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How To Have More Common Sense

Recently by James Altucher: Are You a Dirty Entrepreneur?

A lot of people who know me personally think I have ZERO common sense. For instance, Claudia says, “you went to freakin’ Carnegie-Mellon for a PhD and you can’t figure out how to operate a coffee machine”. To which I have two things to say:

A) I was thrown out of Carnegie Mellon’s grad school and as anyone there can attest I was easily the least competent person in my year. Of the 8 classes I attended in two years I failed seven of them and got a B– in one of them.

B) You are not fooling anyone when you say “freakin’”. I know EXACTLY what you mean.

C) Making a cup of coffee using a coffee machine involves about five or six different steps using various chemical compounds in the right combination. It’s not as easy as the box claims. I can’t just turn on a button and have a cup of coffee.

And I know I said “two things” but I wrote “three”. So?

I get stressed so much during the day. Probably because of all the coffee I drink. But it seems like there are some basic common sense rules that would make me a little less stressed.

A) Don’t Dance. And that doesn’t mean I can’t turn up a little tango music, grab Claudia, and start swinging her around. That might be fun, it would surprise her and make her laugh, unless I swung her into a wall, in which case she would cry. But it wouldn’t be my fault. Since I never take credit for anything bad.

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What “Don’t Dance” means is “do not respond in anger to the people who are trying to provoke you.” And you know who they are. People ask me, “What if it’s your mother/spouse/boss/friend.” Let me tell you something: It’s ONLY those people. Else you wouldn’t care.

I’ve gotten three emails and at least one directed blog post that have tried to provoke me in the past few days. One of them I “danced” with. I responded to all the accusations, some of them 20 years old (“historical equals hysterical”) and the only end result is that ten emails went back and forth and I’m still angry. The rest of the emails, and the blog post about me, I ignored. And now I don’t think of them. When I woke up this morning, though, I thought of the one email I had initially responded to and I was already getting mad. I put it in my mental Spam folder (I labeled it “not useful” as per my “Power of Negative Thinking” – that technique very much works for me) and then I forced Claudia at gunpoint to make me a cup of coffee.

Getting angry accomplishes nothing. You can never win an argument with people who are irrational. You’re never going to win an argument with your boss, for instance. Or with an investor. Or with a customer. Or with a relative. It just won’t happen. They are always right. So common sense is to ignore them as much as possible and you will be happy. It’s one of those things where you can say, “On your deathbed are you really going to wish you had just responded to that one email one more time?”

Related to this: Don’t Judge. Let’s say someone treats you bad in a store. It’s a gut reflex to get angry at them. But what if their wife just left them? Or their kids just got pregnant. With each other. Who knows? Anything can happen. You don’t know anything about them. Again, on your deathbed are you going to say, “I really hate that guy at the cupcake store who dropped my cupcake.”

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B) Don’t do bad things to your body. I walk down the streets of NYC and I can tell you: 80% of the older people walking down the street look hideous to me. They are out of shape, their faces look like they are frozen in stress and anger, they are stooped over, dreaming to themselves of all the times they have been angry. All the things they should’ve said.

I think in most cases this is a direct result of treating your body very badly for 40 years. I’m not innocent of this either. But it seems like common sense: no junk food, no cigarettes, no alcohol, walk as much possible if you don’t feel like doing hard exercise, and no coffee. See!? I don’t follow this advice as much as I should. And I’m 43. It’s almost too late for me to get back on the right track. But if you don’t, you won’t enjoy your 70s, 80s, and 90s as much as you should. Quality of life will be lower for you than for the people who are using common sense now. Almost every illness you’ll get later in life is a direct result of what you put through your digestive system right now.

C) Don’t Talk Behind People’s Back. About ten years ago I trashed the CEO of a company I was invested in. The company was called “Mighty Seven”. The CEO was Josh Schaub. I was then having dinner with him and his girlfriend that night. Needless to say, because nobody keeps anything private, Josh heard what I had to say about him and we had to talk about it all through dinner. What a waste of time. And I was embarrassed. When you talk about people behind their back, one out of three times they are going to know about it. Why stress yourself out that way.

And couldn’t you have used that time when you said those words in a more constructive way. For instance, I should’ve sat down and instead of yapping my mouth off I could’ve come up with some ideas on how the CEO could’ve improved his business. I could’ve contributed and been more helpful.

Instead, because of a constant arrogant attitude where I was talking behind peoples backs (and somehow everyone ALWAYS heard what I was saying) businesses went out of business, I lost money, and I got unhappy.

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Another anecdote. I helped a friend of mine get a job at a company I once worked at. One time she told me she was talking about another person and then she realized that person was standing right behind her. She got really embarrassed (Embarassment and Words go hand in hand. If you stay silent, you’ll seldom be embarrassed. If you use lots of words without thinking, common sense says you feel more embarrassment in life). So she apologized to the girl.

But then that girl never spoke to her again, even though they had been friends. And that girl made my friend’s work life miserable. “How come she is doing this?” my friend said. “I apologized to her!”

Well, tough shit! She thinks you’re a bad person now and always will and you can’t ever change that. So common sense: if you have nothing good to say, don’t say it. [See my post, "Shut Up"]

Someone once wrote a very negative blog post about me. We had a lot of mutual friends. All of our mutual friends and a few other people asked me what I thought about the post. Maybe they were curious if I would dish out some good gossip. All I said was, “He’s a good guy. I don’t know why he wrote that.” And that was true. Common sense: saying that was a lot better for me, both internally (I didn’t get angry) and externally (people thought better of me for it) than wasting five minutes of my life trashing the guy.