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Weekly 3: Trim life's fat

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Idea Journal Weekly 3

December 20 · Issue #170 · View online

We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.


Summary: Not all experiences are created equal. This issue explores a few ideas to help you remove the lowest-value ones from your life.
(~3 min read)

#1. If you believe that life is short, then avoid experiences that waste time
Entrepreneur and Silicon Valley oracle Paul Graham writes that having kids is what finally made him realize that life is in fact short: 
“If Christmas-as-magic lasts from say ages 3 to 10, you only get to watch your child experience it 8 times. And while it’s impossible to say what is a lot or a little of a continuous quantity like time, 8 is not a lot of something. If you had a handful of 8 peanuts, or a shelf of 8 books to choose from, the quantity would definitely seem limited, no matter what your lifespan was.”
Once you know that life is short, arguments in the form of “life is too short for X” are increasingly important.
Graham calls the category of things that life is too short for is “bullshit.”
Philosopher Harry Frankfurt wrote a long and influential essay in 1986 exploring the nature of bullshit, but Graham offers a characteristically succinct definition: “It’s the junk food of experience.” 
Graham recommends asking yourself the following question to distinguish between bullshit and those experiences that actually matter: “Will you care about it in the future?”
#2. Adding more things to your life isn't the only option
Entrepreneur Derek Sivers writes on his blog that your life can be improved by adding things to it – or by subtracting things from it.
Other people and organizations often push us to add more things to our lives because it benefits them, but as Sivers notes, “the secret is to focus on subtracting.”
The “adding mindset” is deeply ingrained. It’s easy to think of what else you need, but harder to look at what to remove.
For Sivers, the least successful people he knows are drawn to distractions, run in conflicting directions, are chained to emotional obstacles, and say “yes” to almost everything.
But the most successful people he knows “have a narrow focus, protect against time-wasters, say no to almost everything, and have let go of old limiting beliefs.”
#3. “If you can’t decide, the answer is no.”
In a Periscope video, entrepreneur and investor Naval Ravikant says that our biology is at odds with the number of choices available to us in modern society.
We evolved in tribes of 150 people, and in that context if you passed on one option, a second option was unlikely to come along.
But in modern society, we’re inundated with options: there are over 7 billion people on the planet, we’re connected to most of them through the internet, and each of us potentially has access to hundreds or thousands of career opportunities.
It can be hard deciding among all the available options.
To make this process easier, Ravikant uses the following decision-making heuristic: If you can’t decide, the answer is no.
For example, say you’re facing one of the below decisions:
  • Should I take that job?
  • Should I buy this house?
  • Should I move to that city?
  • Should I go into business with this person?
These are all difficult decisions, and their effects can last far into your future. Because of that, you should only say yes if you’re relatively certain.
You can never be absolutely certain, but you should have a positive feeling about your choice: “You have to internalize it in your gut and in your heart – you have to really want something before you go for it.”
If you find yourself creating a spreadsheet to weigh your options or making a list of pros and cons, “forget it.”
The answer is no.
Quote of the week
“Most of any individual’s significant achievements – most of the value someone adds in professional, intellectual, artistic, cultural, or athletic terms – are achieved in a minority of their time. There is a profound imbalance between what is created and the time taken to create it, whether the time is measured in days, weeks, months, years, or a lifetime.”
- Author and consultant Richard Koch in his book The 80/20 Principle
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