Opportunity Costs

It is no big news that the ability of the human mind, to think perfectly rational and logical, is at best unimpressive.

We come preprogrammed with all sorts of mental biases, that we should be aware of, when we make important decisions, in order to account for any illogical proclivities.

I have benefited immensely myself, from learning about concepts such as The Sunk Cost Fallacy, Confirmation Bias and other ways in which we aren’t able to think clearly.

I discovered another flaw in my own thinking a year back, when I was still in my full-time position, and I was considering leaving it for a more uncertain job situation.

Back then, I hadn’t finally decided to quit yet.

A friend told me that a TED conference was being held in Copenhagen, and he asked me if I wanted to go. When I discovered that I couldn’t, because it was held during my regular working hours, I was reminded of what I was losing by staying with my company.

I primarily wanted to go that conference for my own entertainments sake, but I could never know what kind of interesting people I would meet there, and what opportunities that would present.

And I still don’t know what could have happened.

The point is, back then, my brain was mostly thinking in terms of having nothing (no job) or having something (a job) when I contemplated quitting.

I think that we all tent to do this. We underestimate the potential opportunities that lies ahead – when they are unknown –  if we decide to free our schedule from whatever it is we are doing right now.

I am not saying, that everyone should quit their job and open themselves up to unknown opportunties, obviously not.

I am just saying that we usually have potentially great options ahead of us, when we decide to stray off the fully known path, and that is something.

Our brains can’t really assign the correct value to this optionality, when it constructs it’s algorithms for decision making, and therefore we have to do it consciously for it.

Remember that just because the future is unknown, it doesn’t make it bad or dangerous by default. A positive outcome is just as likely if you work hard to influence it.

Acquire these 2 skills to increase your sense of freedom

Freedom is at the root of everything I write about on this blog.

I write about minimalism because it eliminates your dependents on stuff and your fascination for it.

I write about financial freedom because… Well, you can probably guess why.

The minimal and frugal way of life are both nice, because they increase the amount of free time you got. Once you’ve eliminated the worst expenses from your monthly budget, and thereby don’t have to work as much, what are you supposed to do with that time? I would suggest something that could increase your sense of freedom even further.

But let’s first define what freedom exactly is. In my view, it’s about being able to take one’s own needs, without the help from anybody else.

Freedom is taking care of yourself.

So, if you can manage to take care of your most basic needs, all by yourself, you are by my standards free to go about your life and care very little about the rest of the world.

And your most basic needs should be obvious: food and shelter.

Increasing your skills in the domains of acquiring food and shelter, are both very attainable and scalable to your level of ambitiousness:

You can learn how to bake bread with a sourdough starter or go to the end degree and produce your own flour.

Or you can learn how to do basic maintenance around the house, or actually build it from scratch.

That’s all up to you.

The point is, I think most people who feel trapped by life, can experience a higher sense of freedom by improving upon these two basic human skills.

A mindfulness exercise for anxiety: Let this moment unfold

Here is an exercise that I have been utilizing recently, whenever I deal with any kind of anxiety or worry about the future.
Usually, we worry about the future, based on the assumption that we can predict exactly what it is going to be like. But what we often end up finding out, is that the thing we were ruminating about was not that bad when it finally happened. Other times we realize that we aren’t able to predict the events that we really should be worried about.
We make our plans, and god laughs.
So this is were mindfulness and paying attention to the present moment comes into play.
The following thought experiment, is what I perform in moments of worry in my own life:
  • Stop and notice this current moment
  • Pay attention to every little detail about this moment you can (sounds, your breathing, the sensations in your body)
  • What is good about this moment? What is not happening right now, that you might worry about will happen later on?
  • Now think about what is going to happen next. What is the next moment you’ll notice going to be like? How is it going to be different from this current moment?
  • If you visualize your future as a long long series of moments that sit like pearls on a string – what are they going to be like? How likely is it, that they will be pretty similar to this moment, which you are grateful for?
If you believe in the power of mindfulness, the lesson here should be, that there is plenty about this current moment that you can find gratefulness in, and that the same is probably true for the next future moment that you will notice.
By extension, your future will most likely be relatively similar to this present moment, if you just take it for what it actually is.

Understand what most people does, so you can do the opposite

In any kind of society, it will always be difficult to be different from the majority. A lot of social pressure mechanisms is usually put in place, to make us feel bad if we choose not to conform to the cultural norms around us.

