Complainy and Explainy voice

To my dear friend,

I value you more than you know.  I want to share this because it’s so very important to me that you grow.  I want you to become a better person.  I don’t see the bad.  I see the infinite awesome future.  What you become.  I’m not good at communicating.  I can only hope that you hear this as a kindness and not just a criticism.  Not an attack but an opportunity to grow.  I can only hope that your filter receives this kindly.

There really isn’t much more I can say.  I honestly wish you would take this as well as I intend it.  Not as an insult.  Saying this at all, especially before we established safety of conversation (1 in the link) is something very vulnerable (16 in the link).  It’s really scary to look at someone I consider a potential new friend then Dare Greatly.  At the risk of failing to communicate in a way that might push you away…  I was inspired by Mako when they said:

I realised if I ever wanted the world around me to be halfway acceptable to me, I would have to learn to change people.

People say “you can’t change people”, but they’re just telling themselves that to absolve themselves of this very heavy responsibility we all have to take an active role in each others’ growth.

I would regret not trying to take this vulnerable leap.  To give myself an active role in your growth, and the growth of all the people around me.

I want what I have said so far to not come across as “about me”. I want this to be about you and how I want to help you.


You have two particular voices.  The Explainy Voice and the Complainy voice.  They present at the same time or in rapid succession.  I am not sure that you have noticed that there are two, because they can be used so close together and interchangeably.

Explainy Voice

Internally your behaviour would feel like, “I just found something you don’t know.  Let me teach you all about it”.  The trailing verbiage will be some kind of educational material that you deemed valuable and relevant for sharing.  I love this.  It’s an honest gift of knowledge.  It’s a chance to learn directly from yourself who feels like they are a master.  Training and guiding in “the way of things”.

Often your Explainy voice comes from a miscommunication, a lack of understanding or clarity, or a need for learning.  The sentiment behind Explainy voice can be understood as prefacing every sentence in the Explainy voice with the words, “This is really interesting, let me help you understand this thing that I know really well“.  And that’s a really valuable sentiment.  It’s how we learn as humans and it’s how we grow.

From the outside, Explainy voice sounds passionate, enchanted, optimistic, animated, inspiring, supportive (and more).  From the inside it’s like putting on a cape.  Being a superhero of truth, knowledge and all things sacred and honest in this world.

Some people call this voice “Mansplaining”.  I don’t see a problem with explaining passionately.  Especially if you can share new words, concepts or phrases that describe the topic in a cleaner and simpler way.

Complainy Voice

Dark cousin of your Explainy voice.  It’s the friend who only has critical things to say.  “did you like the movie?“, “that movie last week that was better“.  The Complainy voice is frustrated at the world.  That movie last week was in fact better and therefore deserves a mention.  That’s what it feels like from the inside.  From the inside of Complainy voice it feels completely justified to be raising the complaint.

The world is broken in many ways.  Complaining about the ways in which the worlds is broken is going to sheds light on them.  Shedding light is going to bring about change.  And change is going to make the world a better place.  Or at least that’s what it feels like from the inside.

From the outside view (people looking at you), when you use Complainy voice it makes you look bitter.  At first passionate.  Then invested.  Only people who care enough will bother to complain.  Cultivating an understanding of the nature of the problem is a major milestone on the road to solving a problem.  Einstein said;

If I had an hour to solve a problem, I would spend 55 minutes figuring out what the problem is and 5 minutes solving it.

Experiencing the thoughts that the world is broken.  Noticing exactly how, What’s gone wrong.  Then moving toward a solution, is an incredibly rewarding process.  Without being able to complain (by thinking, describing and identifying the problem), the solving could not happen.  Complainy voice is important for this reason.

When it’s only used on it’s own.  This is what I dislike about complainy voice.  It sounds angry, bitter, frightened, mistrustful, irritated, aggrivated, outraged, resentful, contemptful, upset, desparing, (and more).  It sounds ugly.  It sounds like the feelings that I don’t want to go anywhere near out of fear of being sucked in.  I want to emphasis that complaining as part of a bigger picture is crucial.  Complaining alone is dangerous and antisocial.  It’s not enjoyable to hear.

If as Jordan Peterson suggests – meaning comes from story, and your story is all complaining.  Your world is all about complaining.  That’s what will fill your identity.  That’s where your sentiment about the world will derive from.  Is the world “mostly good” or “mostly bad”?  Is the answer different coming from a complainy place to if it comes from an explainy place?


Gottman Contempt

In the Gottman book, one of the four horsemen of divorce (or relationship ending), is contempt.

