Jamie A. Thom reached out to me recently with a fantastic letter, and kindly let me post it here for everyone. He talks about something I think a lot of us have experienced - having enough natural ability to coast through easy work, but falling far short of potential because of it. He shook out of it by taking a lot of action and throwing himself into the deep end of getting married, working internationally, and taking on some huge projects.
Pretty inspirational stuff. Here's Jamie -
Laziness - The Enemy of Victory
I am finally stepping out of the (more than 900 by now!) crowd of regular readers to get in touch and say "hello". First may I say how much I've been enjoying your blog over the past few months, I believe I first stumbled across you after reading your comment on a Less Wrong post about why humans are not automatically strategic. My only previous contact with you was a brief comment on your post about books worth reading to get started on Japanese history, I am currently reading Musashi as a result and am enjoying it very much - many thanks for those recommendations.
Matt from 30Vanquish left this really good comment on "The Cognitive Costs to Doing Things" - I think he's mostly right on with how he's going with it, but I have a few additional thoughts. Okay, here's Matt -
“Neurosis/fear/etc – Almost all humans are naturally more risk averse than gain-inclined. This seems to have been selected for evolutionarily. We also tend to become afraid far in excess of what we should for certain kinds of activities – especially ones that risk social embarrassment.”
This really hit me. I never thought of it as neurosis but that’s what it really is. I think I’ve made it a life goal to want to minimize this feeling as much as possible. It’s such a huge challenge for me that it’s something that’s worthy to challenge and overcome everyday.
It’s a daily battle because neurosis (especially in the social realm) is like a rubber band. Every time you do something neurosis inducing, it stretches out a metaphorical rubber band out more. That symbolizes how “flexible” you are with this neurosis. It’s like momentum. When you continue to do it, you have more leeway with novel experiences. (It’s not as neurosis inducing after the 10th risky situation in the same day for example.)
Starting in 2009, the FTC requires bloggers to provide disclosures whenever there could be hidden interests or unspoken biases related to recommendations.
Per the FTC rules, if I interview someone and they grab the bill for lunch, I would need to specify this. Ditto if I use an Amazon link that gets me 8 cents instead of an Amazon link that gets me 0 cents. If someone gives me a comfy t-shirt with a logo and I wear it in a photo, same deal. Disclaimers all over the place.
This would be tedious for me and a continual eye sore for readers. But rules is rules.
I found your site via browsing Ramit Sethi's Delicious bookmarks. Love it. I know I'm not offering a whole lot of value, but I resonate quite a bit with your writing and was hoping you could share some insight about what you'd do in this situation:
Throughout college, I played online poker professionally and operated a coaching and staking business. I continued playing until recently, and am currently two years out of school. I devoted so much time to poker that my skills in other areas are lacking. However, I have been studying HTML, CSS, PHP, and MySQL and have landed two clients for basic web design. I don't want to draw into my savings any further, so I am looking to work at a company where I can build my skills and work with passion.
I'm unsure how I can expect any company to hire me based on a two year resume gap filled with a career that many people would consider "pure luck." Resumes typically don't matter if you can demonstrate a great level of skill in an area, but as my best skill is currently still exploiting tendencies in a game of Heads Up Texas Holdem, I'm a bit stuck for ideas.
Any advice would be greatly appreciate. Thanks in advance for spending your time even reading this email.
Got this email titled "Investing and Living in Mongolia" from a reader. Good questions here -
I enjoy your blog. I saw that you recently moved to Mongolia. I am curious what made you move to Mongolia (i.e. curiosity to explore vs. a new job)? What is it like there for foreigners? Is it a suitable environment for investing capital? Do you feel safe?
Mongolia is an extremely promising country from the outside, yet nothing beats the perspective of someone who is there on the inside (even though you have not been there a very long time).
All the best,
I'm really, really flattered to have one of my pieces appear in Lifehacker. Lifehacker always has such a depth of cool things happening on there, and it's a great place to go search for ideas on how to improve your life.
So I ask myself, what are people from Lifehacker going to enjoy checking out on the site?
Well, the "New? Start Here" page would be an okay place to start. But I haven't updated it with some of the successful recent articles.
How to Get a Raise was extremely popular.
Whilst talking about money and business, “We don’t get out of bed for less than $10,000 per day.” also spread like wildfire, though had a more controversial reaction - while most people liked How to Get a Raise, $10,000 per day was either loved or hated.
Questions from a reader - this one's about sleep amounts, vitamins, and books.
I'd like to thank you for writing the blog posts on your website. I just found your blog today, but I see a lot of stuff I think I can use on there.
Thanks, that's nice of you to say and glad you reached out.
I have a few questions about some routine-optimization that you've done, if you'd like to help me out:
Question from a reader -
One thing that I'm wondering, and figured that I should send before I go to sleep and forget it... For certain kinds of tasks (having discussions about more abstract goal things, writing emails to friends, commenting on LW, etc.) I'm really motivated, and need to be restrained from doing them.
With other tasks, I'm nowhere near as motivated, and have trouble starting them. Since I'm still a student, not doing this kind of work just isn't an option.
In the long term, I'm hoping to just do more of the things I'm motivated for, and fewer of the ones I'm not. I'm willing to buckle down and do work in subjects that I'm less motivated for if I see how it clearly relates to my goals (last year I spent a few hours trying to work out the geometry kinks for a robot part -- it was a mess).
Right now, I'm just reminding myself that its really not hard once I start it, and that it goes quickly if I just do it.
If you want to get better prices on things when you travel, look for shops that have cheaper real estate. As a traveler or tourist, you're very likely to spend most of your time on the major streets and roads.
These places have the highest prices.
One example that really struck me was in Saigon, Vietnam. On one of the main roads is a nice little restaurant. Next to it is a different shop, and then there's an alley.
If you walked down the alleyway a little bit, there's another restaurant - with the exact same menu, except the prices are 20-30% cheaper.
At the restaurant on the main road, there'd only be foreigners, mostly tourists. The one set back in the alleyway had more Vietnamese people and expatriates and savvy travelers.
What's the mental burden of trying to do something? What's it cost? What price are you going to pay if you try to do something out in the world?
I think that by figuring out what the usual costs to doing things are, we can reduce the costs and otherwise structure our lives so that it's easier to reach our goals.
When I sat down to identify cognitive costs, I found seven. There might be more. Let's get started -
Activation Energy - As covered in more detail in this post, starting an activity seems to take a larger of willpower and other resources than keeping going with it. Required activation energy can be adjusted over time - making something into a routine lowers the activation energy to do it. Things like having poorly defined next steps increases activation energy required to get started. This is a major hurdle for a lot of people in a lot of disciplines - just getting started.
Opportunity cost - We're all familiar with general opportunity cost. When you're doing one thing, you're not doing something else. You have limited time. But there also seems to be a cognitive cost to this - a natural second guessing of choices by taking one path and not another. This is the sort of thing covered by Barry Schwartz in his Paradox of Choice work (there's some faulty thought/omissions in PoC, but it's overall valuable). It's also why basically every significant military work ever has said you don't want to put the enemy in a position where their only way out is through you - Sun Tzu argued always leaving a way for the enemy to escape, which splits their focus and options. Hernan Cortes famously burned the boats behind him. When you're doing something, your mind is subtly aware and bothered by the other things you're not doing. This is a significant cost.