This page is a collection of aphorisms, ideas, advice, and strategies to help you live a meaningful life. I draw these lessons from subjects such as stoicism, behavioural economics, neuroscience, business, sociology, and present them in a digestible and actionable form.
If you want to get these ideas in your inbox every week, join Sunday Wisdom, my weekly newsletter. Click here to learn more and sign up.
Bad Things Happen Quickly
Only bad things happen quickly. All the happiness-producing processes in our lives take time, usually a long time: learning new things, changing old behaviours, building satisfying relationships, raising children. This is why patience and determination are among life’s primary virtues.
Explore v Exploit
A good balance of Explore and Exploit is needed in life and work.
Too much exploit would mean no new learning, too much explore would lead to unwanted outcomes.
When we cannot change the situation, we have to change our response. What happens to us is not nearly as important as the attitude we adopt in response.
Because, if every misfortune can be blamed on someone/something else, we not only miss the opportunity of examining our contributory behaviour, but we also silently accept that no matter what we do, life will always be full of misfortune.
Learning by Doing
“Learning by Doing” is essential in areas where you want to innovate, push boundaries, and test your hypothesis from first principles.
In other places, it is unnecessary and expensive — both in terms of time and resources.
Disagreeableness is an underappreciated skill. Disagreeableness is important for good leadership and decision-making.
Being disagreeable isn’t the same as being rude. Being disagreeable isn’t the opposite of empathy. It’s possible to be nice and empathetic and still disagree.
High Upside Low Downside
Take bets that have less tail risk and high tail profit, i.e., convex bets that have less downside (if you lose) and high upside (if you win).
Starting a business (even a side business) may be the best example. Downside of a few years worth of salary lost, but with an upside of becoming a millionaire.
We achieve far more in the long run when we have slack. We are more productive when we don’t try to be productive all the time.
We waste the hours to prevent ourselves from wasting the years because those wasted hours are necessary to figure out if we’re headed in the right direction.
Being comfortable with not being 100% busy means we have time to think about whether we’re doing the right thing. Efficiency is the enemy.
Creativity Comes from Without
Most people don’t think they are creative. They treat creativity as something innate that one has to be born with. It isn’t so.
Our creativity comes from “without”, not from within. We are dependent on others for ideas and inspiration. We are influenced, not self-made.
Admitting this isn’t an embrace of mediocrity. It’s liberation from misconceptions.
Bad Money Practices to Avoid
- Fiscally irresponsible people. Don’t befriend or marry one. Least of all, don’t give them access to your wealth.
- Bets with low upside and high downside.
- Non-essential spending. Trust me, you don’t need 80% of the things you own.
- Financial/investment advisors. Read and learn to become your own advisor. You don’t have to be an expert. Nobody’s an expert.
Spend Time With Your Thoughts
How well you articulate your thoughts depends on how much time you spend with them.
It’s important to say your thoughts out loud, write them on paper, and rewrite them until they are crystal clear. If you cannot communicate an idea with the shortest possible words, you are not be putting enough effort.
Deep Contrarianism isn’t Necessary
Deep contrarianism isn’t always necessary. You can benefit from a world that generally agrees with you. Especially if your edge is found in being more patient than the crowd instead of trying to outsmart it.
Too much effort is spent attempting to be contrarian for contrarian’s sake when there’s plenty of room to get ahead being patient in a world where most people most of the time are in a huge hurry.
Look at the things that people take for granted in their everyday life. Observe them. Mull over them. Take them apart and piece them back together with bits from other such pieces.
Ideas are generated when two things come together and collide. You get ideas from confluence. Be on the lookout for confluence.
Start with a tweet-length insight and try to build upon it with words. Once you are out of words, try reading what you wrote.
Does it make sense? Does it sound cohesive? Now try editing bits of it to make it more simple and more precise. Once you start editing you’ll have more ideas to add and thus the depth of what you wrote would increase.
Most of the ideas—90% of it—would come after you sit down and start writing.
Laziness is a Slippery Slope
Laziness is a slippery slope. The less you do, the easier it is for you to do less. There is truth in the old saying that if you want something done, you should ask a busy person to do it.
