Ask James: Lying Politicians, Freedom, Being Introverted, the Big Bang, Harry Potter, And More!
- Posted by James Altucher
Every Thursday I do a Q&A on Twitter from3:30PM to 4:30. I then take some of the answers and expand them on here. I’ll then take some of those answers and expand on them in a future book. I don’t claim to have all the answers. So please feel free to help out and contribute in the comments below. Part of what fills me with gratitude is the great comunity and friends that I have made through this blog and the knowledge I’ve learned from the comments.
WHAT IS FREEDOM?
Escape the City @escthecity It says ‘Trapped in Freedom’ on the side of my building. What does this mean?
ANSWER: Real freedom is a myth, but we are told we can get it with money. I had money. The year before I made money I felt incredibly free, I had friends, I enjoyed life. Once I made money I became asick maniac.
Money brings out the worst in people. In extreme. Not always. You learn to tame the tiger after brutal experience.
But often money gives you a momentary glimpse of freedom for the first time in your life. And then….you use that money to buy new chains: the house, the girls, the art, the cars, the vacations, bad investments, etc.
Money can buy A LOT of chains. Many more chains than can be bought if you don’t have money.
So freedom is still elusive. What gets it?
Decluttering. Not just your house. But your body: make sure you’re healthy every day. Your emotions: make sure you only spend time with people you love and who inspire you. Your mind: make sure you attempt to be creative every day. Creativity takes the mind away from anxieties. And spirituality: leave room each day for thoughts about the people you are grateful for, and thank whoever you hold dear or whatever you hold dear, for the luck and fortune that you have.
It’s only through this last part that luck and fortune continue to grow and compound. Gratitude compounds
HOW TO DEAL WITH REGRET:
croyde @croydeman James , read your post on Regret it was such a help – after the toughest few weeks in my life. thanks but I keep on slipping back
I’m sorry to hear about these tough weeks. A week or a day can be a tough for a variety of reasons. You can hurt your arm for instance but did you really hurt YOU? Your heart can be broken or you can lose your job but did this really hurt the internal you?
I regret things every day. I lost tens of millions not just for myself but for others. Family and friends in many cases no longer speak to me.
Regret, though, is not YOU. Regret is just a visitor. What do you do with visitors? You invite them in. You treat them nice. Perhaps you offer them a cupcake. Have a conversation. Then when the lights start to dim and everyone is tired, it’s time for Regret to leave.
Then say goodbye.
BEST PRODUCTIVITY HABIT
Joel Wilson @joeltimothy best habit that has helped you accomplish stuff?
I needed to start being productive in 2002. It was a year after my VC fund had been closed down. I had nothing going on. I was trading every day to save my life else I would go broke but trading is not real productivity. It’s not creating equity value for yourself or your family. And there’s fear, anxiety, etc associated with trading.
So I needed to be productive.
Here’s what I did:
I woke up every day around 5am. I would take a walk. Perhaps see the Hudson River. I was the first one up in the entire city (I felt like) so I felt that gave me an advantage.
Then I would sit down for a coffee, pull out my waiter’s pad (and to this day, ten years later, I carry a waiter’s pad with me everywhere and have about 200 blank ones in my closet) and I would start writing ideas.
What would I write? I would write book ideas. Then business ideas. Then ideas for people to network with. I would not write a business idea unless it looked like this:
<basic concept, specifics, first execution step>. So for instance, when I wrote down the idea for Stockpickr.com, which I built in 2006 and sold in 2007, I wrote down:
<social network for traders and investors: people would upload their portfolios and have it compared with the portfolios of professions like Warren Buffett and get recommendations: hire a programmer on scriptlance.com TODAY>
And then I did it. Within a week I had the first sketches of the site and all the sub-pages. Within three weeks I had the first draft of the site done. Within four weeks we launched. Within 4 months the business was profitable. Within seven months the business was sold.
That idea worked out but many don’t. That’s why a key to productivity is quantity of ideas. If you have 20, 6 might be worth pursuing, 3 you might take the next step, one will work out.
The rest of my day was geared around making sure I could come up with quality ideas the next day. I would read a lot. I would sleep a lot. I stopped drinking. I would walk or exercise. And I was grateful for everything around me. And, most important, I would only associate with people who would help me to feel good about myself.
