How and why do you collect watches?

I watched a TED talk by Bill Burnett … so I decided to share some of his ideas and connect them to watches.

Bill says there are three important identities that shape our lives: who you are, what you believe and what you do. If you can make a connection between these three, you will experience your life as more meaningful. To help connect the dots, do two things. 

  • The first thing is to write about why you work — your work view. What’s your theory of work? What’s it for? What’s work in service of? Write approx. one page on this.
  • The second thing is a little harder to do in a single page, but try and write up your ideas on the meaning of life. Why are you here? What is your view of how the world works — your life view?

When you can connect your work view and your life view together in a coherent way, you’ll start to experience your life as meaningful.

He then moves on to explain a class of problems that people can get stuck on, called “gravity problems”. i.e. problems that are just circumstantial, such as gravity. You either can’t change these circumstances, or you are not willing to do what it would take – so essentially, these are problems you cannot change.

In the watch world, this is like the inability to walk into an authorised dealer and buy a steel sports Rolex. Why do people keep dwelling on this situation? Move on.

Once you’ve accepted that you have a gravity problem and you can’t change it, you have to decide what you want to do. Is this a circumstance you can reframe and “work with”? Or do you need a “work around” – to do something completely differently? Bill suggests we should be really careful about these gravity problems, because they are pernicious and can really get in your way. Accept them, and then decide on a “work through” or “work-around” strategy to move forward.

When many people make decisions, they end up not being happy with them. So many of us have FOMO (the fear of missing out) and we worry: “What if I didn’t pick the right thing?” Or, “I’m worried about whether or not I made the best decision, and what if I want to change my mind?”
Narrowing down your choices can be quite simple if you understand the psychology of decision-making. After you’ve completed the rational pro-con lists, choosing is about that feeling in your stomach.

Pay attention to the felt sensations, the feelings that you experience in your body. Without your emotions and your gut feelings, you can’t make good decisions.

After following your gut, you need to let go of all the other options and move on. By the way, there is evidence that “going all in” is the best way to choose. 

In a psychology experiment run by Harvard University professor Dan Gilbert, researchers showed five Monet prints to participants and asked them to rank them from best to least. Afterwards, the researcher said to some participants, “I bought too many of prints two and three. If you want to take one home, you can keep it.” With the other participants, the researcher said the same thing but added, “If you don’t like the one you picked out, you can come back and exchange it for another one.” Then, they brought the people back a week later and asked them, “Which print do you like now?” they found the people who were allowed to change their minds didn’t like the print they took, and they actually didn’t like any of them anymore. Meanwhile, the people in the other group — the ones who were told they could not change their mind — loved their print. They liked it the best and ranked it even higher than before.

The lesson from this experiment is that when given the option, the reversible condition is not conducive to creating happiness. So, go ahead and make a good choice, and then make it irrevocable. You will be happier.

In the watch-buying game, this is when the meaning of “buy what you like” becomes clear to me – you’ve got to make a choice, buy it because you like it, with money you can afford to lose.

Once you become skilled at gathering, creating and choosing ideas, you also want to make sure you leave room for lucky or serendipitous ideas; this could be in the form of ‘free cash flow’, or in your habits such as going to see brands you have never considered before. This is also one of the many benefits of joining a watch-enthusiasts club such as Redbar.

Being lucky is about paying attention to the task at hand while keeping your peripheral vision open. It’s in your peripheral vision that interesting opportunities show up that you were not expecting. Taking advantage of these opportunities is how you can define “luck”.

You might be wondering what the connection is between the initial two questions, and where this is headed. I think the same two questions can be applied to watch collecting! Firstly: Why do you collect? What do you collect, exactly? How do you see your collecting journey today, in a year, in five years? Secondly: take your response to the first part, and try and find parallels with your original answer about your ideas on the meaning of life.

You see, you can’t separate your watch collecting from your overall life view – I will share one of my own examples. I personally like to be different, I always have. Many people SAY they like to be different – and this is human nature, since not saying so questions our own ‘individuality’. However, anyone who knows me will know this is true for me – so unsurprisingly, my watch collecting broadly follows this theme; a lot of ‘different’ or unusual stuff. What is also true for me, is that when something becomes super common, I tend to like it less. This isn’t always true, but often enough for me to know that rarity affects my decision-making… now this is my own example, so each person will differ – but hopefully this gives you some food for thought.

Look forward to hearing your views!


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