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12 Days in Japan

In mid October I flew to Japan with my girlfriend to meet a few friends flying over from Colorado.  I’ve long been fascinated about Japan for a number a reasons – namely their ways of thinking, their history, their rapidly declining population, the food, and the beauty.  It’s fair to say Japan is quite a unique place.

A few quick interesting things about Japan:

  • Japan has the fastest population decline in the world (people aren’t having kids) (?)
  • Tokyo is the most populous city in the world, with over 38 million people.  It also has over 900 train stations in the city (all are pretty much on time)
  • There are cuddle cafes where men pay a fee to only cuddle with a woman.
  • Japan has the 3rd highest GDP in the world.
  • Trains regularly train 320km/hr, making transport around the country very quick and easy.
  • Having crooked teeth is seen as a positive imperfection, so many people make their teeth crooked to look better.
  • Tipping is considered rude.
  • Japan has some of the longest working hours in the world. Nearly one quarter of Japanese companies require employees to work more than 80 hours of overtime a month, according to a 2016 government survey. (?)
  • Japan has the longest live expectancy in the world.
  • There are nearly 70,000 Japanese people over 100 years old, 88% of them are women.

To start our trip, we flew from Bangkok to Tokyo, leaving Bangkok at 2am and arriving in Tokyo around 10:30am.  After taking the train into central Tokyo, we went to the hotel and were told we couldn’t checkin until 3pm.  One thing to note off the top is how expensive Tokyo is – an average hotel will run $200+/night, and an above average can easily run $400/night.

After dropping off our bags, we grabbed something to eat at Shinagawa station and then ate back at the lobby of the hotel.  3 other friends were meeting us in Tokyo to travel together, arriving a bit later.  The 3 others coming from Colorado arrived in the evening and we grabbed dinner before calling it an early night.

One of the cool, aerodynamic high-speed trains around Japan.

The next morning we caught a train to Kyoto for about 2 hours.  The train system in Japan, without a doubt, is one of the best in the world.  Some go upwards of 350km/hour, are clean and spacious, and are on time everywhere.  It is a remarkable achievement.  We arrived into Kyoto mid-day, took a shuttle to our AirBNB.  We then walked around the fish market, checked out a local brewery, and had some fresh sushi.  Kyoto was much larger than I expected, and reminded me of the streets of a city in America.  In the evening we explored some different bars and sampled a variety of Japanese beers.

The next day we took a train to the monkey park (Monkey Park Iwatayama) about 30 minutes away.  It was a short, fun hike, and got to walk around the hill top with lots of monkeys.  Afterwards we hiked back down and walked through the Fushimi Inari-taisha shrine, the infamous big red gates.  From there we walked to a couple other temples, and then caught the train back to central Kyoto.  We bought some food and drinks at a local grocery store, and headed back to the AirBNB to relax for the evening.

The following day was rainy, as expected, but we walked around early enough that we avoided the rain for most of the morning.  We went another nearby temple and pebble garden.  We then walked in the rain to a sake distillery and read about the history of sake and got some free samples – it was quite interesting.  In the evening we relaxed at the AirBNB with music and sake.

Overlooking Tokyo from Tokyo Tower

The following day we took the train back to Tokyo, arrived in late afternoon, checked into the accommodation, and relaxed.  The place had a rooftop patio, so we had sake on the rooftop and chatted about what to do next.   We walked around central Tokyo and explored, visited an owl cafe where you buy beer and pet owls (true story), and after ended up at American bar for some snacks.

The next day we visited Tokyo Tower for some great views overlooking Tokyo, and in the evening went to an infamous robot show.  The robot show is strange, but quite entertaining and they serve beer so overall it was quite enjoyable.  At around $80/ticket, it was expensive but worth it for the couple hours.

On our friends last day in Japan, we took the train to a massive outdoor market which had lots of food, souvenirs, and people.  There were a lot of Thai people, I’m guessing from a large tour group of something else but it seemed half of the people there were speaking Thai. We had lunch near there, bought a few souvenirs, and then took the train to Tokyo station.  We roamed around the massive park near the station and saw Imperial Palace.  It was quite a fun place to hang out.  From there we took the train to Akihabara to checkout some of the electronic stores.  We ended up in one of the countless claw machine stores playing on the machines for an hour (throughout the trip they were everywhere and we spent many hours in them).

Overlooking Sagami Bay from the hotel south of Odawara.

Early the next morning we walked around the park near the AirBNB (Shinjuku station), checked out of the accommodation, and grabbed breakfast.  The others heading back to the US had to make their way to the airport, while my girlfriend and I had a couple hours to knockout some work before getting the train to Hakone area.

In the afternoon, we took the train to Odawara station to stay in that area for a few days to relax, onsen, and explore the small towns around Mt. Fuji.  In the shuttle from the train station to the hotel, we may 2 other women from Colorado who had taken a bus from the Tokyo airport straight to the hotel and were relaxing for a week.

Taking a cable car over a sulfur mine near Hakone.

