Saturday, 29 August 2015

Reduce complexity, focus on the essential, reduce stress

Experienced managers tend to focus on a few key parameters that tell them how their business is doing. Seasoned investors proceed in a similar way. Since they know the kind of opportunities they are looking for, they are able to discard unsuitable investment proposals after checking a couple of critical figures.

The important elements

No one can take correct decisions without knowing which elements are important. Gathering huge amounts of data will prove useless if complexity cannot be reduced to manageable levels. 

What you need are simple graphics or tables that show you how you are doing presently and what the trend for the future is. This is a technique that can help you reduce stress when so many things seem to come together at the same time.

When it comes to running your own life, could you reduce information to a small number of factors? Is it possible to simplify reality to such an extent? Can a few numbers suffice to express your level of happiness? Can we isolate the crucial components of our existence and make projections for the next decade? Here are some examples:

  1. The general condition of your health.
  2. Income from your main business or activity.
  3. Overall level personal freedom.
  4. How many close friends you meet regularly.
  5. The size of your bank account and other liquid assets.
  6. Level of satisfaction with your home and living environment.
  7. How you rate the non-monetary aspects of your principal occupation.
  8. Happiness derived from your spouse and other family relationships.
  9. Overall perspectives for personal growth.
A simple overview

If routine fills most of our days, we should not allow random events to eat up the little free time we have available. Becoming conscious of the status in each area of our life and pushing for improvement requires substantial effort. Reducing situations to fundamental numbers can contribute to remind us where we stand and where we want to go.

More often than not, one or two figures should be enough to identify the issues closest to our heart. Even when we deal with immaterial elements, such as the non-monetary aspects of a business or profession, we should force ourselves to come up with a number.

Let us establish, for instance, where we are today on a scale from zero to ten and where we want to be in a year from now. In a similar way, trainers encourage overweight people to track their slimming progress by means of a simple graphic.

A method that works

The sheer exercise of decomposing our life into its main constituents can prove highly beneficial. Turning observations into numerals may, for example, allow latent irritation to be verbalized. The first time that someone takes the time to write all this down will frequently results in a couple of surprises.

In fact, if you can figure out the way to do it, the only number that you need to watch is your overall happiness index, where it stands today and how to extend the years you have left in order to raise it to the highest level. 


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

The 10 Principles of Rational Living

Monday, 24 August 2015

An invaluable element of personal effectiveness and growth

The principles of preventive medicine have remained practically the same for centuries. The idea behind those guidelines is that individuals, barring birth defects or misfortune, should stay healthy if they lead a balanced life. Sickness is an exceptional status arising from wrong behaviour or from wounds received in combat or by accident.

The teachings of Maimonides

In Antiquity, Hippocrates formulated the precepts that a man should follow in order to maintain a good condition. In the Middle Ages, Maimonides compiled and commented Hippocrates' writings, confirming their effectiveness. Here is a summary of those principles:
  1. Ensure proper rest everyday at least for eight hours. (Sufficient rest is of crucial importance for preventing stress, anxiety, and depression).
  2. The ideal sleeping time is between sunset and dawn.
  3. A man should not eat more than he strictly needs.
  4. Foods that are difficult to digest should be avoided.
  5. The most healthy drinks are water and wine.
  6. Bowels evacuation should take place at least once a day.
  7. Fruits, legumes, and nuts should be eaten regularly.
Personal growth

Beyond those basic rules, other prescriptions of Maimonides have also been confirmed by modern medicine as highly beneficial. For instance, the recommendation that a man should sleep on his side instead of lying on his back or face. In our age, a common remedy against back pain consists of sleeping on the side, with one leg stretched and the other in the foetal position.

Another guideline from the Middle Ages encourages eating small fish. During the last decades of the twentieth century, this prescription has been confirmed by marine biology studies. Apparently, in areas of the sea polluted by chemicals, large fish, due to their size, are more likely to be contaminated than small sardines or anchovies.

Amazingly, even the contemporary exhortation against saturated fat finds some precedents in Maimonides' writings. Nine hundred years ago, although the chemistry of the different types of fat had not yet been discovered, olive oil was already being recommended as a healthy food. At the same time, man was being advised against eating old cheese.

The primary recommendation

Most of the great physicians of Antiquity and the Middle Ages spent a good part of their lives working for kings and princes. This fact explains why, in their writings, they placed so much emphasis on recommending a balanced life as the best way of preventing disease. 

Nowadays, when workers are wealthier than ancient monarchs, such advice remains as valuable as in the times of Maimonides. A good health is a prerequisite of personal growth and an invaluable element of effective living.


