Decisions drain the life out of us.
Every tiny decision requires precious energy. That energy is taken away from our family, our ability to earn money, or our passion for hobbies. I spend my life obsessively looking for energy leaks. Rules of thumb (aka razors) help to automate decisions so you can gain back precious energy and use it to improve your life.
Here are the best ones I’ve found.
The most powerful rule of thumb ever
Let’s cut to the chase. People can easily set themselves up for failure when they fall for the lie that people are bad until proven otherwise.
Humans are a pretty good species. Sure there are a few crazies — but if you build your life around the idea that everybody is crazy, you’ll go nuts yourself. Assume people mean well until proven otherwise.
Give people a chance. Let them show you what they’re capable of. Give them enough rope to run with, without giving them so much rope that the odd crazy can use it to hang you with.
Social media has helped divide us. Believing people are good by nature will help repair the damage, and let you make decisions about people faster.
The “it freaking hurts” law
Every day opportunities get presented to us. It’s easy to be biased towards the ones that are in your comfort zone. An excellent rule of thumb is to do what former Navy Seal Commander Jocko suggests.
Choose the uncomfortable option.
What freaking hurts is where the growth is found.
Have you ever been in a scary situation and then retold the story years later? I told a friend recently about how when I was a teenager I went to a house party. We were having a good time and dancing to Dr Dre anthems like “Next Episode” in the main living room.
All of a sudden a group of youths came through the front door with machetes and started slicing through humans like dead cows. A knife cutting through flesh like butter sounds similar to slicing through a lettuce.
At the time the experience scared the crap out of me. When I retell the story now it’s from the perspective of a superhero. I learned so many lessons that night that have kept me safe. The uncomfortable visual has become a powerful life lesson. If you’d have asked me whether I wanted to see the knife wounds and blood everywhere back then, the answer would be no. But in a strange way I’m glad I saw my worst nightmare.
Now obviously don’t go to this extreme and be around wannabe teenage samurai. The message is to say yes to what scares you more often. You can always say no at the last minute if the challenge is too great. At least give yourself a chance to face your fear and level up because of it.
This one keeps you humble until you die
The afterlife is an interesting idea. Nobody can prove or disprove it. I use the lack of certainty about whether death is the end to keep me humble today.
My rule of thumb is I’ve been born in the western world and compared to places like Africa, I come from extreme privilege. Therefore, in the next life I’m going to live in poverty without an internet connection.
This way of thinking helps me see poverty and famine as my problem. If I don’t help to solve it then it will plague me in the next life. I’ll have to find a way to walk miles to get a bucket of water and risk getting a deadly disease when I go to quench my thirst.
Pretend you get the opposite of this life in the next life. The decision to be kind and solve global problems is easy then.
William Shatner is the face of Star Trek. Oldies love him. I don’t mind him. Recently Shatner got a free ride on Jeff Bezos’ huge rocket ship.
When he returned to earth, Jeff conducted an awkward interview full of emotion. Jeff doesn’t perform well around emotion. He has a bulletproof man persona that can only be penetrated with the sudden bankruptcy of Amazon. Unlikely to happen.
Shatner describes space as very black. He thinks that being in space is what death must feel like. There’s nothing. But when he was in space he says you look down on earth and it’s this blue glow that signals life. Now back on earth, he realizes he’s on the same side as life, not death.
Shatner’s rule gives you all the motivation you need. You’re already lucky to exist in the blue part, not the black part. Enjoy the blue before you enter the blackness.
The Einstein mental model
Einstein was a smart cookie. Thought experiments ran his life. In 1919 most people had no idea who he was. A year later one of his thought experiments made him wildly famous. The experiment was a solar eclipse that made his theory of relativity true.
At any given time Einstein had an experiment running. He started with “imagine you’re…” Then he’d add an experiment. Imagine you’re chasing a beam of light through space. What happens? Imagine you’re on a train and lightning strikes while your friend outside watches. What happens? Imagine you have a twin. The moment you’re both born you stay on earth and your twin gets sent to space at the speed of light. How do you age?
