Usually when someone seeks to change something with their life, regardless of whether it is a minor or major issue, the same methods tend to be applied. Extreme methodology applied for a burst-style period of time. For instance, people who seek to drop excess weight gained over a period of years, seek to drop this weight in a span of weeks or months. People who have been neglecting one part of their life for years, seek to rectify it in a flurry of excessive effort, without a focus on efficacy.
Likewise, people love to hunt for simple, smart solutions, to complex and convoluted challenges, without regard for the destination they seek. For instance, changing your life from one where you consume too much, and too poor quality food, tends to be one where people make radical changes rapidly, disregarding the longer term perspective.
The combination of these two tendencies, trends towards short sighted strategies, and simplistic solutions. When one approaches a problem that must be tackled long term, with complex and multi-variable solutions, from the short-term perspective and a simple solution, the inevitable failure leads to a person being worse off than they were initially.
The Horizon of Time
As humans we perceive time as a linear mechanism, however we also have certain biases when it comes to time. I have scarcely experienced the person who accurately could estimate the time required to reach the requisite goals. Few also seem to have the ability to view things in terms of a longer time horizon, such as years over months and decades over years. To most, a “long term strategy” is at most 12 months, and in many cases as little as a month or two. Not only does this blur the line between strategy and tactics, it also imposes an urgency that is in most cases detrimental.
Most people tend to over-estimate time spent on productive activities such as work, working out and preparing healthy food. They also tend to under-estimate the time spent on wasteful activities such as watching television and gossip. To go a bit abstract, any activity that leads to a short-term reward, will tend to be under-estimated, any activity that leads to short-term pain but long term reward will tend to be over-estimated.
The most obvious red pill example are the female estimates of their fertility, often supported by western society. Female peak fertility is in their early to mid-twenties. However, this conflicts with the recent idea that everyone needs to first have their college experience and then their “fun, single girl” years. This leads to many women pushing off having children until their early 30s, at which point their fertility is diminished.
For men, the example comes in a miscalculation, summed up in a very neat way in a quote I saw “If you chase pussy in your 20s and money in your 30s, you have wasted two decades“. What this states is that a man lays the foundation for chasing pussy in his 30s once his sexual market value starts to rise, in his 20s, by engaging in lifestyle design that allows him more freedom in his thirties.
Both of the above errors stem from an error in allocation of time. In effect, allocating time to do something at the least optimal time in your life.
I have a buddy that I attended High School with, lets call him Steve. After Steve finished High School he moved around a lot all through his twenties, he worked a string of menial and unrelated jobs. He partied a lot, lived in 5 or 6 different cities, moved in with a string of girlfriends, for varying periods of time. He did quite a bit of traveling, even worked abroad for about a year. When I got back in touch with Steve a while back, I was surprised how someone with whom I shared so many perspectives with back in High School had chosen such a different path from my own. Steve, will most likely spend the next 20 – 40 years of his life working around the same level as he does now, unless he enters Monk Mode  and catches up.
I have no doubt that Steve has had more experiences than I have, or that he has a higher notch count. However, by spending his twenties in a similar way that most “Strong, independent women” spend theirs, he has done much damage to his future. What feels right and offers the greatest short-term rewards are rarely those things that build a great future.
Few humans consider opportunity costs intuitively. For instance, in the case of Steve, he did not consider that the time he spent working a menial job to fund his partying and his travels, could have been spent on a path that had a theme. Just the existence of a theme within your life adds to the value of your unrelated skills through synergy. This is the basis for the “Skill Stack” that Scott Adams speaks of in his book “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big“, learning skills that work well together and are applicable in most things you are going to be doing.
People are often like a log floating down the river, they are merely ferried through their life, being swept along without attempting to take control over those things, which could greatly affect the outcome.
However, while humans often ignore opportunity costs, they are very much stuck on sunk costs. People are very reluctant to eject those things from their life that are not conducive to their long-term goal. People will be reluctant to change careers, end romantic relationships, get rid of friends that are holding them back, limiting time with family members that are not supportive of their goals and many other things. There are a finite number of pursuits that fit within your allotted 24 hours per day, and thus the more of those hours that are unproductive the less you get done.