This is about an internal state as much as an external state.  Contempt is about the story we tell ourselves about the other person (see NVC) and is a state of negative intent.  I hold you contemptuously.  For example, “a good person would not run late”, “if you were smarter you would just…”, “I work so hard on this relationship and you just…”, Some examples of displays of contempt include when a person uses sarcasm, cynicism, name-calling, eye-rolling, sneering, mockery, and hostile humour [see – emotional intelligence about physiological events].  This overlaps with Inherent criticism and makes more sense with [NVC].
Contempt has two antidotes, Teacher mindset and curiosity.  Teacher mindset can change an attitude of, “He should know what he did wrong” to, “I need to explain to him how to do it right, otherwise he won’t know”.  Curiosity [See NVC] can take you to a place of trying to understand what is going on and take you away from the place of the stories we tell ourselves.

I have absolutely butchered the theory by squeezing it into a quick summary, but importantly I want to bring up the antidotes.  Similar to contempt, the antidote to Complainy voice is to use the Explainy voice or to be curious about why things are so Complainy-worthy.  When complaining, no amount of understanding can satiate the complaint.  When explaining, you impart the intention to be understood.


This might be a personal preference.  I might be mad.  I listen to complainy voice and I disconnect.  I hear stories and I don’t feel like I am being shared with.  I feel like I am being shared at.  Like a voice recorder.  This is distinctly different to the feeling of receiving explainy voice.  I love to receive explanations, I love to learn from anyone who has a passion for knowledge.  I could listen to someone teaching me things all day.  But complaining, I can listen longer than most… and far shorter than I can for explanations.

To my friend.  I don’t know if I successfully scared you away.  I don’t know if you appreciate the difficulty. It’s hard to choose to tell you words which might hurt you.  Even if they make you grow afterwards.  I would rather live in sin, than never have taken the chance.


The funny thing about writing for a friend is that in some ways that friend is me.  It’s me of a few years ago.  In my phase of angry-at-the-world teenager.  Or angry-at-the-system adult.  Or angry-at-the-universe in my yesterday.  Today I look at that version of me, with compassion for who I was.  Working with the information at hand.  And hope for a better me tomorrow. To look back at who I am today.  With compassion.


Meta: this took 4+ hours and some real life inspiration to write.  I need to get it into better words.  I only wish I knew how.

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Books I read 2017 – Part 2. Psychology, Management

This is part 2 of my book summaries, the introduction paragraph is repeated.  If you are interested in relationships and learning here is part 1.

This year I read 79 or so books.  Also there are 24 more books that I put down without finishing.  That’s a lot to summarise.  I have already spent more than 15 hours and restarted the process of summarising twice.  This is attempt number 3.

Here they are:


Before I get into the books, let me explain how this many books is possible.

In 2017 I discovered FBReader.  An app for ebooks on android phones (Natural reader is a good app for IOS).  That is FBReader and TTS plugin.  With a bit of getting used to, and tweaking of speed I have managed to read an obviously startling number of books – I even surprised myself.  So many in fact that I challenge myself to be able to remember them all and act in line with everything they have taught me.  This summary and the parts to follow are as much for me as it is for you.  For me – to confirm I took away what I wanted to take away.  For you – to use as notes and evaluations on what is worth reading.  I hope you enjoy, a review of all the books I read this year.

I get asked if I properly take in the information by audio-reading.  The answer is yes and no.  Sometimes I miss things, sometimes I read a book twice.  Sometimes even more times.  Sometimes I don’t need to re-read it.  Overall I am in a much much better position for having read books in the way that I have than not at all.


A sample of a book: Robert kegan, discerning heart

5  STAGE 3 – CREATING AN INTERPERSONAL SELF

For the person functioning at Kegan’s stage 2, relationships entail the coordination of two sets of needs: what one person desires and what the other person desires.  There is a clear recognition of the other person as a separate individual with his or her own separate needs and interests.  But in a fundamental way, the stage-2 person’s experience of his partner remains an external experience.  What others think and feel may matter to them, but it doesn’t become a feature of the stage-2 individual’s sense of self. The monumental shift in perspective-taking that occurs with the advent of stage 3 is the capacity to make another’s experience of us a part of our own experience of ourselves.  The stage-3 “deep structure” that creates this new understanding of relationships is the ability to take two social perspectivessimultaneously.  We often see the first expressions of this capacity in early adolescence.  Consider the following incident.  My13-year-old daughter left for school one morning in apparent good humor.  A few minutes later I was surprised to hear her returning through the front door.  Going to see what brought her back, I discovered her in tears.  Thinking she’d probably had another encounter with the neighborhood bully, I asked her what was wrong.  Her reply was, “Everybody’s going to think my shoes look stupid.” 

217 words in 31 seconds.


