- If you can’t repress a desire to change course, just trust it and let go. Check out what’s on the other side.
- Fight anxiety with curiosity. Both are valid responses to new situations. One is fun.
- The insights from travel can be more valuable than a year of staying in and reading.
- Possessions are weights binding you to your current self-construct. The fewer and simpler possessions you are content with, the easier it is to metamorphose.
- Marketers who create successful marketing solutions for a variety of businesses are better than marketers who find one solution for one company and sell the strategy as a cure-all.
- The world is full of intelligent, interesting, and kind people. Stop your introvert excuses; find them and be friends. Life is a richer adventure when shared with good company.
- Twitter is social media for people who have things to say. Not sure why I didn’t learn this in 2007.
Like Sapiens, Huari’s previous book, Homo Deus changed my perspective on reality. Homo Deus breaks down the forces shaping our future. Though the book’s close left me in a nihialistic depression, Homo Deus goes in my “must-read-if-you’re-a-human” category.
Reading Spent is like taking the red pill and awakening to our consumer society as it really is. Miller looks at consumer behavior through the lens of evolutionary psychology. He argues that purchases are driven by status seeking, social signaling, and sexual solicitation. While the book needs more judicious editing, it’s a must-read for marketers.
There’s some great questions in this book. Here’s my thoughts on a few of them:
“What are the big companies of the future that don’t exist yet?”
Obviously, augmented reality will be a big player. Instead of looking at screens, we’ll have digital elements incorporated into our line of sight. Here’s a creative imagining on what a world with AR could be like:
I predict another large company of the future will be an AI service that helps you make life decisions. The AI-powered service would monitor your vitals as you respond to situations around you. It would then compare your data to the data from lifetimes of other users, and use that data to help you make deicions that optimize your happiness.
For example, I might think that taking a well-paying job in a big city is the right life choice. The AI might disagree, telling me that people like me who make that choice have a 20% higher risk of heart disease. Moreover, the service would remind me that there’s a 65% chance my commute would be longer than 40 minutes. It knows from its history of monitoring my vitals that a lengthy commute elevates my blood pressure. The service predicts I’ll be at least 4% happier and have 16% fewer medical bills in a small town.
While this type of service may sound like science fiction, I’m already dependent on Spotify to predict my next favorite songs. Spotify pays attention to every track I play, knows which music I’ve never heard, and delivers me a custom playlist every week. On average I like 30% of its recommendations, a better win rate than friends’ recommendations.
Zero to One also asks:
“What important truth do very few people agree with you on?”
I would say, “Buying X won’t make you happy.” While many people would agree with me on this one, few agree with it in action. Myself included.
One of my favorite passages in Zero to One:
If we already understand as much of the natural world as we ever will—if all of today’s conventional ideas are already enlightened, and if everything has already been done — then there are no good answers. Contrarian thinking doesn’t make any sense unless the world still has secrets left to give up.
This book lays the groundwork for a deep comprehension of business analytics. Dense and helpful, I highlighted every other paragraph.
This book manages to live up to its hype. Captivated, I devoured it in two days and felt I had lived Noah’s childhood myself. Go with the audiobook version to savor Noah’s knack for accents.
This is a rare gem in the self-help world because it manages to be humble, funny, and… actually helpful. Throughout the book I kept thinking, “Huh. I hadn’t thought about it that way.”
Adams argues that you should create systems instead of goals. I used to try to build habits by doing sprints. E.g., “Meditate every day for thirty minutes for 30 days.” I would succeed, but the behavior wouldn’t stick around. Building a ‘forever system’ in your life is more effective, albeit a slower process.
Adams doesn’t think failing matters as long as you fail forward–that is, you create knowledge and contacts from each failure. He thinks as long as you keep trying and learning, you’re bound to find success someday. It worked for him, will it work for everyone?
Average is Over is a fascinating read on where technology is taking jobs and the economy. Cowen uses computer-aided chess tournaments to extrapolate how humans will work with intelligent machines.
Someone finally explains why animals have no trouble in the cold, but I freak out the minute the temperature drops below 67. It turns out that animals have brown fat that they burn to keep warm. We too could develop and use this fat, if only we stopped confining ourselves to temperature-controlled boxes. Carney, like Wim Hoff, proposes we have the power to condition ourselves to embrace the elements. As someone who’s dabbled in Hoff’s methods, I appreciated getting a deeper understanding of the science behind them. I closed the book enamored by the cold, but it may take a few more reads before I can keep my hands off the thermostat.
An entertaining book about where technology is going. Having adored Wired as a kid, I felt waves of nostalgia as Kelly described the evolution of the internet in the same excited tone as early Wired issues. I loved Kelly’s description of a future city where you basically own nothing — every gadget is provided on-demand through a seamless network. While I’m more concerned about AI’s problems than Kelly, I enjoyed the dose of optimism.
