Six Rules That Guide Me

I am always tinkering with my lifestyle in hopes of minimizing my mistakes, anxiety, distraction, and discontent. What follows is a personal code of sorts, a collection of others’ wisdom that I try (and often fail) to incorporate in my daily life. I’ve discovered that when something goes wrong, there’s an 85% chance that I’ve broken one of these rules:

1. Prioritize your personal energy

You cannot take care of others until you’ve first taken care of yourself.1 Lack of sleep, strength, flexibility, or calories is a lack of self-respect.2 Impose a schedule on the world or have one imposed upon you. Have faith in others to solve their own problems.

2. Focus on what is under your control

If you can’t control whether you win or lose, you can control how you lose. (Don’t run after buses.)3 Under your control: process, habits, grit, temper, narrative, and exposure to luck. Remember that “virtue, magic, and beauty [are] more important than the trophy case.”4 Don’t take success personally.5

3. Be barbelled

Maintain a 90/10 safety to speculation ratio in investments, art, and life. Your risk of ruin must always be nil. Seek out convexity, but don’t overpay. “Paranoia + aggression = antifragility.”6

4. Say “No,” and impose constraints

“Innovation is saying no to 1000 things.”7 Decline to compete with others. Limit your decisions. Creativity is born of constraint,8 freedom of habit and routine.

5. Privilege actions over speech, control over power, and payoffs over knowledge

More important than what others say is how they behave. Heed Ferguson’s philosophy: “Power is throwing your weight around. Control is making sure things go your way regardless.”9 Ask yourself, “So what?”10

6. Be patient

“Beauty is patience.”11 Beware of “perfectionism in a hurry.” It is your nature to fret, tinker, and experiment.12 Speak less, listen more. Practice the sacred pause.13 Remember that “everything changes, nothing perishes.”14

I do not claim such rules are universally applicable. For instance, few people seem to find eating to be the same intolerable chore that I do, and so probably have no need to cue themselves to consume more calories. Some people may be able to say no to others with such facility that a rule about saying yes may be more relevant to their lives. These rules are only what works for me.

Notes From the Wise:

1. The “energy metric” is recommended by Scott Adams in How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of my Life.
2. I have adapted this from the wise advice of Maria Popova regarding sleep: “We tend to wear our ability to get by on little sleep as some sort of badge of honor that validates our work ethic. But what it really is is a profound failure of self-respect and of priorities.”
3. Adapted from N.N. Taleb’s advice in Antifragile (“Don’t run after trains”). In general, Taleb’s Incerto series is probably the most impactful work I’ve read with respect to how I live and think about the world.  
4. Corley Miller’s gorgeous summary of Arsène Wenger’s football philosophy
5. The chief lesson of Jim Paul and Brendan Moynihan’s What I Learned Losing a Million Dollars. (Recommended by Taleb.)
6. Paraphrased from N.N. Taleb’s Antifragile.  
7. Steve Jobs, Apple Worldwide Developers’ Conference, 1997. 
8. The wisdom of Jack White, in a nutshell. See, for example, It Might Get Loud, or search YouTube for Jack White and creativity.  
9. David Runciman’s summary of Sir Alex Ferguson’s managerial style
10. The Great Question posed to me, time and time again, by my 11th grade history teacher, Mr. Woods, which has stuck with me for my entire life. There’s an obvious parallel with Taleb’s focus on payoffs over knowledge. 
11. Luis Cernuda, “Lázaro.”  
12. From Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast, Revisionist History,  the “Hallelujah” episode. The episode references David Galenson’s work on creativity.
13. From Tara Brach’s Radical Acceptance. Excerpt
14. Ovid, Metamorphosis