So much of the secret to a good life is just to shape your environment.

If there’s a river flowing, and you need water for your crops, you could just cup your hands together and transport the water. A few ounces at a time, expending effort with each trip, to bring the water where it’s needed. Or, more wisely, you can shape your environment. Dig a small canal off the river so water flow is diverted to your field. The water is flowing anyway.

Not everything you want to create must be created through conscious effort. If you shape your environment correctly, things will grow. My children are all avid readers. Why? Because I filled the house with books and didn’t otherwise intervene much. I read whenever they asked, but never forced it. I let them sneak a few extra minutes awake beyond their bed time as long as their excuse was book-related. I shaped an environment, and things grew.

Think about what you want. Now, don’t think about what you need to get it – think instead about what kind of environment that thing needs to thrive.

Life Preserver

Whether you realize it or not, certain things are keeping you afloat. Some of those things are pretty solid and healthy, things like community or family. Some of them are shaky at best, like a job or caffeine habit. And some of them are downright unhealthy things to cling to in icy waters.

Take a look around you and think about which things would do the most damage to you if you lost. Then take at least one action to make that thing more secure. If it’s a relationship with another human, thank them. If it’s your beloved pet, take them in for a checkup. If it’s your home, revisit your insurance.

And if it’s something you’d rather not be so dependent on, then start to wean off of it. If the only thing keeping you going is a pack-a-day cigarette habit, then you need to quit before the rug gets pulled out from under you and you have to.

The water pulls us all down. We all need something to float on. Stay dry.

Pain is Process

Have you ever thrown up bleach? I hope not! And assuming you haven’t ever experienced this yourself, let me describe it for you: it’s agony. I’ve had to do it; to induce vomiting in order to regurgitate a stomach full of it. It’s terrifying, because everything in your body screams at you that it will be agony. That it will hurt worse than anything else you’ve ever felt. You would absolutely prefer not to.

And if you don’t, you’ll die.

That’s the thing. As horrible as it is to vomit up that bleach, it will kill you if it stays inside you. The best thing to do, of course, would be to never get it into you in the first place. But sometimes accidents happen, and you find yourself in a situation where you have to choose between bad and worse.

Sometimes you have a thought, or a memory, or an experience – an unpleasant one. Maybe you’ve gotten by for the past few days or past few decades by not letting that thought, memory, or experience work its way out of your system. You resisted it because letting yourself really live through it would feel like throwing up bleach.

But all pain is process. Physical, mental, emotional, spiritual – pain is something happening. And that thing might need to happen, because the alternative might be way worse.

Personal Calibration

Who is the nicest person you know personally? How about the meanest? Now how about the wealthiest and the poorest? The smartest and the dumbest? The funniest and the most boring? The most industrious and the laziest?

Why bother to think about these things? There’s a humorous little bit of statistical trivia: for any given positive trait, about 80% of people will rank themselves as “above average” for that trait. So, by default, most people’s personal calibration for where they fall on a given trait’s spectrum is pretty off.

I was thinking about a really mean person I once knew, who of course didn’t think of themselves as mean, self-centered, or narcissistic. But I realized – that person was utterly surrounded by people pretty close to them on that end of the meanness scale. You can try to figure out whether the chicken or the egg came first – whether they were mean because they were surrounded by other jerks, or whether they were surrounded by jerks because they chased away all the nice people – but it’s not relevant. What’s relevant is that they’d been in that environment for so long that they had no idea what a nice person was even like.

So they didn’t think of themselves as mean, because in their personal frame of reference, they weren’t any meaner than average.

So, now and then, it’s good to get a sense of the boundaries of your personal bubble. It may be uncomfortable – but that discomfort may well be a source of clarity and improvement.

Think Small

People sometimes dream so big that they sabotage themselves. They have lofty dreams and ambitions – which are good! But they think exclusively about them, instead of the tiny action they need to take today to make it happen.

Look, I get that if you have a major problem or a major goal, the tiny, 0.1% action you take towards it can feel so far removed that it actually feels like you’re moving away from it. You feel like mowing lawns for money is a distraction from becoming a millionaire.

But it’s the opposite. Thinking about being a millionaire is what distracts you from becoming one.

Dream big, to set the goals. But once the goals are set and the actions decided on, you should only allow yourself to think about the goals themselves every now and then, to revise and reevaluate. If you allow yourself to do nothing but think about the finish line, you’ll feel like the short steps are beneath you, or are taking you in the wrong direction.

Dream big, yes. But think small.

