10 Counter-Intuitive Life Lessons That Go Against Common Sense or Wisdom
Life provides us with many lessons, many of which are passed down from generation to generation. Unfortunately, some of them, which may sound like common sense, don’t actually work as well as we would like to think, and in fact, the opposite may hold true. Similarly, there are other life lessons that are counter-intuitive to what we think would happen. Here are ten of those counter-intuitive life lessons that go against common sense or wisdom.
1. Happiness = Outcome – Expectations.
The key to enjoying life is keeping expectations low to the degree that you’re always pleasantly surprised. Contrary to popular belief, constantly raising your expectations is not the path to happiness. Instead, it is better to lower your expectations and enjoy the little things in life.
2. You can accomplish more if you work less and sleep more.
Hypothetically, a well-rested person working 55-hour work weeks can usually outperform a sleep-deprived person working 80-hour work weeks in terms of quality, all else equal (specifically for knowledge work). Thus, it is better to work smart, not harder, and get enough rest to optimize your performance.
3. Better to ask for forgiveness than permission.
Caveats: so long as it fits within your ethical framework and the perceived penalty is tolerable (not advisable in foreign countries, however, haha). People often regret all the things they didn’t do rather than the things they did do, so it is better to take calculated risks and learn from your mistakes along the way.
4. You can pay the farmer, or you can pay the doctor.
Prevention (i.e., good diet and food ingredients) is an order of magnitude cheaper than treatment (most age-related diseases are correlated with poor dietary choices). Thus, it is essential to invest in your health by making healthy dietary choices to prevent illnesses in the long-run.
5. Your willpower/concentration is a finite resource, replenished when you sleep.
Students who were asked to exert willpower by not eating enticing cookies put before them for a period of time spent an average of 8 minutes trying to solve an impossible puzzle. Students who could freely indulge in the cookies attempted to solve the puzzle for an average of 32 minutes. Thus, it is better to take breaks regularly and get enough sleep to replenish your willpower and concentration.
6. Behavior is controlled more by your environment than your own willpower.
If you try to stop watching TV, your willpower will eventually break. If you get rid of your TV and use a browser extension to block Hulu/YouTube, your habit will more readily break. Thus, it is better to control your environment to control your behavior and develop healthy habits.
7. A cheap chair and mattress may end up costing you 10-20x in doctor’s bills.
Most of us spend the majority of our 24-hour day sitting in a chair or sleeping on a mattress, so it’s not surprising that most back problems originate from poor sitting/sleeping posture. The extra money spent on getting a good Aeron chair and foam mattress pays for itself in the long-run by preventing back problems that may lead to expensive doctor’s bills.
8. Work output does not scale linearly with manpower.
The marginal benefit of adding a sixth or seventh person to a team rarely outweighs the marginal costs associated with additional communication and collaboration effort (specifically for knowledge work that requires close collaboration like software development). Thus, it is better to focus on the quality of work rather than the quantity of people working on it.
9. Children’s personalities are influenced more by parents’ actions than words.
By doing something (working hard, smoking, etc.), you are actively endorsing that behavior for your children. The more time you spend around them, the more influential behavioral signals become relative to spoken demands/requests (“you should work harder,” “please stop smoking,” etc.). Thus, it is better to lead by example and model the behaviors you want your children to adopt.
10. Spoken communication has a massive non-verbal component.
Study body language, and you’ll be pretty shocked at how often peoples’ spoken words contradict their telltale non-verbal cues. Thus, it is better to pay attention to both verbal and non-verbal communication to get a better understanding of what people are saying and how they’re feeling.
In conclusion, these counter-intuitive life lessons may go against common sense or wisdom, but they provide valuable insights that can help us optimize our lives and achieve our goals. By embracing these lessons, we can boost our happiness, productivity, health, and social skills, and avoid making common mistakes that lead to regrets and unfulfilled potential.