However, once we realize this, and start asking ourselves what is most important to us – theirs or our own vision for our lives’ trajectory – we may be able to look passed these external expectations and think for ourselves.

As a concrete example, I can tell you about the immense social pressure me and my wife feel these days, to have kids, as we are currently in the perfect stage, according to the convention, to start our own family. We have no desire to do this at the moment, and whenever we aren’t bothered by family members, who can’t shut up about our “soon to arrive fictional kids”, we see the tremendous freedom and carelessness it wins us to go against the current.

Most of my friends are having kids these days, and I am not saying that they are making bad choices. I am just saying, that I am happy for me and my wife, that we are not making the same choice right now.

It is not always beneficial to do the opposite of the mainstream. But sometimes it is, and it is worth thinking about when this might be, so you can experience the life equivalent of a blue ocean strategy.

Think about this:

Most people move to the city.

And this influences housing prices. For a lot of people, it would pay them well to consider moving to the countryside, as the cost of living is usually 5 times lower there. It is mind boggling to think about, how the poor population of every society is usually concentrated where housing prices are highest – in the inner cities.

 

Most people eat meat with every meal.

I am not advocating veganism, I just want to point out how almost everyone I know, can’t imagine eating a single meal without meat included. This makes meat very expensive compared to other good sources of protein. Try mixing it up!

 

Most people watch TV every day.

And this makes the general public’s knowledge very homogenous. Everyone knows about the latest football match, scandal or terrorist attack. Let them be the experts on these subjects, and you can then learn about something completely different.

This will make your personal knowledge very much specialized and unique, whereas every averagely smart person you meet, will have a lot to teach you, in case you are curious to know what’s in the news these days.

 

Most people accumulate stuff.

Therefore, they have to work very hard, day after day, in order to afford and be able to store all of their stuff. Once you jump off this bandwagon, you can immediately stop yourself in your tracks, and ask what it is you really would like to do in life?

 

Most people are incredibly busy with their career.

In this category, I personally feel incredible social pressure from my peers, as everyone is constantly comparing themselves to each other. This makes it very important for everybody to compete on salary and status, and nobody can ever relax and enjoy anything. Busyness becomes endemic, and actually enjoying life gets postponed until retirement (if that ever comes).

My life has become ten times more relaxed, ever since I quit this race.

In some cases, going against the current may hurt you, whereas it might pay off in others if you can muster the courage.

It is up to you to decide, what is true for you in all of life’s larger decisions.

On keeping a mantra (with Inbox)

It is super hard to implement a new idea for how to live the optimal life into one’s daily routine.

The problem has existed ever since we humans started to try living according to higher moral principles, than say, just receding to our primal instincts. Both religion and philosophy have historically been vehicles for this.

But due to our somewhat unreliable and easily distracted nature, we have always sought to find techniques that could help us stay on course when times got challenging.

Journaling, meditation, praying, fasting and the practice of wearing symbolic artifacts have all served as reminders, to help us remember our path.

One of the greatest emperors of Rome, Marcus Aurelius, chose to sit down and journal in his diary after a hard days work, contemplating the optimal way of living for a stoic philosopher, mostly to remind himself of what I already knew, so he wouldn’t forget next time he would encounter a stressful situation.

It is still as difficult today, for us humans to stay on a mental course, once we get pushed or stressed out, and that is what makes Marcus’ book relevant 2000 years later.

My Idea

Recently, I wrote about how I like to try and incorporate certain principles into my daily routine, by writing them as reminders on the lock screen image on my phone, so I can get reminded several times a day.

The problem I found with this, however, is that my brain has a weird ability to ignore a static image that it is presented with continuously throughout the day. It is as if the letters loose their meaning, once you have seen them enough times.

So now, instead, I have come up with the idea of using my to-do list to repeat a daily mantra.

It is important to mention, that I use the Inbox app from Google, as both my email client and to-do list, and this is important, because of the snooze function that you can use to snooze all emails and to-dos to a future moment.

I input a principle that I want to remember as a to-do, and then I snooze it for the next day. Once next day rolls around, and I decide to check my email inbox, I get reminded about the mantra, which I had totally forgotten about, and then I snooze it again for the next day, or whenever I want to be reminded again.

