How to Get Unstuck from Your Routine

Ever felt stuck in a routine? I know I do, sometimes I feel that I’m stuck and I have no options left to do anything else and thus I end up being “bored”. The Germans have a word for this: Einstellung.

Einstellung means installation and the Einstellung Effect refers to a person’s predisposition to act or to solve a problem using the same way even though there are other options. This  effect seems to be common among all segments people without any regard to IQ, age, sex.

People adopt routines for different reasons.  Autistic persons have an innate ability to develop routines and rituals which gives them a sense of structure and order and makes it easier for them to cope with the difficulty of making sense of their surroundings, other people develop routines (addictions) which gives them a kick of dopamines  and makes them feel good, others develop routines to have a better sense of control over their lives.

In the self-improvement literature the ability to develop routines is strongly encouraged. You need 20-30 days of daily repetitions in order to develop a habit. The brain has a propriety called neuroplasticity and every time you repeat a routine the neural network that the brain creates for that routine gets stronger and stronger – the myelin sheath that covers the neuron synapses gets stronger – so that after day 30 it gets easier than before day 1 to get up, put your running equipment on, get out the door and start running. My feeling of einstellung comes from having various self-improvement daily routines, at the beginning is all great and novel but after months or years of doing the same thing it gets…boring.

autovehicle stuck

So, how can we get out from our routines? The simple answer is just to do something different, to solve a problem using another kind of solution, to see things from a different angle.

“Life can be much broader, once you discover one simple fact, and that is that everything around you that you call ‘life’ was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.” Steve Jobs

For example, James Altucher has a routine called ‘The Daily Ten’. Yes, I’m giving one man’s routines as an example of getting out from your own routines. So, when you feel stuck, these are some ways you can use to get unstuck. Quoting:

10 old ideas I can make new
10 ridiculous things I would invent (e.g., the smart toilet)
10 books I can write (The Choose Yourself Guide to an Alternative Education, etc).
10 business ideas for Google/Amazon/Twitter/etc.
10 people I can send ideas to
10 podcast ideas or videos I can shoot (e.g., Lunch with James, a video podcast where I just have lunch with people over Skype and we chat)
10 industries where I can remove the middleman
10 things I disagree with that everyone else assumes is religion (college, home ownership, voting, doctors, etc.)
10 ways to take old posts of mine and make books out of them
10 people I want to be friends with (then figure out the first step to contact them)
10 things I learned yesterday
10 things I can do differently today
10 ways I can save time
10 things I learned from X, where X is someone I’ve recently spoken with or read a book by or about. I’ve written posts on this about the Beatles, Mick Jagger, Steve Jobs, Charles Bukowski, the Dalai Lama, Superman, Freakonomics, etc.
10 things I’m interested in getting better at (and then 10 ways I can get better at each one)
10 things I was interested in as a kid that might be fun to explore now (Like, maybe I can write that “Son of Dr. Strange” comic I’ve always been planning. And now I need 10 plot ideas.)
10 ways I might try to solve a problem I have This has saved me with the IRS countless times. Unfortunately, the Department of Motor Vehicles is impervious to my superpowers.

Also, you can always try and learn new things which will definetly change your daily routine and  give you the cognitive tools to see things from other angles.

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

Robert A. Heinlein – Time Enough to Love

Putting Yourself in Winning Situations

Not long ago I’ve read How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams, a book inspired from the author’s life. It was in this book that I first came upon the concept of systems versus goals. The author’s first encounter with this concept was while he has travelling by plane:

“I was seated next to a businessman who was probably in his early sixties. I suppose I looked like an odd duck with my serious demeanor, bad haircut, and cheap suit, clearly out of my element. He asked what my story was and I filled him in. I asked what he did for a living and he told me he was CEO of a company that made screws. Then he offered me some career advice. He said that every time he got a new job, he immediately started looking for a better one. For him, job seeking was not something one did when necessary. It was an ongoing process. This makes perfect sense if you do the math. Chances are the best job for you won’t become available at precisely the time you declare yourself ready. Your best bet, he explained, was to always be looking for the better deal. The better deal has its own schedule. I believe the way he explained it is that your job is not your job; your job is to find a better job.

