A Finland Swede in Bavaria

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Kaj's Ten New Year Resolutions: On the Irrationality of the Human Mind

Human beings are irrational. People in general behave illogically, sometimes directly against their own self interest. I am no exception. Using glimpses of logical thinking to indoctrinate myself, I assert that I can change my behaviour to alleviate the consequences of my irrationality and sometimes even turn it into an asset. And this self indoctrination I have concentrated into my New Year Resolutions 2009.

Background: These thoughts have matured during several years, and lately in particular reading The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. A flight delay of fifteen hours unexpectedly gave me the time to structure the thoughts into this blog entry, which deals both with the private and the professional aspects of life (with a slight bias for the private).

Caution: I write this blog entry out of my free will, despite knowing that some of my opinions aren't shared even by my closest friends. My goal is not to moralise or prescribe how others should lead their lives, but to gather impressions from others, and through comments hopefully gain new insights. Hence, when I write "you", I am talking primarily to myself.

Ten rational consequences of the irrationality of the human mind
or
Kaj's Ten New Year Resolutions

1. The power of habit is immense: Regularly start a new good habit! Consciously define a desirable new habit. Figure out how you best can convince yourself of going through the pains of starting the habit.

2. Self confidence breeds self confidence: Behave with full confidence! But dare make potential mistakes. You don't learn without taking risks.

3. Identify and live out your personal priorities! How important are friends? Marriage? Children? Family? Relatives? Health? Work? Money? Give consequent priority to the more important over the less important, when it comes to using time, attention and money.

4. Draw the consequences of your priorities: Set quarterly goals also in private life! A quarter is long enough to make long term goals achievable, and short enough for wishful thinking to surface quickly.

5. Focus consciously: Create rituals for rough follow-up of personal quarterly goals each week, and thorough follow-up at the start of next quarter!

6. Make the boring or uncomfortable work bearable or even fun! Make the work into something social (and share the burden). Reward yourself for completed hard phases. Concentrate the most uncomfortable work to one "brave" hour of the day.

7. Ask experts for help! Already the phrasing of the wish gets you started. And incoming answers keep the wheels in motion.

8. Make important matters appear urgent! Create impulses that make you focus on the important: Help delivered by others, promises of partial delivery, meetings, scheduled discussion topics.

9. Aesthetic values are appealing: Surround yourself with beauty, simplicity and order! Disorder, unnecessary items and gadgets (whether old or newly bought) are burdens for the soul. Order your belongings! Throw away! If you buy, then only if it's functional, useful and beautiful.

10. Manage your own mood: Don't let petty details take over your agenda! Consciously break negative thought patters, through raised blood sugar, breaks, fresh air.

Personally, I catch myself daily, not following common sense, acting against my own self interest. Through the introspection needed for this blog entry, I hope to achieve a higher degree of self consciousness.

To exemplify my own irrational behavior, here's somewhat of a personal confession:

  • It happens that I give much too much attention to secondary goals (see item 3).

  • I let my self get carried away by some negative thought (whether work related or private), which appears much smaller after some food or a break, or which I can figure out how to solve while jogging (see item 10).

  • I can attach undue importance to an item of petty cash (saving on the amount of "expensive" freshly squeezed juice), but procrastinate the planning of how to manage my savings or the building of my summer house 8see items 3, 4, 5, 7 and 8).

  • In dark moments, it may feel easier to consume (read a crime novel, browse the web, look at pictures) than to produce (work on an important quarterly goal, write a blog entry, create a photo album) even if procrastinating is short-sighted (see items 1, 6 and 10).

  • Sometimes it's hard to get started, after an interruption, when I'm tired, or with the uncomfortable but necessary work even if I know that it's much easier when I've got going (see items 1, 2, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10).

  • I give way too much attention to the fresh and new (the newest unread email) and too little to the important (see items 1, 7 and 8).

  • What I don't see and experience in practice, doesn't "exist", or gets too little of my attention (see items 7, 8).


