Learning out loud.
10207 words
@jmestn

Forever decisions

We form personal preferences quickly and rarely revisit whether we still believe them to be true. As a result, choices made in our past slowly become part of our identity.

The first time you make coffee for a friend, you ask how they like it. The second time you might ask again. By the third or fourth time, you're just going to make their coffee in accordance to the preferences they've previously expressed.

This is because we decide our preferences based on a brief period of experimentation. When we're asked how we like our coffee, we almost always defer to our default answer, rather than pause to reflect on what level of sweetness we'd enjoy in that exact moment.

Drinking sub-optimal coffee may not be a big deal (for you), but other forever decisions we make about ourselves can severely limit our growth and range of experiences.

When we use labels, like "I'm introverted" or "I'm bad at math", the process of brainwashing begins: the perception we hold of ourselves shifts from a nuanced truth (I like meeting like-minded people but I'm uncomfortable at bars) to a fixed fiction (I hate meeting new people) that's easier for us to digest.

The more we repeat these half-truths to ourselves the harder we commit to self-identifying with labels that aren't quite right. Introverts commit to identifying as introverted, bad students commit to being bad at math, and unhealthy people commit to being unhealthy. All because they've made forever decisions about themselves based on a tiny sample size of self-experimentation.

Forgetting how malleable we are, both physically and mentally, limits our potential to change for the better.

Answer anxiety

How many thoughts do you think in a day?

The answer is a lot. We are addicted to thinking and re-thinking and re-re-thinking until we tire ourselves out. At that point we go to sleep, wake up, and restart the process again.

I'm not zen enough to give you an antidote to re-thinking. I struggle with overthinking just like everybody else. Logically, I understand you can't out-think some problems, yet the very nature of this truth prevents me from turning thinking 'off'. I could tell you something like, "thinking robs us from the present moment", but that's no more actionable than a fortune cookie.

A tactic I've found to be effective in reducing re-re-thinking is closing open loops.

Open loops are thoughts you know to require eventual action but haven't yet committed action to. Calm these thoughts by giving them direction: they need a job to look forward to, else they misbehave and demand your precious attention.

Open loops can be found hiding within general anxiety because anxiety is often a side effect of uncertainty. "What am I going to do?!" is often the open loop found at the root of anxiety. Close the loop by answering the question. Calmly explain to the loop how you intend to handle the situation, whether it be nerves before a date or a big meeting with your boss, or when you promise to give it the attention it deserves.

I sleep best when I close my open loops before bed. I scribble down the thoughts asking for my attention, moving them from mental RAM to removable storage in the form of a sticky note. This transfer of thoughts from my head to another medium is usually enough on its own. The open loops in my mind just want to be noticed. They take comfort in knowing the issue they represent hasn't been forgotten.

Answer your anxiety by closing open loops.

Progressing in private

Working with the garage door open. Finding accountability partners. Learning in public. These are all tricks we've learned help keep us inspired as we try to become better. When we tell the world we intend to accomplish something, we better start moving.

But what if we kept the garage door closed?

Better yet, what if we moved all our stuff out of the garage and into the inconspicuous shed in our backyard. We'd sneak out into the shed when nobody was around to ask any questions and we'd get to work, whatever work that may be. We'd progress in private.

You should always have something going on in your inconspicuous backyard shed. There is deep satisfaction found in progress made privately, slowly accumulating until you're no longer able to keep a secret.

When you're working in the shed, your progress is invisible to outsiders. Like a pot of water on the stove, there is little change to be seen in the beginning. Slowly, as progress is made, activity is visible, but only to those paying close attention. Then the water boils and the sound of the bubbles popping is too loud to ignore. The reveal is made.

Progressing in private delays gratification until gratification can't take it anymore. When you refuse to post progress photos or complain about how sore your legs are from squats, you're teasing your need for validation. Eventually, if you continue to make progress, the gratification will seek you out, in the form of increased strength or compliments from others, instead of you grasping for it yourself.

Start scheming. It's more fun when you let gratification chase you.

Corona as a constraint

Constraints breed creativity. It might be helpful to frame COVID-19 as a constraint we can work around until lockdowns are lifted and our freedoms are progressively restored.

A lens I've found helpful is imagining time has been frozen. We don't know when time will unfreeze but we can rest assured that it will thaw out eventually.

