A little soul searching

This is a method of analysis I’ve used a couple of times for people who were asking for advice. I’m going to ask a series of questions that are easier to answer if you’re unaware of the theory behind them, which I’ll explain afterward. So I’d recommend taking a quick moment to think each one over before reading on because you only get that chance once. It wouldn’t hurt to make a couple of quick lists for later reference.

The first two are aspirational, differing only in the scale of plausible fantasies.

1. What would you do if you had one trillion dollars?

2. What would you do if you had five hundred thousand dollars?

The next two have to do with school, work, and other social obligations where other people care whether you show up or not.

3. What are you doing with your life these days?

4. What should you change about that in the next couple of years?

(Answer like a reasonable adult, as if it’s your grandma asking. This isn’t meant to be an opportunity to show off your gangster cred by saying “I do whatever I want, whenever I want”.)

The last two are fundamentally the same, except now we’re talking about how you spend your uncommitted free time. This time we’re talking about stuff you do for its own sake and even your grandma isn’t impressed.

5. What do you spend the majority of your free time on?

6. What do you want to be spending more time on?

Here’s your chance to halt before I explain…

I’m using two main ideas here. The first idea is the id-ego-superego model:

Id, ego, and super-ego are the three parts of the psychic apparatus defined in Sigmund Freud’s structural model of the psyche; they are the three theoretical constructs in terms of whose activity and interaction our mental life is described. According to this model of the psyche, the id is the set of uncoordinated instinctual trends; the super-ego plays the critical and moralizing role; and the ego is the organized, realistic part that mediates between the desires of the id and the super-ego.[1] The super-ego can stop one from doing certain things that one’s id may want to do.[2]

Id, ego and super-ego

The question pairs measure the idealistic morality of your superego (#1 and #2), the economic choices made by your ego (#3 and #4), and the fundamental needs and drives of your body, mind, and soul as determined by your id (#5 and #6). In order to put the answers in a more useful form, I take a moment to interpret them into qualities and values. This takes a bit of wisdom and practice but it becomes second nature afterward. Here are some examples.

1. What would you do if you had one trillion dollars?

“Buy a penthouse in every major city and party like a rockstar.” -> Glamor
“Buy a diamond-mining country, improve conditions, and get a Nobel Peace prize while growing the original principal.” -> Power, altruism, competition
“Buy a private island, grow my own food, and perfect the art of growing weed.” -> Independence
“Figure out what social problems can be solved, diseases cured, etc., then do the most good possible.” -> Altruism
“Basically the same stuff I do now, just more of it. Reading, writing, music, that kind of stuff.” -> Creativity

These are all real answers I’ve gotten to this question. The second pair of questions is about what you spend your social capital on, and how good you are at spending it. These are both useful things to know. Most of the things we do run on autopilot, but the ego is about making choices. It’s transactional. Examples:

3. What are you doing with your life these days?

School: Time, money, energy -> Social climbing
Working a dead-end job: Time -> Subsistence
Working a demanding job: Time, health -> Money, maybe social prestige

The last pair of questions reveal what really energizes you to head back out into the world, regardless of your fancy ideals. It’s important to make a point of drawing positive qualities from these questions because life planning is about using what you have to get what you want. And these basic urges are things you can spend freely on achieving your idealistic visions, because using them energizes you.

5. What do you spend the majority of your free time on?

Netflix series -> “I enjoy exercising my social intelligence.”
Video games -> “I enjoy mental engagement.”
Facebook -> “I enjoy sharing emotional experiences with others.”
Partying -> “I enjoy networking.”

The second big idea is revealed preferences:

Revealed preference theory tries to understand the preferences of a consumer among bundles of goods, given their budget constraint. For instance, if the consumer buys bundle of goods A over bundle of goods B, where both bundles of goods are affordable, it is revealed that he/she directly prefers A over B. It is assumed that the consumer’s preferences are stable over the observed time period, i.e. the consumer will not reverse their relative preferences regarding A and B.

As a concrete example, if a person chooses 2 apples/3 bananas over an affordable alternative 3 apples/2 bananas, then we say that the first bundle is revealed preferred to the second. It is assumed that the first bundle of goods is always preferred to the second, and that the consumer purchases the second bundle of goods only if the first bundle becomes unaffordable.

Revealed preference

Each question pair above has a question representing your revealed preferences with a practical budget (#2, #3, and #5), and a question representing what you wish your preferences were and what they could be if you had practically limitless time, energy, and money. It’s good to have a very clear idea of both, because one represents what you are now and the other represents an ideal (but less realistic) version of yourself.

Now that you have the reality and the counterfactual (the life you want), you can begin to problem solve how to get from A as many steps closer to Z as is possible. I generally recommend against big changes because I prefer more of a snowballing momentum approach. Always ask “what is the smallest possible step I can take toward what I want?” and do that. Don’t up and quit your dead-end job just because it isn’t a good bridge between the id level and the superego level. Instead, try picking up a single community college class in something you like and see if your interest can sustain the extra responsibility. Remember to redirect that “free energy” instead of spending willpower, or else you’ll find yourself binging at the worst possible times (read: the hard times when you need the energy most). If you can’t do that but you’re picking up extra responsibility anyway, make sure you’re engaging in extra leisure time too.

I may expand on this a bit more but you should have the idea. Maybe a couple of examples would help because this might be too abstract to be useful.


About Aeoli Pera

Maybe do this later?
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10 Responses to A little soul searching

  1. Marshall Mead says:

  2. Tom Kratman says:

    1. Give a portion to God’s work. Use a portion to buy the support for an army, from land, to buildings, to weaponry. Invest the rest. Build the army. Use the army.

  3. Aeoli your blog is becoming more normie than my LinkedIn profile. The world is turning upside-down.

  4. Kingboss says:

    “What would you do if you had one trillion dollars?”
    Establish a new hidden civilization underground and undersea while starting a means to propel its destiny to the forgotten stars.

    “What are you doing with your life these days?”
    Becoming the All-Slayer to destroy the Obstacle to Triumph.

    “What do you spend the majority of your free time on?”
    Seeking all knowledge in the universe to override the fabric of reality.

  5. Pingback: Intro to self-discipline | Aeoli Pera

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