Your birthday is the number of years you've been alive (obviously).
But what if we also celebrated the number of years we estimate to have left?
I created a quick script to calculate your next deathday (when your years remaining hits a round number). Because your years remaining go down a little slower than your years so far, presuming you don't die, it's going to be different every year. The data comes from the CDC's latest death report.
If you want me to tell you what your next deathday is, just tweet me your birthday (you have to include the year, month, and day) by replying to the tweet below. I'll try to respond to most within the next day or so.
My next deathday is December 14th, when I’ll have 44 years left. What’s yours? bit.ly/18Qbj22
Most people are loss averse. Meaning that the pain of losing something is felt about twice as strongly as the pleasure of gaining something.
Most people are also fairly bad at intuitively understanding risk. We understand certainty (0% and 100%) but tend to get everything in between muddled up. Some people err on the downside (thinking things are less likely than they really are) and some people err on the upside (thinking things are more likely than they really are).
If we combine being loss averse with also erring on risk's downside, we will act extra conservatively.
If we are loss averse and err on the upside with risk, the two might actually manage to cancel themselves out a bit. In other words, even though we continue to be loss averse, we're also biased to underestimate the chances of losing something and overestimate the chances of gaining something. In this case, two biases make us act, effectively, unbiased.
Important distinction: It would be an error to label people with this double-bias as risk-tolerant. They aren't necessarily seeing bets and making them, but rather systematically misunderstanding situations to be less risky than they really are.
If this counter-balanced double-bias system does “work” by effectively giving us the “correct” risk analysis of multiple situations, and we notice this, then confidence in our own intuition gets ratcheted up. We believe it's because we're good at understanding risk, knowing when to bet and when not to.
Overconfidence will reduce our loss aversion, and make us double down on our intuitive understanding of risk. Thus toppling the perfectly balanced biases.
Then, the biases get out of sync, our hot streak (another cognitive illusion) ends, our confidence falls, loss aversion jumps back up, and maybe we spend a cycle on the side of erring on risk's downside.
It's a fragile system where we occasionally reach an optimal state of counter-balanced biases that will only last as long as we don't acknowledge it as true intuition (aka avoid the illusion of control bias).
The bias against things anyone can have at any time, that nobody can make much money from, because they seem too easy, too obvious, too simple, too cheap. The bias against the following solutions because nobody is marketing or can market them to you for very much profit:
There are many other ways to change, but this is the one that is my current best/favorite theory.
1. Complete the sentence: “I am an aspiring ______.” Try to find the most succinct identity that represents the difference between who you are now and who you want to be. It doesn't have to explain why, or how, you will get there. Just put a flag down.
Note: I realize that this first step is not very easy to do. That's intentional. Step #1 will require some thinking to find the right fit for your “lose 5 pounds”, “eat better”, “quit smoking”, “get in shape” goals. Think about the kind of person you want to become that naturally weighs less, eats well, doesn't smoke, is in shape, etc. Make sure that you really do want to be that person. Use this identity as the anchor to pull all of the entangled habits and behaviors into yourself (assume here that you're at the bottom of the ocean and it is difficult to pull things towards you).
2. Update your bios on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other favorite social networks with the sentence from #1. You don't have to announce anything about it, but it needs to be somewhere that random people can see it. (This makes it feel real.)
3. Craft another sentence describing a 1-month resolution which strategically gets you closer to #1, and has the following constraints:
It's only ONE resolution
Phrase it in such a way that it is either HIT or MISSED for a given month
Make sure that it's calibrated in such a way that if it ends up being HIT, you will be happy with yourself, and if it turns out to be MISSED for the month you'll be unhappy with yourself. Do not make it so easy or so difficult that it's possible to fail at the resolution while still being happy that progress has been made, or succeed at the resolution and still being unhappy.
Include any footnotes you feel are necessary to say what you think “counts” and what you think “doesn't count” for interpretations of the resolution.
