Start with what you know works

I am a big fan of experimenting. I think that it is the only way to reach the highest levels in all we do. However, before you experiment, start with what you know works.

With most things there are simple solutions that we know will work.  With finances, it is spending less than you save. With health, it is sleep, healthy food and exercise. With relationships, it is listening and being there for the other person. With building muscle, it is lifting heavy weights. Life is showing up.

For everything imagineable, there are a few simple solutions that will get you where you want to go. There might be faster solutions, cheaper solutions or more effective solutions but you don’t know which solutions work and which are useless. If you already have the basics then not only can you experiment in those areas, I think you should. Once you have the basics.

There might be 100 different methods and thousands of techniques, but most people know  at least one. And if you do not know even one technique, action or step to take, then my friend, there is Google…

If most things have such simple solutions and we know the solutions, why don’t we do them?

The reasons are many and diverse. But usually they boil down to the essentials of negative feelings in life: Fear of the unknown, looking for a quick fix, bad environment.

Fear of the unknown:

This one is easy to fix. The answer is: IT’S NOT EASY

Ultimately we have no guarantees in life and that is something that will never  change. How you deal with this is up to you, but there are no easy answers. If you don’t find an answer that works for you then you will never really be alive. Some people use religion to bridge this gap, others use courage or hope or they hide in relationships. It doesn’t really matter if what you believe is true as long as it is useful. Does it allow you to wake up happy and live fully? Yes? Then it’s a pretty good answer.

Looking for a quick fix:

This will never disappear, for the simple reasons of genetics and statistics. Our ancestors were gamblers. Those (the minority) who won, had offspring. Those who lost, lost. It is occasionally true that you can get something for nothing, get a quick fix that works or discover a powerful secret first. Sometimes you can beat the odds – but the odds are against it. For a more in-depth explanation read the book Tempo.
The only way to consistently and sustainably get results is if you put in the work. Don’t be sadistic and take a longer route than necessary. Experiment with different angles to sift your truth from the useless bulk of common wisdom. But start by putting in the work.

Bad environment:

We are highly influenceable and some environments set us up to fail. Ultimately it is your responsibility to choose your environment and change it if it does not support you. This includes your physical, social and mental environments.My post on your environment.

Known strategies:

This is what culture is: a collection of what works. Culture and training allow us to skip the dead ends explored by previous generations and go further than those before us. But environments change and what was once impossible becomes possible. That is why culture is always changing and sometimes collapses. Trust that our ancestors knew something of value, verify for yourself that it is still a correct and optimal choice. By experimenting and taking advantage of new opportunities you can significantly improve your own and other’s life.

To happiness, and beyond!

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Book Review: The Psychopath Code by Pieter Hintjens

Rating: 5/5

One sentence: An in-detail book about psychopaths that solves many mysteries.

Pieter Hintjens proposes that psychopaths are predators who prey on the altruism of social humans. This definition explains many of their characteristics. It also gives a plausible reason for our complex emotional character and why our brains are so large.

Throughout the book, he uses the name Mallory as the psychopath’s name. I find it very appropriate that the name used for someone who intercepts communications in cryptography is also the name of a cheat in the social game.

The chapters describe how psychopaths hunt, capture and feed off their victims. Then how to hunt them, the different sets of emotions that psychopaths and social humans express and how to escape from an abusive person in your life if you are stuck.

Reading this book, I could not clearly identify any of the people that I have met during my life as psychopaths. I feel lucky not to have such a bad experience. I feel sure that some of the people I met must have been psychopaths, yet camouflaged and undetected. He explains that most psychopaths never get caught and rarely use violence. He also stresses that the popular conception of psychopaths as serial killers is totally misfounded.

As with any great book, it sparked connections to many pieces of previously incomprehensible knowledge and gives an interesting lens with which to view the world. If I do get entangled with a psychopath one day it will definitely be of great help.

Psychopaths as parasites and destroyers bring an interesting dynamic to the rising and falling of empires and countries throughout history. As historical arsonists, psychopaths play their part well. Our co-evolution made us both great. The complex interplay of genes that result in predators that look almost indistinguishable from their prey is a twist that I did not consider previously. I thought humans had no natural predators. I was wrong.

If want to escape an abusive relationship or are just curious about the forces that shape human culture and progress I can highly recommend this book.

To happiness, and beyond!

Barbarian intelligence (and the meaning of life)

Throughout most of history, there has been a tension between civilizations and their sedentary societies and the barbarians that lived nomadically. History was written by the settled societies, so obviously they portrayed themselves as more advanced and superior. They were right, but only on one level.

