Monday, 13 March 2017

Do not let the 80/20 principle mislead you

 Free subscription to The John Vespasian Letter

Personal development, as it is understood today, consists of a constant search for shortcuts: How to be more effective. How to be happier. How to earn more money. How to improve your relationships. How to learn faster. How to get ahead.

As a result, a new shortcut becomes fashionable each year: Psychoanalysis. Gestalt therapy. Positive thinking. The law of attraction. The placebo effect. New age. Spirituality. The power of pyramids. Mediation. Tibetan yoga.

If you have tried out any those shortcuts, you must have already figured out their limitations. Fragmentary philosophies lead to fragmentary results. Confusion engenders more confusion. You don't get the right answers by silencing the questions.

The 80/20 principle constitutes the ultimate shortcut. According to this principle, you can render your life more efficient if you focus on your 20% most critical activities. You can multiply your earnings if you concentrate on your 20% most productive tasks. You can be happier if you spend most of your time with your very best friends.

However, none of those shortcuts, not even the 80/20 principle, is going to tell you how to determine your lifetime goals, choose meaningful activities, and select your friends wisely. What would be the point of becoming more efficient at doing the wrong thing? Why would you want to advance faster if you don't know where you are going?

Do not let the 80/20 principle mislead you. Do not make your future success and happiness depend on the shortcut that happens to be fashionable this week. The only way to determine wisely your long-term goals is to adopt a rational philosophy. And the best way to reach those goals is to think for yourself.

Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com

Image: photograph of classical painting; photograph taken by John Vespasian, 2016.

For more information about rational living, I refer you to my books

 
Free subscription to The John Vespasian Letter

Friday, 3 March 2017

How animals make decisions, and mostly get them right


Millions of people are afraid of taking decisions. They agonize for years about things they know they should be doing, but cannot find the time to do. They wish they could gather the courage, the resources, and determination to get rid of old habits, and go into a new direction. They wish they could explore new avenues, but they seem unable to deviate from their routines.

Indecision and fear of the unknown are universal phenomena. To a larger or lesser extent, everybody is afraid of changing his habits, disrupting his life, and losing what he has. Yet, we all realize that we cannot grow without taking risks, making ourselves uncomfortable, and committing occasional errors.

I have found a solution to push myself over the line, and take those initial, risky steps that can lead to better things. This is a technique I learned from watching animals in nature. Look how young animals decide whether unknown food is good to eat, whether they can explore some new territory, or climb a higher tree.

They don't spend months agonizing about the possible negative consequences, the possible failure and ensuing ridicule. What they do is simply to take a small step, try out the new experience, and see what happens. They take a small bite of the new food, and look around nervously at the new territory. They quickly check out if the new thing is going to work or not. If the adventure proves promising, they go ahead. If it doesn't, they simply take a step back, and return to their old routine.

In my experience, this method can allow you to make 75% of your decisions quickly, and mostly get them right. You don't need to take huge, decisive steps, and put your livelihood on the line. You don't need to risk losing your family, your health, and your reputation. Leave those spectacular life-or-death decisions for movies, novels, and poetry.

High-risk adventures belong to fiction, and that's where they should remain. Human beings usually do better in life if they behave prudently and rationally. More often than not, you will do better if you take a low-risk approach, and increase your bet as you go along. And if the project doesn't work as you expected, you don't need to turn the bad experience into a big deal. Simply cut your losses, and move on.

Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com

Image: photograph of ancient Egyptian sculpture; photograph taken by John Vespasian, 2017.

For more information about rational living, I refer you to my books

 
Free subscription to The John Vespasian Letter

A simple but effective way to protect your peace of mind

Here are the links to three interviews, just published, about my latest book "Thriving in Difficult Times: Twelve Lessons from Ancient Greece to Improve Your Life Today." 

***********************
Free subscription to The John Vespasian Letter 

Chances are that your life will go through a major upheaval in the next years. Such disruption might be of a nature that you cannot imagine at present. New technology may render your job obsolete. Global competition could devalue your education. A major economic shift might put you out of business.

Substraction becomes addition

Luckily, there is a simple way to protect yourself. All you have to do is to adopt a frugal lifestyle. Reducing your present cost of living can be achieved in many ways, for example, by spending less money on food, lodging, transportation, energy, travel, entertainment, or insurance

The resulting subtraction from your present enjoyment will be more than compensated by gains in long-term security. Commit yourself to save regularly in order to create a margin of safety. Accumulated resources will allow you to face calmly any disaster that the future may bring.

A man who feels confident and serene makes more of his days than an anxious short-term thinker. Too many are those who live under the threat of a mounting pile of debt. They are paying a high price for giving away their independence in exchange for momentary pleasure.

The delusion of stability

Do not fall prey to the delusion of stability. Reduce your current cost of living and create a financial reserve for difficult times because, sooner or later, they will come. If you are undecided about what expenditures to cut, make a linear reduction of 5% in all your budgets and take it from there.