Psychology/Thinking

Everything you need to know about how to set goals well and what does or does not work.  She researched mental contrasting and how to apply that to make yourself goal seek with realism.  How to save yourself from failure by noticing pitfalls and use S1/S2 (From Daniel Kahneman) to evaluate your plan before acting.

The pleasurable act of dreaming seems to let us fulfill our wishes in our minds, sapping our energy to perform the hard work of meeting the challenges in real life.

…dream your dreams but then visualise the personal barriers or impediments that prevent us from achieving these dreams. When we perform mental contrasting, we gain energy to take action. And when we go on to specify the actions we intend to take as obstacles arise, we energise ourselves even further.

In my studies, people who have applied mental contrasting have become significantly more motivated to quit cigarettes, lose weight, get better grades, sustain healthier relationships, negotiate more effectively in business situations—you name it. Simply put, by adding a bit of realism to people’s positive imaginings of the future, mental contrasting enables them to become dreamers and doers.

The book goes on to identify the difference between various ways that just dreaming about something will decrease your ability to get there.  The theory goes that imagining the goal will give you some of the reward you can expect to receive from achieving it.  Spending all day imagining might not just waste your time doing so but might also demotivate the goal by in some ways tricking parts of your brain into thinking it’s already got the reward.

The ancient greeks wondered about imagination, freud theorised about imagination.  The greeks noticed that imagination was endless.  You can try this.  Imagine a door leading from your room to another room.  If you travel there, then imagine there are doors in that room, one to a forest, one to a desert…  From each of these, you can imagine a cave, a birthday party, and any number of following rooms.  Imagination can take you to an entirely different world for as long as you let it.

Recent research in psychology has found that repeatedly imagining the act of eating a delicious food reduces our actual consumption of that food.

I don’t know if the research suffered in the replication crisis but you can probably try this on your own.  With various goals and plans that you have.  Only visualise the goal.

You can also try the contrasting exercise – think of not achieving the goal (something like murphy-jitsu) and the barriers that come up… Then how to solve the barriers…  Then put steps in place to make that change in your life.

Alternatively if you are sceptical about this concept I can present this differently.  You have a few building blocks in which you can think about your goals and heading towards that purpose:

  1. Imagine the goal you want to achieve
  2. Imagine not achieving that goal and the salience of failure
  3. Imagine the causes of those failures
  4. Imagine solutions to the causes
  5. Make plans for implementing the plan
  6. Repeat until satisfied

Arrange these into an exercise that is going to be effective for you.  Run experiments and see if it works.  Hone your method. Repeat until it works for you.

This also ties into the general principles in the motivation equation.  The ability to tie long distant rewards into present actions is very valuable and solves the issues of motivation that plague a lot of people.

And then there’s WOOP.  About 100 pages of it.  Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan. the scientifically verified method of improving your likelihood of achieving a goal.  It’s exactly what it sounds like.  Dream up a wish you want to happen, think of the outcomes, think of the obstacles and make a plan to execute that goal.  Done.  its the other 99 pages that are going to convince you to have tried out the method on a goal that you have.

The big question I have now – According to Russel Barkley; ADHD comes with a failure to visualise outcomes.  A general failure to visualise and contrast.  How do we make it easier to do mental contrasting for someone naturally without the faculty to do so.  And does

Oliver is a great writer.  I can’t say I learnt much here but it was nice to get a second version of the story of the “date savant” mentioned here by reading Peak.  Peak suggests that Savantism is imaginary.  No one goes from zero to hero without putting in the hours.  You can be a date savant by playing with numbers and dates all day every day for years.  You don’t know much else but you have this one neat trick at the detriment of everything else.  That’s just one of the stories of patients he treats in the book.

Oliver writes very kindly about people who suffer variously through their lives.  when he talks about his patients it’s almost romanticised.  His writing is loved for the story it tells, not for the education it brings.  The lives of his patients seem like curious oddities, not torturous experiences.  In that sense the book was enjoyable because he writes so kindly, even if it was outside my usual topic of reading, and it came with limited learning potential.  If it teaches one thing it’s that brains do a lot of complicated things when processes stop working the way they used to work.  All kinds of strange exaggerations and compensations.

This book was terrible.  Do not read this book.  Half way through I was going to put it down but I decided that if I always did that for books I thought were terrible, I would never know if it were the right choice to make.  Now if I want to put a book down I do.  If you are looking for something that is 20 years behind, trapped in fixed mindset and a bullshit description of why one of introverts or extroverts are better without trying to take sides (but doing so really badly) – this is it.  Don’t waste your time.  There was nothing of value here.  Go read any of the other psychology books suggested here.

