“… If we want to go beyond the limits of our knowledge, we’ve got to forge ahead instead of standing still – we’ve got to act, not agonize.” The Art of the Good Life, by Rolf Dobelli.

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I bought a copy of “The Art of the Good Life” because Rolf Dobelli’s earlier bestseller book “The Art of Thinking Clearly” inspired me a lot. If you haven’t read the latter, I’d highly recommend it. It highlights ninety-nine errors which we might make in thinking clearly – small chapters, succinct points, and impressive writing!

What’s in the book “the art of the good life” for us?

Rolf Dobelli’s 2018 book – “The Art of the Good Life” is suitable for present times, where we all might tend to take ourselves, our careers, and raising kids too seriously.

This book may help you to take a step back and gain a birds-eye view of your life. Although I’m afraid that I’m yet to find a book that has “the” art of “the” good life, this one certainly has quite a few notes which made me introspect, think, question, and draft actions inspired by it. 

The book has 52 chapters – each stating a mental model, starting with an example to make the idea clearly and ending with tangible pieces of advice. These mental models range from several evident to a few profound ones. It certainly helps to keep these models in our repertoire to grow, as well as assist in periods of stress.

However, please don’t be surprised if you disagree with the author on multiple views. I disagreed on several points, still read it cover to cover, and ended up learning quite a bit! Books like these can aid in being centered and calm, which to me is the key to our emotional wellbeing. 

 

“The Art of the Good Life” – Takeaways

In this post, I’ve shared:
(a) Five top takeaways from the book for me, and
(b) inspired by the book a printable journal/worksheet that I’ve created. This journal has helped me a lot, and I hope you find it useful too.

The takeaways for me from the book are quite a few. However, the ones which I could tangibly convert to action are: Managing expectations methodically, Investing in our mental strength, Perform Black-Box thinking to analyze and introspect better, and lastly, and Pledging (e.g. committing to overcoming a particular habit).

“The Art of the Good Life” – Inspired Journal

I’ve taken these five mental models discussed by the author and developed them into detailed worksheets. Each worksheet offers us to dive into our thoughts and articulate them to gain clarity.

I’ve also combined all these worksheets to form one journal for you to download for free. It is in printable PDF format, and can be edited on your device too. This journal has helped me tremendously so far and I sincerely hope it is of use to you. 

1. Recognize and Manage our Expectations

 

“Research confirms that expectations have a profound impact on happiness and that unrealistic expectations are among the most effective killjoys.” If not the whole book, this is one thought to which most of us will nod our heads in agreement.

Expectations at work, from a meeting, from family, or kids, are the first step to anxiety. The takeaway for me from this chapter is to (a) know our expectations, (b) methodically manage them, and (c) own the results of unreasonable expectations. 

Manage Expectations – Quotable Quotes

“The brain doesn’t function without expectations… When we push down a handle of a door we expect to open the door”

“A life without goals is a wasted life. Yet we mustn’t be shackled by them. Be aware that not all your desires will be satisfied, because so much lies beyond your control.”

“Stop lumping together necessities, goals and expectations. Keep them meticulously separate.” 

Managing Expectations: Inspired Actions

The author recommends giving a score to any incident, upcoming meeting or any undertaking from a 0 to 10: (0) being disastrous and (10) being the good dream-come-true! Then lower the score by 2. This exercise leads to lowering our expectations and avoids unnecessary disappointment. 

Please find below a worksheet which can help you set and calibrate the expectations. Lowering the expectations reduces not only whining but also self-doubt.

Examples:

Work: Please don’t expect a cordial, no push-back meeting; it helps reduce disappointment.

Family: With the kid, let’s not expect him or her to be tap dancing to school, even if it works out like that for a day or two. If we do, we may be in for a disappointment when the child clings on to us and cries. Managing our expectations and lowering them down by a notch, can certainly calm us down.