This sounds wimpy. Can’t I feel good about myself without other people? Sure. But why be around people who actively make you feel bad about yourself. Consequently I had to eliminate about 90% of the people in my life. Every few years this happens again.
Note that this is not a to-do list. It’s an ideas list.
ARE POLITICIANS LIARS?
I’m a Capitalist @FreeMarketsFan I know you don’t like news/politics, but are most politicians bad at math, liars or both?
You asked two questions but I’ll give you three answers:
A) All politicans are good at math. They know how to count votes and quickly percentages. They know how to add money. They know how much money equals how many votes. So they are all great at basic math.
B) They are ALL liars. Challenge: can you name me one President, just ONE, since George Washington, that is not on record lying at some point to his constituents.
Your question is an opportunity and its rhetorical. Yes politicans are bad, stupid, annoying, evil, corrupt, do bad things to us, rape us at night, whatever.
Yes, yes, yes.
And yet, the people who ignore politicians create billion dollar companies. The people who ignore protests that accomplish nothing (because you can’t fight DC) end up being happier.
Don’t let politics block you from happiness today.
HOW MUCH SHOULD I HAVE AT AGE 30?
Darren Reed @lifttheoffer what would you consider to be good/avg/bad in terms of $, career, health, relationship, mind, spirit etc for a 20/30/40 year old
In 1999 I bought an apartment in NYC. I was really anxious about this. I was 31. I wanted to know what the net worth was of everyone else in the building. When I was 29 I got married for the first time. Was I too young? When I was 30 my ex-wife had a kid. Was I too young to be a father?
I wanted to know in absolute terms. Should I have my first million by 30? Should I be retired by 40? Should I have sex with 100 women before settling down? (that didn’t happen by the way).
What? When? Where? I wanted to know HOW? WHY?
There’s no absolutes. And, as they say, “60 is the new 40”. “40 is the new 25”. And, unfortunately, “15 is the new 21”.
Here’s what I do now: Every six months, am I better off in my “4 bodies”: physical, emotional, mental, spiritual?
Note: I don’t say “financial”. Financial is just a tool. Use it or lose it.
But am I on a consistent path to stay healthy, to keep positive people in my life, to improve the way I think, and do I have more and more things to be grateful and happy about (after all, what else is spirituality about?)
If the answer is “no” then I try to correct. If “yes” then, well, YES!
WHAT MAKES IT EASIER FOR YOU TO LET GO?
Veeh Cirra @VeehCirra what makes it easier for you to let go? Especially when some paths come to a natural end, and you are not ready.
ANSWER: I have a completely different answer than I had yesterday. Yesterday I gave you specific things to do that I know, for me, pick me up. But now I have a more general technique because I know it worked for me today. TODAY!
I use “the Alien Technique” which I’ve written about it before. It always works. The Alien Technique was recommended by Buddha, Taoists, Lamas, and others over the past 3000 years although nobody ever called it the Alien Technique.
You’re an alien from another galaxy. Your lifespan is 15 billion years. You’re going to live forever.
Every day you wake up in a new body. You’re on a mission: fix what’s wrong with this body and then move on.
How do you know what’s wrong with this person. You just got here!
You listen. First you listen to your body. When you had a bad emotion, often the body feels it first. What are your toes telling you, your waist, your stomach, your heart, your head. Even your back, your shoulders, your neck, your eyes. Anything hurting? Anything even mildly irritating. Ok, you don’t need to do anything about it. Just note it. List it in your mind.
Next, emotions. Why is this mind feeling bad or down today? Again, note it. List it. It’s not you. You’re an alien from another galaxy. It’s this mind you landed in.
Next ask: what does this person have to do today? Will he or she be only hanging around positive people? If negative, note it again. They are on the list of people to be eliminated from this person’s body.
Finally ask, who is this person grateful for? Should I have this body tell them he or she is grateful? Can I learn something new from them? Or return calls to other inspiring people and see what I can learn from them?
Finally, note your surroundings. The light, the sounds outside, the smells, the good things. You’ve made it into this body. All the from a galaxy thousands of light years away. How cool is that? Say it: “This is so cool. Thank God I’m alive.”
It works. When you start to slip again and think, “ugh, I am so down” then go back in the alien technique.
Does this make you happier? Maybe. But you don’t care if the body or mind is happy or not. Maybe the body you are in today needs to mourn something. Mourning a loss is a natural thing. You can mourn for the person. Maybe you have to in order to clean up the pain.