Any individual barbarian is on average more powerful, intelligent, creative and skilled than the average civilized individual. But because barbarians do not work together in a coordinated fashion, they cannot perform feats that require a sustained effort from many individuals. On the rare occasions when they do, they whip the settled societies and take them for all they are worth (See: Genghis Khan’s Mongols).

The individuals from the settled societies are less skilled as individuals, but because they work together as one organism, they can defeat the nomadic barbarians. In civilized societies, most of the knowledge and intelligence is embedded into their systems or artifacts. When an individual dies, some of his knowledge and skill is retained.

When the more highly skilled barbarians die, everything that they have not taught others is lost and the barbarian child has to start from almost from scratch. Inventions that come as a result of previously unconnected pieces of knowledge is much less likely to happen. If something is not of immediate use it will not be transferred to the next generation. Ideas take much longer to spread between different tribes than between people living in big cities.

I propose that there is a similar dynamic at play within individuals and that it has implications for personal productivity.

If you have procrastinated and as a result have to produce on a very tight deadline, you probably get a lot done. You do more in a short space of time than if you were unrushed. Work expands to fill all available time. When you rush you do not have nearly enough time so the work that you do is of a poor quality. You do not have enough time to do things properly and to put the finishing touches and edits to it.

By working with a good system, you take more time in total, but you end up with a superior result. You are less efficient but more effective.

If you could somehow civilize your barbarian skills of working under tight deadlines and with insufficient time without losing its efficiency, then you could produce work that is very effective and also use little energy because of your efficiency.

Programming also has a good metaphor. Everybody knows that it is harder to fix a bug than it is to write good code in the first place. But writing good code uses less total time and is a lot more efficient. To write good code requires less skill, but yields better results. You have to do a trade-off between the knowledge embedded in the system or tool and skills owned by agents.

It is a spectrum of optimization. At one pole you have the local maximum and global minimum where you use all of your energy to achieve your current task, at the other you have global maximum and local minimum where you never get anything done because you are always trying to be more efficient. I think that this is a universal property that applies to all living organisms and information.

Then you get the paradox of exercise:

The paradox of exercise is that if you overwork yourself you cannot do anything for a few days. Yet by never reaching pushing your limits and overcoming them you will become weaker and weaker until you can do nothing at all. To optimize for the long term you also have to sometimes optimize for the short term by going all out. Local and global maximums align.

For people, for cities, for companies, and for technological systems: life is what happens while you were making other plans. That is why is all always about the journey.

Achievements are the maximums for whatever aspect you are looking at. For an individual, a great achievement is reaching the peak of your local maximum for a specific field. A local maximum, because what is the best for your career might not be the best for your relationships. Your global maximum (your life) may not coincide you’re your maximum of your career. A global maximum for you would be a local maximum for your company.

When a company accomplishes a great achievement that is the company’s local maximum for a division. When a company reaches its peak as an entity then it is at its global maximum. The global maximum for a company is the local maximum for a city. The global maximum for a city is the local maximum for a country. etc.

Up and down the ladder of holons, local and global maximums are everywhere. When the local and global maximums align, you get synergy and cooperation. Where they are in opposition, you get rivalry and competition. Parasitism is a form of slight divergence in the alignment of global and local maximums. The global maximum of the parasite is not completely opposed to that of the host, so it is not outright competition. The parasite still wants the host to keep living and feeding it. If the host dies the parasite dies as well. Yet if the parasite dies, the host is not negatively affected.

It’s turtles all the way down. Or as Venkatesh Rao would say, it’s hacks all the way down.

That is why change is so important in this balancing act between diverse and opposing global and local maximums. External changes are constantly accumulating, so if internal alignments do not change to match then it will move into a collapse (a violent re-alignment). Good alignment is also hard to predict, so one of the most effective strategies is to sample many and then solidify or double down on those that work.

By initiating change yourself you increase the likelihood that you can prevent some of the negative results of a collapse.

Sometimes a collapse followed by rebuilding is the best way when the current system cannot adjust sufficiently to fit the new circumstances. That is when you deliberately let something collapse in your own life such as ending a relationship. For a company, it might be closing a division. For a city, it would be declaring bankruptcy on a company. For a country, it would a revolution or civil war.

If there is a trend towards endless progress, and endlessly improving the alignment of global and local maximums, then you might ask what happens when everything is aligned? When everything works together and there is a universal peace (universal cooperation)? I myself wonder.

Or it might be that there is no ultimate direction and life is merely an exploration of different combinations. Endless universes, differing by few details or by many. An endless dance of creation and destruction that twirls around unto infinity. A song sung by many voices and with immensely complex harmonies and clashes. Where the roster of singers is always changing but the song never ends. A loop that has no beginning and no end.

And one day all of our songs will end and we will fade from memory until we are only an imperceptible eddy on the river of eternity.

