How To Deal With Your Automatic Self When Trying To Change

The ambiguity effect suggests that people prefer to choose an option with a known probability of a favorable outcome over an option where the probability is unknown

As I recently moved to Brazil I was confronted again and again, with what is called the Ambiguity Effect. It states that people tend to favor decisions where the odds are known. When you are unaware of this tendency it is likely that you stick to a vicious circle leading to nothing but the familiar. In my case, as everything was new, I got stuck plenty of times. In your case, if you finally have decided to change something in your life, you might still choose the non-disruptive way, not because it is the best decision, but because it feels safe. I believe it is time to enter the world of the unknown.

Cognitive Bias

Cognitive biases could be described system failures in our human reasoning. Where a rational form of reasoning is usually preferred, cognitive biases make us believe we are rational when we are not. The ambiguity effect is one of them.

This one is particularly interesting because to get anywhere in life there are plenty of moments you will need to deal with unfamiliar situations. When your mind is screaming for familiarity and comfort, you should actually go where you feel the most resistance. Even when anything from a red head to vomiting proves your hardship.

Slightly kidding there, though it is essential for any change to happen to do what you didn’t do before. Nevertheless, the world the average western citizen lives in, there seems to be so much to lose that there is always a reason to choose the familiar path.

Educate Yourself

Regardless of what you think you might lose, I know the first step to beat this paradox is to get familiar with the unknown. Educate yourself on subjects that are relevant to what you want to do different, talk or look up people online that are in similar situations like you, and start questioning everything you assume normal. All of this information will enable you to shed a little more light in the darkness ahead.

Obvious as this advice may seem, the more contradictory the decision you want to make in your life, the more paralyzing the ambiguity effect can be.

You’d better remember at this moment then, that there are 7 billion people living on this planet. It’s therefore almost impossible that what you want to do hasn’t been done before. The trick is to filter all the information that is at your disposal and you might realize that this is a non-argument.

Until the same source of information gives you arguments that justify your paralysis, and you’re back at the beginning.

Get Familiar With the Process and Fail More

The clue therefore doesn’t lie in acquiring the relevant information, but in getting familiar with the process itself.

As soon as you start trying to realize a lifestyle according to your rules you are bound to fail. And to be honest, the sooner the better. The more you fail the more you will learn, and the sooner you will get it right.

Another thing to remember is that as soon as the ambiguity effect starts strangling your existence – that even though you don’t see it right now – when you make a decision other opportunities will arise. After however, not before you have made that decision.

Dealing With Ambiguity

I recently gave up on validating my physical therapy diploma in Brazil. I had a hard time finding the right phone numbers of the person responsible in this process. My previous experiences with Brazilian bureaucracy, the unclear requirements for the necessary documentation, and the fact that every single person I reached on the phone didn’t really know what I was talking about. I gave into the ambiguity.

When I tried again later on, I knew what was coming and wasn’t set back by the chaos of not knowing as much. I found the right phone number, reached the right person in two calls and a couple of hours later I was sitting at his desk. He was kind and forthcoming, and explained exactly how and what I had to do.

On a similar note people tend to conceive my dietary choice as restricting. Since I aim to eat a whole foods plant-based diet, I avoid all animal products and if possible processed food. Go into the average kitchen and there will be little left to eat. However, as soon as you look through my eyes you will notice the abundance of food and combinations available.

Not before you have deliberately chosen a direction, you will become aware of new opportunities.

roadsign-in-snow

I believe it is essential to realize that you never know all the parts that make up a decision, and that past experiences are usually far from sufficient to provide a solid foundation for future decisions. The only way to figure out what works, is to try, fail, learn, and try again.

Is There Another Way To Live Life?

Retirement is Worst-Case-Scenario Insurance.

Tim Ferris

I read Tim Ferris’ book The Four Hour Workweek, which turned out to be a conflicting experience. Only until the very last pages I realized why this book provoked this sentiment in me. In there he provides his perspective on the regular 9-5 work structure, and the knowledge and tools to get away from that.

Mobility

The single most important tool in this process, he argues, is mobility. The ability to generate income from anywhere you want. If you are an employee this ideally means “working from home”. When you have your own business, the trick is to create a product or service that can be offered online. Finally, another fully explored option in the book is to fully automatize your company, if it’s not suitable for the internet.

Anyway, all well so far, the thing is though that mister Ferris earned 5 figures a month on the time of writing that book. Easy talking for him right?

