Principles

These are a few issues I’ve thought about enough to have a strong opinion on. I believe these principles provide a useful framework for making decisions, and that using this framework will ultimately make me happier. As with anything created at the grand old age of 25, I’m sure this isn’t the last thing I’ll write about it, and I fully expect to edit, remove or add to these principles over time.

1. Simplicity is good. It saves mental power for other things (this is why Obama only wears two colours of suit, to save decision-making effort for more important issues than merely deciding what to wear).

2. Minimalism – a lack of commitments (financial or otherwise) and a lack of possessions – also reduces stress. Books are the exception to this rule.

3. As a corollary to rules 1 and 2, I am prepared to pay for quality – if I’m only going to have a couple of pairs of shoes, or 4 suits, I want them to be good quality.

4. Likewise, I’m willing to pay other people to do things I could do myself if it reduces stress and frees up time for other things – money is renewable, time is not.

5. Keeping your monthly outgoings as low as possible and maintaining cash on hand goes a HUGE way to reducing anxiety and increasing happiness. Corollary: eliminate and do not use consumer debt. It’s like running with a parachute strapped to your back.

6. What people have actually ACCOMPLISHED is much more important than their qualifications. This is true for me as much as it is for anyone else.

7. Experimenting and tracking results is crucial to improving anything.

8. If we define “rich” as being able to buy anything you want, then there are two ways to do this: get more money, or want for fewer things.

9. Having said that, money is only one of three currencies: the other two, time and flexibility, are often much more valuable (see rule 4).

10. You can be good at more than one thing, and often it helps.

Avoiding the harmful

Happiness: we don’t know what it means, how to measure it, or how to reach it, but we know extremely well how to avoid unhappiness.

- Nassim Taleb, The Bed of Procrustes

I’ve so unhappy at certain times in my life that I’ve had to cry myself to sleep. I got out of it by cutting the harmful out of my life.

This is such a powerful principle that you can apply to a lot of different areas: avoiding consumer debt, avoiding ignorance, avoiding things like cigarettes and drugs.

Three recent news stories brought my mind back to this principle.

Firstly, Andy Coulson of the News of the World was found guilty of phone hacking.

Secondly, Luis Suarez bit an opposition player during Uruguay’s latest World Cup match.

Finally, Wonga.com were found to have sent threatening letters from a fake law firm to encourage their debtors to pay up.

Here’s the thing. Say what you want about the News of the World, but Andy Coulson was a powerful, well-respected guy who had previously worked for the Prime Minister. Without this scandal, he would have been fine. Luis Suarez is undoubtedly one of the finest football players in the world, but this is the third time he’s bitten a player, and it looks like he could be facing a lengthy ban from the sport. And regardless of how you feel about payday loan companies, there’s no denying Wonga.com is the market leader, a growing and profitable company.

But the latest news for these people may ultimately be damning. I’m sure they’ll all survive — for now — but at what cost?

And every single one of these incidents could have been avoided with a moment’s thought. It reminds me of a quote I first heard from Ryan Holiday:

[Here's] a Spartan anecdote from Plutarch about King Hippocratidas when a youth and his lover met him accidentally in a crowd. The two had turned their faces away and he said “You ought to keep the company of the sort of people who won’t cause you to change color when observed”.

Is there no-one at News of the World or Wonga.com who was sat in a meeting thinking “You know, what we’re about to do is really stupid. I should stop it.” Do they not have a Chief Dissent Officer? Or even a fucking conscience? The Suarez incident is slightly different, as it was a heat of the moment thing, but still, this is the THIRD time it’s happened. After the first two incidents, why not take a minute and think about why you’re acting the way you’re acting?

There’s a reason Google’s motto isn’t “Be good” — rather, it’s “Don’t be evil.” As with seeking happiness, we may not always know the right thing to do — but avoiding the wrong things is a good place to start.

A lesson on the power of incentives

As an Econ grad I love stories like this.

The story of the Honduran railroad epitomises life on the isthmus. In 1870, the government hired an engineer named John C. Trautwine to lay track from Puerto Cortes on the Atlantic to the Bay of Fonseca on the Pacific, but made the mistake of paying him by the mile. When the project went bust in 1880, Honduras was left with sixty miles of track that wandered aimlessly here and there through the lowlands.

