Monday, June 25, 2018

The Key to a Productive Life: What is the Right Thing to Do?

Life is complicated. So many things to do, so many choices, so it's easy to do the wrong things and effectively waste a lot of time. I have been searching for a simple way to solve all those problems, and I think I have finally found it. The next time that you have a decision to make, ask yourself: What is the right thing to do? Just do that and everything becomes simple. Your life will become easy, productive, fulfilling, and meaningful.

Let's do a practical exercise to see what I mean. Answer "what is the right thing to do?" to the following questions:
  • Should I eat that extra bite of cake? 
  • Should I go to school?
  • Should I pretend to do work? Or work extra hours?
  • Should I argue with my significant other? 
  • Should I be angry easily for little things? 
  • Should I steal from other people? 
  • Should I hurt someone just because they live in a different country, or are just physically/mentally different from me?
  • Should I study hard to get into a better school? 
  • Should I follow the law even if it doesn't make sense?
  • Should I like this post and share with my family and friends so they have a simple guide to a productive and meaningful life? ;) 
There were some trivial questions, and some tough ones. Regardless of how tough the question was, the answer was easy, right? And if you do exactly as answered, then congrats, you will have a very easy and productive life, and therefore fulfilling and meaningful.

What if we don't do the right things? Well, obviously,  that's the wrong thing to do -- LOL. But more than being wrong, there are implications:
  • Since you are doing the wrong things (let's say you skipped out on work to watch a movie), then there are consequences, such as getting fired or being a burden to your colleagues and loosing their respect. All bad stuff, don't even look this way.
  • Most importantly and not so obvious is delaying your own growth. The more wrong things that you do, the more bad or lack of skills get ingrained in your brain as it slowly deteriorates in performance, and therefore harder for you to do good things or gain useful skills later, therefore effectively limiting your own potential in life.
  • Since you are doing the wrong things, that means you have to do the right things later, so you have effectively wasted all that time doing the wrong things. It's better to just skip that part, and do the right things to start -- even if the initial cost feels higher. This is the key to a productive life.
The last point needs to be emphasized as a lot of people's lives are not productive for that simple reason -- same applies to businesses, governments, etc. When I was young, I chose to do so many wrong things, so the net result is I am behind where I could have been. Even recently, I didn't do some things right. But hopefully, going forward, now that I know how to make a better decision, I will do the right things, and therefore lead a more productive life that allows me to do anything that what I want.

When you do the right things, you get everything that you want faster. Let's say that you want to be rich and travel around the world with someone that you love. That's 3 different things that most people want in life: money, entertainment, and love. What is the shortest path to each of them? Let's see:
  • Money: Study hard in a good school, learn a lot of skills, make connections (friends/family/etc), and finally getting a good job thanks to the previous actions. Work smart, get promotions, at a startup or start your own company, and then you are rich. Note that we should never purely focus on making money (ask yourself "Is focusing on making money the right thing to do?"), but it's better to focus on doing the right things that provide real long-term values to you and others over your lifetime, and money will naturally come to you -- no need to look for it.
  • Entertainment: For some things, this depends on money, otherwise just go out and have fun!
  • Love: Socialize and then it's a matter of time. A bit of social skill wouldn't hurt, such as being nice, caring, fun, etc.
For each path, were those the right or wrong things to do? Yep, it's the right things to do, therefore the right things to do is the shortest path to what we want in life. Doing the right things compound over time as they build on your previous successes, knowledge, and skills learned.  

This works well with kids too. I used to have to tell my kids what to do, when to do it, and why they should do it many many times. Eat your vegetables because it is good for you, take a bite, stop watching TV, take another bite, stop playing with your toys while eating, etc. After repeating so many times, it becomes annoying, and then you get angry, and then they get angry too. Now, I simply ask my kids "What's the right thing to do?" And they will think about how to answer that question (good way to improve their cognitive abilities), answer it correctly (thanks to your previous teachings), and finally actually do it (since they thought of the action themselves, and not being told what to do, which nobody likes). It's a win-win situation. Like my daughter always say, easy peasy lemon squeezy. :)

Does this mean that we always have to do the right things and act like a "goody two shoes?" Generally, yes, but not necessarily. Before doing anything -- right or wrong, we should evaluate the value and cost of the actions. If there is no value, then it doesn't matter either way. E.g. If someone dropped a penny, is it right to return it? Yes, but is there any value for the owner to get it back? Probably not unless it's a special penny. Finally, if the owner went away quickly in a taxi, there would be a cost to follow, so the cost simply makes it not worth doing. That might be a loophole to do the wrong thing, so tread carefully.

Life can be simple, and your life can be easy, productive, fulfilling, and meaningful. Like people always say, you just need to ask. 

What is the right thing to do? 

This is part of Guiding Principles for Achieving Lifetime Goals blog series.

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