, most people thought running a 4-minute mile was impossible. As soon as Roger Bannister accomplished the feat in 1954, people realized that it wasn’t impossible, and the following year dozens of runners achieved the same result. The point is, no matter how good you are or how good you think you are, you can always get better.
  • Bannister quote: “The man who can drive himself further once the effort gets painful is the man who will win.” A variant of this message was repeated by almost every fighter interviewed.
  • “Imagination is a crucial component [of sports], oft overlooked.” If you can’t imagine running a four-minute mile, how can you ever run it? Gandhi: “Men often become what they believe themselves to be. If I believe I cannot do something, it makes me incapable of doing it. But when I believe I can, then I acquire the ability.”
  • A recurring message was learning to deal well with defeat and adversity. You won’t always win, you won’t always have the highest score, and you might even encounter some terrible setbacks. The important thing is to let go of defeats and to learn from your mistakes and weak points so that they won’t get in your way next time. A great quote from the book: “”With my students, I always tell them that the loss is where you can get better. Once you make a mistake in a fight or a competition, you never do that again. It’s burned in your brain. See those mistakes and cover those holes. That’s why you learn more when you lose than when you win. When you win you forget.”
  • “Fighters are born in the dedication to repetition. It’s not about who is stronger and faster, although those things can cover for other problems. Nothing can replace natural self-discipline; nothing can replace time in the gym.” Hard work trumps good genes almost every time.
  • There is a famous study that tracked child piano students into their college years. The study found that the only difference between the students who would become world class maestros and virtuosos and the students who would become music teachers was that the former group practiced over 30 hours per week while the latter group only practiced 8 hours per week. What’s even more interesting is that there were no exceptions to the rule — no hard workers were untalented enough to stay worse than the light workers, and no light workers were gifted enough to overcome the hard workers’ increased practice. It sounds like there might be some causation and correlation issues in the study, but it’s still a pretty strong message: if you work the hardest, then you will be one of the best.Relevant book quote: “The people at the very top don’t just work harder, or even much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder.”
  • “One of the things about being an underdog, there’s no pressure. Nobody expects you to win. It frees you up to go out and compete. We often complicate things with fear of failure, all that baggage of winning and losing. Being an underdog is freedom.” This is great advice for startups, and for life in general.
  • Your goals should be positive, not negative. Instead of thinking “don’t get hit by his right”, think about “keeping your guard up”. When you try to avoid something, it often happens anyway because it’s all you’re thinking about; when you are trying to do something, you will make progress.
  • In my favorite chapter of the book, an ultramarathoner talks about how he runs through the pain and the injuries: “There are two statements that I use,” he said. “The first is simple: ‘this too shall pass’. It will end. It can’t last forever … even though sometimes things will feel that way. The second one is very, very important: It never always gets worse. A lot of people think this way. If you said you just ran ten miles they’d say, “That’s great!”, or if you said you just ran a marathon they’d say, “That’s fantastic!” He sighed. “You run a fifty-mile race and they say ‘That’s stupid, it’s crazy!’ Now why is that? The reason is, people theorize, “I know how I feel when I run five miles, or twenty-six miles, and that hurts! So fifty miles must be twice the pain and torture! But it isn’t. It never always gets worse. Sometimes it gets worse, but then sometimes, IT’LL GO AWAY!”