Guilt and shame can only come out of two sources: Continue reading
A principle-based decision making framework. That is – I’ve come to realize – the key to success. Regardless of how you measure success. Let me explain.
Currently reading 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. (Sidenote: probably the most life changing book I’ve read in my life – I can’t believe I haven’t read it until now – just imagining how my life would have been if I read it when I was 20 or so.) The book mentioned principle-centered living a couple of times, and even dedicated a whole chapter to the subject. But it’s not until I read this part that I really got it:
“Where does intrinsic security come from? It doesn’t come from what other people think of us or how they treat us. It doesn’t come from the scripts they’ve handed us. It doesn’t come from our circumstances or our position. It comes from within. It comes from accurate paradigms and correct principles deep in our own mind and heart.”
Suddenly, it made sense. I’ve been wrestling with a big decision for a couple of weeks now. It is actually a life changing decision.
I’ve always had a hard time making big decisions. I could never really feel that “gut feeling” that people talk about. I try to foresee the future. I weigh pros and cons. I analyze potential outcomes. I do everything – but decide, and just go with the decision.
In one blow, after reading that sentence, I realized this: I’ve been making decisions based on wrong premises all my life. I’ve been trying to predict the best outcome. This isn’t principle-centered decision making. It is outcome-centered decision making.
“What will lead to the greatest outcome” – rather than “what is the right thing to do, based on what I believe is right?”
Ironically, I realize now, outcome-centered decision making leads to worse outcomes, for several reasons.
First, it is prone to error. Nobody can predict the future.
Second, it is draining. By trying to predict the future, you will constantly end up evaluating your choice – never really “landing” in what’s the best course of action. Every bit of feedback you get along the way will make you question whether the choice you made will really lead to the best outcome, or if your other option was the better choice. You will end up constantly questioning yourself.
By making decision based on what’s the right choice – based on principles you believe in – regardless of outcome, you will be more centered. More firm. More trustworthy. Have greater integrity. Knowing what you believe in, and following that belief regardless of the possible outcome, does that to you.
And perhaps more importantly, the gut feeling can develop. Finally, it will be possible to feel what is right – because that feeling will be based on whether you are following your principles, or whether you are doing something wrong. Suddenly, it is possible again to listen to your emotions when making decisions.
This will save a lot of energy. Ironically, because you don’t waste a lot of energy questioning yourself, you will also become more productive. And, correct principles are time-tested. They are proven to work, through the history of people men throughout time. People who made the world a better place. People who were happy. So good principles are a good guide, and a great measuring stick for how well you are doing.
So what are the correct principles?
According to Covey, it’s the following:
- Human Dignity
- Quality and Excellence
- Potential and Growth
- Patience, Nurturing and Encouragement
And what do they mean? What is it, to be fair? What is it, to have integrity, honesty, to view people with dignity, and the other principles?
Well, that, I guess you have to decide for yourself. And that’s the part that I guess you can second-guess based on experience and feedback.
If you want to earn a lot of money, first ask yourself this question: why?
For most people, the purpose is safety. They want to feel that they will never be poor, that they will always be able to make enough money to support themselves and potentially also a family, and live a good life.
So they start collecting and amassing money. Seeing that number in their bank account grow makes them feel safe.
But there is a big problem with this approach.
The problem is that money is not permanent. During your lifetime, things will happen that will make you lose your money, or more accurately, the value that that money represents. Inflation, wars, government taking your assets, bank runs, and many other things that you cannot do anything about.
What you cannot lose, however, is what’s in your head.
Your knowledge is the most valuable thing you possess. Why? Because your knowledge determines your ability to make more money. And your ability to make money is permanent.
In the story if the golden goose, a goose started laying golden egg for its farmer. But the farmer got greedy and killed the goose in order to pluck all the golden egg at once, only to he disappointed to not find any Egg inside the goose. In the process, he had also killed any hope of new golden egg in the future.
Let us for a moment pretend that there were a bunch of golden egg in the goose. Who has more freedom, who is more secure, who has more prosperity? The farmer that collected a bunch of egg, or the farmer who got one egg a week forever?
The farmer who waited would never have to worry about survival again, and he could do whatever he wanted with his time. The farmer who killed the goose could go and buy something really luxurious and cool, but then he would have to go back to his farm and spend his time producing food, and worrying about the future. Would you rather be the farmer with the cool thing, or the farmer who never again has to worry about survival and can spend his time on whatever he wants?
What would you do with your time, if you didn’t have to spend it earning money for survival?
If you think this type of freedom might be degenerating because it will make you lazy, I think you have a bigger problem. That of purpose and drive. If you need to be forced to do something in order to not fall into laziness, you unfortunately have lost the connection to what drives your from within. That passion for living, curiosity and internal drive to do something because you enjoy it, because you enjoy growing, and because you enjoy the feeling of pride in having contributed to something bigger.
But now we’re digressing. I guess what I’m trying to say is this: stop focusing on amassing money. Focus on growth and development. Focus on increasing your value to the market. Focus on learning things that others will pay you money for. That is the ultimate freedom, the ultimate security, and the ultimate path to creating it source of income that doesn’t rely on your time.