The act of having to interact and snooze the object makes it easier for me to actually register and think about it for a split second.

In practice

Right now, my daily mantra is something I stole from Zenhabit, and is simply: “You don’t know anything”.

If you stretch the meaning of this saying, you can apply it to almost all areas of your life:

Oh, you are feeling stressed right now? You don’t know anything about how stressful life can be. Your life is probably pretty easy.

Oh, people seem stupid and annoying today? You don’t know anything about what it is like to be them, or even how they perceive you.

Oh, you don’t feel like making the extra effort today? You don’t know anything about what the long term consequences of your laziness will be. Better make sure to put in the work today.

I might change this mantra over time, or input several others into this system, that I can snooze to different times. But this is what it looks like currently.

To get a first class life, you need to start living a first class life… Or what?

The headline above is aimed to describe an ideology that sometimes is able to threaten the confidence I have in the frugal lifestyle that I lead.

I recently heard the world-renowned strength coach Charles Poliquin say something to this effect, on the Tim Ferriss podcast, and he gave the example of his airplane travelling between the seminars he gives all over the world. He explained, that he always makes it a point to fly first class, to ensure that he gets a good night’s sleep on the plane, so he can show up refreshed for the seminars and give a first class performance, which ultimately results in repeat business with the customer. And it makes total sense, right?

To my ears though, what he was actually saying, was that the first class tickets were an investment that generated a long term positive return – and that you can’t really argue with.

But I think we should be careful not to oversimplify this idea, unless we want some impressionable people to get hurt from the advice.

Say I, as a young man, who is just getting started with life, goes out and takes an expensive loan to buy a Lamborghini, with the thought in mind that it will raise my overall standard of living. Maybe this expensive sports car can enhance my social status, which will allow me to establish relationships to rich people, who has business opportunities that I can capitalize on, and thereby be able to pay back the car. Is this a possibility? Probably! But what you may also call this, is “betting on dumb luck”, and I think that it may even slightly resemble some other popular self-help concepts such as The Law of Attraction and The Secret.

But I know a guy, who one day decided to start living the good life, had no basis for it, and suddenly had all the best things in the world flowing towards him”. This is called the survivorship bias. You probably also know a lot of other people who went bankrupt because they tried to jump 10 steps ahead in the game, without being particularly calculated about it – those examples we tend to forget.

You see, there is no luck involved in the case of the strength coach I mentioned before. He will hop on an air plane, check in to a hotel, give his lecture and go home again. All steps throughout the process are already known from the beginning. The first class tickets are just a way of optimizing this process (you may even define it as improving upon the value chain that is the product he delivers).

In the case of the Lamborghini, we are just optimizing or even amplifying uncertainty, instead of a known process, and that can only result in extreme outcomes – most likely a negative one.

I think the key lesson here, is that we should learn to be more calculated than just taking mindless head-dives into economic uncertainty. We should even be aware, that a luxurious lifestyle can hurt us sometimes. For example: the marketing genius Seth Godin talks about how he had to stop wearing expensive suits early in his carrier, because it resonated badly with the type of people he was trying to establish partnerships with.

In short, the better we are at anticipating the future, the more success we can expect. But hoping is never a strategy.

If you carefully estimate that a 1000-dollar suit is going to a give you a great return on the investment within the near future, then by all means, go ahead and buy it. But if reality says, that a 200-dollar model will get the same job done, I think only a fool would count on the law of attraction to do any other magic than just hollowing out one’s bank account.

The examples of the strength coach and the Lamborghini are opposite extremes of a spectrum, but we should always be careful not to lean too much towards the latter.

 

Thank you for reading

Max

Noise Cancelling Headphones – Like Having a Superpower

On this very blog of mine, I identify as being a minimalist/frugal person. Because of this fact, I always feel like I need to justify it, every time I advise the readers to break open their wallets.

In my opinion, the purpose of being a minimalist is not to spend no money whatsoever. The main idea is to realize, that most of what consumer culture has to offer, is total garbage, and that we should always be very skeptical, whenever someone is trying to sell us something.

However, in some cases, we simply run into products or offers, that are truly worth it, because they add value in a meaningful way to our lives. In those cases, I believe that it is exactly the job of the minimalist to shine some light on these objects, to make the market easier to navigate for everybody else.

