I once heard a quote along the lines of, "All advice is autobiography."
The natural type of advice for people to give, in any given situation, is whatever worked for them.
While this is all quite natural and proper, it occurs to me that a lot of mis-advice comes from this. After all, we've got all got slightly different personalities, lifestyles, goals... we all have have minds that operate slightly differently, bodies that respond differently to different stimuli... what works for you might not necessarily work for me, and vice-versa.
ONE LEVEL OF ABSTRACTION UP
So, recently I was thinking about consuming things.
You know - food, music, books, podcasts, entertainment, leisure, activities, etc, etc.
And a strange thought struck me —
Wait, when is the last time I stopped and thought about how I choose what to consume?
Funny question, no?
See, I think most introspective people seem to consider what they consume from time to time.
Like, you can be working through a stack of books over some months and then, one day, it's like: "Wait, I haven't read a book I really enjoyed in a while. Hmm. What should I be reading next?"
Or perhaps one day you notice your eating patterns have drifted to just eating whatever, and then one day— "Huh wait, what should I be eating?"
And sometimes this leads to people thinking about why they consume what they consume — why do I listen to music? Why do I eat what I eat? Why do I read?
And these questions inevitably prompt reevaluation — new books, new food choices, new music playlists, etc.
This makes sense and life always seems to get a little better once reasoning through these things.
But when I thought about it more, I realized I hadn't put much thought into how I was making those choices.
This was kind of mildly exciting — like it's an obviously important thing, but I'd never given it a whole lot of thought.
I kind of sketched around in a notebook a bit, and another thought struck me —
There's probably only a limited number of ways to choose.
STRATEGIES FOR CONSUMPTION, TAKE ONE
I don't think this is a complete list, but I think it's an interesting jumping-off point:
(1) Habitual Consumption: you consume however you've been consuming recently. For example: eating primarily at the same rotation of restaurants and staple meals, listening to the same podcasts you're known to like.
(2) Intuitive Consumption: listening to your body and mind and choosing what to consume based on fast processing of what 'feels right' in a given situation. For example: thinking 'some citrus fruit would really hit the spot' and going to get some, realizing one day that work is cognitively demanding and deciding to pick up an old favorite novel to re-read.
I'm guessing here, but I think those are the two most common consumption strategies. I reckon people with well-developed intuition do well by listening to theirs, but I think people with well-developed intuition often fail to realize that not everyone has that same natural sense. If you've ever heard someone say "listen to your body" about food, they're recommending eating intuitively. Having talked with a lot of people about this, I can say quite confidently that some people have a good sense for this and eating intuitively will work for them... whereas for others, they'd need a lot of training and practice, possibly over multiple years, to get to that same place. For this latter type of person, the "listen to your body" advice tends to fall flat.
(3) Blacklisted Consumption: this is where you forbid entire classes of things from consumption. For example: not eating refined carbohydrates at all, refusing to watch new movies.
(4) Whitelisted Consumption: this is where certain classes of things are always allowed. For example: someone who makes a list of only 5-10 foods and eats exclusively those, reading all books by a particularly well-liked author.
Blacklists and whitelists seem, to me, concessions to either not fully trusting one's intuition and/or measures designed to simplify one's life and avoid decision fatigue. As someone who often doesn't trust my own naive intuition, I've made liberal use of them.
(5) Curated Consumption: this is where you find someone with similar taste to you and consume liberally from their suggestions. For example: trying most recipes from a particular food blogger you like, reading from a curated books recommendation list from someone like Ryan Holiday (recommended, by the way).
This seems like a wise thing, when you can find it. There's lots of people that specialize in different ways in food, music, books, movies, etc. And with the internet, you can probably find someone with similar taste as you. It can take a while to find, but it's great when you do.
(6) Designed Consumption: this is where you work backwards by figuring out your goals and constraints, clarifying those into rules or parameters, and then selecting your consumption to suit those goals and constraints. For example: dialing in some very specific macronutrient ratios for a particular type of body re-composition, curating a careful reading list while working towards mastery and expertise in a field.
This seems like the most rare way to select one's consumption, because it's time-consuming and typically requires considerable knowledge and exposure (or research) to put down goals and constraints that are both realistic and life-affirming for you, and then to further operationalize that to actually make the selection.
ON SUCCESS VIA VARIOUS STRATEGIES
That's not a complete list, and of course you can mix and match from various strategies.
Now — will you get what you want with a given strategy? I think any one of them could serve you well or serve you poorly in life, but I think what'll determine that varies by strategy.
Habitual Consumption, I reckon, swings on both Environment and Recency. In other words, if you're in environments that prompt choices that work well for you, it works. If what you're doing recently has been working for you, you're good.
Intuitive Consumption, I reckon, succeeds or fails on Intuition-Outcome Correspondence. Some people just seem to have a good sense for what will satisfy them in eating or entertainment or whatever, and others do not. It seems like it can be trained as an ability if you don't have it naturally, but it also seems to take a long time to train.
Whitelists and Blacklists succeed or fail on Adherence — they're pretty straightforward to set up and run; the question is whether the permitted or forbidden lists come across as oppressive and lead to one breaking down. Most people find it easier to run a whitelist or blacklist for a defined period of time only — one month is a common time period — but some people adopt their lists for life, which tends to work well if you can stick with it, and especially so if your intuition tends to lead you astray.