4. Join the Rabbit Rabbit Resolution Accountability Squad mailing list and introduce yourself by stating the answers to #1 and #3. Feel free to ask for help clarifying or zeroing in on what you're really interested in working on. Prepare for friendly feedback from the group, too. Comment on as many threads from other people working on resolutions as you feel comfortable. (This is your accountability.)
5. Set a reminder on your calendar which repeats on the 1st of every month. Everyone on the mailing list will be expected to report in with progress, revise their resolution if necessary, and recommit to the next month. The three outcomes are HIT, MISS, and (if you neglect to check in within 3 days of the beginning of the month) ABSENT. (This helps you remember to remember, which is often the main culprit for failed resolutions.)
6. Start a public countdown on Twitter, Facebook, or your public venue of choice that starts at 1,000. Any time you do something that gets you a small step towards #1, state what you did along with the current number. I've been doing this with my aspiration to be a marathon runner and it's been quite useful as a tool. 1,000 things is a lot, so I allow myself to include things that have a somewhat loose connection to the identity, and at the same time I am okay with missing a day here and there since getting to 0 is going to take a long time anyway. Also, because of the numbers, there will be plenty of significant milestones to celebrate along the way. (This helps you ignore small setbacks and stay focused on the long-term goal.)
I think they're huge things, convoluted twisting structures in our brains. Traversing all the way from triggers and automatic responses deep in the subconscious, to routines, to circumstances, to goals and values, and all the way up to our sense of selves and our identity in the neocortex.
These structures can't just be turned with a light switch, by a new app.
They are structures that need to be built over time. They involve real neurons that need to change, grow, reroute, and sink in over time.
Building a new habit is like deciding to buy a new house and put it in your brain. You have to clear away some space. You have to allocate some resources. You either need a lot of money to buy the house outright, or you have to save enough money to put a down payment on a loan and then rearrange your long-term finances to figure out how you're going to pay a mortgage for 10-30 years. You have to get lucky, the market needs to be right, you need to have a steady income, you might need to move to a new city or to a new part of the city before finding one you can afford.
Some people say it takes 14/21/30/etc days to start a new habit. They say science proves it. Research show it. Look, testimonials!LIES.
You can't decide to buy a house today, and move in tomorrow.
Changing a behavior, or starting a new habit, requires perhaps a thousand small, intentional, actions over time. It requires committing to showing up to work for years, putting in the time. It requires getting your credit score in order (a certain level of proof that you are trustworthy when you say that you can do this). It requires that you think on the scale of 30 years rather than 3 weeks. It requires that you move somewhere that fits your current circumstances and yet still provides the lifestyle that you want. It requires that you time it in such a way that the interest rate is favorable (where you're not having to throw money and time away needlessly). It requires that you are mentally prepared to allow this change in your life and aren't going to self-sabotage because you don't actually believe you deserve it.
Want to eat better? Want to exercise more? Want to meditate every day? Want to write every day? Want to floss more? Want to run more?
Don't look at this want as a tiny thing. It's not the same as buying a latte, or even a new phone.
Look at it as you would look at wanting to buy a house. Make lots of space for it.
It's not a tiny thing, it's a HUGE thing. You're changing who you are, what you believe, how others will see you. You will need to call on your reputation, you'll need to change your circumstances to best fit this new huge thing, you'll need to ask people to trust you, to allow you to change in their eyes, and in your own.
Changing your habits or behaviors doesn't take 21 days. It takes 1,000 intentional actions, or more. It requires creativity, resourcefulness, persistance, and vigilance.
Some people never have the opportunity to buy a house. Some people squander their opportunities. You are lucky. Take the opportunity seriously. Be rigorous.
Level 1's boss is the Lizard Brain, level 2's boss is Coolness, level 3's boss is The Self, and level 4's boss is Meaninglessness. If level 5 exists, I have no idea what it's like or who the boss is. That'll have to be added in a later release of this game.
The main point is that this is just what the game of life seems like from the level that I'm currently on, and every level has a version that reflects that level's own constraints and biases.
What do the levels seem like from your spot in the game?
And there's the new brain, the neocortex, the pattern-finder that some people correlate with rationality.
