‘To live under constraint is a misfortune, but there is no constraint to live under constraint.’
Listen, bad stuff happens. All. The. Time.
It can really hit home when it happens to us, or our friends, or our family.
Losing your job
Finding out your partner has been cheating on you
Finding out your car has broken down
Losing money in an investment
Your start up failing
Your established business failing
Having an accident
Getting an illness
It can sting right?
Conventional wisdom might be to "think positive", or something of the sort. But I say that can hinder as much as help.
A lot of us get stuck in cycles of wondering if what we're doing with our lives is what we're "meant to be doing" with our lives. I know I do.
Lists upon lists upon lists of ideas. So many lists - maybe that's my purpose...chief list maker, guardian of the listiverse.
The truth is, you don't find purpose, you create purpose. By doing things. By being interested. By getting really good. Through practice.
Unfortunately, most of us get trapped on the income treadmill. Not in an empty corporate greed, making money with the aim to make more money, to then make more money kind of way. But instead in a costs are rising, wages are reducing, how am I going to survive kind of way.
That lingering, heart-raising, economic anxiety.
Some others are a little more fortunate, prospering in the workplace. Getting raises to get more raises to get more raises. Replacing Fords with Ferrari's and Jeeps with Jaguars and so on. Adjusting to their means and so still not escaping the income treadmill.
And all of that is great if you're doing what you love to do but if its not, when are you going to do what you love to do? As Alan Watts said, the upsetting thing is most of us do things we hate doing and raise a family and teach them to do the things they hate doing and so the cycle continues. When what you could do is practice the thing you love to do until you get so good at it that people will pay you for it (video here).
Of course, life is hard, and for most of us it's not so easy to just do the things we love to do. At the very least, we still have bills to pay and so jobs to maintain. In the meantime, however, there is nothing stopping us being interested in other things and to eventually get so good at them that we can make careers out of them.
Right now though, how do we increase our current situation happiness? There are two methods I know of, so read on.
"The queen unharmed, the bees all live as one; once she is lost, the hive’s in anarchy." (Seneca)
Don’t attack force with force, especially if the enemy is large.
Instead, sever the roots. Especially if the enemy is particularly centralized. One accurate blow can be devastating.
Starve leadership of information (or befriend informants and mess with the information). Even the scariest monsters die if they are starved of oxygen.
Dry up the resources.
Disrupt the connections.
Ally with the community, build up trust, place your ears everywhere.
Distract their attention in one place, then attack from the side, with lightening speed and conviction.
There are a thousand ways to defeat the enemy. Fighting fire with fire is often the least sophisticated.
Instead, treat anger with silence, infuriating your enemy further, letting them expose their raw emotions, and therefore their weaknesses.
Trade space for time. Allow the enemy to advance, growing in arrogance, whilst you patiently gather information and wait for them to make a mistake.
Put a face to it. Forget the size of the army, find the minds that run it. Understand the minds that run it and the mistakes that they make, and you can take down the army.
The hive cannot operate without the queen.
With the right strategies, you can overcome even your biggest adversaries, no matter what they are. Understand their shape and form, find their constraints, and use them to overcome your obstacles.
Your colleague humiliated you in front of everyone and you're angry. You want to get even. You can't concentrate on anything else but retaliation.
It's justified right? But is it helping?
You're angry at your neighbors refusing your planning application for a new building. You no longer talk to them.
Is it helping?
You're pissed off with your daughter because she didn't call last weekend, so you're short with her when you next meet.
Is it helping?
You don't talk to your partner that evening because he's home from work 3 hours later than he said he would be and you slaved over a meal.
Is it helping?
You sink into yourself and feel angry at the world for not realizing the brilliance of your breakthrough idea after the investors rejected your start-up pitch.
Is it helping?
One of your customers leaves you after citing a poor customer experience and you withdraw into yourself in a world of self-pity and denial.
Is it helping?
It's easy to react based on the external world around us. How we were slighted, how the circumstances were unfair, how the other person got a better deal.
But with all things considered, is it helping? Better to focus on what you can do to make the best of now. Better to see what possibility you can create to improve the circumstances. Better to maintain your own scorecard and standards.
The customer left you, ask them why. Take the objective feedback, and double down on your existing and new customers.
Your partner was late home. Forget the meal. Be the possibility for them to step back from the tough day they had.
The investor rejected you? Get feedback, they've seen hundreds of pitches. Alter your pitch, find more investors, go again.
When you react, ask yourself, "is it helping?" "Am I being helpful?" Because an attitude of win-win is what helps to improve the world.
'But the best advantage is the fact that those who have acquired the habit to commend their enemies is that they do not have hostile feelings and do not feel envious because they are jealous of their relatives' or friends’ success, and are removed from envying their good fortune.' (Plutarch)
Fire burns you, but it can be a source of light and heat too.