Recently, I acquired a product that falls into this category. After considering it for a very long time, I finally took the leap and bought the in-ear, noise cancelling headphones from BOSE.

As I said, it took me a long time to actually do it, since they were fairly expensive, but I always had the suspicion that they might be worth it. They are by no means, an essential product that everyone should own, but they are a really nice luxury to have if one can afford them.

Their main feature, obviously, is the noise-cancelling function. With them, you get a button, that you can press at any time, in case you want to shut out all low-level noise around you. This is truly powerful whenever you find yourself in a train, airplane or even open office, and want to be able to concentrate. I also find that you get a lot less fatigued from sitting on an airplane, when you are able to shut out the constant humming that goes on in the background during the entire trip. If you want to take a walk down the street and be alone with your thoughts in a noisy city, they are great for that too.

They do not make you completely deaf. They just filter out all low-level background noise, and still allow you to hear, what the person next to you is saying. This also makes them reasonably safe to wear in public/traffic.

I say that they are like having a new superpower, although a minor one, because they allow you to concentrate and have some peace, a little bit better than everyone around you – whenever you click the button.

They are great headphones in the classic sense too, and I use them for podcasts and music every day. However, the sound quality aspect is not something I obsess so much about. All I can say is that they are very good in my uninformed opinion.

To be honest, it is a minus that you have to charge the headphones separately every other day with a micro USB cable. But since you can do this, every time you sit in front of a laptop, it is a minor detail in my view.

To sum up: the headphones have my very strong recommendation.

Thanks for reading!

Do the Philosophers Walk

Almost everybody in the modern world deal with the same annoying problem: bad posture.

It is a direct effect of a widespread sedentary lifestyle, which messes up our backs, combined with a lot of static work, with our hands in front of our bodies (think typing on a keyboard), that creates a brutal tightening and shortening of the muscles in the chest area. Throw in on top of this, that most people’s favorite exercise in the gym is bench press/push-ups.

The cure to this problem should be obvious, however very difficult to carry out consistently in reality. That is:

–        An active and upright/standing lifestyle

–        Strengthening of the back muscles

–        Stretching/elongation of the frontal muscles i.e. the chest and shoulders.

 

I won’t talk about the second part of the solution today, as this should be carried out with a balanced resistance training regiment, which could be a blog post for another day.

However, the first and last part of the solution is something I may be able to help you with – with the Philosophers Walk.

First of all, you should find it clear why I recommend taking a lot of walks in general. Many of the greatest minds in history were big proponents of taking walks, and since I am personally a big proponent of contemplation, introspection and strategic thinking, walks seems to go together perfectly with this set of values.

Walking around calmly is a great method for getting some serious thinking done. It prevents you, to some degree, from checking up on the usual distractions of your gadgets, which allows for a deeper level of thought, compared to just sitting in your office chair. Generally, movement also has many positive effects on cognition, and might therefore allow you to be even more creative and a better problem solver.

Further, walking will help you solve the general problem of leading a sedentary life. It is that basic, slow movement, that has played a great role in our evolutionary history, but has since then been outsourced to cars and elevators.

So walking is great, but what this post is about, is the way you walk. My idea is to get you to walk with your hands behind your back (like in the picture), in whichever way you like; hold your own hand, wrist or finger – it really doesn’t matter.

All that matters is that you put your arms behind you, and if you are are anything like me, you should feel a very distinct stretch in your chest when you do so. This is telling you, that you are putting your body out of its regular position, and it is a stretch that pulls on your shoulders – backwards towards a better posture.

If you do this enough, you should see an overall improvement in your posture over time.

So try and practice the philosophers walk every day!

To many, walking this way might seem silly, or like the gait of an older person. But I think it looks cool, like you are being philosophical, and that it reminds me to do some better quality thinking, whenever I go for a walk.

Let me know what you think!

//Max

What’s Trapping You?

My biggest personal aspiration in life is to reach a state of maximal freedom. I want to be able to spend my time according to my preferences and want to be able to select the projects and the work that I do.

Most of what I write about on this blog is geared towards reaching this specific goal;

  • I write about minimalism, and how to have very few physical attachments.
  • I write about productivity, which is meant to create more time for me and the reader.
  • I write about health optimization, which enables one to utilize one’s freedom.