Don’t be busy for the sake of being busy. Be busy to build momentum so that you can get more done.
Be Slightly Underconfident
Confidence is the new overconfidence. To have an open mind, you need to be slightly underconfident.
We make the worst mistakes when we are too cocksure about the wrong things. It’s when we start to believe that we know better and don’t let the world help us. This is when the world teaches us a lesson.
But being slightly underconfident gives us the mindset to hear out others’ opinions, and tweak our plans when we come across ideas that run counter to ours. Being underconfident increases our chances of success.
We prefer pointing out how things are bad instead of doing anything about them. We love to complain because it’s easy. Complaining gives 1/100th the satisfaction in 1/1000000000000th the effort. On top of that, when somebody fixes the problem we love giving ourselves credit for having brought it to attention.
It’s easy to confuse being “helpful” with actually being helpful when you are a master complainer. A lot of people think they’re “adding value” by nitpicking and supplying unsolicited takes when in reality they’re draining energy and momentum.
Don’t complain. Choose to be a maker instead. Instead of pontificating, take ownership by asking yourself, “Instead of stating the obvious, what can I do to fix this?”
Don’t be Hypervigilant
We think being hypervigilant will keep us safe, but being afraid all the time doesn’t protect us from danger.
When we are terrified all the time, we can’t pick out the signal from the noise. If we’re constantly scared, we can’t correctly notice when there is something genuine to fear.
True fear is a momentary signal, not an ongoing state. If one feels fear of all people all the time, there is no signal reserved for the times when it’s really needed.
Fixating on particular dangers blinds us to others. We focus on checking the road for snakes and end up getting knocked over by a car. In fact, what we fear the most is rarely what ends up happening.
Remaining calm is a better strategy because when there’s real fear, our brain is smart enough to warn us in advance to prepare ourselves. Being hypervigilant is counterproductive.
Diffused v Focussed Thinking
Creatives have two ways of thinking: focussed mode and diffused mode. Diffused mode is the state where you discover new ideas, and focussed mode is the state where you work towards a specific outcome.
We often don’t take diffused mode seriously because working in diffused mode doesn’t look like work. It’s invisible.
But diffused mode is filled with surprises that’s impossible to predict. While you may not make daily breakthroughs, diffused mode can lead to many breakthroughs that you would have never discovered in focussed mode.
You find inspirations in diffused mode, whereas you harvest them in focussed mode. One has little value without the other.
How to Defeat Goliaths
When a strong and a weak player go toe-to-toe, the weak player loses 80 percent of the time because there is nothing to mediate or deflect a strong player’s power advantage.
In contrast, when the weak player chooses to compete on a different strategic basis, they lose less than 40 percent of the time.
Refusing to fight on the strong player’s terms improves a weak player’s chances of victory. Be it business, sports, or battle, underdogs can change the odds of winning simply by changing the basis of competition.
Humans, fishes, birds, and rats that grow slowly live longer. The same applies to businesses and personal wealth as well.
Relentless focus on growth at all costs always backfires. There is a graveyard of companies whose early success pushed them to grow as fast as they could, right past the point where growth killed them.
Growth is not a strategy, it’s a tactic. When undisciplined growth becomes a strategy the business loses its way. What creates a strong base is slow growth. Likes fishes, trees, and rats, a business needs a strong base to live long.
Effective Strategies Are Boring
Prevention is better than cure, but prevention is boring as hell. For example, if you don’t smoke, you won’t get cancer. And if you don’t get cancer, you’re not going to die from it. That’s a simple truth that we overlook because it’s intellectually not very stimulating and exciting.
But just because avoiding war is boring compared to winning one, you wouldn’t want to look for opportunities to get into one.
Important Things Recur
If you find an event that is true in more than one field, you’ve probably uncovered something particularly important. The more fields it shows up in, the more likely it is to be a fundamental and recurring driver of how the world works.
Restricting your learning to a narrow lens means you’re less likely to uncover the biggest and most important parts of the field. Diversify your learning.
The Myth of the Lone Artist
We tend to think of artists as lone creators, holed in a room, waiting for inspiration to strike. But as evident in his notebooks and in the process that led to his drawing of Vitruvian Man, much of Leonardo da Vinci’s thinking was collaborative.
