A Simple Framework for Understanding What Does and Does Not Matter in Life if Your Goal is Freedom & Fulfillment

One of the things I think about constantly is what is and what is not a good use of my time. What skills are worth getting outstanding at and what skills are likely to become worthless? What additional skills would allow me to create more value in the world (and hence more fulfillment, happiness, and wealth) and what additional skills are likely to become commoditized? What activities or events outside of work are a waste of time and what activities or events outside of work are a great use of my time?

But why does any of this even matter? It matters because I would like to minimize the extent to which I feel regret, see a greater and greater gap between who I once was and who I was able to become, minimize the extent to which I feel “stuck” in situations because I incorporated into my life too much of what “decreases optionality,” (explained below) and maximize the extent to which I can take action or make decisions as a personal, objective choice.

Optionality (n.) – Quality or state in which choice or discretion is allowed.

I want to maximize the extent to which I’m free to do as I please and minimize the extent to which I feel forced to do things that I don’t want to do. And a very important question to ask myself is, if the things/people/activities/events that I’m involved with have gone sour, no longer serve the purpose that I want them to serve, or I simply do not care anymore, will I be able to let them go?

Given this way of thinking, I have created 6 different categories where nearly everything in life can be placed to get a better understanding of what does or does not really matter regardless of what society, the masses, the media, authority figures, and all else think.

  1. Absolute Necessity
  2. Decreaseses optionality
  3. Increases optionality
  4. Improvement
  5. New experience
  6. Known downside, unknown upside
  1. Absolute Necessity – nearly nothing we’re told is a necessity can accurately be labeled as such. Let’s take a look at a few examples.
  • Eating 3 meals per day? No. Intermittent fasting can make the body more resilient.
  • Driving a car? No. You can “buy” time to do more important things by taking a Lyft/Uber.
  • A college degree? No. You can learn more for a fraction of the cost on the internet.
  • Working at a job for 40 hours per week? No. If it’s possible to create enough income in less time then why not?
  • Commuting to work? No. If it’s an independent desk job in front of a computer, why not negotiate the option to save several hours of commute time by working from home?
  • Drinking cow milk? No. Somehow it’s weird to for a person to drink human milk past the age of 4 or so, but a lifetime of drinking the milk of a foreign animal is perfectly fine for most people.

2. Decreases optionality – Anything that limits my ability to do or take action out of personal choice. What types of things would prevent me from doing the things that I want to do?

  • Contractual obligations (e.g. a gym membership requires a 1-year commitment meaning that I will have to pay monthly for an entire year whether I want to or not)
  • Marriage license (negative payoff occurs if and when it ends in divorce)
  • Installment loans (e.g. car loan, mortgage, student loan)
  • Excessive debt
  • Doing things solely for the sake of gaining status or to impress people (leads to misery)
  • Anger
  • Resentment
  • Terrible quality food and/or eating mainly for the sake of pleasure instead of nourishment
  • Excessive or exclusive dependence on one event/person/place/thing
  • Buying with no concern for the real utility of a product/service

Some key questions I ask myself with regards to this category:

  • Will _____ prevent me from doing something more meaningful or purposeful in the future?
  • How often am I thinking “I wish I could _____?” This is a consequence of too much of category #2 or too little of category #3.
  • What can break or collapse within my life and am I screwed if it does?
  • Does one person/activity/event/thing hold too much control over me? Is that control tied to unnecessary pain/unhappiness (end it as quickly as possible) or growth & improvement despite pain (keep going)?

3. Increases optionality – Anything that expands my ability to do or take action out of personal choice. What types of things would expand my ability to do or take action out of personal choice?

  • Creating another source of income (to buy more freedom, not to buy more crap)
  • Becoming more independent
  • Reducing reliance on events with very unpredictable outcomes
  • Creating things that other people value such that I benefit from the value created even when I’m not actively present
  • Emotional detachment
  • Speaking another language
  • Learning another skill
  • Knowing of unconventional ways of solving important problems
  • Being the first and only one willing to do that which a large audience may value (I take all the upside until others begin to copy)

4. Improvement – Getting great at something or multiple things for that matter, can provide a lot of fulfillment, self-esteem, confidence, character, and value to the world.

Some questions I ask myself with regards to improvement:

  • Does it help improve a certain aspect of myself that I’m seeking to improve?
  • Can it unlock a certain characteristic/talent/skill that I did not know exists within myself?
  • Does it lead to a reoccurring event? How many times and how quickly can the event be replicated? Can it be replicated without my direct involvement? Can the speed/effectiveness/efficiency/quality of delivery of the event be improved?

5. New experience Self-explanatory. New experiences can lead to category 1, 2, 3, 5 or 6.

 

6. Known downside, unknown upside – This is where life can become a never-ending game. It’s also where new discoveries are made and completely new ways of seeing the world can emerge. The outcome of this event is unknown but it has a limited but known downside. The outcome can be positively life-changing as something astounding and completely unexpected can happen. You cannot really quantify, measure, or predict the upside and if you could, it would take the joy out of it.

Here are some examples of this:

  • Asking yourself “What if _____?” and then doing a wild experiment to find out.
  • Attending parties where you do not know a single person.
  • Doing something the “normal” version of you wouldn’t normally do.
  • Buying a one-way ticket to another country on a whim.
  • Getting involved with something you are unfamiliar with.
  • Doing the opposite of what society deems “acceptable.”

I will finish with one final question that summarizes everything:

Will I know with 90+ percent certainty what will happen from a specific event? Does a large audience (the masses) of people know what will happen from this event? If the answer to these two questions is “no” then the event can either present a massive opportunity or an utter waste of time. However, if the answer to both of these questions is “yes” then the outcome either does not really matter OR the outcome can be leveraged to spend more time in #3 (increases optionality) or #6 (known downside, unknown upside).

I hope this article made some sense. Please leave a comment. Thanks.

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