The largest mental gains I made in the shortest period of time were from studying rationality.
I was amazed to discover a couple years ago that there were people who regularly studied and discussed how to think, how to get correct and accurate beliefs about how the world works, how to understand how your mind works, and to get at the real reasons people make decisions.
The whole rationality thing is as addictive as crack-cocaine for me. I love it. The difference from crack, though, is you grow stronger and smarter the more you dive in.
Our minds are funny. We humans, we're "adaptation exercisers, not fitness maximizers" -
Fifty thousand years ago, the taste buds of Homo sapiens directed their bearers to the scarcest, most critical food resources - sugar and fat. Calories, in a word. Today, the context of a taste bud's function has changed, but the taste buds themselves have not. Calories, far from being scarce (in First World countries), are actively harmful. Micronutrients that were reliably abundant in leaves and nuts are absent from bread, but our taste buds don't complain. A scoop of ice cream is a superstimulus, containing more sugar, fat, and salt than anything in the ancestral environment.
On Ideas in the Making
A lot of my friends joke around and say I'm high all the time. I've never smoked anything in my life. They say this because of how happy and child-like I always am, intrigued by the most random things, making hypothetical statements and laughing at random events for no reason. At the same time I place very high value in logic and rationality, and always try to understand what I'm doing and the world around me. As I have mentioned many times before in my blog, one of the things I hold to high standards, possibly the highest, is strategy. A lot of people talk about about Ideas, and Vision, but in fact I've found the best indicator of success to be a good strategy. The truth is strategy isn't only about achieving something, it can also come into play in just controlling how you feel, whether you get that raise or not, and in general whether you live the life you want. There is a strategy for everything.
One of the interesting things about strategy though is how they overlap into different overarching levels of reach. in other words, some strategies effect others, some don't, and some take priority. For example, you might have a strategy in play in regards to how you learn languages, but you might have another strategy in play as to how you determine what you want. If you don't want to learn a new language at the moment the strategy you have for learning languages is not in question, or in some cases, not even worth creating. In this case, you can extrapolate the value of strategy, strategy lets you decide what path to take, it allows you to clear your head, and determine WHAT you are going to tackle, and then HOW you are going to decide (WHAT you do is infintely more important in strategy, although for general happiness and such HOW you do something is much more important, read Flow for more on this. although how you go about doing something can be a strategy in and of itself).
There was a post on SETT a while back about how two newbie lumberjacks where going to go cut trees and one just gets his axe and goes for it, and the other sits down and reads a book on how to cut trees and sharpen his axe. it took the second lumberjack 2-3 days to probably read the book and get ready to cut trees, the first lumberjack had already cut 12 trees. but by the end of the week they were even, and by the end of the month the other lumberjack was 30-40 trees ahead.
Ultimately taking time to sit down and determine how you are going to tackle something (and for most people deciding what you are going to tackle in the first place) is much more important than just expecting things to happen for you. Short-term thinking might be what is ingraining this type of behavior in us, its difficult to see past 2-4 or 8 weeks. its hard to think short and long term. being able to prioritize or understand how the ebbs and flows work on different time frames. sometime one can get caught up and expect things to just happen to you, but in the long term this is a very bad strategy and one which you are not a deciding factor. Some people rather work two day jobs and save instead of maybe just working one and learning programming with the time they save. Then maybe in a couple of months they could use their knowledge to start something or get a much higher paying job with a higher ability to move up. At the same time, in the case of some traders, some are so focused on a day trade that they forget to focus on the how the bigger picture might be acting or vice versa. A swing trader can miss a lot of day trading opportunies (weed stocks as of late for example have been crazy volatile and good for swing traders, especially shorting.) because he might be so focused on the long picture.
But the most interesting part of strategy is actually going through with the strategies you set forth. Just like the lumberjack who cuts much more than his counterpart might not see a reason to learn or improve on his strategy, or worse he might see his progress as a signal that he can slow down and take a break, people who develop good strategies can get complacent, and ethier stop acting on their strategies or just stop caring. Of course there is a strategy for this too, which involves having principles and a strong life philosophy, but high level super-overarching strategies like this can take a lot of time to develop and instill, as they must protrude through everything you do.