Do you ever get done with everything on your list? Have you automated away a lot of your tasks and now have much more time on your hands? Did you sift through the noise and moved on to what’s important in your life?
I’ve been thinking a lot about reducing the noise in my life. There is so much noise in the world right now: Facebook, Media, Twitter, YouTube, Friends, Family, To-Do’s, Work, etc. Some of this is important, while some of it is not important. Some of this affects you, while some of it has no effect on you. In this post, I want to share with you my thoughts on how to remove noise to be more successful in your life.
Find Your Trend
In my 9 to 5, I spend quite a bit of time looking at graphs that look like the following:
The goal in much of my 9 to 5 work is to tease out trends from noisy data, i.e. data with lots of peaks and valleys. Trying to explain all of the peaks and valleys is very difficult, but also completely unreasonable due to the random nature of what I’m trying to model.
I tend to get questions like: why are there 10 defaulted companies in Quarter 1 2013, 15 defaulted companies in Quarter 2, 2013, and 5 defaulted companies in Quarter 3, 2013? Why the big dip, did anything change in 1 quarter? My answer is always, “it’s mostly noise.”
In one of my favorite books of all time, The Black Swan, Nassim Taleb discusses how he tries to avoid noise in most areas of his life. He doesn’t read the paper or follow the news. It’s useless information for his happiness and well being.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t watch the news (even though I don’t and it’s helped my well being), I bring this up because of his examples and thoughts on noise. Taleb, a mathematician and Wall Street trader turned philosopher, reasons in his book that randomness is inherent in all things and we should be aware of this.
Take, for example, the stock market.
There are some days where the market opens and stocks are down 1%. Yahoo Finance‘s headline reads “Stocks down on Foreign Export Fears”.
3 hours later, stocks are up 1%. Yahoo Finance’s headline reads “Stocks up on Enthusiastic Investors’ Foreign Hopes”.
What?? (Taleb talks about this in his book… and if you’ve ever visited Yahoo Finance, you’ve probably seen what I’m talking about.)
How can we be so certain about a group of “investors” and how they are affecting the general trend of the stock market over a 3 hour or less period? It’s bizarre, but that’s what people want. People want explanations of things.
Searching for an Answer
Human nature is to break things down into simplistic terms for them to understand. It’s one of our greatest skills as humans, but also a potential weakness when looking at complex situations.
Thinking Fast and Slow is another great book on the subject, and gets at this thought I’m describing. Our “fast thinking” gets in the way of our “slow thinking” because we are quick to act.
A quick thought experiment:
Buying Baseball: If a baseball bat and a ball cost a total of $1.10, and the bat costs $1 more than the ball, then how much does the ball cost? The answer is $0.10, right? WRONG! Intuition and the rash “fast thinking” forces most people to answer $0.10 cents for the ball, but after going through the math, it becomes clear that this gut answer is wrong.
If the ball is $0.10 and the bat is $1 more, then that would mean the bat costs $1.10, making the total $1.20…This is clearly a “slow thinking” problem, which requires the brain to see a $0.05 ball plus $1.05 bat equals $1.10…CORRECT!
Our brains are wired to think fast because our ancestors in the bush needed to think fast if a tiger or lion were in the area. We don’t think twice if the brush starts to make noise – better start running!
But now that the world has become much more complex and complicated, it’s crucial to take a step back and try to see the noise and the trend.
Going through life, I tend to get caught up in the noise of the situation, and since I’m human, I don’t think twice. I check the news and see negativity. I look at the stack of bills on my counter and feel some sadness (okay, maybe not sadness, but my precious dollar bills will be leaving soon!) There are days where there’s 30 emails coming in, 12 Twitter notifications, and 3 text messages needing to be read.
I’m bringing these thoughts up to help you understand these concepts.
More importantly, you can sift through the noise to get to what’s important. Being aware of noise is half of the solution. The other is realizing what is your purpose. Next, you can remove the noise, and become successful.
What’s Your Purpose?
With all that is going on in your life, take a step back. What makes you most happy? For some people, it’s connecting with others and being social. For others, like myself, it’s about building and creating things that weren’t there before.
What’s your goal in life? What’s your purpose?
I love asking these questions because starting with why is something that is most important.
“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” —Friedrich Nietzsche.
Once you’ve answered this question, you can move on to finding your trend within the noise of the world.
How I’m Trying to Find My Trend
My purpose in life is to build up solid foundation financially for my future family, to learn and grow as an individual, and to give back to my friends and family with my knowledge and time. If there are any actions or events that fall outside of this purpose statement, then maybe I should think twice about these actions or events because they are noise.
I mentioned this earlier, but after reading The Black Swan and applying some of Taleb’s ideas, I definitely have became more practical and smarter in my work and at home. By removing a lot of the noise in my life, I can focus on what’s important to me.
When I came back from vacation last week, there was a lot of things that I needed to get done:
- Pay Auto Insurance Bill
- Calculate Utilities for Roommates
- Move Roommates Out
- Schedule a Cleaning (they are paying me $100 so they won’t have to clean)
- Oil Change
- Fill Up Gas Tank
- Buy Cleaning Supplies and Light Bulbs
and the list goes on.
This was in addition to my usual posting schedule and other things.
That first night, I took care of half of this list. The next night, I finished off the rest. Yes, it was 2 nights of my life, and I had to put some things I truly wanted to do on the back burner to get the tasks above done. But now, I’m on to the important things in life and working on fulfilling my purpose.
Remove noise in your life and I guarantee you will find more success.
Readers: have you read The Black Swan or Thinking Fast and Slow? What did you think of them? What’s your purpose? are you removing noise in your life? Do you watch the news?