But then you move on. You figure out what’s next for this body you are in for the day. You are a traveler of the Universe. And for Forces even more powerful than you you’ve been placed in this body today to do something. Do it.
WHY ARE YOU EATING DONUTS TODAY?
Andy Suter @ajsuter why am i eating donuts today? i never eat donuts! is this a bad thing?
ANSWER: First off, there is nothing wrong with donuts. I like those French Crullers at Dunkin Donuts.
BUT, whenever I suddenly need a rush for sugar that’s unusual I know that something is off. Sugar releases endorphins and dopamine.
Guess what else releases endorphins and dopamine? Sex! That good feeling you get. Sex is a good painkiller and anti-depressant.
Why do people need to kill pain? Because they have it. They are in pain, physically or mentally? So if you feel a sudden need for donuts today, or even on a regular basis, you have to ask yourself: what pain, emotional or physical, am I trying to get away from. Am I depressed?
The problem with sugar is that it then causes all sorts of other problems related to the release of insulin. It’s also addictive. Once that insulin spikes to regulate your blood sugar, your sugar levels go sharply down. Then you need more! And it gets worse and worse. This is what happens to diabetics. They lose the ability to regulate that blood sugar.
It’s all connected. This is why I recommend what I call the Daily Practice. It finds ways to get the endorphins and dopamine going in healthy ways. In ways that can drastically improve your life consistently.
So, while your question might have even been a funny one: I would ask yourself, “exactly why do I feel the need to eat donuts today?” Maybe something is wrong. Something that you have to think about.
HOW TO CALM MIND BEFORE SLEEP
how do you calm your mind before sleep, so it’s restful?
I can’t do this every day. But here’s my goal every single day. I really like to sleep. I like to get into a deep sleep, with no nightmares and I like to wake up 8-10 hours later feeling refreshed. I love sleep so much that it becomes a top priority of mine during the day to prepare for a good sleep.
So here is what I TRY to do:
- My last meal is at 3 or 4pm TOPS. 95% of the time I succeed at this. Even with kids, I feed them dinner at 6pm but I don’t eat.
- No alcohol. Alcohol can make you tired but it has a lot of sugar (see above) and can snap me awake at 2am with anxious thoughts. VERY BAD. Plus, it’s a depressant. And it has bad taste. Eww.
- No screen time after 7pm. DEFINITELY no computer or email. But screen time also includes TV.
- After 7pm I get under the covers, I try reading, and I usually do that until falling asleep.
- Note: exercise (even sex) late in the day is not that great for falling asleep. Too many chemicals at work in the body. I like everything to relax after 7pm.
IF YOU KNEW YOU WERE GOING TO DIE A MONTH FROM NOW
Lucas Wilk @LucasWilk If you knew you were going to die a month from now how would you spend your remaining time?
I’ve set up my life in such a way that I can say: If I knew I was going to die a month from today I would do nothing different today. I can say this just about every day.
If you can’t say that, then figure out why (you have a boring job, you hate your life/wife/kids/friends, your bored with where you live, etc). List all the reasons you can’t say the above every day.
Then make goals to, over time, change these things. It doesn’t mean divorce your wife if you don’t like her. Maybe pay attention to her more. Maybe find new things about this woman sleeping next to you who will take caaer of you when you are sick and old. Maybe care about what your kids are doing.
But it does probably mean quit your job and find something more fun to do. It also probably means using your leisure moments to thank god you’re alive instead of always worrying about this or that or who or when or what he said/she said or jail or whatever it is you worry about. Today when I worry I’m going to replace it with “who is really worrying? I’ll let that thing inside me worry while I’ll just zone out.”
WHEN IS BEST TIME TO BRAINSTORM?
Daniel Restrepo @DanksRestrepo At what time of the day do you brainstorm business ideas?
I have a waiters pad on me all the time. I brainstorm all day. If someone says something even funny to me, i write it down. By the way, brainstorming sort of implies most ideas are bad. You can’t judge your ideas. Just write them down. Judge later.
The other day I was watching the BBC show “Peep Show” in the afternoon with Claudia. It’s a hilarious show. I didn’t have my waiter’s pad on me but I had a book (“1.d4” by Boris Avrukh). I wrote in the back pages of the book. Claudia was getting annoyed because I kept pausing the show.
I was writing things the characters were saying that were funny to me.