Like Steve, I had many experiences in my twenties that I would never be the person I am today without. However, I always had a singular goal with my life, and I still do. My perspective was always that it’s better to use a lot of time in my twenties and my early thirties to build skills and experience that allows me to maximize freedom later in life. So with every activity I undertook, I elected do so in a way that would be congruent with this goal.
Steve’s life has changed very little since High School, in many ways his time is still split between working just enough to finance partying, a completely average lifestyle, and a lot of gaming. The major difference between he and I, is choice. He has elected to engage with life on a level where he seeks out experiences that benefit him short term, but are often detrimental to his long-term lifestyle design.
His choices are based on his present state of mind, and what results in the greatest experience of happiness right at this moment, without regard for a grand vision.
Both of the above are not cardinal though. Both your perspective and your horizon are means to an end, not ends in themselves, they enable your vision. The end will always by the vision you picture for your life, this is uniquely personal, and depends on developing a strong knowledge of self. Michael Porter, one of the world’s foremost experts on business strategy once said that strategy is as much about deciding what not to do as it is about deciding what to do .
Steve never really had a vision for his life, he is slowly being transported along the river of life without attempting to steer much, if at all. This has lead to him leading an exiting life, after all working as little as possible to finance many great experiences, does free up much time to have such experiences. However, it also neglects the power of compounding.
Compounding in economic terms means that the earlier you save, and put money in the bank, the earlier you start earning interest on your interest. This factor also applies to everything else in your life. It applies to education, exercise, habits, and more than anything to actions congruent to an overall strategy.
Within strategy one speaks of tactics and then of strategy. Most have their own definitions for the two, but I draw on the original military meaning of the term. Thus, strategy is defined as the overall goal of the endeavor, whereas tactics are those actions required in order to ensure that the goal is achieved.
In order to determine the strategy, it was necessary to establish what I wanted from life. One of the things I saw at a very young age, were men who worked 40 – 50 hours a week from the age of 18 – 20, up until they retired sometime in their 60s or 70s, only to get 5 – 10 years out of their retirement. One of my decisions was that I wanted to have more freedom, much earlier than that.
Another thing I noticed was that a lot of people are dependent on an employer to earn their paycheck, and thus had to live according to the whims of such an employer. While, I saw it as a necessary evil to get some corporate experience, I was also certain that living for 20+ years within the corporate world was not something inherently desirable. I’ve done work with the C-level executives of major corporations, and while they have some degrees of freedom beyond that of a regular 9 – 5 employee, they are not free. They are hounded by board members, experience many a sleepless night working, and if they lead a public company, their moods are controlled by the latest stock price.
Summary and Conclusions
Time is the ultimate resource, it is the one thing we cannot make more of, and thus the only thing we do have to ensure is spent efficiently. In the case of Steve, he has elected (consciously or subconsciously) to maximize his freedom within his means through not having a grand vision for his life. An inherent lack of ambition leads to an intelligent and capable man spending his life working jobs below his abilities, in order to be flexible within his life. However, he does not consider the opportunity cost of this liberty, and the sunk cost that mounts over time.
This means that over time, his sunk costs mount and the opportunity cost steadily increases as his time left on this Earth is reduced towards zero. On the other hand, my strategy has some opportunity costs as well, some experiences foregone are mutually exclusive with my strategy, and thus they cannot be experienced anymore.
The two approaches reminds me of a quote I once heard on entrepreneurship:
Entrepreneurship is living a few years of your life like most people won’t, so that you can spend the rest of your life like most people can’t.” Anonymous
However, ultimately everyone has to determine what they wish their life to be like. Some desire the “standard life” of wife, children, white picket fence, and 40 – 50 years of their life largely being constructed around being at work. Some like my friend Steve, elect the opposite, working as little as possible, only to fund the life they desire at that moment. Some elect to work very hard for 10 – 30 years, in order to buy their freedom from society at an earlier date.
It all depends on their vision, horizon and perspective. What is the desired end state of life? What time horizon is required? What cost and requirements must be filled in order to realize the strategy?
How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams
HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Strategy (including featured article What Is Strategy? by Michael E. Porter) by Harvard Business Review
 How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams
 HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Strategy (including featured article What Is Strategy? by Michael E. Porter) by Harvard Business Review