In addition, it is a good idea to have a back-up financial plan for unforeseen situations. For example, no matter how good your health insurance is, its coverage won't be universal. Similarly, your protection in the field of liability indemnity might be less than you think. What would happen if, due to some unfortunate event, you were to lose your protection altogether? Do you have a back-up plan?

Overspending is frequently caused by overconfidence. People feel sure that nothing bad can happen to them. They overestimate their strengths and underestimate their risks. They place their future at jeopardy in order to enjoy transient advantages that will be quickly forgotten.

You will be better off if you reduce your current costs. Aim at creating an emergency fund to which you can resort in times of need. Even a modest financial reserve can do wonders to alleviate misfortune or adversity. Discard the delusion of invulnerability and assess your risks objectively. Make the commitment to save at least 5% of your net income every month.

The psychological benefits

Furthermore, leading a prudent and modest lifestyle has strong can deliver important ethical benefits. Do you believe that all ethical decisions are equally valid? Are individuals who save to buy a home morally equivalent to those who gamble away their salary? Would you take a loan to finance your medical studies in the same spirit as you would borrow cash to purchase a recreational boat?

Rational values align decisions with reality, leading man to certainty and prosperity. In contrast, relativism wears man down by trying to justify arbitrary choices. Happiness needs to be sustained by facts, not by excuses. Personal well-being cannot be maintained by means of inconsistent behaviour.

Creating safety for yourself

Frugality goes hand in hand with logic and realism. You will enjoy life more if you reduce your living costs and create financial safety for yourself. Pick up pen and paper and make a list of ten items of expenditure that you can cut without any negative impact on your lifestyle.

Make more with less by adopting an entrepreneurial approach to life. If you are committed to search for better alternatives, you will find them. If you remain alert to better opportunities, you will seize them. Give priority to safety over short-term pleasure. Serenity and self-confidence will be the result. Reduce your costs and enjoy life more.

Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com

Image by Alaskan Dude under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us 

For more information about rational living, I refer you to my books

 
Free subscription to The John Vespasian Letter

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Most psychological misery is unnecessary


Here are the links to five interviews, just published, about my latest book "Thriving in Difficult Times: Twelve Lessons from Ancient Greece to Improve Your Life Today."

***********************
Free subscription to The John Vespasian Letter

Discouragement is frequently viewed as the inevitable consequence of serious problems, but does it really have to be so? If you allow yourself to be intimidated by the economy recession, you might be underestimating your professional chances. If you have endured an abusive relationship, have you lost confidence in people? If you suffer from severe health problems, have you lowered your expectations?

Compounded damage


Past mistakes generate regrets, but those should not constitute a valid excuse for paralysis. Misfortune can modify our perception of reality, but we do not need to lose the sharpness of our vision. When bad experiences lead us to focus on obstacles, it is time to push ourselves to search for solutions.

Although a fair amount of trouble is unavoidable in life, we should not make our situation worse by driving ourselves to despair. People who go through bankruptcy may feel wretched contemplating those who inherit wealth. Similarly, those who go through divorce may envy couples who lead happy lives without apparent effort.

The shock of finding oneself too far away from success is unbearable for many individuals. Sadness and despondency intensify material problems, making them deeper and more painful. Victims who compare their disgrace with other people's prosperity only compound their damage.
 

Useless suffering

The desire to recover what has been lost is natural and healthy as long as it is not exacerbated by social pressure. Most psychological misery that accompanies critical problems is unnecessary. Emotional reactions can aggravate whatever losses we have incurred. Dismay can render victims deaf to common sense and blind to opportunity.

What is the reason of so much useless suffering? What makes people act against their interests? Why do they block their achievements? What's the point of placing additional obstacles on our way? Why does this phenomenon affect so many individuals?
 

A dangerous myth

Those negative consequences can be blamed on the myth of short-term radical improvement. Seldom has an idea wrecked so much havoc in the lives of millions of people. The victims of this wrong conviction are as numerous today as in previous centuries, showing that the lesson has not been learned from History.

A man who has been diagnosed with cancer will only inflict unnecessary suffering on himself if he compares his physical condition with that of an Olympic athlete. The stronger his hope to find a miraculous fix for his sickness, the deeper his anxiety. His conviction that short-term radical improvement is possible will intensify his disappointment when a solution fails to materialize.

Reality is not built on the basis of magic. Placing your trust on luck leads to overconfidence and does not increase your chances of success. Exaggerated expectations, instead of motivating individuals, paralyse their initiatives. An all-consuming desire to turn around immediately one's situation can lead to foolish actions.
 

Unrealistic expectations
 
The belief in short-term radical improvement seems to be deeply anchored in human psychology. Our ancestors that hunted wild animals resorted to magic incantations to turn spirits in their favour. The sale of amulets and talismans in the Middle Ages fed on similar cognitive distortions.

