Obstacles and how we use them

One strange problem is the irrational human belief that we shouldn’t have any.  Not only “should” we, but it’s almost impossible to make any significant growth without them.  Be grateful for them and use them, don’t curse them.

Ask “What’s great about this?”, “How will I use this?” or “How will I handle this next time?”.  Never ask “Why does this always happen to me?” or similar questions, where even the subliminal answers are destructive.

Ryan Haliday explores this concept in depth in his incredible book: “The Obstacle is the Way” with dozens of examples of those who created amazing lives for themselves and others because of the problems they faced, not in spite of them.

“If you find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn’t lead anywhere.” – Frank A. Smith

 

 

A reason for hope

It’s difficult to perceive progress in ourselves or our community when the most prominent “news” seems to reveal that our health, wealth, our governments, and interpersonal relationships are getting worse.

Violence has been on a continuous decline for 5,000 years.  A mere 200 years ago, 94% of the world’s population lived in extreme poverty, and now that number is less than 10%. (From Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of our Nature).

Zooming out to see the big picture, and consciously monitoring the amount and type of “news” you consume, can help you perceive your own progress.  Perhaps you’ll even be grateful to be living in what is by far the best time in human history for just about every metric that matters.  Lucky us.

 

More effective than rules

Texting and driving is dangerous, so I made a rule to never to do so unless the car was in park.  To cut back on carbs and sugar, I gave myself a daily consumption quota.  Rules like this are helpful only if you’re disciplined enough to police yourself.  But…

Changing my phone settings so that texts don’t display at all before I drive makes compliance easy.  Not allowing carbs or sugar in my house cancels the need for self-control.  You can rely on willpower to NOT hit snooze, or you can position your alarm clock so you have to get up to turn it off.

Discipline is essential of course, but you can improve outcomes for following rules when if you minimize or eliminate the option to break them.

The antidote to sunk cost bias

Sunk cost bias causes otherwise smart people to make irrational decisions when investing resources, based on previous investments that can’t be recovered.

A simple example is choosing to go to an event because you already spent money on tickets, despite being sick and not wanting to go.  A longer term and more toxic example might be the desire to fix an awful, abusive relationship, or continuously endure a job you hate just because you have so many years “invested”.

The antidote to overcoming this bias is to ask yourself: What would my choice be if I had no previous investment, and was starting from where I am now, with what I know now?

 

 

Smart is as smart does

People are considered smart because they have an advanced degree, an impressive vocabulary, or are well-read. But how we apply what we know is more important than what we actually know.

When I read a book, attend a seminar, pay attention to people wiser than me, or make a mistake, I always look for the take-aways and biggest learnings. The best way to do this is to ask: how will I use this?

Learning but not making use of it is roughly the same as not learning in the first place.

Conversation or violence

If there’s a way forward in building a peaceful global civilization among 7 billion people, we must understand that ideas spread and persuasion works along a continuum of only two things: conversation and violence.

 

Each of us can choose to be accountable, improve our abilities to converse, debate, and disagree peacefully, so we don’t move the wrong way.

 

Two things to remember:
1)  Always contend with arguments, not people
2)  You have not been victimized because you heard something with which you disagree or find offensive.   Learn to separate your views and beliefs from you as a person (your ego).

 

 

Hack for forming new habits

One hack for forming new habits is to commit to activities so small and seemingly insignificant that they rule out the perception that you don’t have the time or energy.

Do just two push-ups.  Floss one tooth.  Drink one extra glass of water per day.  Meditate for 30 seconds.  Stretch one muscle group before bed.  Writing a 365 page book is daunting (I’ve done it), but writing one page per day for a year isn’t.

Don’t be concerned with volume.  The goal is consistency and continuity.  Most people find after a few days that it’s easy enough to do more push-ups, floss all their teeth, drink far more water, stretch more, and are well on their way to authoring a book.