How to Have More Common Sense
- Posted by James Altucher
A lot of people who know me personally think I have ZERO common sense. For instance, Claudia says, “you went to freakin’ Carnegie-Mellon for a PhD and you can’t figure out how to operate a coffee machine”. To which I have two things to say:
A) I was thrown out of Carnegie Mellon’s grad school and as anyone there can attest I was easily the least competent person in my year. Of the 8 classes I attended in two years I failed seven of them and got a B- in one of them.
B) You are not fooling anyone when you say “freakin’”. I know EXACTLY what you mean.
C) Making a cup of coffee using a coffee machine involves about five or six different steps using various chemical compounds in the right combination. It’s not as easy as the box claims. I can’t just turn on a button and have a cup of coffee.
And I know I said “two things” but I wrote “three”. So?
I get stressed so much during the day. Probably because of all the coffee I drink. But it seems like there are some basic common sense rules that would make me a little less stressed.
A) Don’t Dance. And that doesn’t mean I can’t turn up a little tango music, grab Claudia, and start swinging her around. That might be fun, it would surprise her and make her laugh, unless I swung her into a wall, in which case she would cry. But it wouldn’t be my fault. Since I never take credit for anything bad.
What “Don’t Dance” means is “do not respond in anger to the people who are trying to provoke you.” And you know who they are. People ask me, “What if it’s your mother/spouse/boss/friend.” Let me tell you something: It’s ONLY those people. Else you wouldn’t care.
I’ve gotten three emails and at least one directed blog post that have tried to provoke me in the past few days. One of them I “danced” with. I responded to all the accusations, some of them 20 years old (“historical equals hysterical”) and the only end result is that ten emails went back and forth and I’m still angry. The rest of the emails, and the blog post about me, I ignored. And now I don’t think of them. When I woke up this morning, though, I thought of the one email I had initially responded to and I was already getting mad. I put it in my mental Spam folder (I labeled it “not useful” as per my “Power of Negative Thinking” – that technique very much works for me) and then I forced Claudia at gunpoint to make me a cup of coffee.
Getting angry accomplishes nothing. You can never win an argument with people who are irrational. You’re never going to win an argument with your boss, for instance. Or with an investor. Or with a customer. Or with a relative. It just won’t happen. They are always right. So common sense is to ignore them as much as possible and you will be happy. It’s one of those things where you can say, “On your deathbed are you really going to wish you had just responded to that one email one more time?”
Related to this: Don’t Judge. Let’s say someone treats you bad in a store. It’s a gut reflex to get angry at them. But what if their wife just left them? Or their kids just got pregnant. With each other. Who knows? Anything can happen. You don’t know anything about them. Again, on your deathbed are you going to say, “I really hate that guy at the cupcake store who dropped my cupcake.”
B) Don’t do bad things to your body. I walk down the streets of NYC and I can tell you: 80% of the older people walking down the street look hideous to me. They are out of shape, their faces look like they are frozen in stress and anger, they are stooped over, dreaming to themselves of all the times they have been angry. All the things they should’ve said.
I think in most cases this is a direct result of treating your body very badly for 40 years. I’m not innocent of this either. But it seems like common sense: no junk food, no cigarettes, no alcohol, walk as much possible if you don’t feel like doing hard exercise, and no coffee. See!? I don’t follow this advice as much as I should. And I’m 43. It’s almost too late for me to get back on the right track. But if you don’t, you won’t enjoy your 70s, 80s, and 90s as much as you should. Quality of life will be lower for you than for the people who are using common sense now. Almost every illness you’ll get later in life is a direct result of what you put through your digestive system right now.
C) Don’t Talk Behind People’s Back. About ten years ago I trashed the CEO of a company I was invested in. The company was called “Mighty Seven”. The CEO was Josh Schaub. I was then having dinner with him and his girlfriend that night. Needless to say, because nobody keeps anything private, Josh heard what I had to say about him and we had to talk about it all through dinner. What a waste of time. And I was embarrassed. When you talk about people behind their back, one out of three times they are going to know about it. Why stress yourself out that way.
And couldn’t you have used that time when you said those words in a more constructive way. For instance, I should’ve sat down and instead of yapping my mouth off I could’ve come up with some ideas on how the CEO could’ve improved his business. I could’ve contributed and been more helpful.
Instead, because of a constant arrogant attitude where I was talking behind peoples backs (and somehow everyone ALWAYS heard what I was saying) businesses went out of business, I lost money, and I got unhappy.
Another anecdote. I helped a friend of mine get a job at a company I once worked at. One time she told me she was talking about another person and then she realized that person was standing right behind her. She got really embarrassed (Embarassment and Words go hand in hand. If you stay silent, you’ll seldom be embarrassed. If you use lots of words without thinking, common sense says you feel more embarrassment in life). So she apologized to the girl.
But then that girl never spoke to her again, even though they had been friends. And that girl made my friend’s work life miserable. “How come she is doing this?” my friend said. “I apologized to her!”
Well, tough shit! She thinks you’re a bad person now and always will and you can’t ever change that. So common sense: if you have nothing good to say, don’t say it. [See my post, “Shut Up“]
Someone once wrote a very negative blog post about me. We had a lot of mutual friends. All of our mutual friends and a few other people asked me what I thought about the post. Maybe they were curious if I would dish out some good gossip. All I said was, “He’s a good guy. I don’t know why he wrote that.” And that was true. Common sense: saying that was a lot better for me, both internally (I didn’t get angry) and externally (people thought better of me for it) than wasting five minutes of my life trashing the guy.
D) Cash is king. I’m starting to agree with the people who are against the Federal Reserve’s creation in 1913. Society has slowly inflated itself to a point where the cost of things we need are costing more than our deflating incomes, making it impossible to continue enjoying the fruits of middle class-dom.
