Answer by James Altucher:
10 LIFE-HACKS, 10 LIFE-HABITS, 10 META-HABITS
Imagine a piece of meat. Put some bones underneath it, cover the bones with muscles and nerves and skin.
Put on two pairs of eyes and a mouth (but not too big a mouth, those are annoying). Take a huge needle and inject life into it.
It's going to hurt at first. But that's what needles are for.
This is what our robot masters did when they began what they call "The Great Experiment" and created us.
"What if they find out," they said to each other.
"Don't worry," said the chief scientist who then laughed to himself. "They are so deluded, that each one of them thinks they are important and have a purpose in life.
"They are just a bunch of skin jobs".
Much later, one of the robot masters, Ridley Scott, used that same phrase in the movie "Bladerunner".
Then they give us the ability to make other little "tubbies". I like calling little things "tubbies".
When I first had a new little tubby around I thought she was very annoying.
She was like a new roommate that would cry and not speak English and want food all the time and vomit on me.
If she really were a roommate, I would have asked her to not even worry about next month's rent. "You just threw up on me and tried to suck my wife's breasts. Please get the hell out of here."
But that's wishful thinking. She can't even understand English.
Kids are not life hacks. They are life attacks. But we can't avoid them. I don't know why. They happen.
As soon as we hit the ground, we want tricks. We want money and sex as quickly as possible. And maybe fame.
There are "life-hacks" – things that you can do today to improve your life tomorrow. These work for awhile but then you get tired of them.
Then there are "habits" – things you can start today that will improve your life 10 years from now.
Habits are difficult though. Because if you are only improving a tiny bit each day you won't notice them. You'll think nothing is happening. So you'll stop.
I hate habits. It's so hard to remember to do them.
So you need "meta-habits" to keep reminding yourself to do the habits.
Advice is autobiography. And even though I mostly fail in life, here are 10 life-hacks I try. 10 habits. 10 meta-habits.
I've written about some of these before. Who can resist writing about life-hacks involving $2 bills. But I will be more concise and not always explain the reasoning. Just trust me that they work.
If you've seen these before, please skip. I don't want to bore you. If you haven't seen them before, you can figure out why these life-hacks work. Put them in the comments and I'll respond.
1. Carry $2 bills with you everywhere. Tip with them. Nobody forgets a person who tips with $2 bills. You can order $2 bills at your bank.
2. Wear a lab coat in airports. People will let you go past them in line.
3. Carry waiter's pads with you. Use them to take notes in meetings. Use them to write down your ten ideas a day. Use them as business cards.
People will think you are frugal and clever.
And it's always a good conversation-starter. People will say, "I'll take fries with that burger" and I'll leave it up to you to come up with a witty response.
4. Mirror people.
I was talking to Nick Morgan, author of "Power Cues". When he was younger he had an accident which changed his brain. He could no longer tell how people were reacting to him.
So he made a lifelong study of body actions and what they mean.
For instance, he told me. "If you want people to like you, then very subtly mirror all of their moves. If they cross their legs, cross your legs a few seconds later. If they wipe their forehead, wipe your forehead."
"Won't they notice?" I asked.
"No," he said, "People are too focused on themselves to consciously notice what you are doing. That's why you have an edge."
"Then," he said, "after 15 minutes, reverse it.
"You wipe your forehead first. See if they then wipe theirs. You start leading the actions. If they start following you it means they like you and will start to follow your suggestions."
I haven't tried this yet. If you try it, please tell me if it works. Nick Morgan gave me a few more suggestions on my podcast the other day.
5. Oh, one more from Nick.
"Figure out the bottom end of your vocal range and the top end. Speak about 1/4 above your bottom end. If you do this in a meeting, you will dominate the meeting."
Ok, I've tried that a bit with Claudia. Not sure it works with a wife. "Do the laundry," she said. But maybe she was using her bottom range when she said it also. Duel of the bottom ranges.
6. Memory Hack.
To remember things, you need more than one emotional hook.
I've spoken to memory champs Jim Kwik and Josh Foer. They both told me this.
For instance, if you can't remember "James Altucher" also think "James I'll Touch Her" and picture me touching a beautiful woman (go ahead, imagine that).
Now you have two hooks into my name. The more hooks you have, the more parts of your brain are at work. The easier it is to remember lots of things, like a room full of names.
Or "Claudia Azula" (my wife), I think of a blue monster ("azul" is blue in Spanish) clawing at me.
7. "There's always a good reason and a real reason".
This always works. If I ask an employee, "why'd you do it this way?" they'll give a complicated, but good answer. Like, "I felt these paints looked good with that blue."
But the real reason might be "I was too lazy to get new paints."
For everything everyone says, including me, there's a good reason (which is hard to argue with) and a real reason. Always look for the real reason.
8. 80/20 rule cubed.
Everyone knows that 20% of your employees (or 20% of your efforts, or 20% of the seeds planted), produce 80% of the value (or 80% of your profits, or 80% of the flowers that blood).
But let's square it. So you apply the 80/20 rule on top of the 80/20 rule. And let's square that.
So now 1% of your prior efforts produce almost 50% of the value.
