Life heuristics

The following is an unordered list of life heuristics I try to follow and live by (notice the “try”). I keep adding new ones as I learn from reading and experience.

The complexity of the world is such that it is impossible to think thoroughly through every decisions we make and actions we take. This is where heuristics come handy.

I’ve started making this document after getting inspired from Derek Sivers. I realized I also has many heuristics on my own that I would keep in the back of my head but weren’t formalized in any way.

I felt that starting such document (the original being on my google drive) would lead to multiple benefits: 1) writing down each heuristic would force me to concretize my thinking ; 2) listing them in a document would make them more accessible, easy to review and eventually transform these abstract concepts into practical tools; 3) making them shareable would allow me to get feedback and debate about their application.

I would love to hear what are your heuristics. If you feel like sharing, contact me.

  1. Surround yourself with people who drive you up
    • You’re the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with
  2. You shouldn’t fear but act
    • There is nothing on the other side of fear.
  3. Ask yourself this question when having negative thoughts: Useful or not useful?
  4. Do not talk bad about people. NEVER (especially at work)
  5. When given a choice, take both (given both options are of interest)
  6. Multiple projects lead to multiple successes
  7. When forced to compromised, ask for more
  8. The faster you move, the slower time passes, the longer you live
  9. Without a target, you’ll miss it every time
  10. If it’s not Hell Yeah, then it’s a no
  11. Decisions should be the fruit of importance multiplied by probability of realization.
  12. Surrender and say yes to what event comes to you
  13. Having fun is the best pill against anxiety
  14. Never engage with crappy people
  15. Do things that matter
    • Impact is rewarding. Mattering makes us happy
  16. Family first, Friends second, the rest matter much less
    • We are happy when we have family, we are happy when we have friends and almost all the other things we think make us happy are actually just ways of getting more family and friends
  17. Do not try to control your future. Future will not happen as we imagine it.
    • When losing our ability to control things, we become unhappy, helpless, hopeless, and depressed.
  18. Never make commitments for the far future as we’re incapable to know now how we’ll feel about it then.
    • One needs to close his senses to open his imagination
  19. When we ask our brains to look at a real object and an imaginary object at the same time, our brains choose the real object.
  20. Seek first time experiences
    • Wonderful things are especially wonderful the first time they happen, but their wonderfulness wanes with repetition.
  21. If we want to predict how something will make us feel in the future, we must consider the kind of comparison we will be making in the future, and not the kind of comparison we happen to be making in the present.
  22. Better to avoid foolish inactions than foolish actions.
    • In retrospect we regret more what we didn’t do than what we’ve done
  23. Choose uncertainty over certainty and mystery over clarity.
    • People choose certainty over uncertainty and clarity over mystery, despite the fact that in both cases clarity and certainty had been shown to diminish happiness.
  24. Motivation at work comes from three factors: authonomy (feeling of control), competence (feeling of being good at what we do), relatedness (feeling of connection to others)
  25. Learning is not done in isolation: You need to be constantly soliciting feedback from colleagues and professionals.
  26. Do projects where you’ll be forced to show your work to others.
  27. The more power you get, the more you should question your assumptions and open your perspective taking
  28. Never begin anything unless you have reflected until the end of it.
  29. The best questions are not questions that lead to answers.
  30. Avoid scenarios that have a high loss potential outcome, even if it comes at a low probability.
    • Prefer scenarios with a low probability of high reward and high probability of small loss, rather than low probability of high loss and high probability of small gains
    • Insure yourself against high risks, no matter what.
    • Provide for the worst; the best can take care of itself. (Observe how people tend to provide for the best and hope that the worst will take care of itself.)
  31. If tired, exert your body instead of resting.
  32. A healthy body needs regular, low-level stressors.
    • Organisms are harmed by the absence of low-level stressors (hormesis).
    • Much of aging comes from a misunderstanding of the effect of comfort – a disease of civilization.
  33. Never fear or try to avoid small mistakes, it would make the large ones more severe.
  34. Never feel ownership of something that is brought by fortune as it can be taken from you the same way.
  35. Success and accumulation are likely to bring more disatisfaction to someone’s life as who does have more, has also more to lose than to gain. And the pain of losing become higher than the emotional gain of getting additional wealth.
    • Own less.
    • Depend less on people or circumstances.
    • Practice poverty.
  36. Domesticate your emotions, don’t try to eliminate them.
    • Transform fear into prudence, pain into information, mistakes into initiation, and desire into undertaking.
  37. Be the rational flâneur who, unlike a tourist, makes a decision at every step to revise his schedule, so you can imbibe things based on new information. The flâneur is not a prisoner of a plan.
  38. In every work for others, try to have 10% who love you rather than a majority who just likes you.
  39. Never respond with a straight answer to a question that makes no sense to you.
    • An answer is planted in every question.
  40. Learn what to avoid before what to do:
    • chess grandmasters usually win by not losing; people become rich by not going bust.
    • You reduce most of your personal risks of accident thanks to a small number of measures.
    • Have a not-to-do list
  41. If you need more than one reason for doing something, just don’t do it.
    • Obvious decisions (robust to error) require no more than a single reason.
  42. Rely on people or things that have been around for a long time.
    • Things that have been around for a long time are not “aging” like persons, but “aging” in reverse. Every year that passes without extinction doubles the additional life expectancy.
    • Time can act as a cleanser of noise by confining to its dustbins all these overhyped works.
    • Read old books not the new ones