That’s from The Fish That Ate The Whale: The Life and Times of America’s Banana King by Rich Cohen. Fantastic book.

Never forget the power of incentives. There’s a reason that Warren Buffett himself puts together the incentive schemes for Berkshire Hathaway managers – it’s hugely important and he doesn’t trust anyone else to do it.

The Obstacle Is The Way

I’ve been reading Ryan Holiday’s blog for about 7 years now. He’s the Director of Marketing for American Apparel, and has worked with authors like Tim Ferriss, Robert Greene and Tucker Max. He’s also a staunch advocate of stoicism as a personal operating system.

His new book is called The Obstacle is the Way: The Ancient Art of Turning Adversity to Advantage. It’s the best book I’ve read in a long time, and it’s a book I will undoubtedly turn to again and again over the next 50 years. Ryan teaches you how to deal with anything in your life, and turn it to your advantage.

There are three aspects to this.

1. Perception

Controlling your perception is key – you have to flip the obstacle around to see how it can work for you. Think: tight deadlines give you the opportunity to practice working under pressure and focus on what really matters. Failing at a business venture gives you more intel about what does and doesn’t work in a particular marketplace. If your computer crashes and you lose all your work: now you have a chance to do it over, even better than before.

What matters most is not what these obstacles are but how we see them, how we react to them, and whether we keep our composure…this reaction determines how successful we will be in overcoming – or possibly thriving because of – them.

2. Action

Every single thing we do is a reflection of who we are as a person. We owe it to ourselves to do our best work, to keep going, to strive and to what it is we were meant to do. And we always have a choice to keep working and to put in the effort and the work required of us.

The great psychologist Victor Frankl, survivor of three concentration camps, found presumptuousness in the age-old question: “What is the meaning of life?” As though it is someone else’s responsibility to tell you. Instead, he said, the world is asking you that question. And it’s your job to answer with your actions.

3. Will

Finally, there is the idea of will, which is what you hold deep inside of you.

True will is quiet humility, resilience, and flexibility…[not] weakness disguised by bluster and ambition. See which lasts longer under the hardest obstacles.

This is what we should all strive to be:

Certain things in life will cut you open like a knife. When that happens – at that exposing moment – the world gets a glimpse of what’s truly inside you. So what will be revealed when you’re sliced open by tension and pressure? Iron? Or air? Or bullshit?

Ryan is also clearly influenced by both Robert Greene and Marcus Aurelius in terms of his writing style for this book – it is simple, clear, direct and practical. I found myself highlighting and marking numerous passages which I will turn to again and again in the future.

Self-awareness is useless on its own

People pride themselves on self-awareness, but it’s bullshit. You can do all the personality quizzes, introspection and discussions with coaches and mentors – you can do as much of that as you want.

But it’s ultimately worthless if you don’t ACT on that knowledge. You know you talk over people too much? Get people to call you on it. You have a tendency to flit from project to project when things get difficult? Strap yourself to your chair and force yourself to finish something for once.

If you’re not using that self-awareness to improve yourself, your life, your relationships, and your decisions, then it’s all just masturbation.

Hustling

Given a choice of two options, if you grab both, you are a hustler.

There are some medieval Indian folktales about a witty character called Tenali Rama. The story goes that as a kid, a goddess appeared before him, holding a cup of milk in each hand. She offered him a choice: the milk of wealth or the milk of intelligence.

Tenali grabbed and drank both before the goddess could react.

Now that’s hustling.

Read Career Advice: How do I become a hustler? on Quora

How to make decisions quicker

You can make life-changing decisions on the flip of a coin. I know, because I did.

If a decision is a difficult one, you need to work out WHY it’s difficult. Are the two alternatives genuinely different, or is the decision difficult because whichever option you choose, the outcome will be roughly the same?

Example: it took me ages to choose where to go to university. Like, months. I wanted to go to a university somewhere in the north of England, a big red-brick university that was good academically but also in a big city with a good nightlife and plenty of students. There are a fair few unis that fit the bill.

I narrowed it down to two places – Leeds and Manchester – and agonised endlessly over the two.

Then I realised: both of these places tick all the boxes They both have everything I want from a university. Whichever one I pick, I’ll probably be pretty happy. And if I’m not, it’s not like it’s an irreversable choice.

Still, how to pick between the two? That was easy. Flip a coin, pick one, and then go and get on with your life.