One of the core principles I’ve been religiously following for the last 12 years is the idea of continuous optimization. It started pretty innocuously, you know, young teenage kid experimenting with self-improvement here and there. I even read a few self-development books. It was going somewhat okay until I started seeing the results for myself one day, maybe a year or two in after I started down this path. This quickly got addicting, making me want to invest even more into myself. It was like finding a way to consistently make money playing online poker, except the results were always guaranteed. This went on for a few years, and then one day it dawned on me, something that should’ve been obvious from the get go:
The only sustainable and guaranteed path to self-fulfillment and happiness is to see yourself getting better every day.
It is precisely this pursuit that keeps getting me out of bed everyday. Almost everything people do otherwise is just a proxy to this ideology. Everyone wants to see themselves improving everyday, and at a wide array of things that too. Maybe people want to see themselves get better at their income potential, maybe their personal relationships, maybe even their social status. It seldom matters what you want to get better at. Ultimately, there is nothing more satisfying than investing in yourself everyday for the long haul and reaping the benefits of it forever.
The fun in all this is that the principles of compound interest holds true even for your own life via the 1% rule of continuous self improvement: If you invest even 1% of your time everyday to get even 10% better each year, then you become 3x better every 12 years. Assuming you start at the ripe age of 17, you’ll be 400x better at everything you do by the time you’re 80, compared to not working on improving yourself at all.
PARETO PRINCIPLE APPLIED TO SELF IMPROVEMENT
So assuming you’re sold on joining the cult of continuous optimizers, where should you focus your efforts given you could optimize so many things about yourself? Following the Pareto Principle, it stands to reason that a vast majority of the benefits can be attained by focusing on just a few small areas, simply because the return on investment on personal development is hardly linear.
If you don’t already feel strongly about one area of your life that could use obvious improvement, I would recommend taking a step back and focusing on the absolute fundamentals. People often get fixated on optimizing the wrong things, perhaps because they’re easier to optimize, or maybe easier to measure improvement. Or the addicting world of marketing and social psychology has led them to wrongly believe that some things are more important than others. Unless you take long breaks from the world and get into periods of deep solitude and extreme introversion (like I occasionally do), it can be very hard, often impossible, to figure out what gives you true happiness rather than just obeying what the world thinks will make you happier. Fighting for the same things everyone else is eager for — money, power, status, wealth, titles, cars, jets, yachts, etc. — is only going to enter you into a grand rat-race which you’re never going to be able to win, unless you get incredibly lucky. This failure to “win” will put you in an eternal loop of frustration followed by one mid-life crisis after the next, leaving you so lost and confused, just a decade into playing the wrong game.
The fundamentals presented below are the basic underpinnings that will guarantee taking you to levels of happiness you wouldn’t dare share with others for fear of attracting jealously. I just wish I had started focusing on these fundamentals sooner, but it’s unfortunate that no one teaches you these things through our conventional education system. After 8 years of trial & error, constant introspection, reading, people-watching, observation of cause and effect of people’s frequently reported problems, and discussion with a number of people excited about these topics, I have distilled the fundamentals to just 4 F’s. Focus on mastering these 4 F’s and you will already be 80% of the way there. This is the 80/20 of what actually matters to most humans in today’s world. Worry about optimizing everything else later. Stuff like making other people happy (before making yourself happy), reaching self-actualization, donating money to those who you think deserve it, etc. only after you’ve mastered the 4 basic F’s for yourself first.
This is not to say nothing else is important, but the following is a stack-ranked list of the 4 things I strongly believe have the highest returns over the course of your entire life. I currently dedicate a substantial portion of my efforts into optimizing these areas of my life everyday. Just a couple years into our marriage, and it was easy convincing Mrs. Frugal Hacker of these focus areas as well. Today, we optimize these 4 things together!