I don’t think so. The fact that he earns a lot of money does not mean, that money is the only tool to get what you “want”. If you want to be a millionaire it’s probably not because of all the paper you can now stuff your mattress with, but the possibilities that come as a consequence.

The 80-20 Principle

It is nice therefore, that money is not the only way to get those things. When you work from 9-5, there is a high chance that what you are doing could be done in a lot less time. The 80-20 Principle, striking similarities to Matthews Law that I mentioned in another blog, was introduced by economist Vilfredo Pareto. It dictates that 80% of the output gets generated by 20% of the input.

80% of consequences result from 20% of the causes, 80% of the results from 20% of effort and time, 80% of a company’s revenue will be generated by 20% of the products and customers, and 20% of the people have 80% of the financial capacity. This list is endless and encompasses even your clothes. 80% of the time you wear 20% of what’s in your wardrobe. The division is often more extreme than it is less, 85-15 or 90-10 is not uncommon. So when we talk about your clothes for example, why would you hold on to that 80 percent? And why should you engage in that 80% of work that only generates 20% more output?

Even though, it seems counter intuitive, give it a try. Show your boss, professor, or most importantly yourself, what quality you can provide in 20% of the time. Nobody will probably notice, because the fine tuning you do for 80% of the time usually does not create anything of value.

When you redesign your life this way, you are already getting closer to living like a millionaire right? And you haven’t earned a penny more than before!

Retirement

Then, for a couple of years already I have been wondering about the value of retirement.

old-couple-on-porch
Why wait until your retirement?

Why the hell should I wait until I am 65 to have all the time in the world to do everything I have been wanting to do for 40 years?

Only if you believe that money is an end-goal and security isn’t a sensation but an externally acquirable object, retirement is for you.

I conceive money as a tool, and security as a sensation that doesn’t depend on money. Then how does retirement still make sense? Only if you don’t like your job. When you consider this information, and The Four Hour Workweek gives you plenty ideas and insights on how to do this, there are plenty possibilities to start doing the things you want now.

Those three months turned into 15, and I started to ask myself, “Why not take the usual 20-30 year retirement and redistribute it throughout life instead of saving all for the end?

Tim Ferris

To me, it doesn’t make sense to wait to go rock climbing when you are seventy, start learning a new language when you can only use it for 10 more years, or start hanging out with your family when you can’t lift your children up anymore. Why not start now?

What The Four Hour Workweek Did With Me

I find that the book does a great job putting these decisions in your face. However, it might just be that you are happy where you are, right?

If yes, that’s amazing. I wasn’t sure while reading. I was continuously imagining living in Thailand. I would take a sabbatical, find an opportunity to create some small revenue online, and take up mini-pensions every two years. I felt increasingly conflicted and unhappy with my current situation.

A day later I was walking back home after stopping by the supermarket. I was carrying two backpacks on my back and stomach, full of groceries, wearing my sunglasses even though sun was down. Overthinking the book, I realized: I already live this life. I don’t know if there was anybody watching me but it must have been funny to see a tall gringo, with two backpacks, and sunglasses, laughing like a maniac.

Where Tim Ferris calls it The Four Hour Workweek, I call it living an authentic life, true to your desires. In both cases the lifestyle design is the process to realize evermore of the way of life you want to live. I know that it helps immensely to expand your knowledge, see how others write the rules to their life, and understand your own reasons for working and motivations in life. After reading this book, I realized that that is what this blog is about. I am happy to have figured that out after 9 months!

 

 

I Am Not A Professional

A while ago I was, through a series events, thrown back into working as a physical therapist. I was looking for a voluntary job, when at the same time a friend of a friend was looking for intensive assistance with his rehab after falling down 14 meters.

Until that moment I had consciously been disconnecting from my profession for a while already. I had been annoyed by how I had to function within the system I was working in. This was affecting the way I thought about being a physical therapist in general as well. However, when I started my voluntary work, visiting my client three times a week at home, this all came around. I was enjoying my time, without time pressure, without a preconceived context, just my client and me.

Further on during our time working together I realized something important. This new way of interacting, working like a team, was as a whole the result of our own efforts. Not how an insurance company or government wants us to work together. As a result I was more relaxed, no stress and I experienced space to think. I was entirely myself, not just a physical therapist, nor somebody professional.

I realized that the professional mask was not fitting me anymore, on the contrary, it made me feel uncomfortable. One person I was during working-hours, the other outside of them. Unconsciously switching between these personalities requires a lot of energy, it was unsustainable.