If the child doesn’t eat at all when sick, that’s a necessity. If the child doesn’t eat a balanced meal with greens and protein – that is absolutely an expectation. No point being miserable on the latter, right?

2. Invest in the Mental Fortress

Managing expectations becomes easier once we have high mental strength, which brings me to this particular point from the author. 

This one is profound, especially today when buying more and more stuff has become commonplace. We spend a lot on buying things for ourselves and our kids. Although we could derive happiness from objects, gadgets, toys, etc. but in the author’s words, we should instead invest in our “mental fortress,” our attitude, or our mental strength.

I wouldn’t go as far as the author to say that we “won’t find happiness in status, in expensive cars,” but I think investing money and time in oneself and one’s wellbeing is as important, if not more, than spending on material wealth. 

Invest in the Mental Fortress – Quotable Quotes

  1. “…what can’t be taken from you are your thoughts, your mental tools, the way you interpret bad luck, loss and setbacks.”
  2. “… the last of the human freedom’s is to choose one’s attitude to things.”
  3. “Happiness can be found only in your mental fortress. So invest in that…” 

Mental Fortress: Book-Inspired Actions

The mental fortress is a mental space that can not be assailed or taken away from us. Hence it makes perfect sense to invest time and money in this space. However, we all still might fall into the trap of prioritizing it over ourselves.

The solution to that would be to plan our mental fortress by putting our resources into it. Then, at frequent intervals audit it for yourself. Please set aside some time (and money, if needed) for: 

(a) Travel, 

(b) Exercising, 

(c) Self-care, and

(d) Reading.

3. Tackle the issue at its root – Black-Box Thinking

Black-Box thinking is something that most of us might be already practicing unknowingly at different levels. It is nothing but having a black box or journal of our decisions, reasons behind them, and the train of thoughts. If we don’t succeed, open that black box, objectively assess why we tripped and accept the errors radically.

The only 2 cents I would add to this Black-Box thinking is to include successes as well in it and analyze what did we did right.

Do you do black-box thinking? Does it help? You might want to download below a journal/template that I’ve crafted to build a black box for any decision you might have taken or willing to take. The goal is to eventually make it a habit to form a black box for all our actions.

Tackle the issue at its root – Quotable Quotes

“Accepting reality is easy when you like what you see, but you’ve got to accept it even when you don’t – especially when you don’t”

“So accept reality – accept it radically. Especially the bits you don’t like. It might be painful in the moment, but it’s got to be done. It’ll be worth it later on. Life isn’t easy”

“… it’s okay to put a foot wrong every now and then”

“tackle the issue at its root… problems aren’t like great Bordeaux wines – they don’t improve with age”

Tackle the issue at its root: Book-Inspired Actions

(a) If the decision is still to be made, write down the “why” behind the decision, the tradeoffs, and the train for thoughts. If we trip, we should go back and revisit our black box and accept the mistakes radically and gracefully (without worrying or brooding) and make changes. For this it is might help to take feedback from colleagues, friends, or family.

(b) If the decision was made and we trip – go back and follow the above procedure.

It is good to write down the next steps, fine corrections which might help us to grow!

Read the book for many more points which you may find inspiring. Please share your opinion on the book or the points above.  

4. Identify the Point of Maximum Deliberation

 

Once you are building the mental fortress, you might end up brooding a lot on planning your mental strength. I’m sure that many of us have fallen into this trap of prolonged deliberation and deferred action. The trap – start a project and keep working on the details instead of testing the waters soon.

This one had to be there on the list because although apparent, we end up committing this error. An excellent example of this is the concept of “minimum viable product” or MVP, commonly used in software development. Release a product when it is viable enough and then make corrections on the way. The catch, though, is how to define the minimum viability.

Point of Maximum Deliberation – Quotable Quotes

 

  1. “An entrepreneur won’t know whether a product will be successful until she produces and launches it onto the market – no matter how much consumer research she’s done”
  2. “Compared with the pocket torch of deliberation, action is a veritable floodlight. Its beam carries far further into the unfathomable world beyond”
  3. “If you’re simply thinking something over, you will never bump against reality, which means one can never fail.”