This was my first exposure to the idea that one should have a system instead of a goal. The system was to continually look for better options. And it worked for this businessman, as he had job-hopped from company to company, gaining experience along the way, until he became a CEO. Had he approached his career with a specific goal in mind, or perhaps specific job objectives (e.g., his boss’s job), it would have severely limited his options. But for him, the entire world was his next potential job. The new job simply had to be better than the last one and allow him to learn something useful for the next hop.”

chess king winning

So what this systematic method does is that it iterates and eliminates hypothesis and solutions that don’t work, hence it’s normal to experience a lot of failures until the optimum solution is found. In order to find that optimum solution is important to not give up, stay focused and not to succumb to the fear of failure:

“It helps a great deal to have at least a general strategy and some degree of focus. The world offers so many alternatives that you need a quick filter to eliminate some options and pay attention to others. Whatever your plan, focus is always important.
My system of creating something the public wants and reproducing it in large quantities nearly guaranteed a string of failures. By design, all of my efforts were long shots. Had I been goal oriented instead of system oriented, I imagine I would have given up after the first several failures. It would have felt like banging my head against a brick wall. But being systems oriented, I felt myself growing more capable every day, no matter the fate of the project I happened to be working on. And every day during those years I woke up with the same thought, literally, as I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and slapped the alarm clock off.”

In my case, I have a systematic approach to the process of building startups and putting ideas into practice. I don’t spend too much time overthinking if this or that idea will work or not, what I do instead is to implement the idea as fast as possible in a 3 day sprint and then market it in other 3 days sprints. If the idea doesn’t work out I will at least have learned something from the experience and move on to the next one. It’s a win situation no matter the outcome. I’m also documenting and writing about my experiences and the things that I learn during this systematic approach, adding to my credibility, making my expertise and my personal brand known so this is yet another win.

The difference between goals and systems: if you want to run a marathon, which is your goal, your system is your running schedule, let’s say that you plan to run each day, increasing the distance on a weekly basis until you manage to run a marathon. If you want to write a book, which is your goal, your system is your writing schedule, for example, you can plan to write daily 1000 words until you finish writing the book.
You can have achievements using a system without a goal but you cannot have achievements using a goal without a system.

Also, about goals and happiness: achieving your goals won’t necessarily make you happy.

Success isn’t magic; it’s generally the product of picking a good system and following it until luck finds you.

The Success Formula: Every Skill You Acquire Doubles Your Odds of Success 

“I find it helpful to see the world as a slot machine that doesn’t ask you to put money in. All it asks is your time, focus, and energy to pull the handle over and over. A normal slot machine that requires money will bankrupt any player in the long run. But the machine that has rare yet certain payoffs, and asks for no money up front, is a guaranteed winner if you have what it takes to keep yanking until you get lucky. In that environment, you can fail 99 percent of the time, while knowing success is guaranteed. All you need to do is stay in the game long enough.”

Bitcoin: Hindsight and the Law of Accelerated Returns

Did anyone actually followed my advice and bought bitcoins back in December 2013? I hope so because four years ago 1 Bitcoin was < $600 and now it’s < $20000. The ROI on this one is tremendous, it’s more than 3000%.

time to buy bitcoins

Albert Einstein is quoted as saying that the most powerful force in the Universe is the compound interest. Well, he didn’t knew about Bitcoin.

My abstract image for Bitcoin is that of a currency that actually represents freedom and privacy, two qualities that a lot of people are willing to  pay a heavy price in order to achieve. This being said, no matter how hard governments and authoritarian powers try to crackdown and to control it its value will only go up. Now, in hindsight, it turns out that the states and governments are starting to bow in the face of Bitcoin and not the other way around (central banks will start in 2018 to hold reserves of cryptocurrencies).

When you buy one Bitcoin you get instant value for it, you get freedom and anonymity,  you get a currency that it’s in limited number, the maximum number of bitcoins that can be mined being somewhere around 21 million (the real number is even smaller because there are reportedly millions of Bitcoins that got lost).  When you get a Dollar you get a fiat currency that it’s not backed up by any reserve of gold and it’s not worth the paper it’s written on. Add to this the money multiplier effect that is used by banks to virtually increase the money supply.