Barbell strategy decision making heuristic
When making an important, potentially life changing choice where some of the options may be irreversible, it is important to thoroughly analyze the different options before choosing one. But it is impossible to weigh options against each other if you don’t have objective criteria against which they can be measured.
I will propose here that because of the uncertainty in future prediction, and the existence of so called positive and negative “black swans” (unexpected, impossible to predict, high consequence events), the best strategy is the “barbell” strategy.
Main learnings from this book:
- Better to convince people by being the “humble inquirer” rather than being confrontational and “winning over” people which may win you the argument, but will not win you any friends, which is more important for success. Better to help people realize the truth for themselves, which makes them like you more and gives them the feeling that you are their mentor and want their best, rather than proving them wrong, which makes them feel like you are out to compete with them and make them feel foolish and makes them not trust you but instead hate and fear you.
- Tell people stuff like “I believe…, it seems to me…, from my point of view it looks like…” instead of being dogmatic.
- Own thoughts around this: It seems like this goes very much into the skill of getting people to come to a conclusion themselves, rather than telling them how it is.
- Socratic dialogue
- Good for proving people wrong
- Humble inquirer
- Aim not to “disprove” people, but to help them realize stuff
- If you get help from someone else, that person is more likely to keep helping you, than if you had offered to help him. Thus: If you want to repair or establish a relationship, ask people for help! [I personally believe it should be help which does not cause them any grief or much effort, for example asking to borrow a book, and at the same time strokes their ego.]
- Method of character development
- Wrote down 13 traits of good character:
- Temperance (don’t eat to dullness or drink until elevation – which contributed according to him to his energy and longevity)
- Industry (showed how being industrious made people speak about him as being trustworthy, in the end leading them to give business to him)
- Order (everything has its time and place – plan accordingly and focus on one event at a time)
- Had 13 weeks (one for each character), and every week focused on getting no dots (breaking the character habit) on one character trait. If he succeeded, he went on to the next character trait and did the same. Thus, in 13 weeks, he focused on improving one character trait per week for 13 weeks. (But he had to repeat some when he did not succeed with it during that week.) And he went through this list again once every year. (This is something I should also try to achieve.)
- Psychology about self-development: He realized that he couldn’t just read about what is good, because people are creatures of habit – so he had to habituate a set of character traits which would make him moral and good. And he says that all these traits made him good in different ways, and combined made him a great person to converse with and pleasant to be with.
- Wrote down 13 traits of good character:
- That if one focuses on one singular goal, and strives with all his might to achieve it, without distractions, it will likely happen (if it is realistic)
- Reading a LOT makes you smart
- He woke up early, took 3 hours for breakfast, preparing, planning the goals of the day (5-8). Then work 4h (8-12). Then lunch 2h (12-14). Then work 4h (14-18). Then reading and leisure with friends and then to bed (18-22). The importance and contribution of not sleeping too long, the extra 2h he has (3h in the morning minus one hour in the evening which for me is not productive anyway) goes a long way, because during those 2h he can read a book in a couple of days, which is 4-5 books per month.
- Hide that you’re the initiator or driver of projects, pretend you’re doing it for others to not open up their jealousy. Don’t let your prestige come in the way of your success – better to aim for success than for prestige. Lie low, initiate projects and things, let others take credit if they want because when people find out they did not actually initiate the projects they are claiming to, then they will get the punishment by being discredited.
Personal thoughts around the book:
- He was a naturally talented person? He succeeded easily in stuff he went into, often winning and becoming the best at it. Is this because he was naturally talented? Or did it come from the fact that he read a lot so he developed his intelligence faster and broader? It seems like him reading a lot and really wanting to learn a lot was a great contributor to his success and abilities. It also seems like he may have had some innate talent – but I’m not sure. Perhaps it is worth looking into intelligence pills or something like that, because obviously high intelligence is of great benefit.
- His network strength and benefits of that: It seems like the network he built (partly because of his character development, which made him very pleasant to be with and speak with), through his Junta, was a very strong influence on the success of his life. The network had a coherent philosophy, and a defined code of conduct which was focused on everybody’s development and about finding the truth and helping each other, rather than prestige and “winning”. This was of great benefit to Franklin because he used this to refine his oral skills, his philosophies, his character, and he also used this as his network to find people that would help him and support him with a strong network in various places in public life. Is it possible to create or be part of such a network in today’s world? Perhaps I should search Meetup.com to find such networks for myself to be part of.
According to Aristotle, the highest value is something which “makes life desirable and lacking in nothing”. I personally happen to agree with this – this is the ultimate thing that every person should strive for, this and nothing else. Anything particular thing we strive for should ultimately lead to this thing, because this is what life is actually about. The question is, what is this ultimate value?
Many have proposed that it is happiness. Aristotle himself defined this thing as what we today often translate as “happiness” (even if this translation is much debated and according to many didn’t have the meaning then as we attribute to it today).