It is important to note, that not everyone wants to achieve the ultimate life of freedom. But I also don’t think that anybody wants to be maximally trapped in life. The moderates out there may, therefore, pick and choose from my writing as needed.

 

So I have spent a lot of time, thinking about what might prevent someone from living The Free Life in today’s world. And I have basically narrowed it down to the following 4 categories:

  • Emotion
  • Ability
  • External environment
  • Health

All shortly explained with examples here:

Emotion

Maybe, you want to take an arts major in college but are afraid of what others might think of that particular idea. You feel fear or anxiety, which limits your freedom.

In terms of freedom-blocking emotions, fear is the most common one.

 

Ability

Sometimes there is some thing you want to do but simply don’t k know how to.

Stupid example: you want to go to another country, but you don’t know how to order the airplane ticket on the internet.

This might be the easiest of the four categories to handle, as it only requires a little self-education.

 

External Environment

External factors are all the things outside of yourself, that might prevent you from being free. Let’s say you want to go live in France for a year, but is unable to, because you have a 30-year mortgage, that you cannot ignore, and so you are financially trapped.

External variables are relatively easy to start working on, compared to the emotional ones, as the solution is often more logical and straight forward. But not necessarily easy.

 

Health

It’s possible to be in such bad health conditions, that you can be prevented from doing literally anything. If your health is really bad, you can be forced to stay in bed all day and follow up on none of your dreams. It’s the extreme scenario, but it tells you that health has to be managed in some way.

 

Whenever you feel like some dream of yours, are outside of your reach, you should be able to identify which of the above categories is the cause.

By becoming aware of what is stopping you exactly, you will be enabled to start working on eliminating those obstacles, and start living life on your terms.

Thanks for reading!

Relentlessly Proactive

Here is another post I was inspired to write because I listened to Josh Waitzkin on the Tim Ferriss podcast.

On the podcast, Josh said he advises his executive coaching clients, to be relentlessly proactive as opposed to reactive, in their daily work.

For me, being proactive means: to do things on your terms – limiting distractions – and moving life forward in accordance with your own internal instincts and principles.

I completely believe, that this is the mindset of an effective person, who is able to define his own destiny. Therefore, something worth aspiring to.

With this post, I would like to discuss a few of my favourite strategies, for enabling one to lead a more proactive, and undistracted life:

 

Your most important stuff first

A simple way of getting your most important stuff done, and thereby work proactively, is simply to do it before anything else. Do your stuff, before checking email, or other tasks, that may grab your attention for the next few hours. This will ensure, that you’ll get some proactive work done, no matter what else happens that day.

 

Distractions evaluated

Pay attention to what is grabbing your attention on a regular basis. It might be, that your work process can be optimized a little. Maybe you get notifications on your computer or phone, which can easily be turned off. Maybe you are using some forms of communication that you should simply opt out of, because they solely work as distractors, and add no value. If so, you might need to delete a few apps from your smartphone – easily fixed.

Distractions are attention robbers and thereby the opposite of proactiveness.

Remember, distractions can come in many other forms, than just notifications from technological gadgets.

 

Mindfulness

Mindfulness/meditation is dedicated time, to listen to what is going on inside yourself. And in order for you to act according to your inner instincts, you need to know intimately about them.

With a mindfulness practice, you get a better sense of where you want to go and why. That means, you will be better aware of, how exactly you should apply your newfound proactiveness.

 

Well-defined values and principles

Again, having a clear sense of direction is important. Otherwise, you can’t know, in which way you should be proactive. I have literally sat down, and written out my personal values and principles, to make it clearer to myself, how I want my life to go.

How you choose to define your life’s purpose and overall goal, is up to you. The important thing is to know, what you should to apply the proactiveness to.

 

Time for thinking

More of the same stuff. Being proactive means, to be clear and deliberate about where you want to go, and where you are at the current moment. A great and simple drill can be to take dedicated time to seriously think, and stop >doing< all the time. Sometimes, we all do a lot of stuff, that doesn’t help us achieve our highest ambitions. It is therefore massively important to stop from time to time, to think and plan the few moves ahead, to ensure that our energy is applied correctly.

 

Being an essentialist.

Even more of the same stuff. Time is precious, and cannot be wasted on anything. As a relentless pro-activist, you also must become an essentialist, which means you must say no to the superfluous. Read the book Essentialism to understand this concept.

 

Thank you for reading.