Over the next few days we did a loop around the area seeing Mt. Fuji (though quite cloudy), boating across Lake Ashi, taking the cable car from Gora, walking over the Mishima Sky Walk, and relaxing in the Japanese style resort overlooking the ocean.  Since tattoos aren’t allowed, my girlfriend had to hide her tattoos in order to use any public facility, but it worked out okay.  I was able to get a few hours of the sauna in and overall it was relaxing to be there.

I made a list of observations which make Japan somewhat unique:

  • Very few white people around – we rarely saw other foreigners walking around.
  • Toilets are very modern, often heated seats with auto-bum sprayers with varying pressures and temperatures.
  • Toilets are often in a separate room as the shower.
  • Everything is very organized and clean – all the way down to how stuff is placed on a plate, to positioned in a room, to laid out in a city.  Even with 38 million people, Tokyo isn’t super crowded and there is little to no trash.  Organization is clearly a key to their culture.
  • At the cashier, coins are automatically dispensed to the customer so the cashier doesn’t have to manually count coins.
  • When paying with a credit card, signing is not required (at least from my experience).
  • Vending machines are everywhere, for everything from drinks (hot and cold), to food, snacks, rice to toys.
  • People stop walking when they use their phone.
  • In trains you can’t talk on the phone loudly (there are signs showing this too).
  • Microwaves aren’t set on time but on temperature.
  • Trains are spacious, clean, have good wifi, serve drinks, have luggage space/locks.  Very well made and maintained.
  • 7/11 (a Japanese company) has high quality, healthy food.  Avocado, sushi, etc.
  • When you have trash, you are expected to carry it around with you.  Trash cans weren’t common to see.
  • The food quality of Japanese food in Japan seemed normal compared to Japanese food outside of Thailand.
  • Japan is expensive, $15-30/meal wasn’t uncommon, especially in tourist areas.  AirBnB was often $250/night for an average apartment in the city – accommodation is expensive (Tokyo is one of the most expensive places in the world – in 2013 it was the most expensive in the world).

Overall, it was a great trip.  I’ve long wanted to visit Japan and explore a bit of the culture.  I’d like to go back and explore the autumn and winter there, and perhaps do some skiing.  The culture is incredibly unique and society seems well thought out and rational, unique to few places in the world.  It will be interesting to see what becomes of Japan with the population and work environment issues.

Small Improvements

We overestimate what we can do in a day and underestimate what we do in a year.  This is because we are creatures of instant gratification.  That is to say, when we do something, we want to see the result shortly after.  The problem is that many things in life don’t have quick results, so we need to driven by enjoying the process or trusting the process is working.  In fact, most of the good things in life don’t have quick results – being healthy is a lifestyle over longer periods of time, saving money to retire happens over a lifetime, and building good relationships take experiences over time.  Delayed gratification, or delayed results from current action, is an important piece of life worth recognizing.

As defined, “”Delayed gratification, or deferred gratification, describes the process that the subject undergoes when the subject resists the temptation of an immediate reward in preference for a later reward. Generally, delayed gratification is associated with resisting a smaller but more immediate reward in order to receive a larger or more enduring reward later. A growing body of literature has linked the ability to delay gratification to a host of other positive outcomes, including academic success, physical health, psychological health, and social competence.”

Delayed gratification, that is putting time and effort into something where the results won’t show for a period of time, is a positive trait of the human condition.  It means foregoing the instant gratification for a more longer term satisfaction.  It means passing on the donut and its instant gratification to live a longer, more healthy life.  It means saving more money now than buying a new car today.  It means being physically active today even if you don’t feel like it. Some more examples…

  • Going to to the gym once may make you feel great that day, but if you only go once the results are minute.  However, going daily for 2 months adds up to a lot.  20 pullups a day isn’t much, but in a month that is 600 pullups which is a lot and has an effect.  Going to the gym daily for the delayed gratification of a lifetime of good health is a huge benefit.
  • Writing 1 paragraph a day isn’t much, but consistently writing a paragraph each day for a month adds up to a 30 paragraph piece.  The delayed gratification of writing daily but after months seeing all your work and improvement in writing is gratifying.
  • Reading 30 minutes a day isn’t much, be amounts to between 20-40 books a year, which can have a drastic impact on your understanding, and therefore the outcome of your life.

Putting in the daily repetition is arguably one of the most life changing things you can do, because you are what you repeat (you are your habits), and a lifetime of repetition of anything will greatly change the outcome.

In the infamous “Marshmallow Experiment” in the late 1960’s, psychologists at Stanford performed various studies on delayed gratification…

In these studies, a child was offered a choice between one small reward provided immediately or two small rewards if they waited for a short period, approximately 15 minutes, during which the tester left the room and then returned. (The reward was sometimes a marshmallow, but often a cookie or a pretzel.) In follow-up studies, the researchers found that children who were able to wait longer for the preferred rewards tended to have better life outcomes, as measured by SAT scores,[2] educational attainment,[3] body mass index (BMI),[4] and other life measures.[5]

Source: Wikipedia

James Clear wrote an excellent article “40 Years of Stanford Research Found That People With This One Quality Are More Likely to Succeed“, which goes into more detail on delayed gratification and the Marshmallow Experiment.