Lots of good ideas for productivity experimentation in here. My favorites:
- Keep track of your productivity. As with everything, you can’t manage what you don’t measure.
- Use caffeine strategically. Use it only when you want your brain at full capacity, not as a daily routine that your brain will normalize.
- Write down each distraction as it arises and then ignore it.
Minimalism is scraping away the excess to live what is truly important to you. This is a good book to get started on minimalism, though reading a few minimalism blogs would suffice.
Thought-provoking read that questions the harmlessness of white lies. Lies separate the liar from those around him.
The premise of Mini Habits is that you do one super-easy thing every day to build lasting change. Guise argues that if you make your habit super easy and do it every day, you overcome your resistance and a major habit builds. It sounds good in theory, but so far my attempt at using mini habits has not yielded success.
I wasn’t impressed with this book, but I liked the idea of doing daily ratings for values every evening. Such as, “Did I treat everyone with kindness today?” and then rate that from a 1-10. Or, “Did I make the best choices for my health today?” or “Did I make the wisest decisions for how to invest my time today?” You can set up this type of daily review and scoring system with the HabitBull app.
The Millionaire Next Door presents the findings from studies of America’s multi-millionaires. The authors found that the millionaires who keep their money are those who forego the status symbols of wealth. After all, expensive status symbols drain finances. “I am not my car,” says one millionaire studied, reflecting the sentiment of the many millionaires who drive regular trucks and sedans. While many of the millionaires studied made their fortunes from being in profitable industries (e.g., attorney, doctor), many simply scrimped and saved their way to financial independence.
This book made me reflect on my material desires and see if they originated from a desire to appear a certain way. For example, will people think less of me if I never update my wardrobe? Or will I get the societal belonging I crave if I focus that energy on helping others?
In Wired to Eat, Wolf recommends a paleo diet with the addition of select carbohydates. Wolf provides evidence that everyone processes carbohydrates differently. Thus he recommends that you test your own body with different carbohydrates to see which work best with your body. This idea made sense to me. Why are there so many conflicting opinions about what to eat? Perhaps because everyone’s body reacts to food differently.
Good overview on fasting. If you are already convinced of fasting’s health benefits, skip it unless you want more information.
Robin looks at money through the eyes of life energy. It takes you X number of hours to afford Y. Using this perspective, you get a better sense of the value of your money.
Women have difficulty negotiating in a society where both women and men expect women to be “nice.”
IF WE CLOSED THE GENDER PAY GAP… the average Hispanic woman would earn $1,000,000 more over the course of her career. – LeanIn.org
Fascinating book on the history and ramifications of sugar. So many things I didn’t know, such as how the British Empire was built on the sugar, coffee, tea, and cacao trade. “Sugar is a drug to make the suffering of every day bearable.”
Light, artful read with a strong message. To live a good story and have a consequential life, you have to go beyond comfort and seek a meaningful challenge filled with risk and obstacles. You can also choose to solve problems by choosing a different story. A family became concerned that their daughter was dating a troublemaker. They realized that she was doing that because she didn’t have any better story to live than the story he brought to her life. So the dad decided that they were, as a family, going to build an orphanage. This meant a lot of work and sacrifice in everyone’s lives, but the family became engaged with the meaning it provided in their lives. The girl lost interest in the guy.
To keep the spark alive in long-term relationships, introduce mystery. For most couples, this means spending more time apart. I’ve found Perel’s well-produced podcast similarly entertaining and thought-provoking.
This was a perfect book for me as I tried to figure out where to travel and where to call home. Weiner chronicles his thoughts on what makes places and cultures happy, such as Icelanders’ freedom to reinvent their career without society’s disapproval.
A fun read on one man’s experiments with rejection. Jing argues that our fear of rejection stems from an evolutionary reliance on staying included in a tribe. Now that being rejected by someone has little impact on our survival, our fear of being rejected causes more harm than good. I loved how Jiang opened his life to adventure and connection by asking unusual questions.
Cute parable on achieving success through a giving mindset. I have experienced this principle in my life. I’ve been successful when I aimed to do my best to help others succeed. When I didn’t worry about compensation; when I didn’t try to keep score.
Living Forward: A Proven Plan to Stop Drifting and Get the Life You Want by Michael Hyatt and Daniel Harkavy
It’s a good book. But instead of reading it, consider meditating on your impending death.
A little gem of a copywriting book.
Why X would go viral: people look good by sharing X, a routine event prompts people to share about X, there’s emotion involved in sharing X, people can be helpful by sharing X, there’s a good story behind X.
What you do today matters because it adds onto what you did yesterday and builds the foundation for what you do tomorrow. Make it count.
I’ve savored this one slowly and picked it up in hard times. Chodron’s writing is a gift.
