Time travel movies are some of my favorites. Who hasn’t had the daydream of plucking tomorrow’s winning lottery numbers out of thin air and scoring big? How many of us would make like Biff and take the almanac home?
Time travel stories are so powerful because causality is integral to outcome. In the universe we live in, the tree does not shrink into a seed, the seed grows into a tree. This is obvious stuff, right?
Except it isn’t.
It may seem overly simplistic, but if you can’t predict the consequences of your actions, you are in for big problems, constant failure, and lot of sorrow.
Everyone knows that eating one doughnut a day adds calories to your diet. But one doughnut simply doesn’t seem like a lot in the grand scheme of things.
Consider, the typical doughnut is 195 calories. The typical amount of calories in a pound of fat is 3,500. Therefore, it’s only a matter of simple mathematics to realize that adding one doughnut to your diet for 18 days will cause you to gain (or fail to lose) an extra pound of fat. In a year, that’s 20 pounds!
We all know this stuff, right? It’s annoying to keep hearing it over and over again. But as I wrote about in a blog post a few weeks ago, we don’t really know anything until we use that knowledge, before that time, it’s knowledge in potential, or as I like to call it, ignorance. By its very definition ignorance is the things we are ignoring.
In my antique business, I have to predict the future. I have to hold an item in my hand and think: “I’ll pay $3 for this now, but I can get $30 in about a week” and I have to be correct. My entire business hangs on my choices!
Guess what, I am only right 50% of the time!
I used to only be right 10% of the time.
I want to be right 100% of the time!
Many factors exist in my decision making. I assess the rarity of the item, the desirability, the price, the amount of time it will sit in my inventory, the potential problems I will experience in selling it, the customers I have in my Rolodex. I have to be spot on correct on at least four of the six aspects. That’s really hard. I am getting better at it.
A new writer is going to be wrong when he predicts what will happen after he finishes his book. He’s going to think the book will turn out to his liking, that the world will lavish him with praise, that everyone will long to read it, that he will get money. He is likely to be wrong on a few of these things, if not all.
Megyn Kelly is coming out with a book soon, and it will sell a lot of copies. We know this because she is in the news right now, she moderated a presidential debate, her story is popular, she is a celebrity, people are interested in her. It really doesn’t matter if it’s poorly written (like Richard Branson’s new fluff book) or that it was rushed to the press, it will sell because it’s hot and wanted. In other words, it has some of the factors, but possibly not all, which makes it predictable.
Relationships hinge on your ability to predict whether an exchange will end up negatively or positively. If you come home grumpy and your spouse comes home grumpy, it’s easy to predict a fight on the horizon, but if only one of you acts on this prediction and stops the fight, the outcome will be better.
If you want to get good at predicting the future, here are a few tips:
1. Become Aware
Our brains are wired to filter out almost everything in our field of perception. This has helped us survive as a species. But this trait can lead us astray in our day to day life. Consider your car keys. Are you apt to toss them on the first available surface upon arriving home, or leave them in your jeans? Are they sometimes in your car and sometimes in your purse and sometimes on the bathroom counter? This is likely due to a lack of awareness. When you arrive home after a trying day at work and head straight for the kitchen to cook up a meal, your mind is putting a priority on the meal and not the location of the keys. The following morning, when you scramble to find said keys, your mind has switched its priorities and is now frustrated.
Why couldn’t you have predicted this frustration and saved yourself a bit of morning suffering?
You simply were not aware.
The act of tracking a certain category in your life can lead to awareness. If you carry around a notebook and begin jotting down how you feel twenty minutes after each meal as well as what and how much you ate, you may start to see why your headaches come about around two o’clock and ten o’clock every day. The following week, you can avoid those behaviors.
2. Be Open To The Truth
We have an unfortunate need to be right in all our assessments of the world, even those that are flat out false, without evidence or downright dangerous.
When you become aware, you will have to face some ugly truths. That neighbor of yours who is fit as a fiddle and has a multimillion dollar business, he is smarter than you! That product you launched that no one is buying is a terrible product! That relationship you have defended for so long is never going to change. You are not trying as hard as you thought, etc etc.
At some point, and about everything, we form opinions that are chiseled into stone and never questioned again. If you want to predict outcomes, you have to be open to smashing that stone and starting afresh, sometimes many many times over to finally reach a predictable outcome.
3. Learn the Ropes
It is perfectly understandable to be bad at something when you first start, this is because your knowledge and ambition haven’t matched step yet. You simply don’t know the ropes, and that’s fine! Spend your time and learn them! Be patient with yourself.
The hopeful starter has pie in the sky ambitions and a heart full of vim and vigor. Trust me, I have been this person more often than I care to reckon. This charming state of affairs is wonderful, but hopelessly nieve. A person in the state cannot begin to understand the amount of work and sacrifice they will have to make to succeed. Often, once they find out, they quit. They just don’t want it badly enough.
Those who don’t quit, learn the ropes.
4. Consider the Variables
When I am really puzzling on whether to buy something to resell I have a maxim: if there are two things wrong with it, I won’t buy it. For example, if I find a neat old victrola that looks awesome BUT its too big to ship and it’s also broken, I won’t buy it. If I find one that is too big to ship and expensive, but it works, I won’t buy it. If it’s expensive, small and working, I will buy it because I will be able to unload it on someone who will pay top dollar for a working piece. If it’s too big to ship but cheap and working, I know a consignment store will take it and I will make a profit. If it’s cheap, working and small, then score! I’m gonna make some cash off it! Get it?
All disciplines have variables that are factors in the outcome. Some of these you can’t control, others you can. It isn’t math but with time you get a feel for what you will pay off based on these variables. I had to buy a lot of expensive, broken victrolas that wouldn’t sell before I figured out the “two things wrong” rule.
I am constantly amazed at how many of my fellow dealers simply don’t consider the variables. They love something so they buy it, even if it’s broken, missing pieces and doesn’t have a chance in hades of competing. They like it so they assume others will want it. This is false.
Make a list of variables, and there may be dozens and dozens of them. Get to work on understanding each variable.
5. Don’t Be A Variable
I should have put this first because it is a foundational habit that will set you up well for life.
Don’t allow yourself to be a variable! Cultivate discipline. If you set out to train for a marathon, don’t decide to chillax to Netflix on day three when you should have run your miles. If you decide to save money, don’t let a shiny new brass rhino statue at Z Gallerie tempt you. This may take years to do and a lot of work, but you must not be a variable! You must be the one thing you can predict and control. Do everything in your power to master this one habit, as it will make or break you.
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