Curation of course requires Research (or luck, possibly) in finding someone whose tastes are similar to yours, and then periodically re-evaluating whether their recommendations are matching what works for you. This is really marvelous when it works well; I'm surprised people don't seek out excellent curation more often.
Finally, Design seems to give the most potential for incredibly satisfying results but it's a lot of work to really get it up and running — all the work in thinking and clarifying what one is after, and then operationalizing that into decisionmaking and following through. It's pretty darn cool when it clicks, though.
ARS LONGA, VITA BREVIS
I'm no doubt missing some other ways of choosing, but sketching this out was really cool and insightful for me.
Now I can be like, okay,
Do I want to run habitually here?
Do I trust my intuition here?
Do I want to whitelist certain stuff that's always allowed?
Do I want to blacklist some stuff that's never allowed?
Do I want to seek out someone with taste that matches mine to follow their recommendations?
And, finally, do I want to do the hard work of carefully designing this area for maximum possible result?
You know, of all the things we get in the world, time is probably the most precious. I'm not going max-design on everything — it's probably impossible, anyways — but I am going to dial in my choices to start 2020 with a bang.
I think they had it right in Antiquity —
Or in English —
Life is short,
and art long,
and judgment difficult.
Wishing the new year is the best for you yet.
Now if you'll excuse me, I've got some research and design time to put in...
I met UJ Ramdas at a charity event in Toronto last year, and was really blown away. He's a rare mix of hyper-realist and hyper-optimist — he seems to have a super deep and intuitive grasp on the legitimate difficulty of doing great things in life, while simultaneously being optimistic that we can, step-by-step, get there with diligence and focus.
He runs a company called "Intelligent Change," most famous for making the 5-Minute Journal.
At the start of every year, I refine all my personal systems and do some experiments to set the year up well — so I bought a copy of the 5 Minute Journal and have started using it, and... I think it's so very cool.
"Your Step By Step Guide To A Perfect Life" —
I don't know if I'd quite promise a perfect life, but it was really really good episode. Austin Fabel is a terrific interviewer. Tons of useful points on there.
In other news, we're midway through the Work Marathon —
We're doing live Work Cycles in 20 cities.
It'll be a great way to get a ton done and meet some wonderful people — the type of people who come out to live Work Cycles are consistently exceptional and cool.
Free registration for all events here —
True story —
We decided to do a contest. Sebastian Marshall (cofounder) goes to Kai Zau (cofounder), and says,
“We should give away an iPhone. It’ll be awesome.”
Kai says, “An iPhone? What’s that have to do with our business? Anyone can give away an iPhone. That’s so f***ing lame.”
Sebastian says, “I tried to find something that’s on-brand for us, but I don’t got anything.”
Alright, I'm super excited to make this announcement.
Over at Ultraworking, we had a lot of success with the Pentathlon and various free offerings we put out, but the biggest question we kept getting was, "This is great but I want more of it."
So I'm very pleased to now announce The Work Gym —
At that link, you can read about our long-term plan to make it the best resource on the internet for hitting peak performance if you're interested, but the big relevant thing is we're starting with two rounds of live Work Cycles every single week, on Saturday and Sunday at 4PM Eastern Standard Time (1PM Pacific).
I. Teamwork: that shouldn't be too hard, eh?
Sooner or later, most people who want to make a difference in the world start thinking about how to have highly effective teams, teamwork, and collaboration.
On the surface, it seems like it should be simple and straightforward — if you and someone else both believe in the same cause, you're both competent at your individual roles, and you get along well between the two of you, you should be able to be an effective team.
Finding a third member of the team would just mean getting someone else who cares about the cause, is competent, and gets along with the two of you. And so on. Building teams should be easy and straightforward, no?
If you've got a company, organization, or social group that wants to get a ton of work done in a short span while learning something cool, I'm happy to host some free or close-to-free(*) Work Cycles in North America in the next few weeks.
We regularly host events at Ultraworking, and of the most popular is Work Cycles. Work Cycles is a way to get an immense amount of stuff done in 4-5 hours.
A round of Cycles regularly leads to 20% to 400% increase in measurable performance, even for people who are already very effective. We've got literally hundreds of reports back like this,
"The biggest thing I realized is that when I focused during Work Cycles, I can get a workday done in 3 hours... By getting the work done in disciplined cycles, that then frees me up to work on bigger things, as well as showing me where I was wasting time in the past." — Glennn Holman, Consultant; Dallas, Texas
“The more competent I become, the greater my willingness to push the boat way out, the tighter the hands grip the throat. No other game can train me for it. It’s a stupid activity, but name one that isn’t — to someone somewhere.”
— Mark Twight, Kiss or Kill: Confessions of a Serial Climber
Seat 33A. Window seat.
I'm constantly on the lookout for words and phrases that map well to reality.
If you study history and if you study language, even just a little bit, you wind up realizing that for most of history, there was often a distinct lack of words and phrases crucial to understand reality.
I'm not just talking about technical terms — obviously we didn't know about "DNA" before its discovery and codification from 1869-1953.
No, it's easy to understand how scientific concepts were missing from our vocabulary before the relevant discoveries. Rather, what I'm on the lookout for are concepts that map well to human nature and how individuals and groups of people interact with each other — things which are real but which lack precise wording around them, thus making them harder to think about and talk about.
The modern usage of the word propaganda dates only to the late-1700s, and only truly hit its modern form of the word in the 1920s. Of course, there's likely been at least simple propaganda since the dawn of human civilization, but we didn't have a simple word for it.