When your enemies slander you, when they scream at you or are sly with you, when they gossip about you or wound you; you have two choices:
You can either hit back, clouded with rage. You can fuel the fire and struggle and toss mud and smear the both of you. You can have stress coarse through your veins, you can lose sleep, you can work yourself up, you can respond in a petty tit for tat exchange.
Or you can learn. You can practice grace and poise. You can display virtue and balance. You can be kind, calm, and generous, taking adversity in your stride.
Don't respond in anger, instead be a man of virtue.
Remember, when someone treats you poorly, it doesn't degrade you, it degrades them.
Learn from the exchange. Are there any truths in the accusations? Can you adapt in the future? Are you acting with courage? With patience? With clear thinking?
Imagine then, who you are, your character, when you respond to slander with grace, to anger with objectivity, to a loss of control with a steady nerve, to grandeur with humility, and to underhand tactics with courage.
Your responses forge, craft and refine your character, preparing you to overcome ever harder adversities. All the time whilst your enemies work themselves into a perpetual cauldron of entitlement and rage.
Grace and poise, always.
I kept six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who
Good Questions Trump Smart Answers.
If you want to get to the heart of a matter, ask questions.
Approach problems from different angles - ask why, why not.
Consider the different perspectives - ask what if.
Try to falsify your conclusions - do your best to prove yourself wrong.
An example for you - try to establish the principle behind the following sequence. You can propose the next number in the sequence as many times as you want. You can only propose the principle once:
2 4 6 8 10
What do you think? Are you Mr Smart Answers or Mr Good Questions?
Person A - Mr Smart Answers:
- Is the next number 12?
- The principle is that the next number is the previous number + 2.
Person B - Mr Good Questions:
- Is the next number 12?
-Hmm, it could be that the sequence goes up by 2, but I haven't tried anything else yet. Is the next number 13?
- Okay, perhaps it is that the next number has to be greater than the previous number. But I haven't tried a lower number, let's test it. Is the next number 5?
- Cool. You can't go backwards. Let's test to see if you can stay the same. Is the next number 13?
- Right, the principle is that the next number in the sequence has to be greater than the previous number.
That is correct
Sometimes the obvious answer isn't the right one. Sometimes it is. Sometimes there are dependencies and second order effects, sometimes there aren't. To get to the heart of the matter, start by using our faithful friends - who, what, where, why, how, why not, what if.
Over the last few years, I've made it a priority to read a lot of books. Not just any books, but those that teach you Worldly Wisdom.
What is elementary, worldly wisdom? Well, the first rule is that you can’t really know anything if you just remember isolated facts and try and bang ‘em back. If the facts don’t hang together on a latticework of theory, you don’t have them in a usable form.
Books are the great leveller. They give you access to the musings of the most talented people of not just today, but throughout history.
Want to learn about investing? Legendary investors Ben Graham, Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger have penned their thoughts. Want to learn about dealing with uncertainty, read anything by Nassim Taleb. What to learn about Stoic Philosophy, read any of the classics by Seneca or Marcus Aurelius.
Yes, books are the great leveller and have become incredibly important to me over the last few years.
How to read a book is also important. That’s been covered in detail over at Farnam Street Blog and you can read about it here and here.
Learning From and Relating To What You Read
When I read a book, I'm always scribbling in the margins, always writing down my thoughts, thinking how it may relate to knowledge I already have or experiences that I'm going through. I'm not a special snowflake here, most curious people will be scribbling in the margins. In fact, it's termed "Marginalia" and has been done throughout the centuries by various historical figures including Mark Twain and Oscar Wilde.
When a business looks to improve, discussions usually centre on what can be added.
More often than not, this results in the suggestion of “something new” that will help the business.
If this “something new” has been suggested by someone of importance, you will be surprised how quickly the creation of data and charts by team members who rely on the recognition of that someone important manages to show that this “something new” will produce a positive ROI for a company; such is the power of authority, liking and social acceptance bias.
This is not an effective way to improve the performance of a company.
All energy tends to spread, to become dispersed, if not hindered from doing so.
In physics, the scientific measure of physical energy flow from being concentrated to being spread out is known as “Entropy.” We can use it as an analogy in business and life.
You we see a million books lining the stores giving you the secrets to success. “10 things all great companies have in common”, “5 things all winners do to succeed”, “7 ways to be the next Steve Jobs.” Unfortunately for you, the advice given is not proof of cause of success. What do I mean? Well, if you take an example from one of these books, let’s say the quality of “perseverance.” If perseverance caused success, you wouldn't know of one failure who persevered but didn't succeed. But you know plenty! Unfortunately, they don’t write stories about the graveyard of failure, it doesn't sell as well.