Success usually comes down to choosing the pain of discipline over the ease of distraction. And that’s exactly what delayed gratification is all about.

In his article he further says…

The studies above do make one thing clear: if you want to succeed at something, at some point you will need to find the ability to be disciplined and take action instead of becoming distracted and doing what’s easy. Success in nearly every field requires you to ignore doing something easier (delaying gratification) in favor of doing something harder (doing the work and putting in your reps).

But the key takeaway here is that even if you don’t feel like you’re good at delaying gratification now, you can train yourself to become better simply by making a few small improvements. In the case of the children in the study, this meant being exposed to a reliable environment where the researcher promised something and then delivered it.

You and I can do the same thing. We can train our ability to delay gratification, just like we can train our muscles in the gym. And you can do it in the same way as the child and the researcher: by promising something small and then delivering. Over and over again until your brain says, 1) yes, it’s worth it to wait and 2) yes, I have the capability to do this.

Over the years I’ve come to realize one of the best skills in life is time management. Managing time enables you to consistently make small gains, daily.  Small improvements make huge gains.  Time passes whether we make small improvements or not, hence why it’s important to manage time now and continuously.  Building habits enables us to spend our time more effectively, and live better lives.

Because we can’t predict the future or change the past, all we can do is focus on the moment and the day to day activities that makeup our lives.  Striving to be better than yesterday adds up to many small improvements each day which compound day after day, month after month, years after year.  We didn’t evolve to understand compound interest, but we can use reason to know it is incredibly powerful.  As James Clear says, “habits are the compound interest of self improvement.” The aggregation of marginal gains – small improvements add up to dramatic changes.  On the same token, small bad habits can add up to a massive decline in well being.

Aristotle once said “we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then is not an act but a habit.” Let’s make each day a better day than the last.

If you liked this post, I’d recommend checking out Jame Clear’s new book “Atomic Habits“, and watching his talk, 1% Better Each Day.  You may also enjoy reading “The Power of Habit“.

17 Days Rafting the Grand Canyon

This is a trip report of a trip from May 14th-June 4th, 2018 – rafting the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.

Earlier this year I had the privilege to be invited on a private rafting trip through the Grand Canyon. So, on May 12th, I flew from Bangkok to Denver, arrived late in the evening, woke the next day to prepare gear and see friends/family, then the following day headed south towards Flagstaff, Arizona to raft the Grand Canyon.  A busy 24 hours to say the least.

The first stop was Salida, Colorado to help pack up gear and meetup with the group.  We spent the following day driving towards Flagstaff, camping an hour outside in Navajo National Monument under a clear night of bright stars.

We woke early and arrived into Flagstaff, met up with the rest of the group coming from California and Las Vegas, and packed/loaded the trailer.  Unpacking vehicles and coordinating how to repack things onto the trailer took most of the day.  There were 8 people going on the rafting trip: my friend Andrew, his brother, his dad, his aunt, his 3 cousins, and me.  A few other family members were there to help pack and checkout the area.

When everything was loaded, we grabbed dinner and drove the 2 hours to Lee’s Ferry, the put in spot to start rafting the Grand Canyon.  We spent a few hours preparing the rafts and loading them, then resting by the river eating dinner, and eventually sleeping under the stars along a trail to the campground near the river.  Many others were camped out all over the trail.  There were several large commercial, 35 ft+ pontoon boats packing nearby, but we were the only raft group for the day.  Each day the park limits the amount of people who can put in, and if I’m not mistaken, it is 1 private group each day, plus whatever commercial limits there are.

The put-in at Lee’s Ferry facing downriver

The next morning we woke with the sun, did the final preparations on the boats, and left mid-day after the ranger checked out gear and lectured all the people departing from Lees Ferry that day (was probably ~40 people).  We had a few lifejackets that didn’t meet the quality needed so had to rent some from the outfitter, which they luckily had nearby.  We saw a dory boat being loaded off a trailer the following morning as well, which reminded me of the “Emerald Mile” (see below).

From the beginning,  it was stunning scenery.  Even from Lees ferry it is a remarkable backdrop with the tall, red canyon walls shading the put in point.  We had 3 boats across 8 people, 18′ rafts plus 2 extra kayaks.  Andrew mostly kayaked the canyon, while the other 7 of us split amongst the 3 rafts and rotated at the oars. It was a strange feeling leaving Lees Ferry, as the water was so calm and peaceful, but in just a few miles up stream, it would get a lot more violent and intense.

The first day was mostly calm, getting into the routine of rowing and switching, getting comfortable with where to put water bottles and sit, etc.  The canyon walls were stunning for the entire 17 days straight, it is hard to describe and really quite hard to capture in a picture how remarkable the canyon is.

We stopped at various spots to hike into some canyons and cool sights.  Andrew’s dad had rafted the canyon 5 times prior in the early 1980’s, so he knew a lot of the geology and features to explore.