    • Drink no liquid that is not at least a thousand years old – so its fitness has been tested.
  43. Never ask anyone for their opinion, forecast, or recommendation. Just ask them what they have – or don’t have – in their portfolio
  44. Don’t be married to your ideas and change your opinions shamelessly.
  45. Explore when you’ll have time to exploit later. Exploit otherwise.
  46. Use cognitive ease for people to believe in what you say and do
    • Things that are easier to compute, more familiar, and easier to read seem more true than things that require hard thought, are novel, or are hard to see.
  47. Do not posit intention and agency where none exists
    • We confuse causality with correlation, and we make more out of coincidences than is statistically warranted.
  48. Do not over-estimate the probability of unlikely events (irrational fears) and do not accept uncritically every suggestion (credulity)
    • Our thinking is biased towards interpreting information in a way that confirms preconceptions
  49. Stay objective, to resist jumping to conclusions (Halo effect).
    • Do not lean on information based on impressions or intuitions but rather stay focused on the hard data.
    • Do not just consider “What You See Is All There Is”, but consider also what you don’t know.
  50. When taking decisions, do not average variables, rather decide first which variables are important.
  51. Do not draw conclusions on statistics from small samples since they are prone to extreme outcomes.
  52. Be aware of our tendency to give bigger / smaller answer to things that are easy / difficult to retrieve.
    • Under or over estimating the frequency of an event based on ease of retrieval rather than statistical calculation.
  53. Things and phenomenons fluctuate by nature. When extreme occurrences happen, you do not need to take actions, since the next occurences is very likely to be closer to the average. (Regression to the mean)
    • Fallacy: One’s actions to an event when its variance is at its peak is often and falsely rewarded for being effective.
  54. When taking on a project, always consult others who’ve engaged in similar projects to get the outside view.
    • Planning fallacy: We tend to consider only the best case scenario and ignore the worst case scenarios
  55. Consider wealth more than gains or losses. Consider probabilities more than subjective weights of potential outcomes.
    • The possibility effect: When highly unlikely outcomes are weighted disproportionately more than they deserve we commit the possibility affect heuristic. (e.g. Positive: buying lottery tickets. Negative: buying insurance)
    • The certainty effect: Outcomes that are almost certain (but not 100% certain) are given less weight than their probability justifies. (e.g. Positive: Accept 100% sure unperfect outcome rather than 95% sure great outcome; Negative: Reject 100% sure limited loss to gamble a 95% sure bigger loss)
  56. Don’t keep mental accounts of small systems but take decisions based on the current situation, independent from the past (ref. Disposition effect and sunk cost fallacy)
  57. Prefer activities procuring an intense pleasure and memorable moments than a long lasting once (duration neglect) — quality over longevity
    • Our memory is intensity sensitive but time insensitive.
  58. Never feel entitled or great at anything if you want to truly be exceptional.
    • Be obsessed with improvement and never feel you’ve reached truth or mastery
  59. Be self-aware: 1) recognize your emotion(s) 2) ask why you feel that emotion 3) how does it relate to my personal value(s)
  60. View personal growth as a scientific experiment:
    • Your values are your hypotheses
    • Your actions are your experiments
    • The resulting emotions and thought patterns are your data
  61. Gain meaning in life through commitment and depth.
    • Focusing on something and rejecting alternatives and noise.
  62. Get interested into other people’s before having them interested in you.
  63. Don’t just plan for success. Prepare also for failure.
  64. Don’t search for happiness in distractions.
    • The places and things that insist most loudly that they will make you happy rarely do.
    • Joy prefers to arrive quietly and alone elsewhere, unceremoniously and unannounced.
  65. Pay attention to your anxieties, ask where they come from and of what difficult episodes in the past they remind you. Treat them as deep messages to enable you to reconsider your priorities.
  66. Humans can change themselves. You can use your reason to change your beliefs. This will change your emotions, because your emotions follow your beliefs.
  67. Learn from the qualities you like in someone. Develop it in yourself. Recognize it in others.
  68. Ethics have muscle-memory. Practice acting in a way until it comes naturally.
  69. People take longer-lasting pleasure from being kind to others than having others be kind to them.
  70. To become happier, you need to feel differently about things that cause (or have the potential to cause) anxiety. You must change your emotional experiences.
  71. Things themselves do not dictate your responses. You can expect to feel the first automatic flush of emotion, but you can then choose not to replay the event again and again in your minds and make yourself feel terrible.
  72. Don’t try to change things you cannot control. Under your control are your thoughts and actions. Not under your control is everything else, including fame, power, the behaviour and thoughts of other people, your property and your reputation.
  73. Mentally rehearse losing everything you have. Learn to value those things more by appreciating their transience in your life, and you are more prepared for the moment you lose them.
  74. If, when angry with someone, you first allow them to explain themselves, and if you actually listen to what they say, you can allow your anger to dissolve.
  75. When you are happy, you have won the game, and the fact is self-evident; there’s no need to broadcast the victory.
  76. In order to understand the very essence of another human, you must love him. That way, you will see his essential traits and features, and the potential in him.
  77. The decoy effect: giving alternative options where some are directly comparable and one is clearly inferior. People will end up choosing the superior and comparable one.
  78. Don’t mix market and social norms. Once market norms enter our considerations, the social norms depart.
  79. Own as little as possible. Ownership changes perspective.
    • Moving backwards to our pre-ownership state is a loss we cannot abide.
    • When we own something, we begin to value it more than other people do.
  80. To move a group, move its individuals.
    • Groups are conservative and resistant while individual compromise. It takes far more energy to move a group than its individual.