To happiness, and beyond!

You should be more GREEDY

In this post, I intend to show how greed can be a very positive emotion and not just negative as many people make it out to be.

First off, any emotion that exists has to be useful. This is an unproven statement, but not so unreasonable if you take into account that evolution would not have bred it into humans if it was not useful for increasing genetic fitness in some way.

We all procrastinate. We settle for less. We stay in our comfort zones. Procrastination is one of the things that everybody encounters on a regular basis. What it comes down to is that it is a useful strategy according to evolution. If you procrastinate and act lazy – unless there is the promise of imminent danger or massive reward – then you use a lot less energy than you would if you were active constantly and worked until you dropped. You never know when you might need that energy to fight invaders or gather food. In prehistoric times, being tired meant being dead.

Greed is one of the ways to spur people to action. This action is sometimes destructive. In ancient times, plunder was a major way to acquire resources.  Not just stealing things, but also conquering territory or kidnapping mates. Greed is when you think that with little effort (or even a lot) you can hit the jackpot of rewards. People who acted on their greed in some situations fared better than those who didn’t. That is why greed is an inbuilt human emotion.

Even in modern society, greed has been very valuable. How much progress has humanity not made as a result of always wanting things to be more, bigger, shinier, faster? If humans were just content with their lot, would still have been living in the Stone Age and eating off berries and wild game. We would have been content with what we had and never reached the dizzying heights of organization, technology and power that humanity now controls.

Greedy people are much more ambitious than the non-greedy people. This can give them an edge that allows them to outcompete the people who are content, unambitious and who are satisfied with a simple life. How greedy you are can be the difference between winning and losing in the competitive parts of life.

Greed can make you stupid. We have all heard of people who commit horrible crimes motivated by greed. People who would never have considered being dishonest or hurting people find themselves lying to people, betraying them and creating a lot of pain for themselves and people they love.

Greed is an emotion like any other. It can corrode your very existence. It can be the force that drives you to reach your potential. Ultimately it boils down to how you use it. Like all emotions, it can be something that controls you or something that you control to increase your potential and rock out! Try it. Go out and BE GREEDY!

To happiness, and beyond!

 

Get a boring job in a small division.

When it comes to dominance and submission, humans are very close to our ape relatives in our relationships. Not only do the power dynamics profoundly influence our everyday interactions, but we also love being dominant and get chemical and neurological boosts from it.

In primitive societies there was a small ratio of leaders to followers, so becoming the top dog was a lot easier than in modern society (if you ignore the fact that competing could mean death). Today, we –at least in theory – have most of our interactions with our equals. This is a great outcome for our ideological and normative standards but plays havoc with our body chemistry and need for status. Our animal brain does not understand that being a subordinate is not life-threatening today. This really becomes a problem when you take into account how luck allows two people with identical skill sets to earn money that differs by many orders of magnitude.

The hard-working and intelligent college graduate may struggle to get by, but (because of survivorship bias) be surrounded by people who are a lot less qualified but earn many times what he does. He feels like a failure (and his wife agrees), yet he is seeing only the one-in-a-million lucky fool while more than 90% of the people who have the same qualifications as he has are earning significantly less. 999.999 of the people who did what the lucky fool next door did went bankrupt or are making peanuts on the dollar.

Often the advice of “do what rich people do and to become rich” is a quick way to bankruptcy. They will tell you about high-risk strategies which are much more likely to fail than succeed. The ones you see were just the ones that got lucky. You don’t see the ones that lost everything.

This is not to say that you cannot become rich by virtue of skills because you definitely can. Just take lucky people’s advice with a ton of salt. Ask yourself what happens to most people who follow the same strategy as they did. Taking large risks with a big chance of blowing up will result in disaster if you do it repeatedly.

Above a certain level of income, more money does not increase your happiness but more relative income does. If you are middle class and want to be happier, go live in a neighbourhood where people are generally poor. It works a lot better than surrounding yourself with people who regularly outspend you and constantly feeling poor.You can be the rich person on the block and enjoy all those delicious health and mood benefits of high status instead of constantly trying to play catch up.

What doesn’t make sense is trying to compete against the whole world for the (extremely) limited positions in the fields where it is winner-take-all. Do not derive your satisfaction from vagaries of chance. If you play music, do it for the love of music, if you paint, do it for the love of painting. Don’t chase fame for fame’s sake because most people cannot be famous.

For your income start with a base of location-specific services, and then do side gambles like an online business, a music career, etc. Location specific means you have to be physically present to provide the service. Dentists, lawyers, massage therapists, property agents or psychologists are examples. Choose something where you don’t have to be the best or the top 1% to earn good money, you just need to show up and do your job as best you can. Even if you are lucky enough to successfully be a professional athlete, make sure that you have another potential source of income as well. Choose something where you do not have to compete against the entire world, only against the few people in your physical location.

