The Best Advice I’ve Heard In Years

I got some advice recently that was so great, it was instantly helpful for our whole family. (When does THAT ever happen?)

Not only that, but it also gave me a new insight into the best way to approach performance (and life) improvement in general.

It’s a bit counterintuitive, but it makes total sense once you hear it.

Needless to say, I wanted to share it with you right away. :-)

No kidding, though, this is seriously good stuff. I think you’ll really get it.

Anyway, check it out. Let me know what you think.

(subtitles available. transcript below.)

[ transcript ]
Hey, it’s David Levin. Author of Raise Your Inner Game, co-author of QBQ the question behind the question, founder of Raise Your Inner Game Academy.

I want to talk to you today about what has got to be the best advice I’ve heard in years.

It came from a guy who calls himself Mr Money Mustache. Which, by the way, is a great name. But anyway, he basically offers ideas for how to live a great life on a lot less money. Like 50% less than a typical family. And by the way, this post is not about money, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

So, the advice is, when you’re thinking about buying something, first ask yourself, is this going to remove an annoyance from my life or is it just something that sounds like a nice thing to have? And the underlying idea is that we get a lot more value from things that remove an annoyance.

So, for example, a new car sounds great. New features, quieter. Makes that commute more comfortable. But pretty soon it’s just another car, and your life is pretty much the same, though maybe now you have bigger car payments, so it’s maybe even a little worse. But if you get a new job you can walk to, or you move close enough to your existing job that you can walk or bike, so now you remove the annoyance of that commute, that will make a huge improvement in the quality of your life.

So that’s the basic idea, and this just makes so much sense, when you think about it. An annoyance is there constantly. Every day. With some, many times a day. So getting rid of that is something you will really notice. But when you buy something that just sounds like a nice addition, you don’t really know what the value will be.

The truth is, we’re not very good about predicting the positive effect of something new in our life. And I’m sure you’ve had this experience. I do this all the time. I see something I think will be great. I buy it, and I end up not using it. It didn’t work exactly as I thought. I didn’t have the need for it I thought. Different reasons. But a lot of money wasted there.

So this filter of first asking if a purchase will remove an annoyance has been very helpful.

And an extra cool thing about it, is that it immediately worked itself into our whole family. The kids got it right away. They’re in grade school. My wife definitely got it right away. And it’s helped us with a lot of decisions. The kids use it when they’re thinking about things they’d like to have. I really like that they’re learning to think in those terms and be more intentional with their spending. I wish I’d learned that as a kid. It’s just really impressive how useful this simple idea has been for all of us. So thank you, Mr. Money Mustache. I can’t say that name without smiling.

But I said this post was not about money. So here’s where this idea gets even more interesting.

In thinking about this, I realized that this applies to a lot more than just being smarter with money. It actually goes pretty deep into my areas of interest with performance improvement and well-being.

Three quick examples of this, where you see essentially the same idea:

Daniel Kahneman, famous psychologist and economist. I heard him say that, and this was in a public policy context, but reducing misery is a better, more effective goal than trying to bring about happiness. For one thing, who knows what happiness looks like for everyone? Or what causes it. Everyone’s different. So, it’s a fuzzy and elusive goal. On the other hand, the causes of misery are a lot easier to understand and to do something about. And, of course, when you do, when you reduce the causes of misery, people are happier as a result. So the point isn’t to stop supporting and looking for happiness, it’s just that removing negatives is a more reliable path to get there.

And that’s the real point I’m getting at.

Another example, with performance improvement, Micheal Gervais. Performance coach with the Seattle Seahawks. I heard him talk about his approach with athletes. They start with the question, What do you think you’re capable of this year? So they set the vision. And that’s a great question. But then, the focus is, Okay, how can we remove the obstacles to you getting there? See? Same idea. Removing negatives is the better path.

You hear a similar idea again in Buddhism and its focus on the alleviation of suffering as the path to fulfillment.

In all these examples, the message is the same: The best, most direct path to improving your life comes not from seeking to add positives but from removing negatives. Isn’t that interesting?

And THAT brings us to what I talk about in Raise Your Inner Game.

The core skills you learn in Raise Your Inner Game are about removing and minimizing negatives from your inner life. And that’s why they’re so powerful.

The vast majority of the discomfort and struggle and confusion we deal with in our lives is internally generated. Doubt, fear, anxiety, stress, worry, insecurity. They’re not usually about anything real in the world. It’s just psychology. Just mental and emotional noise that weighs us down and makes everything harder.

But as we develop the skills I talk about — cognitive control emotional self-regulation impulse control — we start to get control of that. When the negative thoughts and emotions come up and threaten to pull us down and off track, we can just shut them down. Nope. Not going there. Which is just incredibly freeing and empowering. It feels like a huge weight has been lifted off of us, and we NATURALLY find ourselves feeing happier and more successful.

So I’ve said all along that this work, learning these skills, is the highest leverage thing you can do improve your life, that you’ll make a bigger difference — and in less time — than with anything else. And so this idea, from Mr. Money Mustache helped me better understand why that’s true.

You know, we’ve all heard, and maybe experienced for ourselves, that chasing happiness doesn’t work. When we BUY things and DO things because we think they’ll make us happy, they almost never do, not in any kind of lasting way.

It turns out that the more direct and reliable path to the success and happiness we want is to instead work on removing the annoyances, barriers, and negatives from your life.

So that’s the message I take from this, and I think you’ll find it helpful in many ways.

All right, that’s it for this week. If you are hearing this somewhere other than my site, come on over — — put your name on my list, I’ll let you know about other things like this when they come out. Otherwise, thank you. Keep up the good work. I’ll talk to you next time.

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