Pay a Dollar Not to Care

When you witness something you dislike in a distant sphere, it can be very upsetting. A politician says something you dislike? A tragedy in a far-off city? A growing movement of opinions you disagree with? All things that can rattle you.

The natural inclination for many is to seethe and outrage. To scream into the void, probably finding other voices like yours to scream with. You’ll let that thought rot and fester in your brain and heart. You’ll bring it up in every conversation – at least until the next outrage displaces it. And all your sound and fury will signify nothing. It won’t make a lick of difference. Not only will you be doing a bunch of damage to your own life, but you won’t even be trading that for helping those you feel for or hurting their oppressors.

I would like to offer you an alternative. You should pay a dollar not to care.

The second – the second – something outrages you, find the best charity or fund that exists in support of the side you support. Give them a dollar. Post the fact that you did so if you want. But then immediately shut off all awareness of it. Mute the relevant keywords, unfollow the accounts, or turn off the black mirror entirely. Live your life.

And live it well, and sleep soundly! You did more with one dollar than all those screaming voices did. If all those outraged souls shut up and gave one dollar each, much more would be accomplished. Your conscience is clear. Why one dollar, and not more? Well, first off: give as much as you want. But if you make it a dollar, you can probably safely give without further thought, every single time. A larger share of your wealth requires more consideration and you may have to do more picking and choosing, but the point is not to do that. The point is a quick escape from the trap. One dollar is already more than 99% of the outraged will give to help, and it does help.

And it lets you disengage without turning your back. Sometimes, it may even be a great filter: if you give a dollar and still feel like you want to do more, listen to your soul and do it. But once you give that dollar, you can’t go back to pointless outrage.

Roccia’s Rules for Life

I recently had a conversation with someone where (I guess) they were impressed with some trinket of wisdom I’d picked up in my travels. And they asked me a question that I feel like I get pretty regularly: “where did you learn this?”

Usually, this question comes up not because I’m especially smart or knowledgeable, but because the stuff I do know is so esoteric and (seemingly) unconnected. Did you ever see Slumdog Millionaire? If not – it’s a movie about a kid who wins a really, really hard trivia game show. He’s not educated or anything, but for each question he gets right, the movie cuts to a flashback of the highly unusual series of coincidences that led to him knowing that particular piece of trivia.

It’s like that. Most stuff that I’ve made myself useful by knowing didn’t come from some sort of formal transfer of knowledge in an organized setting. It’s just a bunch of weird tricks that I learned, largely through trial and error.

But I’m not even especially unique in that regard. My theory is this: every day, everyone learns about a thousand things. Then, we forget somewhere between 995 and 1005. Gross learning is extremely high, and net learning is pretty flat. I maintain that I have about the same gross learning rate as anyone, but my default retention rate is slightly worse. As a result, I compensated – by writing.

Even as a pre-teen, I wrote down everything. When computers didn’t even have Windows yet, I had a text file on my computer called “RocciasRulesForLife.txt” where I took pretty much any event that occurred in my day and turned it into a general-case rule. It had some real gems in there. Some were genuinely smart, like “Always take gum if someone offers it to you.” Others were just weird, like “When life gives you lemmings, stay away from cliffs.” But the point was that I always wrote them down.

Over the years I filled notebooks with stories, I typed endlessly, and now I even have this blog. That one thing, that proclivity to convert my life’s experiences into stories, notes, and rules – that’s where I learned “this,” whatever this is. I learned it the same place you did, but when you learned it, it was fifteen years ago on a day when you learned a thousand other things and you didn’t remember it. We all experience the same number of seconds per day, for the most part. I just put a lot more of mine into words.

Pushing Through Yourself

The hardest hurdles to overcome are the ones you through in front of yourself. It’s impossible to argue with yourself and not lose – if you’re of two positions, one of them has to. So it becomes very easy, very tempting, to just pick the side you wanted anyway.

There are multiple versions of you in the future, and all of them are fishing for you. All of them are putting bait on their hooks and attempting to drag you into their particular future reality. All the time. You will be dragged, kicking and screaming, into some future. Pick the future you want.

Treasure Map

There are many ways to add value, and one of them is to just identify and categorize a bunch of ways to add value!

People don’t automatically know where the treasure is. Sure, there’s value in digging up the gold, value in shipping it, value in refining it, value in smelting and smithing it, and value in selling it. But there’s also value in just figuring out where to do all that stuff!

If you’re confused about how to add value in a given situation, probably so are a lot of other people. That means you already have the answer: you can add value by identifying other ways to add value, and sharing that information. You can add value by making the treasure map.