Amy Chua’s Tiger Mother book claims delayed gratification as one of the three invariant characteristics of high-performing immigrant populations. She’s on to something, but we can generalize her idea and do one better.
Given finite time, money, concentration, and gumption, every man must make decisions about resource expenditure. In general, it is best to aim to expend your resources solely upon “Stackable Permanent Life Improvements,” instead of mere delayed gratification.
Stackable Permanent Life Improvements are new additions to your life that add value, don’t expire, and can be compounded. Another way of saying this—stolen from Bro Kaizen’s crusty and implausibly rich old uncle—is, “Only buy things that appreciate.” What he means is that you ought to only exchange your resources for things that have lasting value and are composable (in the computer science sense of composability).
Examples of Stackable Permament Life Improvements:
- Learning a new language (Russian, Pashto, pig latin)
- Buying assets that will appreciate or throw off positive cash flows indefinitely (bonds, equities, real estate, whatever).
- Gaining experience talking to pretty girls, such that you give off a jaded and experienced vibe and are not intimidated by the next Finnish model you meet.2
- Learning a new skill, such as how to squat with good form. This will allow you to improve your physical fitness indefinitely in the future.
- Learning new theory that deepens your understanding of the world. Example: You read Haberman’s book on partial differential equations. You have gained a more fundamental understanding of the world around you, by understanding more about heat transfer and wave phenomena (among other topics).
But beware! Do not be bamboozled by things that make you feel good now, and perhaps seem superficially similar to SPLI’s, but are not in fact the genuine article.
Examples of Stackable but Non-permanent life improvements:
- You buy a delicious cake from the bakery and eat it. It is tasty at the time but if you want to get that taste again, you’ll have to buy another one.
- You spend time playing Halo, which is very enjoyable but doesn’t pay dividends beyond slightly improved hand-eye coordination.
- Your rugby coach praises your performance as a rucker. This praise makes you feel good, but afterwards you begin to rest on your laurels.
Many of these will stack easily—e.g. you could easily eat cake while playing Halo. But they don’t last. The real-deal stackable permanent life improvements tend to fall into a few buckets:
Common sorts of SPLI’s:
- Learning new stuff, such as practical skills or theories
- Financial improvements (new investments or appreciating/cash flow positive property)
- Gaining credentials, such as degrees or fellowships, that can be used to convince other people and The Establishment of your value
- New relationships with people
Of course, there are probably plenty of other broad buckets. But keep an eye out for the ones above, as they’re some of the most common.
And if pissing away your Sunday playing Halo is a male bonding activity that you do with your bros, that solidifies strong friendships for life, then by all means count it as a SPLI. But in that case, expenditure of the Sunday should by rights be filed under “Male Bonding,” not “Halo.”