The exception to getting a location specific job is if you can start getting results that point to definitely being able to make a living from your service-at-a-distance before you are forced to become self-supporting. Eg. Making gymnastics videos and earning $100 a week from them before leaving school. Then you know that you could probably grow your subscribers and income still substantially. That’s what I’m doing. If my gamble does not pay off within the next few year then I will have to do something else with results that are more guaranteed than blogging. 🙂

Don’t get a job at a big company, or if you do choose a small division. It is easier to be the big fish if the pond is small. You might learn less, and earn less, but you will probably be happier. We may deny it, but we like being the boss. Such are the trade-offs in life.

In the title, I said get a boring job. This was only intended in the sense that you should choose a job where success is predictable, and not based on the chaotic logic of fads. It does not mean you should get a job that bores you. Do not do that. You cannot perform at your best if you are bored.

To happiness, and beyond!

Evolution and personality types

How there are declining returns on any one strategy and how the evolution of a species can stabilize around multiple strategies.

“The early bird gets the worm”

“The second mouse gets the cheese”

These are both cliches in popular culture, but they have opposite meanings. The first one is referring to the benefits of early adoption and being first to try new things. The second cautions patience because often waiting for something to mature can beat rushing headlong into it. From the viewpoint of humanity and of evolution, they are both valid at different times. The art lies in knowing which tool/behaviour to apply in your current circumstances.

Sometimes the early adopters have a disproportional advantage. Early adopters of Bitcoin made millions when it became trendy and the price skyrocketed. If you had a telegraph line when only a few people could afford them, you could make a killing on the stock market.

Sometimes being an early adopter is a very bad decision. When the iPhone launched and people stood in line to get them, they were very disappointed when the price fell by $200 three months later. Apple also discontinued their 4GB model, leaving people who had bought them stranded with obsolete devices.

There is no black or white when it comes to adoption of new things, be it an idea, a technology or in what type of area to live. Thus, species evolve to have characteristics on different points of the spectrum. Evolution loves hedging its bets.

If most of a population is slow to change and adopt, then there is little competition in new fields and on the frontiers. Over time, these genes are more successful and become more common in the population. At a certain point, people are chasing off after new things so much that they ignore the old and obvious routes.

Now there is little competition for the old things, so it’s easier to make a mark there. Genes that are more slow-moving and slow to adopt new things are more successful and increase in the population. This pattern continues until there is a balance between being eager to chase after the new and sticking to the tried and tested. This applies to almost any trait: sensitivity, laziness, persistence, obedience, status-seeking, athletic ability, obesity, length,  etc., etc.

Another dynamic also comes into play: Mutually beneficial relationships. If you have a someone who is most awake and aware in the morning, they can take the morning shift. They find food and watch out for danger. In the afternoon, the early-riser rests while the night-owl keeps watch and/or works. That way there is constantly a part of the group that is performing at their peak, ready for anything that might happen.

Our personalities are also formed by the environment that we are raised in and our life experiences. If we are in a culture that values patience above all else, we will naturally be more patient than if we were raised in a culture where patience is seen as a vice.

Humans are exceptionally pliable and can function even in conditions that are quite far removed from normal. They may not function optimally, but they still function. We can usually miss a night’s sleep if we have to, at the cost of dramatically decreased performance.

According to estimates, the most common personality type is ESTJ (Myers-Briggs). mypersonality.info describes this personality as “ESTJs are responsible, logical, norm-following hard workers. Their efforts are carried out in a practical, structured manner. ESTJs trust facts and experiences more than theories. They are decisive, loyal, tradition observing individuals. They enjoy being the person in charge and often make good supervisors.”

According to estimates ( I repeat: estimates), the least common personality type is INFJ. mypersonality.info describes this personality as “INFJs, are the most rare type (males even more so). They are introspective, caring, sensitive, gentle and complex people that strive for peace and derive satisfaction from helping others. INFJs are highly intuitive, empathetic and dedicated listeners. These traits tend to act as a “tell me what’s wrong” sign on their forehead, hence the nicknames Confidant, Counselor or Empath. INFJs are intensely private and deeply committed to their beliefs.”

On a surface level, this distribution makes sense: Society needs a large group of people that are responsible, norm-following and hard workers. Society would not function well if most people were “intensely private” with a “tell me what’s wrong” attitude. Thus responsible, norm-following and hard workers are the most common personality.

I repeat: these are estimates, and the conclusions I draw are very debatable, but I hope that I have given you something to think about.

To happiness, and beyond!