- It’s OK to change everything, to ruthlessly destroy the comfortable life you knew and loved. Life has a force that comes through you and sometimes you don’t know why but you have to follow it. Trust it.
- All that stuff I bought to make my life ‘perfect’ was misguided action. “If only I had X, my life would be perfect,” is an illusion; everything is always building and decaying and changing.
Next time I get settled, I will hack my browser so that online shopping sites redirect to meditation timers.
- “But I’ll miss [this possession] so much…” No, I won’t.
- “I can’t wait until I get there.” No matter where I am, I’m still the same person with the same hope and the same discontent.
- “But what if…?” = “I’ll figure it out.”
- “No, but what if…” Just get on the plane.
I heard about the Effective Altruism organization through a blog post on Giving What We Can. Here’s how EA explains their aim:
Effective altruism is about answering one simple question: how can we use our resources to help others the most?
Rather than just doing what feels right, we use evidence and careful analysis to find the very best causes to work on.
Here’s an example of the effective altruism concept (from this excellent article):
Most donors say they want to “help people”. If that’s true, they should try to distribute their resources to help people as much as possible. Most people don’t. In the “Buy A Brushstroke” campaign, eleven thousand British donors gave a total of 550,000 pounds to keep the famous painting “Blue Rigi” in a UK museum. If they had given that 550,000 pounds to buy better sanitation systems in African villages instead, the latest statistics suggest it would have saved the lives of about one thousand two hundred people from disease. Each individual $50 donation could have given a year of normal life back to a Third Worlder afflicted with a disabling condition like blindness or limb deformity..
Most of those 11,000 donors genuinely wanted to help people by preserving access to the original canvas of a beautiful painting. And most of those 11,000 donors, if you asked, would say that a thousand people’s lives are more important than a beautiful painting, original or no. But these people didn’t have the proper mental habits to realize that was the choice before them, and so a beautiful painting remains in a British museum and somewhere in the Third World a thousand people are dead.
Interesting, right? I didn’t know a ton about the Effective Altruism community or ideas, so going to EA Global 2017 was a perfect crash course.
I was surprised by how much the conference focused on the dangers of AI. It makes sense — AI could very well be disastrous for humanity — but I thought that global warming would still be a focus. At least in the sessions I attended, it wasn’t. The only mention of global warming was from the numerous vegan groups at the conference, citing that a primary cause of global warming is meat consumption.
Speaking of the vegan groups, one of the highlights from the conference was learning about The Good Food Institute, an organization whose perspective is that educating the public about the immeasurable suffering in factory farms will not be effective enough to change people’s consumption patterns. The true solution to this truly horrific problem is to change the food supply itself. Their aim is to make lab-grown meat and other meat alternatives so much cheaper and palatable that those sources will simply replace meat in the food supply. I thought this was a genius and very promising approach.
I summoned my courage and tried iAnimal, a virtual reality experience of factory farming. While I have been aware of the horrors of factory farming (and even small animal farms), it was a very different experience to witness it in VR. VR has a quality of feeling more real than reality, and the experience had a way of sticking in my body and mind for weeks. It was effective. While I try to choose animal products from farms I think will be treated better, I have found myself just opting for vegan options instead. Why risk being the cause of any animal suffering, ever?
At the conference, I was introduced to the concept of QALYs. A QALY, defined as a year lived in perfect health, is a unit of measurement used to gauge the impact of disease or death prevention. One amazing EAer had created a board game where you had to work with the other players to earn thousands of human and animal QALYs. Each round, players would earn money based on their economic position and have the opportunity to donate toward the goal of accumulating QALYs. Donate to the Against Malaria Foundation and you’ll save people from malaria and rack up QALYs quickly. Donate to Make a Wish Foundation and you won’t help much at all.
My favorite part of the conference was meeting people and asking them questions. Everyone was super smart, kind, and happy to talk about any number of interesting topics they had spent years researching. It was easy to feel intimidated by these people with stacks of research papers to their name, so I was relieved when Will MacAskill said that marketing is one of the needed career paths for the movement. Phew, there’s a need for a plebian like myself. Despite my insecurities, everyone was incredibly open and willing to connect. I felt like I had finally found a community I felt inspired and positively challenged by.
For a much more thorough and informed review of the conference, please see Scott Alexander’s excellent blog post on it. (Thanks for the link, Justin.)
Meditation was always something reserved for my ideal self, the self that was ten pounds slimmer and religiously followed a budget. So I was intrigued when my friend said he never could meditate before the retreat, but after it, he regularly meditated an hour or more. I wanted to try it. But finding a spare ten days with no internet connection? That took me five years.
Leading up to the retreat, I figured I should meditate to prepare. So I set an alarm for ten minutes. No problem, just ten minutes.
Hmm it’s been a while. Maybe my alarm isn’t working. I should check.
Do I really need to che–
Oh look, it’s been four minutes. I have six minutes left.