Will Bitcoin continue it’s rocketing path up? It’s quite probable because the hype is only starting up, blockchain startups are popping up everywhere and more and more people are aware of cryptocurrencies. We are living very interesting times, the new technology is doing things that were not possible in the past, you can now be among the top 50 richest men in the world and nobody knows who you are (Satoshi Nakamoto), you can carry your considerable wealth with you in a special physical crypto wallet and you can walk the streets being completely unknown.

I’m not sure if the old economic laws are still applicable, a bubble might never come despite what the old dinosaurs in economy are saying,  technology brings change and returns that are increasing exponentially. Ray Kurzweil, the futurist who came up with the Law of Accelerating Returns stipulates that humans are linear in nature and technology is exponential. When you take a human, linear activity like the economy and bind it to a currency that is also bound to an exponential technology you might get very interesting results. We have to wait and see what happens.

This being said, it’s also never bad to be cautious, getting a positive return on your investment is not astrophysics or rocket science, it’s simply ‘buy low and sell high’, if you managed to buy Bitcoins at a low price maybe now it’s the time to reap the harvest, to take the gains and to invest in yourself and in other assets.

Thought of the Day: On Success, Personality Types and the Personal Mission Statement

I noticed a common pattern among the people I’ve been communicating with lately: even though they all are successful in their own ways they still think that they haven’t achieved many things. In the following lines I will attempt to explain my idea of success. It’s not bad to want to achieve more and be more successful but this modern prevalence seems to be the effect of the availability heuristic of success and survivorship bias. The availability heuristic is a mental shortcut that returns a fast example in one’s mind when he/she is thinking about something or deciding. When not engaged in cognitive demanding processes the mind tends to wander off and a frequent subject of its ruminations is the status of one’s life. Am I happy? Am I successful? Am I doing something useful with my life? Do I feel like I have a purpose in life? There is also the tendency to compare ourselves with others, to assess our socio-economic hierarchy and the availability heuristic serves us immediate examples learned, usually, from sources like the news and social media. The news tend to present only the most successful companies and on social media people tend to “cheat” by presenting themselves only in positive contexts. So, in appearance, there might seem like a lot of success is going around us and we might feel left out.

Survivorship bias: “Survivorship bias or survival bias is the logical error of concentrating on the people or things that made it past some selection process and overlooking those that did not, typically because of their lack of visibility. This can lead to false conclusions in several different ways. Survivorship bias can lead to overly optimistic beliefs because failures are ignored, such as when companies that no longer exist are excluded from analyses of financial performance”. In other words, humans have an innate tendency to see only what worked, what succeeded.

The way success is commonly portrayed is by achieving a high socio-economic status: money in the bank, an expensive house, expensive car(s), expensive traveling in exotic places and so on. If money, fast cars, a big house and a trophy wife truly motivate you than great for you, go for it! but it should be noted that not all people are motivated by the same things, different personalities are motivated differently but unfortunately many tend to acquire and internalize the notion that success = money&high status. Albert Einstein is considered to have said the following quote: “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” Let’s change it a bit: If you judge yourself by your ability to become a multimillionaire even though you don’t really want to or don’t need to but everything around you makes you believe that, then you will live your life thinking you are a failure. The word millionaire can be replaced with whatever notion of success that doesn’t really motivate you.

Update: meanwhile, I also came upon the concept of Strain Theory.  Strain theory states that this kind of pressure from the society to achieve the “American Dream” can lead to nefarious consequences. From Wikipedia:

Strain theory is a sociology and criminology theory developed in 1938 by Robert K. Merton. The theory states that society puts pressure on individuals to achieve socially accepted goals (such as the American dream) though they lack the means, this leads to strain which may lead the individuals to commit crimes. Examples being selling drugs or becoming involved in prostitution to gain financial security.

.thinking intp

According to the Myers-Briggs personality test my personality is INTP-A also known as the “Logician” personality type. INTP’s are introverted and thinking types, shy in social settings, need intellectual stimulation, love patterns, constantly come up with ideas and solutions, are inventive and creative. Given this short description is not hard to infer that a lot of money in the bank and/or a high social status is not something that really motivates this personality type but rather what motivates them are ideas, discoveries, exploration. Money should be seen as a means to an end not an end in itself. My definition of success is tightly related to my Personal Mission Statement. I first learned about the concept of the Personal Mission Statement about 3 years ago while reading Stephen Covey‘s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

What is a Personal Mission Statement?