Yeah I don’t know.  This book didn’t help me.  There are lots of minds for the future.  The future is not like the past.  We have technology.  What matters today is not what mattered yesterday.  This is like NLP.  A shitty model, overfit, stretching beyond what it should.  Not actually explaining much about the world.  Skip it.

A great story about how Martin Seligman managed to get to where he is.  The psychology of what matters.  Not in the dystopic way I expected something called “the psychology of happiness” to be – AKA – make people smile more to make them happy sense but in the actual – what matters, finding meaning, and all the bits of being happy (good relationships, having meaning, playing to your strengths, appreciation/gratitude and more).  Also Martin worked with Anglea Duckworth, Heidi Grant Halvorson, Gabrielle Oettingen, Carol Dweck, Mihaly and a few others and they all have matching research areas that go together and they talk about each other in the books.  So if you start to read a few of them; ideas start to click into place and it starts making sense.

The book goes into well-being theory.

Well-being is a construct; and well-being, not happiness, is the topic of positive psychology. Well-being has five measurable elements (PERMA) that count toward it:

  • Positive emotion (of which happiness and life satisfaction are all aspects)
  • Engagement
  • Relationships
  • Meaning
  • Achievement

This book is packed with various well-being exercises that get you to bring better sentiments into the world by doing better things, paying attention to the good things and sharing the positive experiences you have.

Another one of Martin’s concepts is signature strengths.  Go with what you are good at.  Do that more often, and avoid the things you are bad at or don’t like doing as much as you can.  It’s not rocket science, seems obvious to get a bit more of the good fun stuff and a bit less of the boring drudgery.

There’s so much more to this book, if you care about meaning, well-being or happiness this book has clues in it for you.

Sasha created the Emotinal Quotient/Systemising Quotient.  In short he has some sweeping claims that this is the difference between boys and girls (*insert bright flashing lights for controversial ideas*).  This is also the difference in Autism.  Think, little boy has interests in trains, boy with autism is fixated on trains (trains are a system).  little girl has interest in social groups, emotions, tea parties (Emotional quotient, less systems).  Obviously it’s all a spectrum, but this is why you find less autistic girls, and anyone can take a test online that approximately guesses your EQ/SQ.  It’s also possible to view social-emotional as a system (as a high systemising person) and get some interesting results.  Anyway, big claims, not sure if I would hedgehog on this one, but you can fox it and it can be useful.

The science of getting-into-the-rhythm.  Losing a sense of time and being very happy when doing it.  Unfortunately it reads like a death-essay on the topic.  It feels like it was written as a manifesto of this thing and not a light reading psychology book on how to do it.  So if you can glean the knowledge good but this firmly falls into the category of “thinking about it” not “doing it”.  It’s a hard read and I went over it twice.  It’s got some good ideas like making sure you are in the optimum learning point, and learning is not flow because by definition you need to be matching your skill to the difficulty of the task to get into flow.

A book about the good judgement project.  It had some good pointers in here and I need to go over them to make sure I really have them in my head.  Things like regression to the mean, Fermi estimates, inside view, check/update regularly, break into sub problems and many more.  I think I preferred “How To Measure Anything” for the better feel for the idea of measuring things but they do go well together.  You could probably pass on this and read HTMA instead.

This is about Robert Kegan’s big and exciting theory built on developmental psychology that is supposed to explain levels of development of complexity of people and consequently what that means for interactions and appealing to different motives.

This book is a short run through of the stages including some examples of people interacting across stages and how they can be different.  I think this intro is promising but I need to read some of the Kegan books to get my head around it.  It’s inherently hard to model different people and ways of thinking and get them to interact in your head.  This book was a short read and worth looking at.

As said above – close to Martin Seligman’s work, Grit even gets a chapter in Flourish.  They say Showing up is 10% of everything.  Or maybe it’s 90%.  Basically if you don’t show up you don’t get anything else done.  It’s a zero-eth rule of getting anything done.  In that sense “grit” is showing up.  It’s turning up the next day over again and again.  Also these equations:

talent x effort = skill
skill x effort = achievement

Which suggest: Talent x Effort ^2 = achievement.

Grit is also correlated with life satisfaction.  Basically if you want to get anything done – you need grit.  Have grit. Get grit.

The book Right weight, Right Mind.  Was superior to this.  by the same person, talks about the same concept, ITC, in concrete terms with several worked examples.  The concept is an introspective procedure for looking at what commitments are competing for your attention.  What things you might have to give up to do the thing you want to do.  The thing I really like about this process is that it reminds you that other things matter.  If at the end of the process you find the other things matter more than this thing, and you want to focus on them and forget this one, you can make this one not your goal.  But that’s part of the process.  If you do want to pursue this goal, there is a full process for challenging your established beliefs about what is fixed.

