in Life Optimization

Little actions with big impacts

googlyfangooglysinkgooglymortarI bought a $5 pack of googly eyes on Amazon and I’ve been putting them everywhere. My housemates come to me with stories of them getting surprised, a feeling of being perpetually watched, and of the many smiles and giggles a discovery of a new pair has brought them. I’ve found that the most effective locations are the ones that turn things into faces, rather than taking an existing face and making it googly. Our brains have an innate desire to personify things, and the googly eyes provide the perfect touch.

It’s so much fun. And it’s such a little thing – not just in terms of the price, but also in terms of what I’m doing. I took a few minutes of my time to stick little adhesive eyes onto several things in my house and around my daily life, but the joy and happiness that I and the people around me receive from this tiny act is immense. It reminds me of the tiny acts of kindess perpetuated by James Altucher (when he gave out chocolates to stock traders in 2009) or Improv Everywhere. The things they do aren’t hard, but they inspire countless smiles and laughter, which I would argue makes the world an objectively better place.

What other things have a similarly small input required but result in a massive positive impact? One could call them Transformers actions, because they are ‘more than meets the eye’ in terms of how they appear and the effort required to bring them into reality. My friend Alton likes to pay his friends in $2 bills, much like Casey Neistat does, because both know that these pieces of cash are more valuable than the number stamped on them. Nobody cares about two one dollar bills, because you can find them everywhere, but a two dollar bill is rare, which makes it valuable. You pay someone with a two dollar bill, and it is sure to elicit an excited, or at the very least interested, response.

I contend that another example of a Transformer action is the t-shirts available for purchase on This is the website responsible for the internet famous “Three Wolf Moon” t-shirt and also the “Pug Face” t-shirt. Much to collective delight, the website has an entire line of shirts that similarly feature oversized animal heads integrated into the shirt itself, rather than depicted on the shirt. They also have an entire line called “Manimals”, that features animals in ridiculous human costumes, like a bald eagle in a jet pilot outfit or a lion with its mane braided like a Rastafarian.

These are simple designs. You may even think that they are stupid designs. But at least one of the designs on TheMountain is going to get a giggle from anyone with a sense of humor. And that is what makes them so effective. When you wear a shirt like that, you brighten people’s days. They pause – they are jolted out of their routine and forced to take notice of something unexpected, which, happily, is also a something joyous.

These actions are  like positive Black Swans, on a more basic level than the ones examined in detail by Nicholas Taleb in his book of the same name. But they fit the bill – “high-profile, hard-to-predict, and rare…beyond the realm of normal expectations” . The difference is that anyone can  bring these Black Swans into being, simply by wearing a shirt, asking for $2 bills at the bank, or sticking googly eyes onto everything in sight.

You have the power to positively affect people you barely know through these actions. For as long as the googly eyes stay up they will continue to elicit giggles form anyone who passes by. Passerby is the street won’t ever see you again, but they will remember the ridiculous shirt they saw with a giant cat face on it. The barista deals with hundreds of customers stone faced in his day, but he’s going to stop and marvel at an order paid for in 2 dollar increments.

Isn’t this an objectively better world, filled with more smiles, giggles, and laughter? It’s all the better because the input work required is so small – it’s not like we have to become comedians or consciously devote hours of work to these things. They are glorified whims, with very low entry costs. But their repercussions reach out far beyond a cheap spur of the moment decision.

Needless to say I’d highly recommend investing in your own bag of googly eyes and sticking them everywhere. You’d be surprised how many things can turn into faces through the simple addition of two little stickers.

What other Transformer type Black Swan actions do you know about? Spread the word!