September 14, 2020

How to lead a good life: six tips from Rolf Dobelli’s book The Art of the Good Life

Living the good life is what it is all about. But how do we do it? Is it through lots of money? Freedom? Happiness? What does a good life mean anyway?

Sorry, I won’t be able to answer that question. But I can share some mental tools that I learned from Rolf Dobelli’s book The Art of the Good Life. Rolf Dobelli, best selling author of The Art of Thinking Clearly, draws from the latest research in psychology, the stoicism philosophy and from the wisdom of Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger, to provide 52 tools to help people lead a good life.

Here are my six favourite tools:

The peak end rule

Imagine that you are traveling to another city for vacation. Things are going great. You check in at a luxurious hotel. You go out to eat at the fanciest restaurants. You take in the sights. You experience things that you cannot experience in your home city. The highlight of your trip was meeting your favourite celebrity at a fancy restaurant and getting a photo with them. But then, at the end of the trip, you get the bad news from the hotel. The bill.

Compare that with another scenario: you pay for the hotel in advance so that you don’t get the bill at the end of the trip. Instead, you check out of the hotel, head back home and even have an extra day off before going back to the grind.

The peak end rule, identified by Daniel Kahneman, says that you will remember the high point and the end point of an experience. So if those two points are happy, exciting and otherwise great, you will remember the overall experience as great. If not, the experience, in your mind, will be so-so.

Takeaway: pay for things in advance and make sure your high point and end point are great

Constant readjustment

What percentage of the time do you believe a plane is adjusting its flight to make sure it is on its path? 10% of the time? 30%? 70%? In fact, it is constantly readjusting. Just like how if you let go of the steering wheel while driving, your car would veer off course in no time, your life is similar.

People are rarely perfect, and a good life is a life full of constant readjustments, not stability or balance.

Takeaway: Take action, and don’t be afraid of mistakes. The good life is about constantly readjusting

Be inflexible

One rule I have is that I drink tap water at restaurants, no matter the restaurant. I rarely deviate from it, but the times that I do, I end up not being as satisfied. Why do I have this rule? One, I dislike paying ‘extra’ for drinks. Two, there are additional calories, sugar or other additives in those drinks. Three, it helps minimize the decisions I make at the restaurant.

That’s the great thing about having an inflexible rule: it helps to minimize the decisions that you make.

Takeaway: Develop inflexible rules in your life to minimize decisions

Practice black box thinking

A black box, as you know, is something that is stored on a plane. If a plane crashes, that black box contains information such as flight data, pilot conversations and other critical data that helps people find out why the plane crashed, and more importantly, how to prevent it in the future.

Have you ever made a decision where the outcome was not quite what you wanted? You can use black box thinking in a similar way. Before making a decision, record your thoughts, feelings, assumptions and conclusions. Then if the outcome is good, take a minute to review your analysis to see what factors led to the right outcome. Take this approach especially if the outcome was not what you wanted, so you can see what mistakes you may have made and how you can prevent this in the future.

Takeaway: create a decision journal to record your decisions. Since we go through life making millions of decisions (and by the way, I’m not suggesting you record every little decision either), improving our decision making has great benefits

Counter productivity

Think about your car or a digital camera for a second. How much time would you think the technology has saved you? You might think, for example, that a car may have saved you hours in commute. And that a digital camera has helped you by being able to take better pictures (by being able to take more of them and deleting the ones that you don’t like).

But if you do a full cost analysis, it might not have saved you any time at all. Consider a car. You have to factor in the time spent working to get the money to get the car. Then money for maintenance, gas, storing the car and parking. And if you did this analysis, you may find that the car did not save you any time at all.

This is the ‘counter productivity’ of technology that we rarely consider.

Takeaway: minimize your use of technology. Consider what technology you really need to use and only use a few devices

Focus on prevention

You may have heard of Captain Sullenberger. The plane flying out of New York suddenly had an accident and the captain crash landed the plane in the Hudson River. It was heralded as a success. The captain said that he was just doing his job. Funny that we celebrate Captain Sullenberger, but we rarely hear of other captains or pilots that avoid mistakes in the first place.

We seem to celebrate those may have made or encountered a mistake and then fixed them, rather than celebrating those that avoid the mistake in the first place.

In fact, half of our successes in life are preventative. That is, we avoid mistakes rather than making and fixing them.

Takeaway: consider conducting a pre-mortem in your life whenever you are about to embark on something major. What could go wrong? What could you do to prevent those risks from happening? What can you do if a failure happens? Pre-mortems are not just for projects.


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