To be concrete – If you do the process on weight loss, you will be imminently reminded that eating your mothers cooking (insert your own example), and making her happy by doing so is a conflicting and competing goal.  The great thing about ITC is it lets you choose one over the other, or get more comfortable with the balance.

Started reading for a friend of mine. This is about the good and the bad side of narcissism.  It presents a narcissism spectrum from “never enjoying feeling special” (self denying) in an unhealthy way that becomes antisocial to actively avoid the spotlight in various ways.  All the way over to people who are “addicted to attention” (self serving) in a way that becomes antisocial and manipulative in an unhealthy way.

The thing that the book really wants to emphasise is that narcissism alone isn’t a bad thing.  It’s not that wanting to be important is a bad thing.  Or wanting some attention is a bad thing.  It’s a bad thing at the extremes.  Wanting all the attention, or wanting none of the attention to the point where you avoid society to avoid attention.  These are where there are problems.

The book also includes a test for narcissism, and some of my favourite stories of where narcissism came from.  I very much enjoy the story of narcissus, echo, nemesis and the other ancient tales.

With regard to children and family:

This is the recipe for healthy narcissism: A family that encourages (but doesn’t require) dreams of greatness and a healthy model for love and closeness.

The book goes on to talk about the dynamics of unhealthy narcissism and how they play off around each other.  Also how narcissism can make your problem seem like something else when really it might be you.

The tail of the book covers strategies around combating and working with narcissism to the benefit of your life.  How to train someone to be more of a healthy narcissist and less of an unhealthy one.  It might be regular reminders, it might be a system of raising concerns that make it clear with safety (1 in the link) what you want/need from the person.

There’s a whole chapter about social media and narcissism, which if you couldn’t guess goes on to explain that social media just exaggerates everything.  It can allow more Narcissism to go unchecked but it can also be used to reinforce positive social support, making everyone feel more important and connected.  It just makes things more complicated than before.

All in all – a good book for arming yourself with confidence when working together with and around the limitations of narcissism.  I will end with the end passage of the book:

A good life balances our own self-interests with others people’s needs. That’s healthy narcissism. It’s what gives us the energy to build a life full of adventure and self-discovery. Healthy narcissism is where passion and compassion merge, offering a truly exhilarating life. And that’s a pretty great place to be.

Before reading this whole book it’s easier to watch this video where Russell Barkley talks about his theory of how ADHD works.  When I started writing these reviews I hadn’t finished this book.  I managed to go back and finish it as I was writing the reviews. But it was very nearly almost ironic that I didn’t finish the book about impulsiveness and distractability and only got about half way through.

The other thing to note is that ADHD diagnosis is a touchy and political topic, as are strategies around treatment.  Specifically the companies that make the ADHD drugs have a vested interest in getting people prescribed.  And so any researcher in the area can probably get funding around their work, but is that biased research?  It’s complicated.  As with any medicine it’s probably good to have a healthy skepticism about what the smart professional is insisting you do.

Turns out that for the most part – techniques that work for ADHD people are just the techniques that work for normal people.  But the ADHD people don’t function normally.  They never get shit done without techniques and strategies to bring them into it.  Their default is to follow whims and distractions and never really complete a task.  And of course there are things that make this easier, but they are not automatic.

The book is basically a productivity book on overdrive.  Because what works just works.  If a normal person can make use of a productivity method an ADHD person can make sweeping strides out of it.  I would recommend it as part of the general system to get things done in personal productivity.  Some highlights:

These are the six key components involved in self-control:

1. Self-control is a self-directed action.

2. These self-directed actions are designed to change your subsequent behavior.

3. This change in subsequent behavior is designed to achieve a net gain (maximization) of positive outcomes across both the short and long term for the individual.

4. Self-control depends on a preference for larger delayed rewards over smaller, immediate ones.

5. Self-control bridges the time lapse between an event, our response, and an outcome.

6. For self-control to occur, we need the capacity for both hindsight and foresight.

Also several “Rules” and object level strategies that are specific enough to try out yourself.  I Would recommend reading it.

I read this.  I swear.  I just don’t remember what I got out of it.  Maybe it’s that all the other books I have read have already taught me the same thing.  Maybe it’s because I was reading this on a plane and sleep deprived…  Or maybe it’s not worth as much as it appears to be.  It’s got a good premise, presents some simple ideas like the lenses of subjective experience that cause a single person to distort their experience and cause misunderstanding and misinterpretation.  Most of this book is about cognitive biases.  That’s the foundation of my knowledge.  If you don’t know them, maybe the book will help.  If you know them, skip this book.

If you are going for this book, consider NVC first.  Also Gottman, and a few others in the models of human relationships list.