The sick want to heal without delay and the poor want to attain wealth overnight. Victims listen avidly to stories about secret recipes that grant men supernatural powers. Dreams of immediate achievement are predicated and encouraged. Demanding the impossible becomes a trend and people wrongly turn adversity into a claim.

Such approach does not work because it clashes head-on against reality. The world is ruled by the law of cause and effect, not by wishful thinking. Demanding short-term radical improvement can render you ineffective. More often than not, your actions will result in disappointment instead of improvement.

The solution

A wise man knows that, in times of adversity, regaining stability is the first step towards a better life. In medical emergencies, first aid aims at preventing further injury and maintaining essential bodily functions. In corporate insolvencies, the goal of financial restructuring is to avoid bankruptcy and keep a business alive.

On most occasions, expecting short-term radical improvement is unrealistic and demoralizing. Those who suffer from life-threatening disease should focus their efforts, in the first place, on achieving stability and preventing their condition from deteriorating. The rational way of moving forward is to take small but steady steps.

If you have suffered misfortune, you can recover much faster if you discard unjustified expectations of short-term radical improvement. Let go of unworkable plans and exaggerated desires because they will only consume your time and waste your resources. Instead, concentrate on accomplishing stability.

Work your way through difficulties and reinforce your fundamental systems. Take measures to prevent the possibility of relapse. Build progressively on your accomplishments and preclude the chance of backsliding. Discard unrealistic hopes and shun hurtful comparisons. Focus your attention on achieving stability and let your improvements guide you to the next level.


[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by geopungo under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]


For more information about rational living, I refer you to my books
 
 

Free subscription to The John Vespasian Letter

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Finding opportunities during difficult times

Here are the links to five interviews, just published, about my latest book "Thriving in Difficult Times: Twelve Lessons from Ancient Greece to Improve Your Life Today."

************************

Free subscription to The John Vespasian Letter

Achievement is not about having resources or connections. It's rather about what you do despite your limited resources and your lack of connections. In our times of economic recession, each day thousands of people lose their jobs. If you are looking for a new position these days, using Mongol tactics might help you achieve your goal faster.


A proven strategy

During the whole 13th century, Mongols dominated the world. They did not succeed thanks to their meagre resources. Neither were they able to resort to their political connections, since they didn't have any. From being a tribe of shepherds, Mongols managed to grow to rulers of the world exclusively by their own efforts.

How did Mongols win battles against ten-times bigger armies? Even more remarkable is the fact that, physically, Mongols were relatively small in size. Nevertheless, they crushed the Persian, Russian, and Bulgarian armies one after the other, each in its home territory.

If Mongols conquered the world starting with nothing, applying their tactics might give you a decisive advantage in your job search. The three principles that I am presenting here can benefit anyone seeking employment.


Clarity of purpose


First, become single-minded about your purpose. Mongols knew that their life was at stake in every battle and they never hesitated which way to go. It was always forward. Finding a job is certainly much easier than building a world empire, but in any case, determination will dramatically increase the speed of your success.

Since talking yourself into becoming single-minded is unlikely to work, how can you acquire the necessary determination? My answer will surprise you. All you have to do is to be realistic and use basic economic common sense. The truth is that you can always find a job, no matter how bad the economy situation is, because the demand for work, for services, is infinite.


  • If you are willing to accept the salary that someone is willing to pay, you will find a job.
  • You might need to move to another town to get that job, but you can be sure that there is always someone somewhere who needs to get something done.
  • If you are flexible about salary and conditions, there are always people out there willing to hire additional help for their business or private needs. All you have to do is find them.
 
Increase your knowledge

Second, increase your knowledge daily. Mongols possessed pitiful technology when they started to build their empire, but they learned from everyone they met. From the Chinese, they picked up metal-working techniques, from the Persians, they learned how to use smoke screens in battle.

Compared to Mongols living in the 13th century, the Internet allows you countless possibilities to learn at low cost. You can find vacancies in data bases. You can use electronic templates to prepare your curriculum vitae. You can listen to podcasts and watch videos on interviewing techniques. The more knowledge you accumulate, the quickest you'll find employment.

Move as fast as you can


The third principle is the most important. You must move as fast as you can. When Mongols fixed themselves an objective, they gathered information quickly, sharpened their swords, and off they were. Riding horses for hours on end was their daily routine, day and night if necessary, until they reached their target.

You don't need to become obsessed about your job search, but taking relentless action is a proven approach for maximizing your achievements. Take the first step in your chosen direction and follow up with a thousand steps more. Let your learning grow rapidly and it will show you the path to success.


[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by anna carol under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]


For more information about rational living, I refer you to my books
 
 

Free subscription to The John Vespasian Letter