The policy at the canyon is leave no trace, meaning we have to bring out everything we bring in, including human waste. This meant we had to mount a toilet seat onto an old military ammo cam, or “groover box”.  We also had to urinate separately from the groover, which meant we had a bucket we had to piss into simultaneously while shitting.  It was a slight challenge but got used to it after a day or two.  The pee could be dumped into the river as long as it only went into the water (and not the beach), but the poop had to be carried out in the groover boxes. I’d say we had some incredible scenery for taking a shit, to say the least.  Often we put the groover box facing beautiful canyon walls or beautiful sunsets overlooking the river – it was almost magical.

It took a couple days to get into a sort of routine, but it worked out well. Each day the same people got on the same rafts; this way those people knew exactly what was on the rafts and where it was.  It also meant that we had somewhat of a routine for setup and takedown.  For example, one raft had the kitchen tables and the tarps underneath to catch any waste, another boat had water buckets for washing dishes and hands, and another boat had groover boxes, etc.  Each night one or two people would setup the bathroom while others started cooking and preparing the chairs.  We ended up having quite comfortable settings and great food.  There was no rain, clear skies pretty much every night, and excellent temperature.  I didn’t use a tent once, and just slept on my sleeping pad with my sleeping bag each night, it was perfect.

While Andrew kayaked most of the trip, I joined a couple times in some of the calmer water, as did others.  The normal routine for the day was to wakeup with the sun, pack our gear, eat breakfast, pack the kitchen and repack the boats, pack the groover, and row around 20 miles, stopping for lunch midday.  We’d typically be on the water in the morning by 8:30am and be off the water around 5pm.  After getting off the water, we’d setup the kitchen and groover, and setup our camp site.  We’d rotate cooking each night – 3 people would cook one day, the other 3/4 the other day.  Whoever didn’t cook would setup the bathroom and then have some down time.  We had a speaker so we had some good music, and we had a lot of bags of red wine which was also nice.  We’d typically be in bed by 9pm most nights after a good dinner.  Most nights I’d stay up chatting with someone about the stars – it was beautiful.

Where the Little Colorado meets the big Colorado River

Throughout the trip, there were several dry bags that were ruined when mice chewed tiny holes in them at night.  Most of this was caused by leaving food in the dry bag at night.  Also during the nights, we had a UV light which would turn scorpions bright glowing white (this was Tim’s idea and it worked like a charm).  It was fun walking around and seeing tiny 2-3″ scorpions, mostly on the rocks.  One night we saw a 5-6″ one, though hidden in a hole in the rocks.

The water flow in the canyon runs between 7-15,000 cfs (cubic feet per second), depending on the day and release from Glen Canyon Dam upstream.  We were told the release times from Glen Canyon Dam, and as the trip progressed and we got further from the dam, we had to calculate how long it would take for the increased water levels to reach us.  We then planned our how tie the boats for the night to ensure the boats didn’t ensure up too far on shore or too far off shore.

For the first 4-5 days of the trip, I didn’t take notes, and have limited pictures.  On the 22nd of May, I started writing a bit. Here was the dairy I made during the trip, with some added notes along the way:

May 22 – Was a long day. Camped at Kwagunt Creek Rapid just below Mile 56. Great spot. Burritos for dinner with canyon in backdrop. Remarkable. Last night slept at mile 38 at Tatahatso Canyon. Nice spot. Saw huge 6″ scorpion with UV light.

Yesterday saw arc and huge cave like thing – Redwall Cavern. Hiked into Dolomite, and Shinumo Wash. Stars out are very clear, can see milkyway.  One of the clearest nights I’ve ever seen in the sky.

Typical evening setup for dinner

May 23: A lot of rapids. Nearly flipped on a class 2 as Alberto bumped boat in front of us and put us into a hole. Recovered though Alberto ejected.  The other boat had a jacket and solar charger get lost to the rapid (or ripple). Camped after Nevills Rapid, mile 76.

May 24: Dave’s birthday, made a cake and had a little celebration. Camped at mile 94 above class 8/9 Granite rapid. Yesterday the first rapid drained me and went into a hole sideways. Also stopped at Phantom Ranch – lots of hikers there – was the most people we saw all trip, felt a bit strange being so far from civilization yet seeing so many people. Overall challenging but fun day.

May 25: Hit a lot of big rapids, rowed a couple class 8s and 9s (scale on Grand Canyon is 1-10, 10 being the most difficult). Learned a lot and improved confidence. Had a beautiful camping spot at Garnet Mile 114. Saw many lizards throughout the trip.

May 26: A few more big rapids. Hiked up two different canyons. Camped after a rapid in a rocky spot. Layover day tomorrow so we can hike. Mile 134, Tapeats. Stayed up and chatted with Curran, and saw mice running around. Lots of lizards here too.

May 27: Camped near Tapeats Creek again, hiked all day (steep, full day, but beautiful). Crossed the creek twice to Thunder falls – incredible views up there. On the way back, Dave, Alberto, and I stayed right of the creek and got back to camp an hour earlier.. Amazing hike with stunning views. See many other hikers. Mile 134 still.

May 28: Raft 3 miles and hiked up Deer Creek. Then 11 miles to 145 mile to camp. Great spot with big beach. Olo canyon camp.