Psychology books not finished:

It’s on my list to go back to it.  Goes with the “one word title psyc books” collection, mindset, peak, flourish, flow.

I am not sure if this one will yield anything more on the topic.  I know the concept from various other places “Growth mindset” over “fixed mindset”.  Maybe if I were unconvinced of the difference or the value I would be more keen but I am already in the choir.

I have rarely ever read such armchair drivel hypothesising rubbish in my life.  The whole book rests on a few shitty premises.  Imagine if our multi-lobed brain was actually once several separate lobes.  One of which was “god-like” which produced chatter in the form of telling the other lobe what to do.  The forebrain told the hind brain what to do, giving people the feeling that they were gifted divine insight.  If you had a time machine you might be able to go back and confirm at least an inkling of this theory but as far as I could tell – up to the page where I stopped, it was all a theory which cherry picked relevant data to the cause.  I would skip this book.

I read this for the identity of having read this.  Or I tried.  I got half way through and got annoyed at how many experiments failed the replication crisis and gave up to read things that weren’t half bunk.  I think that was a reasonable choice and I might go back to this some time.  But it’s not worth it to me for the identity alone.


Management/self work

  • Loving What Is – Byron Katie
  • This ties in very well with NVC.  4 questions for a method of therapy that tries to flip your problems on their heads, matches up with Immunity to Change, and a whole lot of other ideas.  The core of the method is to ask 4 questions:
    1. Is it true?
    2. can you absolutely know that it’s true?
    3. How do you react when you believe that thought?
    4. Who would you be without that thought?
      • Turn it around (180 degrees) and find some examples in your life.

examples of the 3 types of turn around –  “He didn’t listen to me” can become:

  • I didn’t listen to him.
  • I don’t listen to myself
  • He listens to me.

Then you need to think about what’s going on and which one fits.  It’s a good theory that fits into NVC.

I believe it works.  And I’d keep it on hand for when I get tired of other methods because it’s a novel approach.

Katie also does something I can appreciate, she refers to her process as, “The work”.  Which is an interesting and enjoyable sentiment.  Psychological healing is sometimes Just Work (Video: Rick and Morty therapist rant about “work”).

The radical concept that is given away in the title of the book, as well as on the first page.  No one ever before or after thought up the idea that maybe if you do one thing at a time, pick one thing and do it then pick one thing then do it, you will get one thing done at a time.  For better or worse a whole book to tell you to do one thing and one thing at a time.

I don’t know…  by the end of the book if I didn’t already agree with one thing I wasn’t about to be convinced now.  That’s okay I only read it because I saw it on someone else’s shelf and I had a trippy moment around Christmas where I realised like Neo learning kung fu I could read a whole book in a single sitting.  So props to my varying levels of insanity and focus because I found myself from start to finish of this book in one go.  I didn’t actually try to write one thing and stick to it, maybe if I had you would be talking to a different person by now but I actually prefer the work by Mark Forster in the book – Secrets of productive people for being the roughest version of a chapter of text literally surrounding productivity instructions harvested from basically all other sources.  I would skip this book and read that one if I had a choice.

I have to admit I read this book very fast after accidentally stumbling on it’s title while searching for Being Mortal (the next book). I don’t know how I accidentally read 360 pages but it was a fun read all the same.

Once again this book presents the radical notion that checklists are a smart idea.  It then goes on to tell some great stories about the building industry, the plane piloting profession and surgery where Atul actually earnt his name researching and advocating for surgical checklists for the one simple reason that they work and they save lives.  If you like a good story – this book is for you, similar to the way that Bill bryson – At home (and in all of his books apparently) takes many words to tell a few small details.  Admittedly Atul was battling hard-set surgeons who refused to change their ways so he actually did gods work (this is funny because surgeons are often depicted as thinking of themselves being gods playing with life).  Convincing them that they were not smart enough to escape being dumb enough to be unwilling to overcome bad-brain forgetfulness.

Turns out that checklists make sure that everyone washes their hands, every surgical instrument is in the right place and every area is swabbed before incisions are made.  And behold!  If you follow instructions, they work.  I don’t know about you but I can’t wait until my surgery is able to be done by a robot who I don’t have to ask silly questions like – did they have their coffee this morning?  Did they go out drinking last night with friends?  Can I trust them?

To avoid any doubt here, next time you are in a hospital count how many mistakes happen.  Then ask the question how many happen that you didn’t notice.  Last I heard the hospitals averaged two mistakes per patient per day.  Pretty spooky.  Better be hoping they aren’t fatal ones and they are following their checklists.