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

Rational living, rational working

Thursday, 20 August 2015

The rational response to unfair decisions

Unfairness is everywhere and, if you care to look, you will detect more than your equitable share. Some people are born in the right environment, others possess powerful connections, inherit better looks, or simply draw the lucky number in a lottery.

A complex thought process

Occasionally, your valuable work won't be appreciated and, instead, people will praise worthless nonsense. You may at times have to endure discrimination or ostracism, with the accompanying financial drawbacks. Disappointment, self-pity, and envy are frequent reactions to those situations.

Those negative emotions result from complex thought processes, which are as widespread as they are illogical. Imagine, for example, the case of an inexperienced person who is appointed to a high position within a bank thanks to his family connections to the detriment of a much better-qualified candidate.

Circular thinking

What will be the feelings of the person who has seen his rightful expectations evaporate in a cloud of unfairness? On the one hand, irritation and perhaps anger. In addition, discouragement or even depression. Finally, envy, together with an overall sensation of futility. Let us examine in detail the thought sequence that generates these feelings:
  1. The open position should be filled with the most competent candidate.
  2. The people who will make the choice should strive to identify who the best candidate is.
  3. The selection should be made exclusively on the basis of rational criteria.
  4. People should display extra care when they make such crucial decisions.
  5. When someone makes important choices for an organization, he should not let himself be influenced by personal interests and family connections.
  6. Since I am the best-qualified candidate, I should obtain the appointment.
  7. If a less experienced person is selected for the job, that would constitute a terrible injustice.
Personal growth

The ideas described above seem irrefutable at first sight, but they fall apart if we subject them to rational examination. In reality, we all know that some people carry out their duties in an exemplary manner while others are as negligent as you can be. For every person who possesses a strong sense of justice, how many will you find who prefer to look the other way?

Even if you happen to be the best-qualified individual for that particular job, how much of that is the result of luck anyway? If you are reading this, I bet that you have not been born in appalling poverty, deprived of access to basic education, and neglected by your parents to the point of near-starvation. Do take a minute to assess if at least part of your success is the result of pure coincidence or good fortune.

My point is not to state that everything is relative, which is not. Equally, I am not trying to tell you that you shouldn't have ambitions, which you should, by all means. What I am arguing is that envy, a deep feeling of misplaced disadvantage, is mostly a logical illusion.

In a world where millions of people are ignorant, thoughtless, and driven by nefarious ethics, what sense does it make to focus on the unfairness of the day? Lamentations and wishful thinking can bring about certain psychological relief, but they are essentially a waste of resources.

The rational response

The rational response to unfairness is not envy, but relentless action. Given sufficient time, intelligent persistence tends to weigh off the influences of inheritance and chance. In our example, the person who has not been chosen for the job would do better to put on a good face and start to look around, discreetly, for a better position for himself at a rival bank.

Your time on earth is limited and should be used promoting your own cause in front of rational, fair individuals. For what concerns other people's mistakes, prejudice, or arbitrariness, you will be better off if you shrug your shoulders and move on. In the long-term, life often has its own funny ways to settle accounts without your intervention.


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

Books by John Vespasian

Monday, 17 August 2015

Choices that enhance your self-reliance and peace of mind

by John Vespasian

The thesis of this book is that the dominant ideas about how to reduce stress are ineffective because they are irrational. They hardly provide any short- or long-term relief. Reason is the only workable method to relieve stress permanently, a method that requires work and dedication, but provides excellent results.

This book presents many real-life examples that will show you how to eliminate stress in tense situations, bring peace of mind to your life, make choices that enhance your self-reliance, avoid nerve-wrecking inconsistencies, and lead a good life based on reason.

The principles presented in this book are supported by extensive historical evidence, logical arguments, and workable strategies. If you are serious about reducing the stress in your life, this book is for you.

Chapter 1 - The key skill for overcoming negative stress
What to do when problems begin to accumulate
Don't let difficult people get you down
How should you deal with unfairness?
Living happily despite rejection and negative criticism
The essential element for sleeping well

Chapter 2 - No more stress from financial difficulties
Breaking out of a stressful lifestyle
Raising yourself from disaster
Don't make this major mistake if you can avoid it
What you shouldn't do if you value your time
Here is a recipe proven by experience

Chapter 3 - A structured approach for reducing stress
The characteristics of effective remedies
Facing rapid changes and excessive pressure
An unusual method that produces wonderful results
How to reduce your tension by improving your routines
The temptation to do things you don't need to