Maximum-Deliberation-Point: Book-Inspired Actions

For the decision you are concerned about and brooding over, list down the ideal over-arching goal – your ideal house, job, kid’s school, or your product idea! Then, list down the list of desired attributes in the envisioned goal. Next, please select the ones which are absolutely necessary to bring the goal together. Please prune the ones which are good to have but are resource limited.

This is your MVP! Once identified, there is no point brooding further and one ideally should start acting!  

It is difficult to find a point of maximum deliberation for a decision taken first time around. That’s when our mental fortress can help. Writing down and being the pros and cons also helps identifying when to stop deliberating. 

Please come back to the pruned and desirable points only when needed. This doesn’t end here. After an MVP is established, execution begins and the key is to be flexible along the way.

Being too rigid about the starting point could be a recipe for failure. That is also the chapter 1 of the book. Setup is good but relying too much on it is not. The idea is to set the ball rolling but not treat the setup as golden. 

 

5. Pledge  

Being adaptable suggests being free — which we all aspire to be. However, there is a catch — if we are too flexible with numerous aspects of our life, it is a lot of decision-making to do!

That is where the author makes a case for taking pledges— it has helped me in two ways. Firstly, if we plan for the mundane and vow to stick to them, it frees up a lot of mental space to do what we want instead to do. Secondly, pledging against the things or habits that we know will hurt is a blessing!

Pledge – Quotable Quotes

 

“Once you’ve pledged something, you don’t have to weigh up the pros and cons each and every time you are faced with a decision… it saves mental energy.”

“It’s easier to stick to your pledge 100 percent of the time rather than 99 percent.” 

Pledge: Book-Inspired Actions

(a) List the things which you think are bothering you – work, health or family.

(b) Think about possible solutions addressing each of the above.

(c) If there is a significant obstacle, habit, pitfall in your life, identify it, and write a pledge/resolution for that habit, goal, etc. It may be a vital pledge or a minor resolve with a significant impact.

(d) Review the pledge frequently first (1-2 weeks) then sparsely until it becomes a habit. 

It helps. I’d still be flexible at most of the things but identify the decisions that repeat and are draining. Could we put them in auto-pilot by pledging, planning, and sticking to plans? 

I am sharing an example similar to the one that the author makes in the book. I know that Gluten hurts my body, but I can stand a little bit of it. Instead of deciding the quanta of Gluten in my meals, I’ve pledged against it now – it helps me steer clear of the potential harm and also makes space for not deciding each time I dine out. 

Pledge #1 – No gluten, no matter what. 

Pledge #2 – No phone at the bedside. This one needs no explanation and has helped tremendously. 

The above are two pledge-worthy items for now that have helped me. What are yours? Please download the worksheet/journal above if you need help identifying what your top pledges should be at this stage. 

Download the Book-Inspired Journal in PDF

In summary, in any situation if you can manage and lower the expectations, it can lower the anxiety significantly. In order to do that, it helps if we can strengthen our mental fortress or our mental strength.

Thirdly, if something goes wrong, let’s be objective and perform an analysis (black-box thinking) to get the root of the problem. This black-box thinking will also help us strengthen our mental fortress. Next, there is no point brooding over any decision beyond a certain point (aka point of maximum deliberation).

Repeating Black Box thinking multiple times can help us identify the point of maximum deliberation quickly the next time around. Once we spend time with ourselves to calibrate expectations, to gain mental strength, to get to the root of issues and accept if we faltered, etc. then we can also identify things that are or aren’t working for us. That’s when pledging can help us grow! If we know something is evidently taking us south, it perhaps is the time to pledge – to commit to overcome the hurdle and grow! Happy reading!

Watch the author, Rolf Dobelli speak about “The Art of the Good Life.”

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