This leaves us with two options:

  1. We can watch the clock in desperation for our normal lives to resume, mourning our lost freedoms.
  2. We can take advantage of these new constraints by channeling our focus towards becoming better humans in the eventual post-CV19 world.

Don't fool yourself: you can't always win the mental battle. There will be days that pass unseized. You may feel angry about opportunity being stolen from you, sad about the things you're not doing, or stressed about what the new normal might look like.

Let these hours, days, or weeks pass guilt-free. You don't need to have perfect resolve as the world wages war against an enemy keeping us in our cages. Good enough is good enough as we take things one day at a time.

Do your best to prevent negativity from earning a win streak. Bad days are inevitable but two in a row marks the beginning of a habit. Feed your positive emotions often and they will grow strong enough to win more often than not—that's all you need to come out ahead.

The virus gets to make up the rules but that doesn't mean you can't win the game. How you spend your time now will determine how you look back at this point in your life. You will be asked how you spent your time during the COVID-19 pandemic.

How will you answer?

"More" money is a lazy goal

Everybody likes the idea of having more money.

Money creates distance between you and negative stressors (bankruptcy, homelessness, desperation) and grants you optionality. Having unlimited money would grant us unlimited options.

Having the option to choose any option is a powerful freedom few of us will ever have the chance to experience. The good news is that you don't need to be rich—because you don't care about most options. You don't care that an ice cream shop has 99 flavors of ice cream if you only like 5 of them.

Find out what you like, what you want to experience more of, and pursue those options. Why do you want more money? What will you use it for? Answer this and tally up the cost. You may be surprised at how affordable your goal lifestyle is.

"Everybody's too fucking cool"

Kevin Hart was in a room with Jeff Bezos.

Hart is a world famous comedian-turned-actor, but the presence of billionaire Bezos was significant. His presence was equally significant to everybody in that same private party following the Patriot's Super Bowl win, but Hart needed to do something about it.

It wasn't long after Bezos strolled into the room that Hart decided he wanted to talk to him. It only made sense: Hart, a self-made two-hundred million dollar man known for his ambition knew there was immense value in sharing the same air as billionaire Bezos.

But a friend stopped him before he could introduce himself.

"No, don't do that..."

"Why do you have to do that, Kev?"

"There's a room full of people here, don't look like the dude that's thirsty..."

Do these objections sound familiar? Kevin Hart's friend in this scenario might as well be playing the role of the voice inside our head that activates any time we consider stepping outside of our comfort zone. The voice means well. It genuinely believes it must protect us from risk. What it doesn't understand is that the cost of failure is insignificant.

Kevin Hart didn't need to read Jamie Sutton's notebook to understand this. Hart knew this was an opportunity to engage with an interesting individual he may never see again. You learn to jump on those opportunities instantly when you're a self-made man.

That's the problem. Everybody's too cool... everybody's too fucking cool.

Hart wasn't the only person in that private Super Bowl party who was moved by the presence of billionaire Bezos. The difference between Hart and everybody else is that everybody else was too busy playing it cool, whatever that means.

Playing it cool is so strange. We all do it. It's when we act as though we're less excited about something—or worse, someone—than we actually are. By playing it cool we signal to others that we're not impressed. We've been here before, do don't expect any enthusiasm, because you don't deserve it. Remind me, what's cool about this again?

Everybody wants you to think that they know. You don't know. You don't know shit!

Kevin Hart didn't play it cool. He knows better. He introduced himself to billionaire Bezos and set himself up for another conversation.

Story and quotes were taken from 'What Kevin Hart Said When He Met Jeff Bezos.

Autodidacts

Are you an autodidact?

An autodidact is a self-taught individual who approaches learning without direct guidance from others. Put simply: "autodidact" is a fancy way to say "self-learner".

To be an autodidact is to be curious about learning. Being curious about learning leads you down rabbit holes that connect with niche subreddits, strange YouTube accounts, and poorly scanned PDFs with tiny text.

Autodidacts build their own ad-hoc curriculum using these resources, taking bits and pieces until the resulting synthesis of information is enough to satisfy their curiosity, or to become actionable.

The drive to self-learn is propelled by curiosity and the burning desire to make use of the knowledge being accumulated. This is why autodidacts form their own curriculum: existing lesson plans are rarely tailor-made for action. Any superfluous chapter or lecture has the potential to extinguish the spark of curiosity and dull excitement of learning.