May 29: Wake up and get ready, Andrew and Dave and Drew go climb. I read on the shade. Then we raft to Matkatamiba Canyon and hike there. Camp at 156.5 mile at Last Chance. Tomorrow will be another short day and we hike Havasu.

May 30. Hike Havasu. Nice waterfalls, good hike. By crazy coincidence, I run into an ex-girlfriend from Thailand who was hiking there (hadn’t seen her in years).  Perhaps one of the craziest coincidences I’ve ever experienced.  Camp at Mile 158.7 on rocks. Very hot.

Hiking up to Thunder Falls

May 31: Raft quickly to near Lava falls, camp mile 178. Drink wine by water, then hike. Get stuck at cliff, Andrew climbs it with Dave at top. Amazing stars, satellites, and shooting stars.

June 1: Wake up and run Lava rapid (class 10) early. Flip boat and go through two rapids off boat. Row all day, 27 miles. Camp at mile 205. Great spot with great stars.

June 2: camp at 239. Long day of rowing. Sandy camp. Windy too.

I did some kayaking with Andrew on the last days, running through a ripple or two and almost flipping.  The water became much more calm the last couple days and the canyon walls began to decline, eventually ending up a slowly moving, super wide river, which is now Lake Meade (down 120 ft from 20 years ago).  It’s a bit scary to think of such a water drop in just 20 years.

On the last night, we played frisbee on the beach and drank some wine.  Throughout the night we could hear the sand bars falling into the water.  We woke early the next morning, rowed for 15 minutes to Pearce Ferry.  Once there, we spent a couple hours unpacking, deflating and folding the rafts, and loading it onto the trailer that was shuttled to us at Pearce Ferry.  We then grabbed an early lunch at a diner in the closest town, and then to Las Vegas.  Half of the crew drove back to Flagstaff, while others went back to Las Vegas.

Overlooking the Colorado River

Overall the trip was remarkable.  It is an intense adventure, with more remarkable beauty than almost anywhere I’ve seen in the world. The combination of incredible weather, steep canyon walls that are billions of years old, crystal clear skies at night, and amazing company, it is the trip of a lifetime. And one I’d love to do again.

Sleeping under the stars for 2 weeks without any insects or rain at a comfortable temperature surrounded by the marvels of the grand canyon is beyond explanation.  Going to sleep with the sun and waking with the sun made for good rest.  It was interesting how easy it was to wakeup at 5am not tired, as if I sleep indoors it is much more difficult.  It just reassured me the value of being outside and how we as humans evolved to wake and sleep with the sun, not be indoors shaded all the time.

I recently finished reading the book “The Emerald Mile” which documents the history of Glen Canyon Dam and the ability for humans to control the Colorado River, and is based around the story of the fastest boat ride through the Grand Canyon during the summer flood of 1983.  Three guides decided to get on an infamous dory boat, named “The Emerald Mile”, during the high water floods of 1983 when the water level went from 15,000 cfs to 90,000+ cfs.  In turn, they set a new record for the fastest trip down the canyon, around 38 hours (it took us 17 days).

It is an incredible book and well worth reading, especially before or after a rafting trip down the Grand Canyon.

To see all of my pictures from the trip, click on the Google Photos album here.

Optimism and Pessimism

People like being around other happy people.  People don’t like being around negative people.  This is because we all seek well being, one where we feel good, feel like we have a purpose, and live meaningful lives.  Happy people, by definition, are successful because they are leading happy lives, and being around happy people increases your chances of being happy.  Being around people laughing increases your chances of laughing, and laughing is good.

Pessimism, as defined on Google is “a tendency to see the worst aspect of things or believe that the worst will happen; a lack of hope or confidence in the future.” Considering all the great there is in the world, and all the progress we’ve made in the last couple hundreds years, the question is why are so many people pessimistic?

I’ve written before about how the media affects the mood and feeling of the people who consume it.  Even though by almost every metric we live in a better, healthier, happier, wealthier world than at any other time in human history, many people think the world is more dangerous and worse than ever before.  This is driven in large part by the news, which in modern day enables worldwide catastrophes to be broadcasted in real time to people all over the world.  This is a new trend, and it wasn’t always possible to see news like it is today.  The media is incentivized to broadcast sad, tragic, graphic, and scary news because scary news captures human attention, and they make money by capturing our attention, not by telling us what we should or need to know about how amazing the world actually is (?).

Without knowing how the media and modern technology works, pessimism makes sense.  It feels like the world could be worse off.  But as I’ve written about before, overcoming our default state – our innate human intuitions – is what leads to us becoming conscious people, and better conscious people.  Knowing that our intuitions can often misguide us is important, and overcoming them can lead us to be more realistic when we realize that our intuitions are misguided.  It enables us to become optimistic when we’d otherwise be pessimistic.

So why be optimistic? To start, being optimistic feels good.  It makes you excited about the future, grateful for the moment, and privileged to exist today. But there are other benefits than just feeling good…
– Optimists are healthier and tend to live longer (?)
– Optimistics are less likely to get sick (?)
– Optimists make better partners (?)
– Optimists are perform better at their jobs (?)
– Optimists get more promotions and job offers (?)
– Optimists handle stress better than pessimists (?)