These regular experiments made Einstein one of the most well-known people in history.
If you want to be smart it’s best to always have experiments running. Use the data to level up in the video game of your life. So next time you go to do a task for the first time, intentionally label it as an experiment. That way the outcome is learning rather than success or failure. You’ll make decisions faster as a result.
If you cannot explain something in simple terms, you don’t understand it — Prof. Feynman
I use an edited version of the Feynman law. To ensure I understand something in simple terms I write about it. It’s why I’ve written so much about bitcoin — to understand it.
The process is then to see what parts people highlight of the article and what questions they have in the comments or on Twitter. This feedback shows me what parts I understand and what parts need work. I then go back to the original idea I wrote about to relearn.
Don’t guess whether you understand a complex idea. Use social media to share your learnings and then compile the feedback to see your blind spots.
The personal hero razor
Ever learned somebody you admire has done evil in the past? I remember I once wrote about Ellen Degeneres. Years later I learned she was an evil witch that treated humans like voodoo dolls. It broke my heart.
A useful rule of thumb is to assume your heroes have at least one enormous defect. That way when the eventual story leaks out about a night of debauchery they once had on Hollywood Boulevard, you won’t be outraged.
Cancel culture encourages us to be outraged when a person we place on a pedestal does something wrong. This is stupid. Everybody makes mistakes. Expect a famous person to screw up. Joe Rogan is another great example. His recent misinformation episodes are horrific. What I learned in his early podcasts, before he got famous, still has value to me though.
The point of an idol is to take the good you can learn from them and leave the bad behind. It means you don’t have to waste so much time making decisions about who to follow and who to mute. Learn from insights, not from perfect humans that don’t exist.
Use the law of the writer’s guillotine
Good writers use a guillotine on their work. They’re the executioners of their cute little idea babies.
Look at Sean Kernan. He uses a machine gun rather than a guillotine to murder unnecessary thoughts from his writing. It works.
This law goes beyond blogging. Whenever you have to prepare a presentation, video, podcast or speech, delete the worst point even if it’s good. It will make the rest of the content shine brighter.
The “everybody’s watching me” bullet to the head
I speak to a lot of wannabe writers. Many of them live in this fantasy world, where they imagine writing like taking their clothes off at a strip club and showing their private parts to strangers who whip out their phone, capture the moment and place it on instagram for eternity.
They think everybody is watching, therefore the risk to write online is too great. I can’t judge them because I used to be like that. I found a solution.
Forget about trying to get people to agree or disagree with you. Instead, settle for making them think. That one rule of thumb eliminates all the fantasies about having 100% of people agree with you.
You can never control who disagrees or agrees with you. It’s possible to make them think, though. Make it your default decision so you can unleash your creativity on the world.
The Steve Jobs Razor
Steve Jobs was an asshole. Let’s not be mistaken. But as per the personal hero razor, you can learn wisdom from anybody, even Jobs.
Steve taught me to be obsessed with simplicity. What got me was when he said “1000 songs in your pocket” to describe the iPod. If you break down this claim then it’s wrong. The number of 1000 songs is correct if you listen to 3-minute radio edits. But back in the early 2000s I listened to dance music which is 7- minutes per track. Fact-checkers got drunk on this claim.
But the detail doesn’t matter. It’s the idea that provides the insight. Jobs taught us to get to the point over worrying about tiny details.
Simplicity is a superpower. Apply it to everything you do in life and more people will understand what you’re trying to communicate.
- Assume people mean well until proven otherwise.
- Pretend you get the opposite of this life in the next life.
- Earth is life. Space is death. You live on earth.
- Always have experiments going.
- Choose the uncomfortable option.
- Assume your heroes have at least one enormous defect.
- Don’t make people agree or disagree with you. Make them think.
- Use simplicity over details to communicate better.