Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Power of Constraints and the Focus as a personal asset.

This is going to be a personal update.

I've spent the past 4 weeks doing my internships and I've been personally struggling with a normal workday after more than 30 months without regular employment. When I held my previous job, I would get flu once every one or two months. After I stopped work, I fell ill only once last year in October. I fell ill again 3 weeks into my internship.

I was also not as productive as I was during my professional years. I could study about 3-4 hours after leaving the office. These days, I have to struggle to get along with 6.5 hours of sleep every day.

The first insight for this article came along after a game session yesterday. My character was constrained in an extraordinary way which most players would not ordinarily experience. Rather than complain, I tried to stick it out to see what would happen and I was able to develop a refreshing method of dealing with adversity thrown at me. As these constraints are likely to remain even in the next session,  I researched and accidentally stumbled into a new tactic for a different game.

I think that this is useful lesson in real life.

a) Constraints can be a good thing. 

High-level TRPGs are slower and less fun than low-level games because players have too many options and there are many ways to reach a resolution in a game session, if you try to optimise too much, the game bogs down. Having a constraints limits you to just a few non-resource-intense options to keep the game fast and refreshing.

Similarly in real life, there is too much obsession with options when sometimes simply constraining some of them may help you make better life decisions. A discussion with a few high gifted but non-noteworthy individuals found that the reason why they have mediocre outcomes in life is because their heads are full of ideas and while executing one good idea, they keep getting interrupted with better ones.

b) Focus needs to be invested well.

The other thing which happened to me this that I spent 36 hours of life watching this really gripping  and super-addictive Chinese Wuxia drama called Nirvana in Fire. My friend was raving about it months ago and I ignored it until this drama got mentioned in 1843, the lifestyle magazine of the Economist. Since when does a Chinese drama get mentioned by the super-savvy editors of that magazine ?

The 36 hours one a week took a heavy toll on me, I was planning my talk at the same time and I was unable to really have much time after work. I was shocked that I was so relieved when it was all over. Finally, I can finish up my readings on public international law for my next semester.

Your focus and attention is an important asset class which needs to be invested meticulously.

A little bit of leisure is fine, Game of Thrones Season 6 is just one hour a week for 12 weeks. The opportunity cost is small. 36 hours is about 3 non-fiction books for me.

While we are in the topic of time, focus and attention as an investible asset, some research from the University of Chicago, has raised some disturbing findings on the use of time. When investigating unemployed males with non-degree qualifications, something which I think Singapore policymakers should be more obsessed about,  it was discovered that they engaged in 12 - 30 hours of computer game-play and scored high in contentment and life satisfaction. It was the married individuals in this demographic which expressed the most dissatisfaction with life.

This can potentially lead to perhaps one of the most controversial lifestyle advice for Singaporean males who lack a degree qualification and are concerned about future prospects :

Get used to staying single and play computer games, if you lose your job, you will still have a relatively high satisfaction with your lifestyle. The road to unhappiness lies with getting married.

Can't imagine any government being happy with advice given out like this.


  1. Can you clarify what you meant by your first 2 paragraphs?

    I interpreted as "working get sick more, no work get sick less".
    And for the 2nd paragraph, not so clear, "getting older?" or "professional years somehow got more energy?"

  2. Ted,

    You really sound like a civil servant.

    1st paragraph is "Work get sick more, no work get sick less" although as a law student I hit the books more than 12 hours a day.

    I have a lot more energy during my professional years, 21 exams in a year where I got high performance increment is the norm in my younger days.

    Those days are gone.


  3. I'm more of an engineer. Haha.
    What made you think I'm a civil servant?

    I tot you were a IT-ish guy previously, how come need to take 21 exams a year?

  4. I had to do my Masters, updated my MCSE, do my CFA and FRM in the same year.

    Those days were fun.