All of this shouldn’t come as a surprise, if you’re optimistic and you feel good, you’re more likely to take care of yourself, treat others better, be a positive person, and that attracts a better social circle, which is a key indicator and perhaps the most valuable aspect of living a good life (the longest study on happiness at Harvard ranked it as the #1 most important metric).

There is evidence that optimistic people present a higher quality of life compared to those with low levels of optimism or even pessimists. Optimism may significantly influence mental and physical well-being by the promotion of a healthy lifestyle as well as by adaptive behaviours and cognitive responses, associated with greater flexibility, problem-solving capacity and a more efficient elaboration of negative information.
US National Library of Health

And…

Optimists tend to view anything adverse as temporary, specific and external whilst pessimists will view an adverse situation as permanent, pervasive and personal.  These two styles produce very different outcomes.  Source: Psychology Today

What about the unknowns of the world? What about the daunting challenges we face as a society? Should we remain optimistic when things look cloudy? Yes. In situations where we don’t know what an outcome will be or we’re missing too many details to draw a fair conclusion, optimism is almost always better.  This is two-fold – if you’re optimistic and see problems as solvable (Beginning of Infinity), you’re far more likely to solve them than if you see problems as impossible to overcome and give up.  Secondly, optimism has tremendous benefits, so why not side on more beneficial end? Kant had a theory in philosophy: since many philosophical discussions don’t have a “right” answer, he argues to choose the side with most utility. That is to say to choose the most useful side during the unknown. Since so many things in life we don’t know, striving for optimism makes the most rational sense.

You find what you’re looking for.  If you look for all the negatives in the world, you’ll find them.  If you look for all the positives, you’ll find them.  And expectations influence outcomes.  They influence not only your perception, but very likely the outcome because your perceptions affect your actions.  Being optimistic and positive far increases your chances of finding the good in the world, whether it be good people, good places, or just a good feeling.  Optimism is key.

So in todays world what and how much should we be optimist about? The answer….nearly everything.

I recently finished reading Enlightenment Now, which is an excellent book written by the incredible Steven Pinker of Harvard.  He puts forward a sound perspective on science and reason which has created progress.  Progress at what? Progress at maximizing human flourishing, maximizing well being, reducing suffering, all core values of a humanistic view.  It is well worth the time to read, and if for no other reason, it will lead to be more optimistic about the state of the world, even if you already are optimistic.

Subjective Feeling vs Objective Truth

One of the big fallacies I think many people make in modern day is that they take their subjective view of reality and then assume it’s how the rest of the society or the rest of the world is.  For example, imagine you live in a town of 200,000 people and you notice most of your friends are chronically depressed, and a large amount of strangers you meet throughout your town express their concern about depression and how they also feel depressed.  A common conclusion to therefore draw is that society is broken and depression is a major issue.  The fallacy with this is that you’re relying on your intuitions about the state of society and using your subjective experience to therefore conclude that objectively society is broken.  However, you can easily look up various stats and studies to see objectively what the actual state of affairs is, and it is more often than not quite different than you subjectively may feel.  The world is diverse, and we can learn a lot by studying other cultures, places, and people.

This is why a book like Enlightenment Now is well worth your time, because it objectively looks at many aspects of society to see how it is performing, progressing, and changing, regardless of anyones specific subjective feelings. Pinker looks at worldwide data to show how collectively society is improving in almost every metric we care about – human flourishing, well being, reduced suffering, scientific progress, knowledge, education, etc.  The only way to make rational conclusions and decisions about life is to objectively understand what is working and what isn’t, and learn from the studies and data we have at our disposal.  If subjectively things feel pessimistic, a simple environmental change could change ones perspective, and lead to optimism.

How to be more optimistic

Changing from a pessimistic mindset to an optimistic one isn’t easy. Start with these tips:

  • Educate yourself about the problems we face, and the progress we’ve made (Enlightenment Now is a start).
  • Proactively work on solving some of the world’s challenges.  Seeing progress made is important, but actively helping solve the issues we face is more important.
  • Reframe how you define events – try to find the good in every situation, even at difficult moments. Look for the good in the world, not the bad.  Life is all about perspective and you see what you think/believe.
  • Understand that problems are solvable, and for each problem we solve, more will come. Read “Beginning of Infinity”.

  • Meditate, be mindful – focus on the here and now.
  • Notice negative self talk or complaints you make.  Set a timer, and each time you notice yourself complain (or get called out about complaining), reset the timer.   See how many hours you can go.
  • Focus on what you can control in life. Recognize when something isn’t within your control, and avoid letting it affect you (see meditation point above). Read “A Guide to a Good Life” on Stoic philosophy.
  • Pursue self-growth, work on improving everyday.  Small steps each day add up to a lot, it’s compound interest of the mind/body.  Help others, benefit society.  Strive to be better each day and solve the challenges we face as a society.
  • Strive to have positive experiences.  Seek things you enjoy and find joy in others.
  •  Be healthy.  Sleep well, eat well, and stay active.  The better you feel, the more positive outlook you’ll have in life.