Hard Work is a False Metric
How hard you’re working isn’t a good indicator of the value you are creating, or progress you’re making. It’s a bad proxy for success.
Just as how many Twitter followers you have is a poor measure for the vitality of your business, how hard you’ve been working isn’t a good measure of how much you’re learning and progressing.
The Best Way to Learn Faster
The best way to learn faster is to have a stake in the outcome. Risk awakens our learning muscles. If you want to learn to cook invite friends over for dinner; if you want to learn about stocks, invest in the stock market; and if you want to learn about an idea, publish an article about it.
Contrast v Comparison
In a hypercompetitive world, it is infinitely more productive to ask, “How am I different from someone?” instead of, “How do I stack up compared to someone?” There’s a lot more to be learned from contrast than comparison—about ourselves and others.
To win you have to avoid losing. The first thing you have to do after an opponent makes a move isn’t to think about a strategy, but to ask yourself: what’s the threat? Avoid stupidity before trying to be smart. It goes a long way.
Are You Working on Your Best Idea?
Many would say that ideas don’t have value. What matters is execution. That is partly true. Execution does matter, but you cannot discount the value of an idea.
If you’ve got two ideas, you would be more enthused to work on the idea you personally prefer. If one is something to do with gardening, which you are passionate about, and the other is about teaching guitar online, which you are okay with, the first idea is a better choice. If executed well, it much more likely to be a better success than the second idea.
Are you working on your best idea?
Are You Clear?
Think about your purpose. Think of what a successful outcome would look like. Where would you be physically, financially, reputationally? Brainstorm and ideate about the potential steps. Organise your ideas. Decide on the next actions. Now, are you clearer about where you want to go, and how to get there?
A low-income passion isn’t for the long haul. It would be foolish to follow something if it doesn’t pay enough.
Take care of the basics first: fooding, clothing, and housing. Once you get bored with that, focus your passion on the side. Once your passion starts paying for your basics, consider doing it full-time. Doing otherwise won’t get you very far.
Success & Luck
All things in life produce success stories and failures. It’s human nature to wish to copy success. However, the ironic truth is this: to accept success at face value without acknowledging the role of luck is a strategy for failure. But it’s also important to note that luck can be influenced. It requires dedication and effort. Apart from courage and conviction to act.
Don’t Wait to Feel Better
Most people know what is good for them. They know what will make them feel better: exercise, pursuing goals, hobbies, time with those they care about, etc. They do not avoid these things because of ignorance, but because they are no longer “motivated” to do them. They are waiting until they feel better all by themselves, without really doing anything. Frequently, it’s a long wait.
The most important things in life are measured internally. Thinking about what matters to you is hard. Playing to someone else’s standard is easy. That’s why a lot of people do it. But winning the wrong game is pointless. You get one life. Play your own game.
The Dangers of Comparing Yourself to Others
When you compare yourself to others, you are often comparing their best features against your average ones. You naturally want to be better than them, but the unconscious realisation that you are not becomes self-destructive. Comparisons between people are a recipe for unhappiness unless you are the best in the world. Which, let’s be honest, only one person is.
Comparing yourself to others allows them to drive your behaviour. Stop doing that.
Memory is not an accurate transcription of past experience. Rather it is a story we tell ourselves about the past, full of distortions, wishful thinking, and unfulfilled dreams.
Don’t Bow to The Expert
Richard Feynman cared about the physics, not the physicist. If somebody said something absurd he called it crazy right away. It didn’t matter if that person was a Nobel laureate. On the other hand, if somebody says something smart, it didn’t matter if they were a janitor.
Don’t bow to the expert. They are either lucky or good storytellers. There are really no “experts”. Listen to reason, and reason alone.
Don’t Ignore Reality
Be an advocate of peace. Always! Go as far as you can to avoid war. But during war, don’t pretend to be an advocate of peace. Accept it and change your game. Go full offence!
We often don’t get what we want from life. But if you ignore reality, you’re gonna get crushed.
Smiling is a skill. It can be learnt.
Being friendly is a skill. It can be developed.
