Principle Alignment

Most people can rattle off a small list of things they’re not interested in without much thought. The size of my “nope list” has grown at an exponential rate throughout my 30’s. For a while both my wife and I chalked up the growth of my nope list to my evolution as a crotchety old man.

My advanced fist shaking technique and variety in methods of telling kids to beat it, scram, or otherwise get off my lawn were primary indicators of my progression into crotchetiness.

I think the increasing size of my nope list is most likely attributable to two factors.

1. As we age, and witness the increasing frailty of loved ones, we’re more forcefully reminded that our time is finite. Ain’t nobody got time to waste.

2. Our lifetime of experiences starts to pay some dividends in the way of wisdom. By the time you crack the seal on your 30’s, you start to see patterns and forecast outcomes that you wouldn’t have in earlier decades. Intuition that is based on decades of observation and experience is actually wisdom. It’s markedly different than the intuition we felt earlier in life. A child, teen, or young adult might say they “just aren’t into something.” In reality, their intuition is likely based on a fear of the unknown or other incomplete understanding of an opportunity.

A System Emerges

Recently, a colleague asked me to defend my staunch opposition to video games. Video games have held a prime position on my nope list for at least the past 15 years. I played around (lol) with them a bit as a teen, but no one would have ever referred to me as a “gamer.” In the formation of a response to my colleague I had an epiphany. I began to see a framework forming in my mind. It was something I could use to explain my current positions, and evaluate new ideas.

The best name for this framework I’ve been able to come up with is simply “alignment“. Alignment serves to calibrate my intuition and ensure that my actions and expenditure of resources remains aligned with my stated principles. The process works something like this.

First, identify the 4-6 guiding principles for your life (this isn’t real science, just pick a number and start). Mine looks something like this.

1. Be a good husband.
2. Be a good dad.
3. Attain financial independence.
4. Maintain my mental health (e.g. effectively manage stress, avoid being an unwarranted dick, maintain perspective on life).
5. Maintain my physical health in order to enjoy the long term benefits of numbers 1-4.

Next, evaluate potential opportunities, hobbies, purchases, event invitations, career paths, etc… against your designated criteria above. Before you do that, jot down your first intuitive thought on the subject. Compare the analytical results with your initial intuitive reaction.

Here are a couple of examples from my life to illustrate the idea.

Video Games

Intuition: Waste of time that makes people even more out of shape.

1. Does playing video games make me a better husband?

Probably not. My wife doesn’t play video games and doesn’t appear to have an interest in them.

2. Does playing video games make me a better dad?

Maybe. My kids do have an interest in video games. Playing the games with them from time to time might be a bonding opportunity.

3. Does playing video games support financial independence?

Nope. The prospects of me earning any money from playing games is about as likely as me earning money on the pro-quilting circuit. I don’t actually think that exists, so that really doubles down on the implausibility.

4. Does playing video games support my mental health?

For me, probably not. I do understand that for many gamers, playing games relieves stress. For me, it doesn’t. I also know that anything that drives me towards extended sedentary time puts me in a bad mental space.

5. Does playing video games support my physical health?

Unlikely. The nature of most video games encourages extended periods of wiggling your fingers, lips, and not a lot else.

Results:

1 out of 5. That’s a low score. Only a 20% alignment with my stated personal principles. It does appear that my intuition is on track regarding video games. Based on these results, I’ll likely join my kids for an occasional game or spend some time talking to them about their gaming, but that’s about it.

As an interesting aside, the only reason we have a video game console in our home is that my 10 year old son earned the money and paid for it himself. My wife and I explained to him that video games don’t align with who we want to be, so if he wanted a gaming system, that was on him. To his credit, he started mowing lawns and earned the money needed within a month.

Hiking

Intuition: Sounds lovely. I’m down.

1. Does hiking make me a better husband?

Likely. If I hike with my spouse that’s some solid potential bonding time. If I hike without my spouse, I’ll likely return to her in a better mood and engage with her in an overall more positive manner. This could go the other direction and become detrimental if I allow it to take up too much of the time we should be spending together.

2. Does hiking make me a better dad?

Likely. The rationale is very similar to the one above. Hiking as a total family, or just with my kids will likely support bonding through shared experiences. If I’m gone every weekend for solo hikes, I’ll likely lose the potential benefits.

3. Does hiking support financial independence?

Likely. Hiking has low recurring costs once you have some basic gear.

4. Does hiking support my mental health?

Absolutely. Most every aspect of hiking aligns nicely with my desire to preserve my mental health. Whether communing with nature, family members, or embracing solitude, hiking is ideal for the maintenance of mental health.

5. Does hiking support my physical health?

Absolutely. Short of getting bit in the ass by a snake or falling off a cliff, the sustained physical exertion offered by hiking is just what more doctor’s should order.

Results:

5 out of 5. Gold, mother-flipping, star. 100%. Intuition was on point with this one as well. I’ll use this analysis when my wife and I decide on our final “retirement” locale. We’ll ensure we are in a hiking conducive environment now that I know hiking is 100% aligned with who I want to be.