Life is a string of the stories we tell ourselves.  It’s better to tell great stories.  Be optimistic.


Other Notes/Links:

Optimists Get Jobs More Easily — and Get Promoted More, Researchers Find

Can Optimism Make a Difference in Your Life?

How Optimism Boosts Productivity and Work-Life Balance

Optimism and your health

Thinking about Work Differently

I grew up rural America, knowing not much more than what I saw and experienced with the people around me. By sheer luck, I gained access to the internet at the age of 9 and my curiosity led me to the world outside of just rural America.  I traded baseball cards online, learned the basics of economics, used my dad’s credit card to open an eBay account, and shared a bank account with my brother.  Through enjoying the hobby of baseball card trading, combined with the power of the internet in connecting people, I learned the basics of money, business, and economics.

As time went on, I went through traditional school as assumed like any other kid from rural America.  Go to school, do well enough to get into college, and graduate and get a good job, meaning a job that pays the bills and interests you.  I didn’t particular enjoy school, though I understood it’s value and had parental pressure to succeed.  Again by sheer luck, I had the mindset that if I’m going to wake bright an early every morning to take a bus to school, spend most of my day at the school, and then bus back, I might as well make it worth it.  As a result, along with parental and sibling pressure, I tried quite hard to do well, meaning get good grades.

Naturally, after graduating high school and following the cultural and societal pressures of Western society, I went to college.  It was fun and challenging and met a lot of great people, but the big downside was the hefty bill it came with.  At the age of 18, it’s very easy to sign a loan for $20,000 with little understanding of what it really is, and with the feeling that it is totally normal.  Don’t get me wrong, having the loan enabled me to attend college and without it I wouldn’t have been able to go.  Because of this fact, most people in the world never get the chance to attend college.  As I write this in 2018, there is $1.48 trillion in student loan debt in the US, held by 44.2 million Americans (?).  Consumer debt is at an all time high, even though the US stock market is at an all time high.  The US government is in debt is over $21 trillion.  Even with the economy soaring over the last few years and wars have winded down, the US government has only gone further into debt.  How is this possible you may ask?

What I’ve seen regarding higher education in America is this: in the past, say 40 years ago, a college education was very valuable, meaning you gained a big advantage on society by having the degree, and at the same time, the cost was relatively cheap.  Fast forward to today, the value of a college education has dropped (meaning it doesn’t give you a big advantage on the rest of the society), and the cost has skyrocketed.  This has resulted in two key general trends: 1) students are graduating after going massively into debt and not being able to get a job (ie. society doesn’t value the degree) and 2) because of this, people begin to question whether going to college is worth it since going into debt and not being able to get a job is risky.

One of the reasons I think we’ve come to this point in history is due to the way we look at work.  Instead of looking at work as getting a nice resume and applying to various companies who like the resume you have, the question should be asked: what can I do to benefit society? What skills do I have or can I acquire which will benefit society? If people asked these questions, and then followed through in acquiring these skills, I’d argue society would not only be better off but far less people would be struggling to find work.

With all of these stats about record high student loan debt, record high credit card debt, record highs in consumer debt, there is perhaps more opportunity than ever to create wealth in the world today.  And not just create wealth, but acquire the skills needed to benefit the world in whatever way you see fit.  I feel for the people who are struggling to find work, but it is important to look at a society more objectively.  As I heard recently, if it feels like the world is fucked up, maybe it’s not the world that’s fucked up but you that’s fucked up.  Not to say there is bad luck, and bad timing which leads to these situations, but the world is what you perceive of it.  To think that the world is awful is purely an illusion in our own heads, as in another’s mind it is absolute bliss.  The key takeaway here is to be careful how to interpret the world, because it becomes your world.  And in times of crisis in life it’s easy to misinterpret the world you’re living in.

There was a guy I came across maybe 4 years ago who just graduated from college and was traveling around Asia building websites on the internet, learning as many skills as possible along the way.  He decided to build a site about connecting digital nomads and finding the best places to live and work in the world.  Today, just a few years later, the site is making $30,000+/month passively.   People pay to use his site because it’s valuable to them – it connects like-minded people traveling outside their home countries. He also decided to build out a single index.php site for people to post remote jobs, and that site at present is making nearly $20,000+/month, again passively.  And this story is becoming a common one. The point of this isn’t to cherry pick a success, but to demonstrate the sheer amount of opportunity and potential in the world today, just on the internet alone.  While so many struggle in the West to get work, others are creating incredible websites, pieces of software, and movements which benefit society, and in turn make a lot of money.

Sure, I’m biased towards the internet as it’s what I’ve spent most of my life studying and working on, but it is something that is available in many places in the world, has more collective human knowledge than human kind has ever seen, and enables anyone in the world interested or motivated enough to acquire skills, create movements, to build things that benefit society, and to share their voices.  The opportunity is without a doubt there, it’s just a matter of seizing it.

The point being is that instead of looking at work as a resume and applying to companies, look at work as acquiring skills and building things that society values.  This way you’re a valuable asset to society and in turn will be rewarded for it.