The internet is a life changing gift for autodidacts. Prior technology (books) was functional, but sampling and scouting new sources of information—an essential part of autodidacticism—was less modular and more time intensive.

Not only does the internet invent new ways for us to self-learn, but it also publicizes the success of autodidacts and glamorizes self-learning. The success of self-taught coders is one of many examples. Self-learning is cool now.

The internet may also be loosening the definition of what an autodidact is. Self-directed learning doesn't have to be limited to a purely solo pursuit, especially if it comes at the cost of learning. It's never been easier to find a tutor, a mentor, or a community capable of bringing you closer to achieving your learning goals.

We now have the option of learning almost anything we want to learn, from the comfort of our home. We're living in the future. A future where autodidacts will thrive.

Autopilot

As creatures of habit we find ourselves cruising on autopilot often. Research shows we often don't do what makes us happiest, we do what's easy. Comfort seduces us into complacency, furthering adding distance between where we are today and where we want to be.

Autopilot is an inevitability. It seems unlikely that anybody is focusing on their most important task up until the exact moment it becomes less important. We can't avoid autopilot entirely, but we can become better at recognizing it.

We benefit from autopilot when it's steering us towards our goals at an acceptable speed. It hurts us when it steers us in the wrong direction, or too slowly. We can track the speed and direction of where we're going by paying attention to our dashboard.

Your dashboard should tell you where you're going, your estimated time of arrival given your current pace, and your required time of arrival. If, at any point, we see that we're no longer on track to arrive in time, we need to take control of the wheel ourselves.

We don't need to do much manual steering so long as we're paying attention. Tiny adjustments are all we need to re-calibrate our autopilot. We pass a lot of interesting places on our way to our destination, so we can't blame our autopilot from getting distracted from our most important task.

If your mind has been poisoned by the concept of productivity (like mine), you may assume your most important task is tied to your paycheck. It can be, but it doesn't have to be. Once you've secured a reasonably enjoyable job you may realize you can make larger quality of life gains by working on skills unrelated to your work.

Keep an eye on your dashboard to make sure you're heading in the right direction, at the right speed.

Study people like books

Serious readers take extra care not to miss extracting information from books. They make highlights, take notes, and re-write key concepts in their own words, all in an attempt to retain as much information as possible.

What if we tried to extract interesting stories from people we met the same way we do with books we read?

Everybody wants to feel noticed, so notice them. Pay attention to the things they tell you. Skim through the small talk until you hit on something interesting they care about, then dig deeper. There are few things that produce better conversation than somebody speaking about their passions. Find out what somebody gets excited about and let them tell you why.

Once the conversation is flowing, pay attention. Silence your inner critic from worrying about what to say next by leveraging your curiosity. It's hard to be in your own head playing defense when you take responsibility for discovering the other person's personality.

Afterwards, note anything you discussed that has follow-up potential. If you talked about her boss secretly stealing her lunch from the office fridge, joke about it the next time you see each other. Follow-up on the book they were reading, the new job they landed, or the trip they had planned. Remembering these details makes them feel good and you look good.

Get curious about people by searching for their stories with conversation. Make them feel noticed by proving you were listening.

Taking breaks from happiness

I sometimes catch myself trying to justify not doing something I know to be good for me under the premise that I deserve a break. I don't think I'm alone in this.

This is a strange feeling, the craving to take breaks from something that brings us happiness. We know the productive habit we're feeling an urge to break from will ultimately make us happier the moment we make progress towards its completion. We never regret having already exercised or having already cleaned our room.

The professional has learned better. He respects Resistance. He knows if he caves in today, no matter how plausible the pretext, he'll be twice as likely to cave in tomorrow. - Steven Pressfield

Why do we feel compelled to take breaks before they're necessary?

This urge comes from a part of us that is terrified at the thought of abandoning comfort for any reason: our inner non-doer.

Our inner non-doer refuses to trade comfort for any amount of future reward. The non-doer is lazy yet persuasive, whispering to us about how proud of our progress it is, and that we've done so well that we deserve to take a break from all this work.

What the non-doer doesn't understand is that any unit of comfort derived from avoiding what's good for us today is essentially a unit of unrealized happiness being taken from our future. It doesn't understand that our "work"—in the broadest sense of the word—earns us happiness.

We set ourselves up to reap rewards more meaningful than comfort when we face the temporary discomfort that comes with getting started. The proud grin we give ourselves in the mirror after consecutive months of exercise is worth infinitely more than the guilty comfort afforded by taking a day off.