The old brain is fast, the new brain is slow.
The old brain is cheap, the new brain is expensive (in terms of energy).
The old brain is subconscious, the new brain is sometimes conscious.
The old brain takes over in emergencies, during fight and flight, during times of high stress, during anger, passion, hate.
The new brain takes over in times of low stress, times of calm, in the shower, on walks, during a pleasant conversation and a glass of wine.
In many ways, it seems like there's a bit of a seesaw, and one brain has the upper hand on the other based on the current environment and circumstances.
When heart rate and breathing speed are up, the old brain has the upper hand, and when heart rate and breathing speed are down, the new brain has the upper hand.
In fact, heart rate variability (the difference in heart rate when you are inhaling versus exhaling – see more here) is often seen as a physiological proxy that can be used to indicate your stress level, your willpower reserves, and maybe even the part of your brain that has the upper hand in the current moment. The more variability, the less stressed you currently are.
I've noticed that I seem to like risk and adventure, in general. My personal philosophy and decision making aesthetic has pretty much always been about going with my intuition, my gut, taking big risks for big potential reward.
I've never really gotten along with people who are cautious and who plan things too much. I like to travel without hotel arrangements ahead of time most of the time. And it doesn't bother me when my job description is undefined to the extent that I should find meaningful things to work on.
And yet, the dislike of planning seems to be inconsistent with the fact that I am also very much into making goals. Changing myself.
I realized a couple days ago that it's the connotation of the wold “plan” that triggers me. It seems futile (to my old brain, who is in charge of assigning futility to things) to plan because it implies an understanding of the future, which we don't have.
Rather than try to predict a future, I subscribe to a chaotic form of forward progress: set your sites, start running in that general direction, and pick yourself up whenever you fall. That's how I get anywhere, and it doesn't require much planning at all.
But taking this back to the old and new brains, I realized that my dislike of the word “plan” has been preventing me from adopting some more subtle and beneficial planning-like strategies, and the internal monologue itself was really interesting to me.
For example, I don't like the idea of defaulting to the old brain for all decisions. I would like to allow some decisions to route to the new brain, especially when sticking to goals over a long period of time is concerned.
Planning, and therefore sticking to goals, is a new brain thing.
But my old brain has cleverly planted an emotional trigger around the word and concept of planning, so that whenever it came up I would get anxious. The anxious state is one which my old brain has more control over, and it easily vetoes further thought in the direction of planning. By the time I calm down the new brain sees how poorly that went and notices the new pattern, “Buster doesn't like planning”. And the initial trigger is reinforced.
In many ways, the word/concept of “meditation” has the same problem for me. I get anxious, the old brain vetoes the idea, and the new brain later determines that “Buster doesn't like meditation”.
Same with “going to bed early” and “morning person”. Old brain triggers immediately and says, “lame”.
I suspect that many calming, planning-like concepts suffer from the same old brain overrides in our world. If an idea is easy to shoot down by the old brain, it will never be “cool” to society in general and therefore it has to be whispered in smaller friendly groups lest the speaker reveal their “new brain” tendencies in a world that spends most of its time in “old brain” thinking modes.
In short, I'd like (new brain speaking) to practice using slow, calm, new brain planning even when I (old brain speaking) think it's lame.
Update #1 (3/19): Hit 975. Still liking the experiment, which I wrote a bit more about here.
I promised Kellianne on her birthday last year (10.15.2012) that I would attempt to run a marathon by her 2013 birthday as a show of commitment to the long term, to pushing limits, and to continuing to surprise each other. She sort of laughed it off… I haven't run in years… but I was serious.
I went running for the first time in two years a few days later and injured my knee. Pretty bad.
I promised @kellianne last week that I’d run a marathon by her next birthday. My body just got the memo and is a bit nonplussed. Ouch.
I've been running on a treadmill occasionally for the last 4 months and it's almost better. I can still feel it a bit but it's not painful.
With less than 8 months to go, I suppose that I should get on this goal if I really do plan on doing it.
