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12 Rules for the Game of Life

03/24/2015 06:09 am ET | Updated May 24, 2015
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"Mother nature does not endow us with clear rules. The game [of life] is not a deck of cards (we do not know how many colors there are)." Nicholas Nassim Taleb is writing about probability, protesting that much of modern theory about it, especially financial theory of the type loved by Harry Markowitz, Robert Merton, and Myron Scholes, is really pseudo-science, since the real world cannot be reduced to simple models. I agree with Taleb about probability: the outside chances, the extreme improbabilities, happen more often than the theory says they should. But he would probably hate what I am about to do, since I'm going to specify twelve rules not just for finance, not just for business, but for our lives generally. I don't claim that what I am providing is scientific in the slightest, but I do say that it is useful:

(1) Individuality

Perhaps the most salient point about humans is that we have the precious gift of personality, of individuality in a way that goes beyond that of other animals, because we can think, plan, and create something that did not exist in nature before. But some people make more of themselves than others.

So accentuate your differences. Become yourself as early as possible - as Oscar Wilde quipped, "everyone else is taken". Don't work in a job where you cannot express your individuality or have to suppress major parts of it, except to learn a skill that you can then develop in your own direction. Don't be satisfied with anything that is not fully and utterly satisfying for you, whether in your career or life generally. Don't accept constraints - whatever they are - that stop your personality and distinctive take on life from flowering to the full.

(2) Mind

The most priceless thing we have is our mind. Training the mind and developing should be everybody's principal objective throughout life. Education is not something that is done to you within the first quarter of your time on earth, but something you do for yourself all the time. There is no point in acquiring knowledge in anything that doesn't excite you, but if nothing about which you can gain knowledge excites you, you might as well not exist. Knowledge can be very specialized but using the mind is the most enjoyable thing any of us can do. It also has other benefits, ranging from a longer life and better health, to acquiring more money. Learn everything that you are really interested in, and then learn what nobody else knows.

(3) Spirit

Humans are different because we have mind and spirit. Although closely linked, they are different properties. The spirit is the "angelic" side of our nature, the part that belongs to heaven rather than earth. It is our will, our conscience, our determination, our aspirations, the mental energy and emotion that powers our mind.

Spirit is our access to that mysterious entity called the unconscious - our own individual unconscious mind and that of society and the universe generally. If you want to use religious language, spirit is what connects us to God and allows God to come into our self. If you are an agnostic or atheist, spirit is what connects us to other people and to the universe, the life-energy that pulses, excites, and propels us to do things that are worth doing or have never been done before.

John Maynard Keynes said that the economy and the stock market were propelled by "animal spirits" that cannot be explained rationally. I sometimes think that the whole "mental economy" that we have built in cyberspace is the triumph of imagination over reality, the culmination of two centuries of using thought rather than finite materials to manufacture wealth and the good things in life. Maybe it is all an illusion, sustained by mutual credence. But actually, I think all the great things in our world, perhaps in the entire universe, are like that. The invisible is more vital than the visible, and sustains the visible.

So nurture your spirit. It does not nurture itself, and it requires non-material stimulation and encouragement. It is the only thing we have that will survive death, and I believe that, in ways we just cannot imagine, it definitely will.

(4) Animality

I'm not sure if "animality" is a word, but it should be. It means the animal side of our existence - what our senses perceive. It includes activities such as sex, play generally, dancing, walking, all forms of sport, eating and drinking, and everything that our animal side likes to do. We are animals as well as mind and spirit, and we should relish our animality. Unless we exert our animality during a day we will not be fully happy and we certainly will not sleep well at night. So indulge your animality to the utmost, consistent only with not harming yourself or anyone else.

(5) Food

Eat healthy food. It can be as enjoyable or more than unhealthy food, and it will make a terrific difference to your health and happiness. Avoid processed food, sugar, and too many dairy products. Eat large/appropriate quantities of the "wonder foods" that include, for example, onions, garlic, berries, kiwi fruit, fish, broccoli, turmeric, coriander, unprocessed beans and lentils, red wine (two glasses a day), almonds, rooibos tea, plain yoghurt, real coffee (two or three cups a day), lemon juice, sprouts, and plenty of water.

(6) Love I

Accept and love yourself fully - you cannot love anyone else unless you love yourself. Make yourself lovable and then love because you are loved.

(7) Love II

Find your other half, your romantic partner for life. Take your time doing it and be extremely picky, but once you have found the right person, commit early and fully to them. Have one love affair in your life, or at the most two (not at the same time!). Do not have doubts and do not waver in your commitment - whether that means a monogamous relationship or not is a side issue to be resolved honestly and openly.

(8) Love III

Find half a dozen (at the very most a dozen) close friends throughout your life, so fill the slots carefully and slowly. Remember: 12 close friends maximum. And remember that too, when you come to be married.

(9) The 80/20 principle

Less is more. Always hold fast to that. Few things matter, but they matter enormously. Be selective in your life. Spend more time thinking and less time rushing around acting. Action drives out though. Thought leads to very selective action. Don't waste your time because you have so much of it.

(10) Superconnect

Have a few close friends, but hundreds of casual acquaintances. Be open to new people from different backgrounds, places, and views of life, because they have access to information you don't. Become a superconnector, linking people from diverse worlds together. Help them and you will inevitably find out useful information for your own terrain.

(11) Money

There is no mystery about how to have plenty of money. First save. Then invest in star businesses - those that are leaders in a niche market that is growing very fast.

(12) Trust the Universe

You can either go through life suspicious of everyone, everything and the powers (if there are any) behind the world; or you can trust the universe. In the first case, you find good reasons to be unhappy. In the second, good reasons to be happy. Be light, be flexible, be optimistic, be accommodating, but believe in your own fortune, your own star, your right to be here and to make your mark on the world. Trust the universe. It is the only universe we can trust. If we trust it, it will repay us a thousand-fold. If we damn it, it will repay us the same.