Taking breaks before they're necessary is a sneaky trick your inner non-doer plays to steal from your future happiness.

Categorizing your relationships

Each person in your life experiences you in a unique way. You are a different person to your best friend than you are to your neighbor than you are to your significant other—and everybody is better off for it.

We group many of our relationships into the same broad "friend" category, yet we're unlikely to treat any two "friends" identically. There's more granularity to our relationships than broad categorization can account for. Relationships are better defined by tags than they are folders.

There are three sides to any relationship:

  1. How that person makes your feel
  2. How you make that person feel
  3. The known overlap between the previous two factors

It's rare for any two people to make us feel identically. Any discrepancy in this three ingredient recipe will result in a unique relationship being formed.

We each see ourselves as a consistent person with certain interests and certain quirks, but the reality is that we bring a different sum of ourselves to each of our relationships. We're rarely, if ever, the same identical person to many people.

Privacy 101

Privacy is security from judgement. And it's important.

Privacy is not about keeping secrets or being anonymous. Secrecy is the complete absence of information. Privacy is security from judgement.

We need privacy because there are things we do, things that other people know that we do, which we don't want everybody to obtain a clear picture of.

Everybody knows we use the bathroom. It's not a secret. Yet, we close the door when doing so to prevent anybody from obtaining a clear picture. Such is the nature of private activities.

Our search history, text messages, and bank account balances are all matters we tend to seek security from judgement on. We aren't hiding anything, we simply don't value third-party input on these matters.

We tend to seek freedom from judgement (aka privacy) when

  1. We are unwilling, or uninterested, in having a discussion on certain matters with certain people.

  2. We lack the time or desire to explain the surrounding context.

  3. We don't think others would understand or agree with our opinion.

Privacy gives us an option to selectively manage our public reputation. This is crucial as we are constantly tweaking our behaviors in accordance to the people around us.

  • We eat in a different fashion sitting alone in the comfort of our home than we do with a group of friends at a nicer restaurant.
  • The conversation we have with a romantic interest at a quiet bar would change if their parents were sitting alongside us.
  • The music we listen to alone is different from the curated playlists we play around through the speakers when our friends are around.

We don't carry a malicious intent in any of these scenarios. Freedom from judgement is an essential part of our lives.

Seeking privacy doesn't make us evil or up to no good. It makes us human.

Naval doesn't take notes

I think taking notes is the same as taking photos when you’re on a trip. All it’s doing is taking you out of the moment. - Naval Ravikant

Reading to deeply understand a topic and reading to maximize your exposure to ideas are two different approaches to reading. One of these approaches makes reading significantly more enjoyable than the other.

We often feel a responsibility to retain information when reading. This is why we take notes. Notes are to reading what sweat is to exercise. Note taking is our Proof of Reading, evidence that we've extracted a sufficient amount of information from the book we've reading.

I propose that you reserve reading to deeply understand for books that have earned that right, making reading to maximize exposure to ideas your default mode of reading.

Here's why:

Reading to maximize your exposure to ideas is different. The goal is not to retain a sufficient amount of the book to memory, but to stroll through the book and see if any passages or concepts are interesting enough to make you stop.

Do you notice the shift in mindset? The relationship you have with books changes completely.

You no longer scour the book in search of passages that cross your minimum interesting threshold. There is no obligation to accurately recite a chapter summary. The responsibility is turned back to the book: it must entertain or inform, otherwise it will be skimmed or skipped.

I skim. I speed read. I jump around. I could not tell you specific passages or quotes from books. At some deep level, you do absorb them and they become part of the threads of the tapestry of your psyche. - Naval Ravikant

Treat your books as if they are auditioning in front of you, attempting to pitch you on their most interesting ideas. Only once a book passes this audition does it deserve to be studied or scoured for bits and pieces you might have initially missed.

Worry less about being able to prove that you read the book and worry more about whether it's worth reading in the first place. There is a meaningful difference between reading out of obligation (powered by willpower) and reading because the book has captured your attention (powered by curiosity).

All quotes are taken from Episode 18 of Shane Parrish's The Knowledge Project featuring Naval Ravikant. Transcript here. Podcast here.

OPSEC Advice for People Who Don't Know About OPSEC

This is your disclaimer that I have no idea what I'm talking about. Now let's get started.

OPSEC is about how to reduce the chances you'll get hacked, doxxed, or otherwise have private information stolen from you.