Being an amateur behavior change skeptic/fanatic, I strongly believe that in order to change my behavior, I have to change my beliefs and identity to be in sync with the change before it can stick. See behavior change is belief change and the epic branch that spawned from that conversation with a few other friends in the space.
Also, #10 in my long-held “rules to live by” posted at the bottom of busterbenson.com states that I should “stake my reputation on my best self.”
Unfortunately, I don't quite believe myself to be a marathon-runner at the moment. I feel like I'm getting older, and am out of shape, and my running nature isn't going to just spring back to life like it did in high school and college (where I ran track and cross country). I need to change those beliefs about myself before I can change my behavior in a sustainable way.
Which is all just a long way of saying that I think this is a perfect opportunity to dogfood my own theories about behavior change (again).
So, starting today, February 28th, I'm going to double down and commit to doing 1,000 small things over the next 4-6 months to prepare for this marathon. And I'll be doing it publicly of course because I need the accountability in order to make my identity feel at risk (and therefore provide the needed motivation).
I've changed my bio on Twitter and Facebook to point to this entry. And I'm going to try to do 1000 small things that “prepare” me for this 26.2 mile run before October 15th. Preparation, at this point, amounts to simply getting back in shape, eating healthier, and of course going on more runs.
Wish me luck. 1,000 small things to go.
PS. I wonder how many steps it takes a person to run a marathon?
Photo filters are quite popular these days. They're cool because they add personality to a photo with minimal work.
It turns out that OUR PERSONALITIES are also the output of a number of personal distorting filters applied to the universe.
Imagine an unbiased, uninterpreted, unsimplified, unprocessed, view of the universe.
Then think about how you view the universe.
How many filters, distortions, and processing are there between you and the unfiltered universe?
To help make the point, think about COLOR. The application of color to the universe is the result of a brain filter. One that translates a small segment of the light spectrum into a map that relates each frequency of light to a color that represents a specific blend of those 3 colors.
Then there are the filters that translate shapes, textures, sounds, smells, movements, depths, etc into similarly simplified, but meaningful, objects that are easier to manipulate in our brains.
Then there are the filters that try to simplify things so that we can survive in a constant overload of information. We create filters designed to pull out the important information so that we can toss the rest. This means that we are always on the look out for NEW information, SHOCKING information, and information that VALIDATES our existing theories about the world.
Then there are the filters that bias our brain to prefer information, ideas, things, people, etc that are close to us and useful to us. A person dying 10,000 miles from us has a completely different weight than a person dying in our arms. An idea that will make us $100 right now has a completely different weight than an idea that will make us $100 in a million years.
Then there are the filters that protect us from harm. That shuttle off ideas of death, mortality, and cosmic insignificance. That comfort us by only letting information through that we feel prepared to deal with.
Then there are the filters that we think make us stand out in the world. The filters that help us preserve our personalities in such a way that we are “go getters” or “detail oriented” or “really into cats”. By preserving filters that give us personality, we are more likely to be noticed, loved, respected, and feel like we actually belong here.
The result of all of these filters is that our personal view of the universe is much more distorted than any Instagram photo.
If you took away all of the filters, our brains would have nothing to do and we would just sit in a firehose of information that eventually washed us away.
It is by filtering, distorting, simplifying, processing, and biasing the world that we have any form at all.
We have no choice. We have to hold on to your filters. But choose them wisely, and if at all possible, remove the filter that makes us believe we have no filters on at all.
Neglecting one mode will indirectly cause other modes to suffer.
The first six modes are inputs.
The last mode is the only true output.
We'll be judged in the world by our output. Therefore, some people place a lot of emphasis on the 7th mode (see pg's schlep post for a masterful articulation). It's the fruit of your labor. But the labor itself is actually not the slog. 10,000 hours go into preparing for the slog. The slog without preparation is chasing after the wind. The slog with preparation is flow.
You can't express until you've explored. The best way to explore is to begin expressing.
The long slog, the thing that feels like way too much painful effort in the beginning becomes the only reward.