One guy was thinking about the other: “he’s like the Copernicus of the anus”. I thought that was funny. Wrote it down. Then he thought about himself: “I’m like a horny Gandhi”. Funny, because he’s really passive but wants to have sex all the time. Wrote it down
Then I was thinking about the characters and how they could be really smart but different things bring down their intelligence and I was trying to figure out by what percentage.
So I wrote down: paranoia subtracts from intelligence. Resentement does by about 30%. Honest/dishonesty increases/decreases intelligence by about 50%. “Maybe a post” I wrote.
Then I got an email from @ReadHeavily which gave me a quote I wrote down: “each story has to teach one how to live”
Then I thought of another post idea: what’s the difference between sympathy, empathy, and pity.
So that’s one example.
Then another example: I was having a stupid google+ argument with someone. This guy thought it was a shame the octomom was posing naked. It was like lighting his life on fire. He could not BELIEVE she would pose naked for money to support her children. He wanted her to have five children instead of eight. He had all sorts of opinions about the octomom.
But it gave me an AWESOME business idea. Which I may or may not do. But I wrote it down anyway. 2 page specification and sent it out to a programmer. We’ll see.
But there’s no better time to brainstorm than right now.
WHAT’S NEXT AFTER BLOGGING?
Robert James Collier @RobertJCollier what’s next after blogging? (the new medium)
ANSWER: I can tell you a secret about EVERY site that depends on blogging, including all the major media sites, every single one of them.
None of them get any traffic per article. Zero. Unless an article goes viral, which is rare. They all get traffic from the so-called long-tail. Maybe one article will get 5% of the traffic per day and 10,000 other articles will divvy up the other 95% of traffic. That’s how every major site works. Huffington Post, gawker, thestreet.com, and every site I’ve ever seen.
So you can’t rely on blogging (by yourself) to create a media presence. You have to start to do everything: blogging, vlogging (blogging with video – I need to start this), radio, TV, syndication to get yourself exposed to a new audience, twitter (like what I do with these Twitter Q&As), Facebook (figure out ways to build traffic to a fan page for your blog. I still have to work on this), and books (here’s how to self-publish and why).
So “the next thing” is EVERYTHING, all at once, and all integrated together.
Now, you have to have something to say. And it has to be AWESOME.
I’m still figuring it out. Sometimes I tell personal stories and what I’ve learned from them. Sometimes I directly give an opinion and support it. Other times I’ll describe what I’ve learned from others. Often, the articles I think are the highest quality will get the lowest traffic. But that’s why I have to mix it up.
But I’m still figuring this out. Every day, all day long, I’m reading, writing, watching, studying, to figure out what this “form” is and how to get better at it. So I’m a student of what’s next.
DO WE HAVE FREE WILL?
Collin Ferry @collinferry Do we believe that we have free will? (This is different than asking if you believe the future is already written)
ANSWER: This gets esoteric. I respect everyone’s opinion in terms of religion. People have religion and faith for many reasons. They also believe in things like “free will” or no “free will” for many reasons.
I believe in free will for two reasons and they are related.
A) The only moment that actually exists that we can PROVE without a doubt because we are experiencing it is right now. We don’t actually know if the past exists, and we don’t really know if the future exists. There’s no way to know. So the concept of free will doesn’t even make sense in that context. Free will for what? There’s no future. There’s only now.
B) Information itself is finite. All atoms, all thoughts, all information, all everything, is made out of material that vomited out of the Big Bang about 16 billion years ago. What was before then? The question doesn’t even make sense. Time itself started with the Big Bang.
In my personal beliefs, I believe in whatever was before the Big Bang. Which, as I’ve said above, doesn’t even make sense because information didn’t exist then. So Belief, Faith, Will, Time, God, Consciousness, Self – none of that makes sense. The real You, Me, Everyone, are clothed by the fabrics that came out of that Big Bang, but inside is something else that we can’t understand because the information to explain it doesn’t exist.
In a nutshell, that’s my belief. And the way we get closer to that 15 billion year old essence that is inside our true self is by (I believe) the daily practice I describe in this post: keeping the physical,emotional, mental, and spiritual bodies in shape and in constant improvement. And , in doing so, you’ll be able to see right down through them to whatever reality has to offer.
CAN I CURE SOMEONE ELSE
@parmcharm: I know a guy who is full of fear. How can I cure him?
