WILL HARPER

Decisions are the instrument you use to shape the quality of your life

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Good decision makers...

 
deciding on happiness
 
 

Is happiness luck?

Life is complex and varied. We come from diverse backgrounds, we have unique abilities, we face different circumstances. Luck affects us to both our benefit and our detriment.
 
In the short term, we may have little control over what happens to us. But in the longer term, we have tremendous power to affect the quality of our lives. Our decisions are the instrument we use, but we've been taught how to be competent, but not content. 

 
 

Learn more

Values are a language that helps you understand what matters most to you. The happiest people know what they care about most. 

Your mental model is the architecture of beliefs that helps you make sense of the world. To get what you want in life, you need an accurate mental model. 

The most successful people develop a few core capabilities that are uniquely aligned with what they value. 

Personal development takes off when you begin to use experience - both good and bad - to clarify your values, build your mental model and develop your core capabilities.

Values

When your values are clear to you, making decisions becomes easier.
— Roy E. Disney
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Understand your values

 
from should to value
 

Happiness is alignment with your values 

Each person values experience differently. There is no such thing as objectively good food, music or life circumstances. Some people prefer chocolate ice cream and some prefer vanilla. No one is right or wrong. Quality is always in the eye of the beholder.

“Values” are a language for understanding your personal definition of good. If you value something, it means that it matters to you. To live a deeply fulfilling life, find out what you personally value.

You've been trained to suppress your values

Society trains you do do what you "should," not what you value. Our parents, our schools and our workplaces have an unspoken agenda - a set of values they ask us to adhere to. Many of us unconsciously accept those values, without asking whether they are our values. 

As a result, we end up living someone else's life. We're successful, but are we happy? We live in a world where its possible to lead deeply fulfilling, creative and productive lives. Our "shoulds" are holding us back. 

Follow your emotions to discover your values

Your emotions are beacons of your values. You discover your values by paying attention to what feels important to you. 

When you're angry, it's because something you value is blocked. When you're sad, it's because you've lost something you value. When you're happy, you're enjoying something you value. When you're grateful, you're appreciating something you value. 

Tune in to how you feel about life and look for the deep patterns of your values. 

 

Mental Model

All views are wrong views, but since it is in our nature to have views, we should relax, and attend to keeping them as accurate as possible.
— Thich Nhat Hanh
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Build an accurate
mental model

 
from right to testing
 

To successfully align your life with your values, understand how reality works

We don't percieve reality directly. Instead, we take in information through our senses and process it through our mental model of reality. The more accurately you understand how things work, the more ability you have to create change you desire. Many of our advances as species have come from gaining an ever more accurate perception of reality: from advances in healthcare to computing to transportation. This same principle works on an individual level.

For example, as you begin to recognize how different foods affect your health, moods and energy levels, you can make better tradeoffs about what you eat because you understand the actual effects your choices will have.

Your brain has built-in mechanisms that distort reality  

Our brains require a lot of energy, about 20% of the calories needed to keep the body running (*). As a result, we’ve developed elegant mental shortcuts to ease the cognitive load. While on the whole helpful, these shortcuts can limit our ability to perceive the world as is actually is.

When these shortcuts have unintended negative effects, we call them cognitive biases. We use them to filter through information overload, to make sense of confusing situations, to make decisions under time pressure and to filter what we’ll store as memories. As a result, we end up holding many beliefs we believe are true, but actually aren’t accurate or complete reflections of reality

For example, you may label someone as a “jerk” after just one negative experience with them, without knowing what they are usually like or why they acted the way they did. This shortcut-induced belief may prove a significant hindrance to aligning your life with your values down the line.

Finding out how you are wrong is a key discipline for aligning your life with what you value

Every time you discover a way you misunderstand reality, you have the opportunity to upgrade your mental model. The sharper your perception, the more likely your plans and actions will be to deliver what you expect.

Like a scientist with a hypothesis, true success likes in confirming or disconfirming the hypothesis to improve the accuracy of your mental model, rather than in seeking to only make correct hypotheses. Hold your beliefs lightly.

 

Core Capabilities

 
If people knew how hard I had to work to gain my mastery, it would not seem so wonderful at all.”
— Michelangelo
 
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Develop
core capabilities

 
talent to growth
 

Capabilities are developed, not gifted

Our society admires effortless success. We speak in hushed tones of “naturals” who, with no apparent effort, perform at the highest levels. But in-born talent is largely a myth. Certainly we have different starting points as a result of our genetics and past experience, but the ability of all people to develop all types of skills & knowledge throughout their lives is well-demonstrated. This ability is called neuroplasticity.

You build capabilities with a lot of practice

Skills and knowledge are just electrical impulses traveling across neural pathways. Each time you try a specific action or perform a mental task, your brain seeks a path to enable it. The more you attempt something, the faster and more effective the pathway becomes, like wearing a trail in the grass by repeatedly walking the same route. Studies show that top performers spend significantly more time than less able peers developing these pathways. 
 

If you're not failing, you're not growing

To improve your ability, you have to build pathways that enable you to do what’s impossible for you today. Top performers don’t just practice what they can already do, they go just outside their comfort zone to push their boundaries. They practice at the point where they fail 20-50% of the time. 

 

Learning

 
You will only fail to learn if you do not learn from failing.
— Stella Adler
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Continuously learn

 
win loss to learning
 

Every path creates tensions 

Tensions are inconsistencies with what you value. They show up as negative emotions and they happen to everyone.  

While the surface content of people’s lives may differ, emotions feel the same whether you are a billionaire or a beggar. A stressed CEO physically feels as uncomfortable as a stressed intern. Your bank accounts or reputation can't save you from your felt experience. 

 

Seek what you value rather than avoid tension

Because tensions feel bad, we try to avoid them. But every path creates tensions, so we only end up avoiding what we value.

The most fulfilled people have a clear vision for what they want from their lives. The tensions that arise along the way aren't a sign of failure, but instead are the very challenges to overcome to achieve their vision. 

Use the tensions to learn and grow

Tensions arise when something in our life is not aligned with what we value. As a result, we can use tensions to better understand our values.  What do I value that I'm not experiencing?

Often we create the tensions due to inaccurate mental models. We can use tension to refine our mental models. What did I believe that led to this tension?

Sometime tensions result from a lack of ability. We can use them as feedback to fuel our growth. What capability a I missing?