Chapter 4 -The straightforward way to eliminate conflicts
The man who painted himself into a corner
When situations get out of control
Surviving and thriving in the face of conflict
Long hours don't necessarily lead to success
The most dangerous threat you can encounter

Chapter 5 - Get rid of anger definitively
Don't let this popular nonsense mislead you
Understanding where negative emotions come from
The drop that makes the glass overflow
Eight powerful strategies for reducing anger

Chapter 6 - Learning to overcome discouragement
Don't adopt these counter-productive strategies
How to stay afloat during difficult times
Coming out a winner despite severe adversity
A great formula for leaving discouragement behind

Chapter 7 - How to become immune to sadness
A challenge that millions of people continue to face
The main reason why people feel stressed
Breaking out of pessimism once and for all
Discarding ineffective emotional reactions

Chapter 8 - The end of worry and preoccupation
Serenity amidst poverty and sickness
How to reduce your exposure to emotional fallout
Practical techniques for getting rid of worry
Learning to be optimistic

Chapter 9 - The type of lifestyle that minimizes stress
Do you want to function better?
Here is a lifestyle worth imitating
Overcoming your constraints in a clever way
Never be embarrassed to do the right thing

Chapter 10 - The escape from stressful routines
How to put your dissatisfaction to good use
Bold steps can create exciting possibilities
If you are tired of boredom, here is some advice
The adoption of effective practices

Chapter 11 - Advice for seemingly insoluble problems
When no solutions are in sight
An advantage that you can always create for yourself
Stay away from defeatism and resignation
The critical skill for surmounting daunting obstacles

Chapter 12 - Keeping a clear mind in the face of prejudice
What to do in the face of overwhelming social pressure
Stay alert and don't overlook these threats
Are you inadvertently following a terrible example?
A safe method for navigating dangerous waters

Consistency: The key to permanent stress relief
by John Vespasian

Saturday, 15 August 2015

A simple way to reduce stress and make better decisions

Thick books full of equations deter most people from learning economics. The suspicion that there might be something wrong with the whole science is not unfounded. Otherwise, if economists are so knowledgeable, how do you explain that most of them are not wealthy?

Making better decisions

Every course on economics begins with the law of supply and demand, which is considered the baseline of the science. This principle teaches that consumers buy fewer units when prices are high, but that on the other hand, when prices are low, for the same amount of money, you can get much more.

Since people have been acting in this way since the beginning of time, one might wonder if such wisdom justifies the cost of taking an economics course. My answer is decidedly positive. No matter how simple principles look, their applications demand subtlety and can lead to many blind alleys.

When it comes to applied economics, the most important paradigm is not mathematical. Understanding it can help you make better decisions and, above all, avoid many traps in your private and business life. 

Accelerated personal growth

Mistakes in this respect can easily lead to great amounts of stress and anxiety. If you choose to study only one thing about economics, let me suggest that you learn to tell the difference between consumption and investment. Learning this difference is likely to enhance your happiness and accelerate your personal growth.

First, investments are not characterized by a high acquisition cost. A large house on the beach that you buy to spend your summer holidays every year can be expensive, but is not an investment, since it does not produce you any income. In comparison, a small low-cost apartment that you rent out to tenants does constitute an asset.

Second, investments are not defined by their long durability. A refrigerator that you purchase for your kitchen may last 10 years, but does not generate you any income. Such acquisition is not an investment. In contrast, a set of liquor glasses that may last 3 years is an investment if you buy them for use in your restaurant.

The lesson is that the aspect that creates the distinction between consumption and investment is psychological. Classifying buildings automatically as investments without considering their purpose may lead to wrong decisions and expensive errors.

Emphasising the right things

The fundamental economic difference between assets and expenditure lies in the use that we give to items, not in the accounting rules regarding depreciation and tax deductions. A laptop computer to play video games is a consumption item, unless you get paid for playing those, for instance, because you write reviews for a video-games magazine.

The consequences of this principle are wide-ranging and encompass all fields of our lives. Being conscious of the difference can help you, for instance, to buy your clothes more efficiently, to discard worthless investment proposals quickly, and to reduce the cost of starting your own company.

Misunderstanding what truly constitutes an investment results in the waste of enormous sums of money every year. Do not fall into that trap. Not every big-ticket item is an asset and not all inexpensive purchases are consumer goods. When you make decisions, you will be much better off if you weigh each element according to its veritable nature.