All in all – this is why you want to document your code and write instructions.  Any good coder knows that one day you will not remember all the details of the things that you have created and chances are the only way to not have to re-learn them is to write good instructions for yourself.  So do yourself a favour and write lists.

I do use lists in my life.  Definitely helps to keep track of things I don’t need to keep remembering.  Like a shopping list, recipes, and many more.

This wasn’t a book and was more along the lines of a research paper.  The bottom line is that “creativity”  – which is usually badly defined but in this case means the process of creating.  Has conditions that enable it.  Some include having a block of time set aside, removing external stresses and burdens, playing around the topic of the creation area and avoiding distraction.  No surprise it looks a lot like the book deep work but they said it in a shorter and more efficient way.  Everyone is different so if you want to be creatively successful, you need to find your enabling resources and set up the environment you put yourself in – to enable creativity to happen.

It was at this point in my life that I decided after Fix that I needed less fun in my life and more work.  That’s how I decided to do the absolutely obvious thing for myself and read the book that plenty of people were talking about called “deep work”.  Deep work has this premise in it, kind of like the way that The One Thing did as well.  Where if you don’t agree with the premise then the whole book doesn’t really hold.

Having said that it’s still a good read, and if you think the premise holds then the book holds.  The magical premise is that there are types of work like sending emails and meetings and types of work that fits the description deep work remarkably well.  Things like locking yourself in a room and writing out thousands of words of work in the hope that you get recognition as a guy who can word things together good.

Or you know, the equivalent for programming, painting, or 101 other industries that have you work and concentrate when you do.  Of course some industries don’t.  For example Taxi driving, which is an example I can use now but in 10 years will not be important because self driving cars will have taken over.  As a taxi driver you don’t need to do deep work.  That’s fine.  But for everyone else that needs to sit still and belt out the work, deep work has some good ideas about thinking about that and how to do it.

Similar to Identification of creativity, there are conditions that cause deep work, like Jung who locked himself in a cabin, Einstein who would just go on long walks and drift into thinking any time he felt like it, and plenty other people with their creative “methods” or processes that yield them creation over the void of annoying crap that otherwise clogs up our lives.  Crap like birthdays, emails, social media, distraction, and plenty more things that are not the ONE THING that you could be doing that is the most important thing right now.

Deep work explains the research on task switching cost, which if you don’t know I probably can’t summarise very well, but in short it takes some kind of activation energy to switch from thinking about one kind of thing to another kind of thing.  Doing that less or batching your tasks so that you do your emails in the evening and not at every buzz and ping that comes to your desk is a great idea.  There are other great ideas in here like keeping the morning time when you are fresh for the hardest work (see also Eat that frog).

Not a bad book, depending on if you rest with the premise or not as to whether you can agree with his conclusions.  I remain unconvinced but still willing to steal some of the good ideas and generally “find what work is important work” and do that.

Yes ’tis the second Cal Newport book I read.  Yes the book can be summarised by the title again, and yes that’s all there is to it.  See when you engage in society you generally need to go out and earn your money, worth and conceptually your survival in some way or another.  Cal is suggesting a specific strategy.  Pick one thing (lol).  Specialise in that one thing (like programming).  Train, practice, and generally improve at  that one thing until you are up the top there with the people who are the best in the world at that one thing.  Then go about extracting the value that you have built up by demanding to be paid your worth.

That’s not all there is to it.  In life it’s a big goal to be able to use as much of your time to do whatever you like with your time.  To do that you need money.  To get money you probably need to work.  And when you work you probably want to be paid as much as possible for those hours.  After all if you accept that there are in fact 168 hours in a week, and you work at a rate that converts to an hourly value.  There is basically a limit on how much you can rake in each week.  Of course if you make some quick assumptions about the efficiency of a market and “nobody would leave these $50 bills on the ground”, you get to the point where you can’t make big bucks without specialising or unless the market is inefficient in ways that only you can see, (but you are probably not that smart).

There is a limit to how much you can earn from unskilled work unless you are really worth as much as you can be and people can’t get what they want other than extracting it from you.  You might clean church bells, You might design architectural masterpieces but if you want to be paid ridiculously obnoxiously you have to be the best in the world at what you do (or some how talk yourself up as being that).  Then do what you like with your time and sell a few of the spare hours to the highest bidder.

Then retire on the winnings.  Anyways.  For a lot of people, I suspect following this strategy is going to work.  It’s a good read to understand how he justifies it and generally think about how to be so good that people throw money at you.

