Getting past the race

We teach kids to share toys when they’re not using them, and to applaud their siblings and friends’ achievements.  As adults, we can learn to be genuinely happy for people around us who gain or do things important to them, without fearing invisible adverse affects on us.

Part of maturing means recognizing that others’ progress is not our failure.

It’s so much easier to avoid anxiety about whether you’ll win the race when you realize that you’re not in one.


Conversing and arguing

Conversation that includes disagreement seems to be a lost art. People get emotional when their beliefs are challenged.  This can cause an escalation to personal attacks, which makes us lose sight of the original debate, and the concepts and opinions on which we actually disagree.

There’s an easy way to tell the difference between an argument and a conversation: The point of an argument is to determine WHO is right. Whether or not we agree, the point of a conversation is to try to determine WHAT is right.

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.