Hmmm maybe this is good enough.
Yup, my meditation practice was like that. So it came as no surprise that the first three days were incredibly difficult. I felt like I was breaking my mind, forcing it to PAY ATTENTION. Just focus on the breath. There’s the breath, there’s the– HEY! STOP SINGING TAYLOR SWIFT SONGS.
“The mind is in the past or the future. It’s never in the present,” said S. N. Goenka, the teacher. Or something like that. I’m not sure, they wouldn’t let us take notes. Or write anything. Or read. Or run. Or do yoga. Or speak.
But I was rarely bored. Struggling with my mind was immensely entertaining. It wasn’t pleasurable by any means, but it did a great job occupying my attention.
I expected I would spend the whole week in some great peace. And there were moments of that. There were moments walking through the forest where I would watch each tree coming closer and closer and then passing behind me. And there was nothing else but that experience.
There was a moment watching the late afternoon sun through the leaves when I realized that all I needed to be fulfilled was to be present. All my yearning for money or possessions or status or love was just a misguided substitute for just. being. here. Totally aware.
From that experience, I felt myself change. My goals were different. I saw myself in a garden being present. The ego and greed and desire melted away. Or at least some of it did.
But getting to that stillness took hours. Hours of suffering, hours of commanding myself to not move, hours of guilt when I’d let my mind scamper hungrily out of the present.
Halfway through the retreat, I felt I could access any childhood memory. All the random moments I assumed I would never remember came flooding back. My mind loved presenting me with memories because I would drop the meditation to pay attention to them.
I came to distrust my mind. You know the super weird, random stuff you get in dreams? Well it turns out you also get that stuff when you’re meditating for hours on end. Images of pandas came out of nowhere. What’s with the pandas, mind? (No answer.) Then there were lots of images of cats. Not any cat I knew. Just randomly generated cat images. Striped cats. Cute cats. Cats gazing at me, wondering what I was doing.
My favorite mental image was of me as a child, drawing with a crayon over the meditation hall walls. Drawing a line portraying the hills and valleys of my breath rising, falling, rising, falling.
I’m glad no one told me how hard it was. It was so. hard. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I kept expecting someone to jump up and run out of the meditation hall, screaming, “I CAN’T TAKE IT ANYMORE!!!”
But no one did.
I was impressed by my fellow meditators. They were into it. They were committed. It was inspiring.
Then there was the weird shit that happened.
One day I got out of the meditation hall and couldn’t find my shoes. Did someone take them by accident? Then where were the shoes they had? I couldn’t figure it out. I searched and searched. Eventually, I decided to walk barefoot back to my tent for my other shoes. All over the stones and the pine cones. Ow ow ow ow. Later that day I discovered my shoes outside of the bathroom, right where I had left them earlier that morning. This would mean that I had walked really far barefoot on stones and pine cones without noticing, or some magical thing had magically transported my shoes back to where I had left them.
I still can’t decide what happened.
One day we were watching the video instruction of the teacher (the majority of the instruction is by video recording of Goenka filmed in the early 90s. Surprisingly, it works). Suddenly the entire room changed to look like a palace in a spirit world. I saw the image of Goenka floating above me, still the video but suddenly as if he was coming through space and time to speak to me directly. He was talking about karma. He was talking to my soul about karma.
And then there was the night that I was completely sure I was going insane. I started getting paranoid. Who is this organization? What kind of organization takes all these random people and houses and feeds them and teaches them torturous meditation techniques for ten days without payment up front? Everyone is silent! I can’t talk to anyone! I can’t trust any of these people. The fear and anxiety mounted. I felt like I was about to break. I need to leave tomorrow. As soon as it’s light, I’m going to leave.
But the next morning I felt fine. Okay, maybe I’ll stick with it. Only six days left. By the sixth day, I was stable enough in the silence of myself that I let the material come up. I cried and released. It was hard, but I was free.
Several weeks after the retreat, while I’m not enlightened, I do feel a change. I’m more able to sit with situations that make me uncomfortable. I was driving through traffic and I just hated it. It was dark and an unfamiliar highway and traffic and I was late and it just felt so uncomfortable and overwhelming.
And my mind said, “This will pass.”
And I breathed and felt the sensations of my discomfort and just was present. And it passed.
This whole life is uncomfortable and uncontrollable and an infinite loop of desire and aversion. And I don’t know the answer or the meaning to it all, but breathing and feeling sensation is like finding a home in the quiet eye of an inescapable storm.
Interested in having this type of experience yourself? See dhamma.org for information on Vipassana meditation retreats. There are tons of locations around the world and all retreats are by donation.
The close friendship you feel with an author as you read an enjoyable book.
The anxious compulsion to check a text message when hearing the chime.
The feeling of overwhelm when observing how much information there is to absorb (e.g., the white wall of unread emails, the queue of unplayed podcasts).