Being approachable is a skill. It can be inculcated.
Your personality is not a fixed entity. It can grow.
Deal Or Avoid
Life will never conform to all our desires. Ever! You can either get good at dealing with this fact or good at avoiding it.
Never change yourself for somebody else, no matter who that person is. You would regret it later.
Change yourself only for yourself—perhaps with the help of somebody else.
Failure & Invention
Failure is far more closer to invention than you think. To invent you have to experiment. If you know in advance whether it’s going to work, it’s really not an experiment. In the true spirit of experimentation, you’ll have to try out multiple things, and a bunch of them are going to fail. That’s the only way it works.
Don’t Criticise If You Cannot Praise
A person who doesn’t praise you when you do something well, but criticises you when you don’t do something well is not your well wisher.
In other words, one who doesn’t praise you has no right to criticise you.
Forgiveness is A Skill
Forgiveness is a skill. It can be learnt, practised, and mastered.
Forgiveness is correlated with all sorts of great things such as better relationships, less anxiety and depression, greater mental security and confidence, and most importantly being marginally less of a despicable person.
It would be smart to focus on learning this skill.
How Do You Think?
The most important moments of your life are decided not by what you know, but by how you think.
The question you ought to ask yourself is: how do I think when I face a problem I haven't seen before?
Your answer to this is gonna make all the difference in the world.
It's practically not possible for you to know everything. But you can change how you think, how you approach a problem, how you deal with adversity and stress. These are skills that can be learnt. They'll give you a framework to deal with all sorts of unknown situations.
Work on them.
Playing Within Your Circle of Competence
Playing within your circle of competence is always a better strategy.
Unlike pseudo-intellectuals who seek validation, fame and fortune, and “intervene” to help the society, but often end up harming it instead, it’s the humble man who actually helps the society by staying away, thereby inflicting no harm.
The humble man minds their own business, and limits their circle of competence to what is truly important. The humble man is not a bullshit vendor.
Getting Rich v Neighbours
If you’ve good income and no desire to impress your neighbours, you’ll get rich pretty fast.
If you’re looking for perfect investment; you’ll never be able to invest.
If you’re looking for perfect spouse; you’ll never get married.
If you’re looking for perfect job; you’ve to remain unemployed.
If you’re looking for perfect life; you’ll never enjoy living.
Failure v Success
We need to accept the fact that we won’t always make the right decisions. We will royally screw up sometimes.
Understand that failure is not the opposite of success. It’s a part of success.
Most of us inevitably compare ourselves to others at some point. But chronic comparing only leads to misery.
What matters is not what we do compared to what someone else does. What matters is what we do compared to what we’re capable of doing.
We need to pay attention to this gap.
Are You Too Busy?
If you think you are too busy, do a 30 minute by 30 minute audit of a day. You’ll find out how much time you’re wasting.
Plans v Progress
When making plans, think big.
When making progress, think small.
Fight For It
To promote any value, even love and peace, you must be willing to fight for it, and aim at results. Don’t get carried away by the good, warm feeling that expressing such ideas might bring you.
They Aren’t Paying Attention
Other people pay much less attention to you than you think. They’re often far too absorbed in their own subjective experiences to pick up on subtle cues related to your feelings.
If you’re annoyed at your partner, they’re probably just too busy thinking about their own problems (such as what they need to do at work, or what they’re planning to cook for dinner) to scrutinise your facial expressions.
They’re not deliberately ignoring you. They’re just thinking about other things.
In the workplace, a job well done almost always depends upon external factors like office politics, the opinions of your supervisors, or the mood of your clients.
In many sports, outcomes are affected by things like the weather, equipment, officiating, or the performance of teammates.
But personal growth is different. If you wish to read more, learn more, write more, behave well, eat well, sleep well, there are rarely any external factors to blame. Usually it’s you who creates an internal obstacle for yourself.
What you get out of yourself is proportionate to the internal obstacles you get rid of.
Clarity in Communication
If your words can be perceived in different ways, they’ll be understood in the way which does the most harm.
Few things are as important to study, practice, and perfect as clear communication.
The World Doesn’t Care
The world is aloof, busy, and distracted.