Luck in Life

Around 5 years ago, while in the process of building part of my business on Amazon.com, I came across an industry selling servies for Amazon sellers which seemed intriguing.  I wanted to understand more about the industry and how the economics worked, so I dug further.  The more I looked into it, the more I discovered why so many businesses were competing within the industry – there was a fair amount of passive money to be made in a growing market.

Driven by this discovery, I spent around 3 hours building out a site of my own to compete in the industry.  My thought was two fold – on one hand I wanted to setup something purely for the practice and interest in building out the website to learn more about the industry, and on another hand it was to build it and see if anything came out of it.

Those 3 hours in hindsight proved to be time well spent, as that site grew into a sizable business over the years.  At the time, it was impossible to know what would come of it, but by spending those 3 hours, it transformed my entire business for the next 5 years.  Those 3 hours could have also produced nothing other than a website no one visited, the difference was really just a matter of luck.

The industry was competitive, but I was confident there was opportunity.  Part of the game of the internet is capturing attention, and if I could build out a business that captured attention more effectively than others, then I would profit.  The lucrative part of this business is that if you can automate capturing attention, you run a sizable passive business.

This story is a simple example of luck in my own life, a topic I want to talk about more.

Life & Luck

Luck is a factor in life.  It influences certain situations, sure, but fundamentally it has affected the outcomes of our entire lives (see Free Will post).  It’s easy to miss attributing luck to “hard work” because when you work hard work and the outcome turns out to be what you expected and worked for, instead of saying it was luck, you say it is hard work.  It’s a common fallacy people make when attributing a successful outcome to hard work rather than luck. But what gave you the motivation, inspiration, desire, and/or genes to make you work hard? Did you choose them?

The way I’ve looked at business on the internet is very much in a luck sense.  There is a huge amount of luck involved, and the way to set yourself up to potentially get lucky is to constantly be building businesses that help people or provide some sort of value to society.  The more chances you give yourself, the greater chance that one of the chances will work. It’s doesn’t guarantee success, but it increases the chances and therefore is the best route to take, if you’re wanting to get lucky (ie. successful).

This sort of thinking is described in many quotes, such as:

I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.

Opportunity favors the prepared.  You can’t control your luck, but you can take actions which increase the chances you’ll get lucky.  In other words, you can’t guarantee a home-run but you have to step up to bat to even have a chance.

The other key in building processes and habits in life, that increase your chances of getting lucky, is how you approach the actions.  Because I don’t know if 1 in 10 attempts will end up with a lucky outcome or 1 in 50, I try to make every attempt a forward action, regardless of the outcome.  It’s what Tim Ferriss has called “failing forward”.  This sort of thinking means that when you approach a project with a goal in mind, even if the project fails, you’ve got something out of the process (ie. knowledge, a new skill, the enjoyment of building the project, a new perspective, etc.).  Then even if you fail at every project you attempted, you still have learned a great deal since each project brought you forward, led to an improvement, or allowed you to grow as a person. Failing forward really matters since it’s all about the journey, not the result.

If I look back over my life, in many situations I was unlucky, and in many situations I was very lucky.  Because humans want to be lucky more than unlucky, we need to strategize our lives to increase the chances of getting lucky.  This is why building processes/systems into our lives is important – it steers our lives in a general direction to where we want to be, and increases our chances of something good coming out of it.

It’s easy to dismiss luck in life.  You’ll find a lot of people who say work your ass off, get off your ass and push yourself to do things you don’t want to do, and just take action. While this is true and increases your chances of succeeding, it doesn’t guarantee it.  It requires some luck for success to actually happen.  Hence why many successful business owners don’t attribute luck to their lives because they worked hard and therefore attribute the success to that, but many other people worked just as hard and didn’t have such success.  You also see many people in life who attribute much of their success to luck.  I’m certainly one of them – while I’ve worked hard, spent a lot of time thinking about strategies, spent time hanging around the right people, I didn’t give myself the genes I have that make me as motivated as I am or as hard working as I am.  Because of this, I’m more willing to have sympathy for people who try hard but still fail.   The pursuit of solving problems, overcoming challenges, and building things is what matters – enjoy the process, not the result.

So, if what I’m saying is true, in that luck is a big factor in the outcome of life, what should we do? We should prepare ourselves to get lucky as much as possible in whatever pursuit that is.  Read books to increase your knowledge, awareness, and decision making, make friends who inspire you to increase your motivation and accountability, take care of your health so you have the energy to create and take action, and take action to step up to bat.

I could have just as easily not taken those 3 hours to build that website.  But I did, and it made all the difference.  If I look back on my career, my relationships, and my life, the times where I felt confident my decision would succeed, it failed, and where I wasn’t so sure, it often worked.  As a result, you just have to put yourself out there, learn as much as you can about as much as you can, fulfill yourself with solving problems and challenges everyday, making progress in your life, seeing every day as an opportunity to grow and improve, and being open to talking with people of all different beliefs and views about things to broaden your own perspective.

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you’re the easiest person to fool
– Richard Feynman

Don’t fool yourself, create chances to become lucky.

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