I tried this in my life. I used to make a lot of phone calls each day to find out how different businesses I was invested in were doing.
Now I make 0 phone calls. Result: nothing really changed.
Occasionally someone would call me and ask for advice (the 1%) and value would result (the 50%) but it gave me back a huge chunk of my life.
HUGE. And I'm much happier. And pretty much I get the same results. Nobody really wanted to talk to me anyway.
9. No News.
This is really a subset of the 1/50 rule above.
I used to get my news from newspapers. I'd read 3-4 newspapers a day and then read online.
That would take about two hours of life each day.
Now I scan down what's trending on twitter. Takes me about two seconds.
People always say, "no news is good news".
Now….I always have no news. So it's always good news
Some people have gotten angry at me over this. Like, "how can you change the world if you are so uninformed."
To them I say, "Blah!"
And it doesn't matter.
I'd rather read a book then read about 9 children being killed in Kazakhstan. That's depressing!
It's not like I'm going to go to Kazakstan and save anyone's life. But if I'm a good person, then perhaps other people will follow my example. And so on.
Until it reaches Kazakstan.
That's the most effective way to consistently change the world.
10. Never say "Hello".
Ask a question instead. Even if it's the first time you are meeting someone.
Like, "Why did you get divorced?"
Or "Do you think you can beat me in a fight"?
What does "Hello" mean anyway?
11. One more life-hack. ("Over promise and over-deliver")
How to cut the 10,000 hour rule by 90%.
K. Anders Ericsson and Malcom Gladwell have popularized the idea that it takes 10,000 hours of practice with INTENT to be the best in the world at something.
Intent means, measure your success, give yourself feedback, and try to better your results at every attempt.
If you just play cards for 10,000 hours, you won't get better. but if you study with a teacher, read books, figure out how to measure your success, and analyze your failures, that's "practice with intent".
10,000 hours is roughly 10-20 years of hard work.
It would be nice to cut it down.
Here are my two ideas on this, which I've applied in my life.
First off, you don't need to be the best in the world to be better than everyone around you.
The learning curve is steep but the final 10-20% is very flat.
That's why it takes young tennis players a few years to get in the top 200 or the top 1000 but then it takes them another 10 years of hard work to be in the top 10. In the ENTIRE WORLD.
So if you take 1000 hours. You'll be better than just about everyone you can possibly imagine encountering.
For instance, take Scrabble. It might take you 1000 hours to remember all the 3 letter words, all the 4 letter words with Js and Qs.
All the 6 letter "Stems" (a stem is six letters that, if almost any other letter is added, you have a legal 7 letter word, e.g. S A T I N E. Add "X" to that and you have "Antisex". Add "E" to that and you have "Etesian" and so on. There are about 20 useful stems).
It will take you about 1000 hours to do that plus learn basic strategy and then you will be among the best in the world. But not THE best.
I used to tape word lists to my kid's stroller when she was born. At night she couldn't sleep unless I was running full speed with the stroller. But that's ok, I was memorizing stems.
But now let's cut the 1000 hours even more. If you combine two areas of interest then you don't even need 1000 hours.
Let's say I'm interested in computer programming and the stock market.
I can learn basic programming. I can learn the basics of the stock market. And then I can program patterns in the stock market ("What happens if the market falls 5 days in a row") and if I program a few hundred patterns I can see if any results happen that are statistically significant.
This won't make one a great trader. But it's a start. If you intersect two areas, it will be much faster to be in the top 1% of the two areas because other people will also have to pick those exact two areas.
Maybe then you need only 500 hours of practice with intent instead of 10,000 hours. Damn, I'm going to have K. Anders Ericsson on my podcast to see if I'm right.
12. Sleep 8-9 hours a day.
This one is so obvious it's ridiculous. At night you are tired so your brain feels you're druggy and your movements are slow and sluggish.
When you sleep, BAM! Your brain is re-energized and you have new energy that can last you an entire day.
There is a ton of research on this. For instance, the average professional violinist sleeps 8.6 hours a day.
I've worked with people who tell me they only need three hours a day. Then they also tell me they are bipolar.
If you are too busy to sleep 8 hours a day then find micro-habits you can stop so you can sleep more Else you will die earlier.
Like…don't watch TV at night. Get blackout drapes. No screen time after 7pm. Don't eat too late. Whatever you can do. You have to sleep 8-9 hours a day.
13. You're the average of the 5 people you spend your time with.
If you want to be funny, spend time with funny people. If you want to be a criminal, spend time with other criminals. If you want to be stabbed in the back at work, spend time with people who gossip a lot.
(I hope you are not the average of these five people)
14. Don't Eat Sugar.
16. Small Celebrations
If you only wait for something big to happen ("I made a MILLION dollars!") you're going to be waiting for long periods of time before you can celebrate.
Find more things to celebrate. Celebration is fun. And there's some brain research that blah blah blah when you celebrate.
Today I will celebrate that Claudia and I had an argument over the weekend but we made up.
17. Write 10 Ideas a Day
Again, advice is autobiography.
Doing this habit has changed my life every six months.
