Producer’s note: Someone on Quora asked: What life lessons are counter-intuitive or go against common sense or wisdom? Here is one of the best answers that’s been pulled from the thread.
1. Happiness = Outcome – Expectations.
The key to enjoying life is keeping expectations low to the degree that you’re always pleasantly surprised.
2. You can accomplish more if you work less and sleep more.
Hypothetically a well-rested person working 55-hour work weeks can usually outperform a sleep-deprived person working 80-hour work weeks in terms of quality, all else equal (specifically for knowledge work).
3. Better to ask for forgiveness than permission.
Caveats: so long as it fits within your ethical framework and the perceived penalty is tolerable (not advisable in foreign countries however haha). People die regretting all the things they didn’t do rather than the things they did do.
4. You can pay the farmer, or you can pay the doctor.
Prevention (i.e. good diet and food ingredients) is an order of magnitude cheaper than treatment (most age-related diseases are correlated with poor dietary choices).
5. Your willpower/concentration is a finite resource, replenished when you sleep.
Students who were asked to exert willpower by not eating enticing cookies put before them for a period of time spent an average of 8 minutes trying to solve an impossible puzzle. Students who could freely indulge in the cookies attempted to solve the puzzle for an average of 32 minutes.
6. Behavior is controlled more by your environment than your own willpower.
If you try to stop watching TV your willpower will eventually break. If you get rid of your TV and use a browser extension to block Hulu/YouTube your habit will more readily break.
7. A cheap chair and mattress may end up costing you 10-20x in doctor’s bills.
Most of us spend the majority of our 24-hour day sitting in a chair or sleeping on a mattress so it’s not surprising that most back problems originate from poor sitting/sleeping posture. The extra money spent in getting a good Aeron chair and foam mattress pays for itself in the long-run.
8. Work output does not scale linearly with manpower.
The marginal benefit of adding a sixth or seventh person to a team rarely outweighs the marginal costs associated with additional communication and collaboration effort (specifically for knowledge work that requires close collaboration like software development).
9. Children’s personalities are influenced more by parents’ actions than words.
By doing something (working hard, smoking, etc.) you are actively endorsing that behavior for your children. The more time you spend around them, the more influential behavioral signals become relative to spoken demands/requests (“you should work harder,” “please stop smoking,” etc.)
10. Spoken communication has a massive non-verbal component.
Study body language and you’ll be pretty shocked at how often peoples’ spoken words contradict their telltale non-verbal cues.
11. Intelligence and skill level are subject to diminishing returns.
Beyond a certain threshold of intelligence and skill, the efficacy bottlenecks quickly become your ability to communicate, get along with others, prioritize, focus, structure your thinking in advance, manage your time well, etc.
12. The biggest risk is not taking one.
I’ll leave this one open to interpretation!