In The Black Swan, Nassim Nicholas Taleb describes how the human mind is "misconstructed", resulting in more negative feelings from losing 10.000 euro five times than losing 100.000 euro once. Man wants constant good news, but gets spoiled by higher standards of living, so he can no longer derive joy out of achieved benefits. Human beings have an easier time adjusting to individual big losses than many small. Man gives priority to short-term well-being over long-term well-being: Better a dessert in the stomach right now, than an uncertain six pack in half a year! Extremely rational human beings can go all out and exploit these weaknesses in their neighbours.

Personally, I'm fully occupied with trying to stop cheating myself.

Links:

Updated 6 Jan 2008 based on twittering by @guykawasaki:

12 comments:

  1. [...] some of which I’ve already published my ten New Year Resolutions in Swedish, in German and in English, respectively. Some of these are purely private, many are inspired by work at MySQL and [...]

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  2. [...] Die gleichen Vorsätze auf Englisch: http://blogs.arno.fi/isit/2009/01/04/kajs-ten-new-year-resolutions-on-the-irrationality-of-the-human... [...]

    ReplyDelete
  3. [...] Samma nyårslöften på engelska: http://blogs.arno.fi/isit/2009/01/04/kajs-ten-new-year-resolutions-on-the-irrationality-of-the-human... [...]

    ReplyDelete
  4. I found it original and helpful. Thank you! In a quarter I'll be able to tell you if it really is.

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  5. Very well written and thoughtful post, Kaj! I've been reading a book about a similar topic during the Christmas holidays, which also confirmed and discussed some of the thoughts above: "The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play" by Neil Fiore - http://www.amazon.com/Now-Habit-Overcoming-Procrastination-Guilt-Free/dp/1585425524/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1231319111&sr=1-1

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  6. Great post! There were several things in here that really spoke to me (personal goal setting and self confidence) in your blog. I'm glad I'm not the only one has similar struggles. A few things were not getting done around the house (the printer needs to be networked, our digital files need to be placed on our server, and the radon fan needs to be replaced). I told my husband that having work goals made me accountable, that maybe we should have personal goals. We only have three so that our list is manageable and we're not setting ourselves up for failure. As far as self confidence, I joined a knitting circle and will continue to work at the local prison as an tutor to be out a little bit more.

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  7. Well done Kaj! Now you know why I made you Dr. of Sales Ops last year in Orlando! ;-)

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  8. great post you came up! well spent 15h!
    the points you made looks very obvious and reminds me a lot the Time Management class from my MBA. Good to be reminded!

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  9. [...] The end result was not that my son Alexander and I stood at Gilman’s Point, 5681 m above sea level. Nor was the end result that I stood at Uhuru Peak, 5895 m above sea level, and one of the world’s Seven Summits. Sure, both of those experiences were unforgettable, and they were also personal quarterly goals that I had explicitly stated for myself, as I havedescribed in my New Year’s Resolution. [...]

    ReplyDelete
  10. [...] A Pictorial Report From An Ascent To Kilimanjaro The end result was not that my son Alexander and I stood at Gilman’s Point, 5681 m above sea level. Nor was the end result that I stood at Uhuru Peak, 5895 m above sea level, and one of the world’s Seven Summits. Sure, both of those experiences were unforgettable, and they were also personal quarterly goals that I had explicitly stated for myself, as I havedescribed in my New Year’s Resolution. [...]

    ReplyDelete
  11. [...] Ask experts for help! That was my seventh New Year Resolution, as described in February. And now I’ve done it. In this instance, “experts” refers to the graphic designer Rasmus Snabb (from my native Finland but now active at Danmarks Designskole in Denmark). The help was about a logotype for my house Furuvik in Finland, for invitations, flags and signs (described closer in a Swedish language blog entry). [...]

    ReplyDelete
  12. [...] 2009 and 2010: Ten originals and four attachments A year ago, I wrote a blog entry with the title “Kaj’s Ten New Year Resolutions: On the Irrationality of the Human Mind”. Resolutions that aren’t evaluated don’t amount to much, so here’s my commentary [...]

    ReplyDelete