What you really want to have happen is good things for yourself.
Really be honest with yourself. This is the hardest thing. Who cares if he is cured of fear or not? What you really want is to be happy .
So make sure YOU are cured of all fear. Then you are the beacon. Then people can either stand in your light, or stay in their darkness. Either way you are happy. You are the one cured.
WHAT TO DO IF INTROVERTED?
@dirktheman .. I’m softspoken, almost introvert. How do I get people to notice/hear me? It seems I’m often overlooked.
ANSWER: I know how you feel. There was one summer I was so shy I couldn’t speak at all to the other kids. Everyone thought I was “special needs”. Eventually my parents pulled me out of the camp. I just simply couldn’t speak.
Often I don’t go to dinners I’m invited to because I’m shy about talking.
But think of it this way.
Words, like any market: is ruled by supply and demand.
What you are telling me is that your supply of words is limited. So when you talk, make sure every word is meaningful. Then demand will go up. Then, because supply is limited, demand will go WAY up. Before you know it, people will practically be throwing themselves at you to hear you speak.
Your introversion then can be used to create value for yourself. Every thing that you thought was a problem is actually an asset. Use it wisely.
i am introverted as well. thinkof it this way: value is a function of supply and demand. your supply of words is limited so..
WHY DO MEN DISAPPEAR?
DatingSauce.com @datingsauce Why do men disappear after seemingly good dates? You even wrote about it – why did you disappear instead of a face2face breakup?
ANSWER: I can answer this because I’m guilty. I went on a date once, a few months before meeting Claudia, and I liked the girl enough. So the date went pleasant. We had dinner, took a walk,she wanted dessert, we went to another restaurant, took another walk, and so on. She even mentioned a play she liked and I actually even offered to take her to it.
Then I disappeared. I was bad. She called a few times. Emailed a few times. I called my friend and asked him what I should do. He said I should just call her and say I wasn’t interested. Because, ultimately, she was nice but I wasn’t interested.
I said to him, “are you crazy?” I couldn’t even imagine calling her unless I was in full-on sales mode. Prince Charming mode.
To actualluy call someone and hurt their feelings? There was NO WAY I was going to do that.
I just couldn’t.
So I disappeared. I’m still disappeared from her. I still feel bad about it. I didn’t want confrontation. But I was a jerk anyway. Not really a good man.
That’s why men disappear. They like you but…not really.
WOULD HARRY POTTER HAVE BEEN A SUCCESS IF JK ROWLING HAD SELF-PUBLISHED?
@alobionsday: Could JK Rowling have had her success by self-publishing
Case #1: Terry McMillan is a successful fiction author that largely caters to African-American woman. She is a huge success. When she first published (with a major publisher) who book went nowhere. So she started writing to every college and offering to speak and give out books for free.
Bit by bit bookstores started to order her books. Word was getting out. Not because of the publisher, who had already given up on her, but because of her own persistence.
Case #2: John Grisham. His first book was not, actually, “The Firm”. It was a “Time To Kill” (I have to state the order because “The Firm” was his first successful book.
“A Time To Kill” was rejected by everyone. Then a small publisher took it, it sold about 1000 copies (Grisham was in the Mississippi State Legislature and couldn’t even get his voters to buy it) and then the book disappeared. He was going to quit writing but he had a passion about it. Despite the criticism that he is “pop literature” I happen to think he is a very good writer.
And he got better, and was persistent, and wrote his second book, “The Firm”. I know some people who manage his money. Everytime he publishes a book now my friends get another $20 million to manage. Good for John Grisham!
Case #3: Eckhart Tolle self-published “The Power of Now” I think in the late 90s. Got nowhere with it. Went door to door selling it. Then, again, bit by bit, word of mouth got out. More people started buying. I heard about it around 2001. Eventually Oprah heard about it. BAM! The rest is history.
Case #4: This is not a case but a whole category. Thousands of books are published by publishers every year. They could care less about the success or failure of any one individual book. The average first novel (published by a major publisher) sells 1000 copies or less (I forget if it’s 500 or 1000). Publishing with a publisher gets you nothing.
The sincere voices rise to the top. The crap gets flushed into the sewer. Self-published or not.
And, of course, here’s my “How To” on Self-Publishing your own book and why I think it’s useful and important to do it that way. There’s a bunch of links in there and they are all critical in explaining why.
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