To be fair, those two examples were pretty much layups. It’s not too hard to intuitively identify what you’ll love and hate. Let’s run a couple examples with some more ambiguity.

Owning a Motorcycle

Intuition: Oh yes. Two wheels+power = the realization of my teenage dreams.

1. Does owning a motorcycle make me a better husband?

Unlikely. Commuting on a motorcycle means it harder to pick up groceries, or a child from an after school activity. Riding “just for fun” typically equates to solo activity time unless your spouse enjoys riding with you (mine does not). Motorcyclists also tend to gather in the form of clubs or just groups of friends who ride. The likely result of which is less family time.

2. Does owning a motorcycle make me a better dad?

Unlikely. It’s a tough argument to make that occasionally giving your kid a ride on your motorcycle every other weekend will have a net positive effect. I think that a child would get a lot more out of bicycling or even riding in a car with a parent. In those more conversation conducive environments you can engage in thoughtful discourse with your offspring.

3. Does owning a motorcycle support financial independence?

Unlikely. A motorcycle is a depreciating asset that consistently draws from your available funds. While a motorcycle is typically more cost effective to operate on a per mile basis than a sedan, most people do not typically take their Toyota Corollas out for a Sunday joy ride. Just having that two wheeled machine in your garage pulls at your efficiency minded psyche.

“Take me out”

“Fill me with premium fuel”

“Buy me something shiny”

“Get your money’s worth out of me all day Sunday instead of using those possibly productive hours to achieve financial independence earlier or reinforce the marital bonds that will make you less likely to get a costly divorce”

-My motorcycle

That motorcycle is working on a deep level. With limited exceptions for those with some specific circumstances, I don’t see motorcycles as earning their keep in most households pre-Financial Independence. There’s just not enough utility per dollar.

4. Does owning a motorcycle support my mental health?

Possible. There is definitely some stress relief and just plain fun inherent in twisting the throttle as you accelerate through a curvy canyon. For me, it was not always easy to fully realize these stress relief effects. I typically felt a twinge of guilt in my mind everytime I left my wife and kids to spend a weekend afternoon by myself, depreciating an asset.

5. Does owning a motorcycle support my physical health?

Mmmmm, no. About a year ago I started to get into bicycling a lot more and did my first experiments in commuting. I noticed a weird battle start to play out in my head each day of nice weather. Should I commute on my bicycle or motorcycle? This nice weather dilemma eventually became illustrative to me. I needed to ditch my motorcycle. In order to feel I was getting use out of my motorcycle I was foregoing the physical health benefits of commuting by bicycle. I’m not even getting into the whole “crashing a motorcycle has negative health effects” argument here.

Results

.5 out of 5. 10%. Well that sucks. Full transparency here, I’ve owned three four motorcycles in my life and just recently sold one after finally developing this analysis model.

collage picture of four motorcycles
Some may say I have had an underlying interest in motorcycles.

Shoving homemade cinnamon buns into my face

Intuition: So good, yet I know they’re so bad.

1. Does shoving homemade cinnamon buns into my face make me a better husband?

Possibly, but not in my situation. My wife enjoys making baked goods and she gets pleasure out of seeing others enjoy them. My lack of moderation for some of her specific creations goes beyond her feeling like she’s providing for her family. It’s more in the realm of “hey jackass, they were supposed to be for everyone.”

2. Does shoving homemade cinnamon buns into my face make me a better dad?

No. In general I have some decent will power. I don’t buy snacks at convenience stores or stop for fast food while I’m out working. If there happens to be some top tier homemade baked goods sitting on my own kitchen counter, that’s a different story. My will power typically succumbs more rapidly than I’d like. It would be nice to show my kids that I have the self control to avoid sugar and consume in moderation when I do indulge. That’s not currently what happens.

Dog eating cake outdoors
If I eat it outside, it doesn’t count.

3. Does shoving homemade cinnamon buns into my face support financial independence?

Yes. We never buy baked goods at stores. To be completely forthright, that isn’t out of some frugaler than thou supremacy. My wife just makes amazing homemade food.

4. Does shoving homemade cinnamon buns into my face support my mental health?

Temporarily. When I first dig into those gooey, warm, sugary treats, the dopamine release in my brain is glorious. I bask in the afterglow right up until I get embarrassed and feel guilty that I ate half the amount my wife made for our whole family and that eating them at all is indirect contradiction with my general anti-sugar preachiness.

5. Does shoving homemade cinnamon buns into my face support my physical health?

No. At least this one was easy.

Results: .5 out of 5. 10%. Shit. I can’t say I didn’t see this coming, but still. 10%? Wow.

Infographic chart
A visual depiction of this complex analysis

There’s always going to be more things that we could do than we have time to do.

Our short term self is occasionally going to take some liberties and cut the legs out from under our long term self.

If you know what your principles are, and have a means of objectively measuring yourself against them, you’re on track to lead a truly independent life.

I’m interested to know what systems or structure you use to decide what’s on your nope list.

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