“In ones life, the most effective way to begin with the end in mind is to develop a mission statement one that focuses what you want to be in terms of character and what you want to do in reference to contribution of achievements. Writing a mission statement can be the most important activity an individual can take to truly lead ones life. Personal mission statements based on correct principles are like a personal constitution, the basis for making major, life-directing decisions, the basis for making daily decisions in the midst of the circumstances and emotions that affect our lives. Your mission statement becomes your constitution, the solid expression of your vision and values. It becomes the criterion by which you measure everything else in your life.”

For example, this is part of my personal mission statement:

Live free and exercise the right to be free, be the master of my own destiny.

Learn about my self, my family, my peers, my surroundings, nature, the universe.

Experience the best that humanity has to offer: it’s beauty in all of its forms, architecture, events, art, movies, literature, music, its emotions, culture, history, languages.

Experience the best that nature has to offer: scenic places with mesmerizing beauty.

Challenge myself, grow each day, learn each day, experience each day, connect each day, test myself, get out of my comfort zone.

No day goes to waste.

Influence and make a difference so my existence is not meaningless.

Add value. Don’t forget to smile and laugh.

The founder of the universe, who assigned to us the laws of life, provided that we should live well, but not in luxury. Everything needed for our well-being is right before us, whereas what luxury requires is gathered by many miseries and anxieties. Let us use this gift of nature and count it among the greatest things.
—SENECA, MORAL LETTERS, 119.15b

flying

 

Like I was saying, my idea of success is strongly intertwined with my personal mission statement. I am practicing my personal mission statement on a daily basis and thus I consider myself to be a successful person given this criteria. It can be clearly seen that it doesn’t take a lot of money in order to achieve most of the things in my list. Now, obviously, this is not a one-size-fits-all solution, each should take some time off to figure out what they truly want.
I was stating that each day I am practicing my personal mission. How do I know that? Today, at the end of the day I will know it because I just recently did it, the memory of doing it is fresh. How will I know it tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow? How will I know it decades from now or if I get Alzheimer’s disease or another memory related disease? The answer is that I also keep track of what I do on a daily basis, it’s a very basic journaling system: I have a file where I write down the current date and what I have achieved that day on a personal and work level. For example, if I read from a book, I just put in its title, nothing more or nothing less, or if I go for a run I just write down “run”, sometimes “run (6)” to hint out the number of kilometers even though I don’t usually do that now, if I read from Wikipedia some articles I put in Wikipedia and the titles of the articles in parenthesis like this “Wikipedia (Unconscious thought theory, Unconscious cognition, Attention restoration theory)”. It doesn’t take a lot of time to put down these short notes and this system makes it very easy to keep track of what you do daily, your achievements. I check this file daily and I also do some quick checks from time to time on what I did for the past week, the past month or year and so on. Each year has its separate file, now I’m taking notes in 2017.txt. This process really helps me to strengthen my memory. I might hear about some important concept or theory, read about it on Wikipedia or some other place, close the tab and one week after I might forget about it already. With this system, I am reminded again about it and if my memory doesn’t do very well I will just check the article again. I also have a separate file in which I note down just my better-than-usual or first-of-the-kind achievements like the title of a book I just completed reading, a semimarathon I managed to run or a new personal best in speed or distance, a new skill that I learned like skiing for example, a new experience and so on. I write down all these thing because they are important to me. I have another file in which I write the most significant achievements of my life like writing a book for example, obviously, I rarely write in this file. Some of my bucketlist items also go into this file. I find this 3 level system very useful in tracking out how I exercise my personal mission statement and thus my success. Our memories are usually bad, mine included, and we tend to forget what we did a few days ago or a week ago including our achievements of various degrees.

It’s important to remind ourselves from time to time that even though we don’t live in a castle or traveled in space we still achieved plenty of smaller but meaningful things.

“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look
back and realize they were the big things.” 
Robert Brault