People think when I say things like “Don’t send your kids to college” or “Don’t buy a home” that I’m just being a contrarian so I can spew my filth on TV or whatever. But the reality is, I think the banks and the government and corporate America come up with fancy marketing campaigns that get baked into our societal mythology so that we are encouraged to give up our cash as soon as we make it. Common sense is that one should always question your beliefs about why you hold something to be true. Constantly challenge the brainwashing. It’s MOST IMPORTANT when it comes to your money. The entire world is set up to take away your heard-earned money. Challenge every belief that reaches its hand into your pocket. [See, “The Ten Commandments of the American Religion“]
I made a lot of money in 1998, for instance, as part of the dot-com boom. By March, 1999 I had already bought an apartment way too expensive for me and only 3 years later I lost it. I bought dot-com stocks that went down. I flew helicopters to Atlantic city. I got summer homes. I bought paintings. In short, I lost all my cash.
How much happier would I have been if I had said in 1999, “you know what, I have enough cash now to live forever and pursue creative , charitable, or spiritual pursuits so I could become a better person.” [See, “What it Feels Like to Be Rich“]
We can say “it was meant to be” but I was horribly unhappy for years and still regret many of the things that happened in that period. There are two ways to respect the Cash that you’ve earned: Question everything you buy and spend on. Do you really need it? Will it make you closer to living a healthier, high quality of life for as long as possible? And two, Reduce some of the long-term fantasies that society, through TV, books, culture, etc has told you you need: the nice car, the fancy house, the great schools, the fancy traveling, etc.
It’s common sense: if you have more cash in the bank, it’s better than having no cash in the bank. And when times are hard and you have little cash, your friends will disappear and nobody is going to be out there giving you cash.
E) Turn off the TV. The average household spends six hours a day watching TV. So what do they watch. Snooki having sex with The Situation. Simon Cowell critiquing some 9 year old on her singing ability. January Jones cheating on Don Draper or the other way around, murders, crimes, legal dramas where people just like you and me go to jail. Car chases. We all love a good car chase. Cars slamming into each other left and right while our heroes weave around them.
Oh, and then there’s the news on TV. Which only means someone is lying to you about something they know nothing about. I know this from personal experience.
So what does all the above do: it scares you, it makes you want things you can’t have , it makes you paranoid (hmm, if January Jones can do that, can my wife do that? If Ashton Kutcher can do that does that mean it’s ok for me to do it?) It makes you even more scared (Will Greece really cause my checking account to go to zero? What?)
Common sense: everyone on the news is lying to you to get you scared so you keep watching (“Stay tuned. Will Libya’s new leaders we even worse than Qadafi? We’ll be back after a commercial break.”) And everyone in sitcoms and dramas are being overly dramatic and lying about everything because that’s part of the show. But some part of your brain thinks its happening in reality. Which means it can happen to you. Which means you get scared or paranoid.
It’s hard to do. I can’t do it. I watch “Mad Men” even though deep down I know it’s not so good for me. But I limit this as much as possible.
F) Don’t Cheat. On wife, IRS, in business, in games, etc. Common sense: Everything you do has consequences. If you truly don’t love your wife, then get divorced or figure out some other arrangement that can make you happier. If you don’t pay the IRS they will eventually catch up to you and it will cost you more. If you cheat in business you’ll most likely get caught and go to jail or get sued and have to deal with that stress. Common sense: for short-term gratification you will deal the rest of your life with the consequences. I’ve seen it – some of those consequences are so unbelievably horrible and painful that you’ll never overcome it but perhaps that’s also how you learn it’s common sense to not create more of those situations.
G) Make other people better. If someone is an employee then help them figure out how they can advance at their job. If someone is your boss, then work hard for them and give them full credit. If someone is a friend, then listen to their troubles. If someone is an “enemy” teach them to treat others better by ignoring them when they try to engage you in their troubles. If there’s someone you don’t know but you would like to know them – then think of ways their life can be better and send it to them. If you have a business or want to start one, then make sure your idea makes the lives of all of your customers better. If someone is your spouse, think of how you can help with some of their burdens. Don’t split the difference (“She cooks, I clean”). Figure out how you can do a little of the cooking also. Common sense: if everyone around you is better, then they will do everything they can to make you better.
H) Sleep 8-9 hours. This might apply just to me. But I know if I want to sleep 9 hours then a couple of other common sense things will fall into place. I won’t waste my time eating late dinners and putting junk into my body while watching prime-time TV. I’ll wake up very early. And by the time most people are waking up I will have either written, been creative in some way, or exercised.
I one time had dinner with some old friends who I love very much. But all night they were drinking, eating, desserting, and talking about all the creative projects they eventually wanted to work on. You can’t work on those if you spend 5 hours at a dinner every night and then have a hard time waking up by 7am in the morning. You have to sleep earlier, eat better, drink less, and wake up before everyone else. Common sense: you’ll be healthier, you’ll get more stuff done, and make more money by the time everyone is just groggily waking up.
Common sense is really easy. It mostly involves having as little drama as possible and making the people in your life as empowered as possible while you get things done and live healthy.
I can tell you when I don’t have common sense. I stay in relationships way too long that are unhealthy for me, I let people walk all over me, I buy houses I can’t afford, I waste five years going to college and graduate school for computer science and then have to take remedial programming courses on the side once I have a real job. The people around me begin to hate me and trash me behind my back, I get fired from jobs or passed over for opportunities and I don’t get anything done creatively.
On my deathbed, I want the opposite of all of that. I want to be around people who love me. I want to say, “I love you Claudia” as my last words. I want to be happy at that moment.
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