Image by linda yvonne under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under

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

The 10 Principles of Rational Living

Saturday, 8 August 2015

The crucial importance of having a constant purpose

Imagine that you have been born with amazing talents that allow you become anything you want. On the one hand, your unparalleled mechanical abilities can serve you to start up an engineering company whose innovations would be sold around the world. On the other hand, your extraordinary knowledge of anatomy can secure you a place amongst the best physicians.

The end result

In addition, your talent for drawing and composition can allow you to become an internationally-renowned artist and produce hundreds of paintings that would be avidly purchased by collectors. All doors are open to you and the whole world is at your feet. Powerful men seek your friendship and everybody respects you.

To make things even better, Nature grants you a reasonably long life so that you can accomplish as much as possible. You get to live 67 years and enjoy an overall good health. You are born in a country that offers wide opportunities and your family encourages your initiatives.

How much would you achieve in your lifetime? Would you concentrate your energies on one field? Or would you rather change occupation every few years? Which goals would you set for yourself? Would you choose a profession or business that allows you to accumulate a quick fortune?

Two weeks after your 67th birthday, your time is up. You find yourself terminally ill and look back on your life to see how much you have actually accomplished. When you count your material assets, you realize how little you possess after decades of work. When you review your output, you feel shame about how few tasks you have actually finished.

Persistence and creativity

At that point, you cannot help thinking that you have wasted your life. What will remain after you are gone? Why did you squander your talents in conjecture and speculation? You have started many projects, but abandoned most of them half-way.

With trembling voice, you dictate your last will. Since you never married nor fathered any children, your few possessions are to be divided amongst servants and friends. The house where you are about to die is not yours either. When you close your eyes for the last time, you beg for extra time to complete all that you have left unfinished, but now, it is too late.

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) died in a house that the King of France had lent him. His last will, which was published after his death, names his meagre possessions. His wealth amounted to a few books, a small estate in Milan, some money, and a few paintings. Not much for someone who many regard as the most talented man who has ever lived.

Except for a few dozen paintings, Leonardo da Vinci rarely finished anything he started. He made copious notes about inventions that never took off the ground. He spent two years making drawings to illustrate an anatomy book that was never published in his lifetime. He also made designs for churches that were never built.

Clarity of purpose

If you have a talented son that leads his life in imitation of Leonardo, your patience won't outlast your disappointments. You will come to regret your son's inability to focus on a specific field and advance his career. You will also have to endure the sight of your son's being surpassed in honours and wealth by others who possess less talent but more determination.

Reality is structured in a way that rewards constant purpose. Zigzagging can be psychologically rewarding, but seldom leads to extraordinary achievement. Even highly talented individuals need time to acquire expertise and establish themselves in the market. Customers pay for finished products and services, seldom for preliminary designs.

When you study History, you will hear great things about Leonardo da Vinci. Art teachers will tell you about his genius as a painter, physicians about his prodigious knowledge of human anatomy, and engineers about his visionary design of a flying machine.

Fair enough, but if you look at all those projects with the eye of a tax accountant, you will be forced to classify most of them as "work in progress." My point is that, if Leonardo da Vinci lived today, he would probably attain only modest success.

In our century, innovation and competition are fierce in every field. Artists, scientists, physicians, and inventors never rest in the age of internet. The global economy guarantees that someone, somewhere is about to overtake your achievements or your company.

There is so much to learn in every field that contemporary professionals rarely engage in unproductive ventures. The market wants reliable products and services. Nobody cares if you are a genius. What counts is whether you are able to deliver value to paying customers.

More often than not, zigzagging slows you down and wastes your opportunities. The difference between Leonardo da Vinci and his contemporary Raphael da Urbino (1483-1520) provides a striking illustration of this principle.

A sense of direction

Raphael, one of the most talented painters in History, only lived 37 years, but authored more than a hundred paintings. In contrast, Leonardo, who lived to become 67 years old, only produced a few dozen works. How many other brilliant paintings could Leonardo have created if he had focused on this line of activity?

Leonardo spent his life moving from one project to another. At 28, he interrupted his work on his painting "St. Jerome" and never found time to finish it. At 29, he went to Milan and abandoned in Florence his half-way completed painting "Adoration of the Magi," which he never retook.

At 40, Leonardo obtained a commission for an equestrian monument in Milan, but the project also remained uncompleted. Leonardo did manage to produce a clay model of the horse, but by the time he was ready to cast it in bronze, his client decided to use the bronze to manufacture cannons.

Long-term achievement demands a consistent purpose. If zigzagging ever leads to success, it will be of sort duration. Personal efforts go farther when they are compounded by time. Each step of a career consolidates yesterday's accomplishments and prepares the next. Constant improvement requires a good level of stability.