If you want the world to pay attention to you, you have to provide a compelling reason. You have to provide value that the world cares about. It doesn’t care about your dreams and life goals.
It’s better to have a bad strategy than having no strategy at all. As General Patton said, “A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.”
An imperfect start can always be improved, but obsessing over a perfect plan will never take you anywhere on its own.
Don't focus on winning trivial arguments.
Did someone say something you don't agree with? Agree to disagree, and move on to more important things.
Life is short. Learning to not care about having the last word will save you a lot of time and energy.
If you think you know how someone else feels, you should ask them to confirm. You shouldn’t assume you’ve got it right—you probably haven’t.
If you want someone to know how you feel, tell them in the clearest terms possible. Don’t make assumptions.
Being subtle about feelings is not the best idea, especially in high-stakes situations—be it in a relationship or at work. Err on the side of caution whenever possible.
Roots of Life Problems
When thought is crucial, you often act without thinking. When action is necessary, you often keep on thinking without acting. All the problems in your life have their roots in one of the above.
See things as they are. Seek peace in reality. Control what you can control. Have a strategy to deal with things outside your control.
You don’t need to be positive. Positive thinking is an illusion.
If you posses self-discipline, you have the ability to determine what you do with your life. If you lack self-discipline, the path you are taking through life is determined by someone or something else.
Self-discipline is worth possessing.
People Don’t Change
You don't change people. People change themselves.
Forcing change, or trying to guilt people into changing aren't effective strategies.
Therefore, articulate your thoughts so that people question their own beliefs. Let them decide independently. Devoid of any force or pressure. Let them come to the conclusion on their own. Then it'll be a permanent change.
Ask a Question
Rather than saying, “I cannot do that,” try asking, “How can I do that?” Rather than accepting a statement, ask yourself a question you can answer.
“How can I get wealthy?” over “I cannot get wealth”.
“How can I run 10 km?” over “I cannot run 10 km.”
“How can I start a business?” over “I cannot start a business.”
This is small change in language, but a great shift in perspective.
Find a Better Job
Every time you get a new job, immediately start looking for a better one.
Chances are that the best job for you won't become available at precisely the time you declare yourself ready.
Your best bet is to always be looking for a better deal. The better deal has its own schedule. Your job is not your job. Your job is to find a better job.
Try The Other One
It might be that your customers, your followers, your team members, etc. aren't bright or caring enough, aren't interested or attentive enough, aren't curious or open-minded enough to understand or appreciate your work.
Or, it might be that your work isn't good enough yet.
If you've been assuming one of the above so far, it's time to assume the other one.
It won't give you a solution, but it'll change your perspective.
Conquer Your Mornings
Get up at the same time everyday.
Setup a morning ritual that consists a mix of exercising, running, reading, making your bed, taking cold showers, planning your day, etc.
Follow it religiously. Do it everyday.
If you keep your morning routine consistent, you gather strength and energy for the whole day.
No matter how much the stress, no matter how tough the time, no matter how awful you feel, if you conquer your mornings, you conquer the day.
If you conquer your days, you conquer life!
I dread them. Especially if it's a friend, or somebody close to me. But, more than often, we all need some tough love. Colleagues, friends, family members, children, and everybody else.
I try to write down everything I want to say or discuss in advance. This helps me have difficult conversations I'd avoid having.
Writing your thoughts help you figure out how to communicate what you want to say in a non-violent way. It'll also help you think how to counter the arguments your counterpart would have. This will also help you not chicken out or soft-pedal during a heated conversation.
P.S. I read the notes either right before or even during the conversation
Stop Chasing Shortcuts
Getting rich, losing weight, increasing productivity, getting more followers, starting a new business-everything that we wish to achieve often come with heavily promoted shortcuts as alternatives. For example, “Try this simple trick to become instantly super productive,” or “10 way to get 10x followers in 10 days.”
The truth is, there are no shortcuts. So, don't fall prey. If the shortcuts and secrets would have worked as promised, they wouldn't be shortcuts. They'd be the norm.
All good things take time and effort. So, my advice is to embrace the process, and gradually improve it. Improve your thinking, your strategy, and your tactic.
Play the long game.