I see now that being a professional was emphasized during my education. A certain attitude was required in handling people that do not seem motivated. Also, there was emphasis on how to show empathy at the right moment and how to make a person feel at home along certain lines. All of this was taught to make sure that I would be executing my task as “good” as possible. Meaning that I should be able to work with the maximum amount of clients in a preset time schedule.

In retrospect though, it seems that if I would not have learned this I would not have acted the same way. Or better, I probably would have acted differently, like I am now. Is this wrong though? It seems that teaching everybody to be professional during working hours safeguards them from not performing as expected. I know that being authentic in every situation is far more gratifying to me, and if present, another person.

Being professional is an expectation of society. However, I am convinced we were not created to interact with everybody. It is impossible to be of service to every person on the planet. Therefore, it is good there are so many people, because there will always be a match with somebody.

The fact that behaving professionally requires a split personality, might also result in abuse. It might be easier to be one or the other person. Hiding behind the professional mask might keep me clear from being confronted with myself. However, holding back certain talents in order to be “professional”, is undermining.

I do not show respect by bending the knee or rolling out the red carpet. I trust that respect, empathy and kindness are part of who I am. I feel that I do not need to wear the mask of the professional. I think nobody needs to actually. If we all decide to interact the way we feel is right we will eventually figure out the right way for ourselves. Sometimes this will be fluent and sometimes this might be confronting. Ultimately, this will lead to a sustainable way of living an authentic life regardless of context.

Value and Money (2)

Last week I wrote the first part of this two part blog post. There, I wrote about how my vision on money has changed over time. In this second blog post on the subject, I will explain how I try to incorporate this vision to find the right balance between value and money in my life.

Starting off, I believe it most important that I should not be afraid to be without money. Or if I have money, to lose it. In a recent blog post on fear-based life, I wrote about how fear can corrupt my behavior and does not serve me at all except for life threatening situations. This is not the case though, when it comes to losing or not having money. Nevertheless, I am made to believe that only through money I can acquire what I need. Consequently, making me prone to be afraid of not having any, because I can not survive otherwise. However, this is not the case. The true things that seem to be allowing us to live long and happy are: purpose, social contact, physical activity and a balanced whole food diet. The question is then, for which of these do I really need money?

The more money I have though, the more afraid I tend to get. When I would barely have enough money to buy my food, I will only lose that option. But what if I have so much I can buy a Ferrari, a boat and a house? When I lose money then, it seems I am losing a lot more. That is the moment life stops right? I lost it all, or not? As soon as I start seeing that money is corrupting my worldview I can start making decisions based on value. At the same time I believe, that when I run out of money, helping hands will be extended from places I could not have imagined before.

The second thing that I think is essential, is to do something I believe is valuable. Then, if it really is, the people around me will eventually notice it’s value as well. Regardless if this is expressed in my job, the way I treat my friends or how I use my garden. I believe this mindset will eventually spread in to every part of my life. Consequently, because we created a society that expresses value in money, the things I do will eventually be payed for in some form.

Equally decisive though, in this process, is that I enjoy doing what I do. This is more true than it is cliché. If I want to live a life that is sustainable for me I should be motivated and content with what I am creating. This supports my creativity, reduces insecurity and fear, but above all attracts positivism from the world around me.

Then, another thing that is critical, is to let go of the idea of retirement. From my perspective, retirement is the biggest anticlimax built in to our working society. Not before my 65th birthday when my body starts failing me, I am “free” to do what I want. Ultimately living with the physical and mental consequences of having been enslaved to this idea all my life. However, when I disconnect my purpose from money and I am concentrating on creating value doing something I love, I see no reason to stop when I am 65. Simultaneously, when I am young and physically strong there are so many things to enjoy I can not at that time. I believe it better to use these opportunities now and to not worry about the effect this might have on my retirement. As things go, my future I am creating today.

My final point is, that I believe there is no gain above a certain living standard. Once I have a safe and comfortable place to live, hopefully in an area I love, quality food to enjoy, means of transport, and I am lucky enough to be able to acquire the usual technologies, I do not see my quality of life increasing after that. I can turn my Fiat in to a Jeep and my Huawei in to the newest Iphone, but what am I really gaining here? The amounts of money I need to spend only make me more afraid of what might happen because I spent so much in the first place.

I think everybody should find their own balance between value and money. Nevertheless, I believe it is important to take in to account the false perspective that was drawn in my life. When I break down these walls I am more free to chose my own direction. Maybe even taking in to account that all I need to live a happy healthy life is whole food, physical activity, social contact and purpose.