For instance, in the past six months, I finished a book. I started a new podcast (both are coming out September 1),
I started a high-level advisory service for people interested in the economy (coming out September 15), I gave a talk in London I never expected to give and I met many new friends.
18. Be grateful.
Blah. This is a boring one but it actually works very well.
The other day I was very upset about something. Claudia and I were in an argument.
It's hard to be married for long periods of time without being in an argument. Maybe Jesus can do it. But I can't.
And when I'm in an argument with Claudia, it's the worst thing in the world. I feel all closed up. Like I can't breathe.
So it was hard to feel grateful but I still tried. Maybe that helped get me out of my cave. Bit by bit I found myself more grateful for things. And then I was able to crawl out of my cave.
I was talking to Tucker Max and Dr. Geoff Miller, THE smartest evolutionary psychologist on the planet.
They said that many people ("mostly men") fail because they don't clean themselves.
Tucker said to me, "James, just go to a hair salon, throw down 200 bucks, and tell them to make you look good." (I'm fine with how I look actually).
I don't think I'll do that. But showering, brushing teeth a few times a day, changing clothes, cutting finger nails, washing face…all of this seems obvious.
But sometimes I spend days in a house by myself and forget to do these things. I know that sounds gross. But it feels good when I focus on hygiene.
20. Treat Everyone Like You Are Their Mother.
A friend of mine says that when she is around the Dalai Lama "it feels like he is treating everyone like he is their mother".
So this seems like a good habit to have.
When I think of someone I randomly meet and I change my mindset to pretend like I am their mother, I become more concerned for their happiness, their comfort, their careers, their ability to find people they love.
I judge less. I treat them with honesty and I am more open to them. This one thing has changed my life.
When I'm walking in the street, though, I have to be careful not to smile at too many young boys.
Not radical honesty, which is bullshit. Just because you want to have sex with your girlfriend's sister doesn't mean you have to broadcast it everywhere.
Just: if you say something, then it's either true to you, or you live up to what you say.
This maybe is the most important habit.
Honesty defines your character. And character defines your future.
People want to deal with honest people more than they want to deal with smart people.
So honest people get more opportunities for money and sex and fun things.
What can be better?
I forget what number I'm on and I don't feel like scrolling up. I don't have a mouse and I hate using the mousepad.
I'm going to make up a number.
Oh, why do we need meta-habits? Because habits are hard. So you need habits to get habits. I call them meta-habits.
26. By the way, I made #25 an entire meta-habit because simply being aware that meta-habits are important is a meta-habit.
1% a day.
The problem with this meta-habit is that it's not noticeable. If I want to get 1% a day better at baseball it's almost impossible to notice.
Nothing might change from day to day, as far as I can tell.
So you have to be gentle on ourself. And just have the mindset that the goal is improvement, not a number. Just 1% a day improvement.
You can also choose to decrease 1% a day. That's what most people do.
Ahh, I can't write today, so I'm going to read the news and eat junk food. One day won't matter.
Oh, but it does. It does!
28. Kindness. Do it and reward it. Punish non-kindness.
If you are kind, people will want to be around you. If you reward it (by smiling, or saying something nice) then people will want to be kind to you.
If someone is not kind to me, then I back off. No matter who they are. I don't even let family be not-kind to me.
Once we die, they are not my family anymore.
This is how you get the "five" that will help you "be the average of the five people around you".
Everyone wants to go on a strict diet. "I will NEVER eat carbs!" Or whatever your favorite macro-nutrient is to hate.
Always remember that whatever macro-nutrient you avoid, there's an entire society made up of octogenarians who have been eating that food group all of their lives and they are completely healthy.
So whatever you do, whatever you eat, whoever you hang out with: if net-net, there's more good than bad, then that's a good start.
And, as you do that, you'll find your net-net weighs more and more on the side of what is good for you.
For instance, if I have a plate of fruits, vegetables, and a cookie or two – net-net that is pretty good for me even if the cookies are not so good. Mmmm, I love cookies.
The key is, if it's good in general not to judge people, then it's probably good to not judge yourself too harshly either
39. Failure = Experiment.
People think "failure is good". Sometimes I even say that.
Failure is not good. Failure is the worst. Failure is the mother and father of more failure.
Thomas Edison did not fail 10,000 times to make one lightbulb.
He did 10,000 experiments.
Everything we do today is an experiment. Sometimes it's disappointing if an experiment doesn't work out.
But that's ok, we experiment again.
You can use this meta-habit when you build a business.
Don't build a business and see if it works. Try this idea first: put up ads on Facebook or Craigslist or wherever for your product or serve. Use a small budget. See if people click.
If a lot of people click then you might have a good business idea. If nobody clicks, then move on to the next idea before you build anything.
That's a good way to experiment instead of building a whole idea and then watching it go down in flames.
By the way, my spellchecking thing spelled "idea" as "ride" at first.
That works also.
We're all on a ride. Sometimes we pass each other on intersections and we wave hi. Waving "hi" is fun.
Then we move on. Life has many crossroads. And we all get to choose which path we can choose at the crossroads.
Nobody else should choose it for us.
That's the most important habit, life hack, metahabit of all.
Otherwise we'll crash.