We're going to briefly touch on: ad blockers, password managers, 2FA, encrypted messaging apps, and VPNs.

You don't need to read this if you already know everything I just listed. If you don't know what something is, scroll to that part of the post and consider implementing it.

Ad Blockers

If you haven't yet installed an ad blocker, I don't know what to tell you. You're either a boomer or a marketer who studies ads.

uBlock Origin is a popular ad blocker that does what you need it to do. Just search for "ublock origin" + "Chrome/Firefox/browser name".

There are websites that don't function when your ad blocker is enabled. Temporarily disable your ad blocker or don't visit shitty websites.

Password Managers

You should be using a password manager. There are two notable options to choose from, and it doesn't matter which one you choose.

Password managers are important because they give you the upside of highly secure passwords without the downside of potentially forgetting said highly secure passwords.

When using a password manager, you only need to remember 1 password: the password that unlocks your password manager.

Password managers are extremely convenient because they auto-fill your logins and auto-generate your passwords if you install the corresponding browser extensions.

You need a password manager. Go sign up for one of the two options linked above.

Enable 2FA

Two-factor authentication requires you to enter a one-time security code each time you login. This adds an additional layer of security to your account, preventing an attacker from accessing your account even if they had your password.

You need to use app-based 2FA. Google Authenticator is the most popular option. Text-based 2FA is not safe.

Here's why: attackers have been known to convince your phone carrier to transfer your phone number over to a SIM card they own, thus enabling access to your text messages.

Seriously! This guy lost $100,000 because of it.

Enable app-based 2FA on your most important accounts. Email and banking are the big two.

Encrypted Messaging Apps

The short version: use encryption whenever possible.

SMS is not encrypted and neither are the vast majority of emails. (Encryption via email is technically possible, but it's difficult to setup and both parties need to complete the steps. Look into "pgp email encryption" if you're interested.)

Messenger apps are the convenient way to go here:

  • WhatsApp is encrypted, though privacy minded folks dislike that it's owned by Facebook—not exactly the most privacy friendly company.
  • Telegram is encrypted, though it uses proprietary encryption, which is considered a big red flag.
  • Signal is a popular mostly-consensus pick, though it's not nearly as mainstream as the options above.

VPNs

You should be using a VPN if you use public internet. Privacy minded folks would argue you should be using a VPN at home too.

VPNs funnel your internet activity through a remote server, preventing anybody on your local network from spying on (or altering) your internet activity.

VPNs inhibit mass surveillance, but they're not perfect. Governments have the power to subpoena VPN companies to uncover customer information. There are VPN companies that advertise a "no log policy", meaning they would have nothing to handover in the case of being subpoenaed, but verifying these claims are difficult.

It's important to remember that while you are protected with a VPN, you are never fully anonymous.

Researching VPNs is difficult. VPN companies offer large affiliate commissions and thus it's nearly impossible to find content without bias. The best site for finding a VPN is That One Privacy Site, which refuses to use affiliate links.

Further Reading

I am not an expert and any technical explanations above are coming from memory.

If you're interested in reading more about OPSEC, check out these resources:

Budgeting for happiness

The KonMari method went mainstream in January of last year when Tidying Up With Marie Kondo hit Netflix.

For those unaware, the KonMari method involves gathering all one's belongings, one category at a time, and then only keeping those things that spark joy.

What if we applied this rule to how we spend our money?

This is something personal finance author Ramit Sethi has advocated for in his (unfortunately titled) book I Will Teach You To Be Rich.

Frugality, quite simply, is about choosing the things you love enough to spend extravagantly on—and then cutting costs mercilessly on the things you don’t love. via I Will Teach You To Be Rich

Financial minimalism: the process of maximizing the amount of happiness you get back from your expenses. Don't confuse pleasure for happiness. Pleasure is fleeting and short-lived while happiness radiates and lingers long after your purchase.

Spending for pleasure is buying 1/2 pound Reese's cups off Amazon. Not that I've ever done that.

Spending for happiness is budgeting enough to anonymously pay for a stranger's meal every month.

You don't have to gift strangers, but you may find it's one of the more rewarding ways you can spend your money.

However you decide to budget for happiness, automate the process. Your bank should allow you to setup automatic transfers each month. Use them. It's the only way to guarantee you don't get in your own way.

Demand more joy from your expenses by budgeting for happiness.