Image by Richard0 under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under 

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

Rational living, rational working

Saturday, 1 August 2015

A better philosophy leads to a better future

When I was a kid, I never really got to believe what I was told about success. Life seemed to have many more tracks that the one that was being officially preached. There were too many interesting destinations and I saw no justification why only one of them should be correct. In fact, I reasoned, how could anyone dare to formulate a model lifestyle that all people were supposed to follow at all times?

No more hesitations

The tenets of the success philosophy were simple and have changed little ever since: failure is scary, so work hard and don't fall behind; keep it safe and don't take risks; don't be different and stay with the group; it is better to be warm with the majority than being left alone in the cold; and above all, you should avoid fundamental doubts and never question what everybody else is taking for granted.

Reality, however, soon proved my doubts justified. For starters, I never met anyone who could be considered really successful according to the demanding standards that had been preached to me. Secondly, whenever I met people who called themselves successful, I found them so lacking in wisdom that I felt pity for them.

Struggling and getting by

At that point, I began to realize that the kind of people that fascinated me never felt into the standard success category. The artists I liked were usually struggling or just getting by. The philosophers that I appreciated were far from being famous and wealthy. The movies I loved had no violence, no stars, and no special effects. What was that supposed to mean?

The years passed and, reluctantly, I embraced part of the official philosophy of success, although my conversion was uncertain and superficial. It did not take long before the old doubts came back to visit me, in the beginning every week, then every day, and finally, every night.

Whenever I made a pause and took the trouble to look around, the original questions returned to hunt me more strongly than ever. Human life seemed to be made more of dishevelled threads than of steel frames. The people I liked best had managed to strike a balance between their ultimate purpose and their immediate attachments.

Determination and resilience

In my eyes, determination without benevolence turns a person into a jerk rather than a success. Motivation without consideration makes people reckless and empty. Ambition without resilience results in anxiety and depression. Engagement without perspective leads to intolerance. Definitely, I told myself, this is not the way to happiness.

Then one day I happened to read a biography of Charles Darwin (1809-1882), the English naturalist that formulated the theory of evolution through slow variation and adaptation of animal species. Since its inception, Darwin's theory has opened more wide-ranging discussions in society than any other idea in history.

Before reading about Darwin's life, I had assumed that he had come up with the theory of evolution at some point during his scientific expedition to the Galapagos, that he had quickly published his results, and that he had enjoyed for many years the prestige and wealth arising from the subsequent controversies.

I was as wrong as you can be. Darwin's life story was much less glorious than I had expected, since it shows a man who had only moved towards success with utmost shyness and insecurity. In Darwin's actions, I found more hesitation than determination; in his doubts, I saw the reflection of my fundamental questions; in the middle decades of his life, I saw more risk aversion than entrepreneurship.

Using failure for personal growth

If failure is the equivalent of immobility, I concluded, then a good part of Darwin's life consisted of failure. Believe it or not, the man who is reputed to be one of the greatest scientists in history, procrastinated for fourteen years before publishing his theory. It is believed that Darwin's hesitation came out of his fear of criticism, although other factors may have also played a role.

Whatever the reason, the fact is that Charles Darwin might have died before taking the step to make his theory public. Apparently, by the time he turned 35, he had already put his thoughts in writing, but he only took the initiative to make his conclusions public when he was 49 years old, that is, fourteen years later. I suggest that you stop here for a second and ponder what you are planning to do with the next fourteen years of your life.

What is even more amazing is that Darwin was only prompted to publish his theory out of the fear of seeing another scientist come out first with a book on the subject. Only when Darwin received a letter from Alfred Russell Wallace in 1858 did he realize that, for him, it was going to be now or never.

Wallace had come up with the same theory while doing research in the Malay Archipelago and, in his letter, he had presented a summary to Darwin. After fourteen years of paralysing doubts, Darwin swiftly made up his mind, prepared his notes for publication, and took the decisive step. All his fame and success come from that critical step, for which it took him fourteen years to gather enough courage.

A better philosophy

Darwin's story made me wonder if failure and hesitation, instead of being the inhibitors of human success, should not be rather viewed as the harbingers, almost the prerequisites of any substantial achievement. Maybe, I thought, although failure is disruptive and scary, we can only appreciate its meaning when we place it in a long-term context.

Failure changes our way of thinking and our future actions, often turning us into wiser and more successful human beings. Indeed, failure is frightening, but only to a certain point. That's the point at which each of us is given one more chance to turn our lives around.   


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

The Philosophy of Builders