How to Be Less Stupid
- Posted by James Altucher
I’m really stupid. I can tell you in advance. I think at heart, if I work at it, I can be smart. But at the moment I’m largely an idiot. I feel I have the right knowledge but I let a lot of stuff get in the way. You know: “stuff”. Worries, guilt, paranoia, grudges, resentment. Like, for instance: I resent the people who resent me. I think they resent me for no reason. So now I resent them. What a circle-jerk!
I used to think when I added stuff to my brain I’d get smarter. But this is not true. For instance, if I look up when Charlemagne was born I’d just add a fact to my head which I will forget tomorrow. This won’t make me smarter. Subtraction, and not Addition, is what makes the window to the brain more clear, wipes away the smudges, opens the drapes.
One example: the day I lost the deal to do Tupac’s website, I had a chess lesson afterwards. I couldn’t play at all. It was like I didn’t even know the rules. My instructor said, “what’s wrong with you today?” But I was ashamed. And angry at myself. So my intelligence went way down. Like 80% down.
So here’s my great list.
1) Paranoia. I figure on the moments when you are paranoid (is she cheating? Is he stealing? Are they talking about me? Will they sue me? Etc) you lose about 30-50% of your intelligence. That’s a big chunk. For me, its because I can’t think of anything else. I would circle her house until the lights were on and then I’d knock on the door. Or I would go to his office and not leave until he showed up. Paranoia will destroy you.
2) Resentment. Someone wrote about me a year ago. I hold a grudge. He was a friend, then wrote the worst crap about me. What a jerk. But when I think about it, I figure I lose about 20% of my intelligence. Particularly if the thoughts involve revenge. Then maybe 30% of my intelligence.
3) Regret. I’ve written about it a billion times. I lost a lot of money in 2000-2001. I regret it. Or, I should say, I regretted it. I don’t anymore. How come? Because I saw that regret was taking at least 60% of my intelligence away. I couldn’t afford 60%. 2% I could afford. Not 60%. I didn’t start coming up with ideas for new businesses until the regret went away.
4) Perfectionism. When I was running a fund I never wanted to have a down month. I’d be afraid to talk to my investors then. One guy, who is still a good friend (I spoke with him today even) said, “listen, if you’re going to be a fund manager you have to be able to talk to people when you have a down month”.
But I was ashamed. When I lost my house, I moved 70 miles away. I didn’t want to run into anyone. I felt shame. When I write a blog post I think is weak, I might take it down before too many see it. I’m ashamed of it. I want to win the Nobel Prize for blog writing. Or at least 10,000 Facebook likes. But I can’t control that. I’m imperfect. The shame of imperfectionism takes at least 20% of my intelligence away. Because people sense and appreciate honesty and honesty about imperfections, believe it or not, creates enormous opportunities. I’ve seen it happen in my own life.
5) Control. I want to control everything around me. But sometimes things are bad and there’s nothing you can do about it. Sometimes you have to surrender and say, “this is bad now but good things will happen later”. Then a great weight lights off your shoulders.
You know why they always say “a great weight lifts off your shoulders?” because that’s where your brain is. And your brain is heavy. It rests on your shoulders. When stuff is weighing it down you lose about 10-20% of your intelligence. Give up control and get smarter. A simple example: you are late for a meeting but there’s traffic. You can think “God damn this traffic. Why am I always in traffic?” Or you can be thinking about something smart: like how good bacon tastes. Can I make a better bacon? Or how would I start a helicopter airline to take me from one side of the city to the other. These seem like dumb thoughts. But they are much better than “God damn this traffic!”
6) Guilt. A good friend of mine wrote me recently. I should say, wrote me six weeks ago. Every day when I wake up I tell myself: don’t return emails until you read, then write. But then sometimes I have other things to do. Meetings. Or BS stuff. Or eating. I say, “ok, I will return that email later.” And then when later comes I feel bad that I haven’t returned his email earlier. Then at 3am I turn over and say to Claudia, “I didn’t return that email”. She says “Urgh…ushghsh…emmmm” which was not the answer I was looking for. Then I don’t sleep as much. Then I feel guilty. That takes away about 10% of my intelligence right there.
7) Worst Case Scenario. Lets say I lose $1000 in the stock market once day. Sometimes I think to myself, “holy shit, if I lose that amount every day for the next….” And it gets worse and worse. My worst case scenarios has my children begging for food on the harsh streets of Bangalore. I’ve spent at least a year of my life, when you add it up, thinking of the worst case scenario. Even though the worst case scenario HAS NEVER HAPPENED. Or if it does happen, it was never as bad as I thought it would be. I have a scarcity complex. If I didn’t have that then I’d have an “abundance complex”. And I firmly believe, abundance follows an abundance complex. So I’m smarter (and wealthier) when I give up that scarcity complex.
8) Talking. Claudia wanted to say something important to me. But I spoke instead. I imparted my great wisdom on her before she could get a word out. Finally, she forgot what she was going to say. Probably because my words were so wise they were like the Bible. Or like Robert’s Rules of Order. Or Strunk & White. That’s how wise I am. STRUNK AND WHITE! Extra talking probably takes away at least 15% of my intelligence. Because I could’ve been listening and learning. Or reading about grammar. Or not getting into an accident when talking on the phone. Sometimes we just have to Shut Up!
9) Excuses. Everyone says, “I can’t.” I can’t be a medical professional unless I go to medical school. I can’t be a movie maker unless I raise $10 million to make a movie. I can’t marry a super model because I’m ugly. I can’t I can’t I can’t. For every “can’t “ you should send me $10. I can do all those things. Particularly if I have your $10.
Ugh, 9 things. I can’t even make this a “ten lister” as we pros call them in the blog biz. Can someone come up with a tenth for me please?
By the way, just notice when these things come up. It’s not like you’re going to get cured of paranoia. But notice when it appears. Water withers the rock away. Every time you notice, the window clears a tiny bit. A smudge is gone. You get a glimpse of the light outside.
You get a tiny bit smarter. Maybe later you have to look for the deeper emotional reasons for why you feel the way you do. And there are a lot of reasons. Everyone could’ve made fun of your acne in junior high school and now you want to be loved by everyone. (Err, maybe that happened to me) But right now, this second, just don’t get hit by a car when you cross the street.
You can say, “hey, wait a second! All of those things equal up to more than 100%!” Well, what can I say? You’re smarter than me.
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