I happen to not agree that happiness is this ultimate good. Happiness is not the ultimate end – because there are higher ends, which implicate happiness, but which are not always present although you are happy. Thus, these other ends are of higher value than happiness. I have found one such higher value, and I believe that it is the ultimate value in life – the purpose of life itself. This value is self esteem.
What is self esteem?
Self esteem pre-supposes many things, but it is an end in itself (something you want to achieve for its own sake) rather than an instrument to reach other ends. Some of the things that it pre-supposes are:
- Ability to sustain yourself (not starving, not freezing) and the security that you will be able to do this in the foreseeable future regardless of circumstance, due to your own intellectual capability and skills. If you don’t have this, you will by definition lack self-esteem, since self esteem is a direct result of knowing that you can sustain yourself (and your loved ones?) now and in the future.
- Ability to interact productively and well with other human beings – let’s call it “social IQ”. Having ability to interact well with other people is (I am assuming, to be fully correct) inherently tied to self-esteem. Social IQ is also a requirement to the ability to sustain oneself now and in the future, thus indirectly is a requirement for self-esteem.
- Freedom (which in itself both requires and leads to some of the other values in this list). If you don’t have freedom, you are not living the life you want, you are not living your life but someone else’s, which reduces your self esteem in accordance with the degree of lack of freedom. (Conversely, if you do have freedom, it means you must also have ability to sustain yourself because you don’t have to answer to anyone, and both of these lead to self-esteem).
Thus, if you don’t have these, and probably other, values, you won’t have self-esteem. Conversely, self-esteem is the automatic result of having these (and probably other) values. Self-esteem, then, is the highest value we strive for, meaning it is the thing that ultimately “makes life desirable”, and because all other values lead to it, and it doesn’t lead to any other value, it is “lacking in nothing”.
But what about happiness?
Do you get self-esteem from the state of being happy, and the other way around? Let’s examine this.
It is intuitively evident that having self esteem does make you happy. But this is indirect: you are happy not because you have self esteem, but you have self esteem and you are happy because you have the other values discussed above and more (freedom, ability to support yourself, ability to interact well with people, and probably more). But then, is happiness and self esteem both self-sufficient ends?
One way to find the answer to that is to examine if there are some situations which give you one but not the other.
One such situation may be, in some cases (when you are insecure), being in comfort of (taken care of) a “master”. This gives you happiness (under the condition that you are insecure) but not self esteem (it does not give you security that you own – just security as long as the master doesn’t abandon you, not fully within your control, thus robbing you of freedom at the discretion of this master). So there are situations in which you can have one or the other (happiness/self-esteem) while not having both simultaneously.
This also means that one of these is not “…lacking in nothing” because it means you can have happiness but still lack self-esteem. But from the other end, this is not true: If you have self-esteem, it means that you must have security, in which case having a master will not provide you any more happiness than that which you already possess. Thus, self-esteem pre-supposes (meaning it doesn’t lack) happiness (at least in this example, but I will assume it is equally true for any other example we can find), but happiness can lack self-esteem. This means that self-esteem is a higher value than happiness, and the value we are seeking (rather than happiness).
Our conclusion, then, is that anything (you own, think, do, become, or other) in life which raises your self esteem is good, and anything which lowers it is bad.
Kant’s Categorical Imperative says that you should base your decisions on whether the underlying reasoning should reasonably applied as a universal law. For example, if you feel like lying to get money from someone else, would you want this to be a law that everybody should follow? Obviously not, so lying to get money from someone else is evil and you shouldn’t do it.
That may seem like a good way to morally reason, but if you examine it deeper, you will find why that it shifts your thinking away from your self and makes you a sacrifice to societal good. Not that lying is good – it is not – but the reasoning above which concluded that lying in this instance is bad is evil.
By thinking in “categorical imperatives”, you sacrifice your life for someone else. Instead of thinking from your own perspective, what you find good and bad, what you yourself find ethical, you shift your thinking to what is good or bad for society. This is evil – it diminishes your personal worth and value. It makes you a sacrifice for society. It makes you obliged to make decisions based on something other than yourself and something other than your own good.
Now – lying is not good for you. So doing something “for your own good” would not mean that you would automatically lie. On the contrary – lying is actually bad for you. And your decisions should be based on what is good or bad for you, because you are not here to live for someone else, you are here to live for yourself. Lying is bad for you because it reduces your CHARACTER and makes you weaker. Becoming a weaker character, with weak integrity, thinking in a short-sighted way, having to cheat people to get what you want, should not be something you should be striving for.
And this is precisely the alternative moral compass that you should follow. What type of character do you want to become, in order to feel happy about yourself? Do you want to be a character which lies, goes behind people’s backs, cheats and steals to get what he/she wants? Or do you want to be a character that is dependable, has integrity, is strong enough to stand for what he/she believes in, and does what he/she thinks is right and ethical in itself without having to follow some outside moral code or axiom, making your own decisions and shaping your personality based on what you believe in?
What type of character do you want to become in order to be happy – for your own sake, because you value your own self? Act in that way, and let that be your moral compass instead of an axiom – a shortcut – which someone else has placed on you.