It was around this time of the year that I met a guy who chaismatically managed to inform me that he was essentially a gazillionaire.  As you casually might ask a gazillionaire – I asked him what books he would recommend.  To which he charismatically dodged the question.  And so five minutes later I asked again.  To which he managed to dodge the question again.  not having learnt my lesson I asked him a third time and really didn’t get anything out of him.  However I managed to meet up with him later when he mentioned he was looking for books on leadership strategies.  So I did the only thing I could do – ask around for books on leadership and then read them at lightning speed so I could tell him about them.  That’s how I found Turn the Ship Around and The Hard Thing About Hard Things.  I am pretty sure I gulped this book down in one session.  So sure – because at the same time I wrote a review and notes.

The book is about the story of how David took the worst ship in the navy and changed the culture until it was the best ship in the navy.  If you are looking to figure out how to change culture, this book definitely has some good points.  If you know someone who is not motivated to do a good job, this book can help you cultivate your strategy for giving them that self-directed attitude.

My extended notes say it better but I will include this here: The book sets out examples and questions to ask yourself to implement a model called the Leader-Leader model (they can be found at the end of each chapter).  The model is about empowering all members of a company to be making intelligent decisions and effectively be a leader.

You won’t need this book if you are surrounded by people who are already engaged in a good culture and there is a way to go over the top with “making good culture” and not actually get the real work done.If you enjoy a story about a guy failing over and over and over and fighting with every bone in his body to try not to fail.  It’s a great story.  And as for leadership?  He talks about the concern that his employees would find out about the company from the evening news.  He absolutely wouldn’t allow it.  That meant he was telling them as a priority, keeping them on board or literally firing them personally and thanking them for all their hard work.  He lived through the ugly and he won.  These days he runs a VC firm, teaching other people how to survive.

There’s also the story of how he hired the best salesman he could find because the only criticism he could find on the man was that one day he walked into a floor of sales staff and said, “I don’t give a fuck how well trained you are. If you don’t bring me five hundred thousand dollars a quarter, I’m putting a bullet in your head.”

I could spend a lot more time mining this book for value but alas, there are only so many hours in a day.

Part of me read superhuman by habit because it was shorter than other books on my list and I was feeling lazy.  Part of me just wanted my book list to be a little shorter.  This should reflect on this book insofar as the type of person who is inspired to read it.

If you want to know everything about habits and what humans know about habits – this book basically covers it.

Humans are habitual creatures – for good and bad we get into habits.  Ideally we notice the bad habits, cut them out, notice the good habits and try to get into more of them.  It’s a real game of tricking your brain into the good habits and out of the bad ones.  Still if you need ideas on how – this book is basically the god list of all things habit.

Okay this book was insane.  It’s a personal story of how Nick Winter turned all the dials up to 11 on motivating factors.  Yes.  Every factor known to science, in use.  All at once.  It’s a wonder he didn’t burn himself out.  But he did it.  And he accomplished a lot while writing the book.  Kudos to that man.  I could not do it.  Success spirals, Precommitment, Social commitment, Beeminder, hacking the motivation equation – all of the above together and more.

Motivation = Expectancy * Reward / Delay * Impulsivity

Learn the MEVID equation, apply the MEVID equation.  Win at life.

A moderately rubbish business book about how to work with people who you don’t want to work with.  The secrets include – keep talking even if it’s a stalemate, and keep trying to work it out.  Also move up and down abstraction ladders. But I knew that.  Nothing superiorly secret in this one.  Just stay at the table in the conversation and things get easier.

The one man war on Carbs.  He sets up the conspiracy that the world is against him only to tell you that he is right and you should listen because of reasons.  Is he right?  Not sure.  He seems to say a lot about insulin and how CICO (calories in/calories out) is not helpful.  But he does support the keto diet.  Which is worth trying I guess.  There was a lot of complicated discussion about insulin and how it controls things.  And I barely scraped by with understanding it.  But it’s worth a shot right?

Bill runs a course at an american university, running people through a workshop that has them consider what they want to be doing in the future and then design the idea job.  Don’t go out and find a job and work out if it’s ideal.  Find out what would be ideal and then find the job.  That includes running small experiments, talking to people already in the field and checking if that thing interests you and generally doing all that “being an agent” thing that you want to do.  Choosing your path and not waiting for it to happen to you.  It’s more rewarding that way – when you have an internal locus of control.

Guilt is an emotion that leaves you living in pain.  Why live in that torture if you can do the same as you were doing without the pain and torture of these emotions.  There is still motivation without guilt, there is still purpose, but there is no need for guilt.  I strongly subscribe and endorse this.

The guilt series is a set of blog posts adding up to about 11,000 words.  If you don’t want to live in guilt any more, this series gives you a better way to thing about it.  I cannot endorse this enough other than to say that this short set “solves” guilt.

The best summary of all other productivity books in the sense that it contains all the things.  The worst summary in the sense that it’s very dry and not easy to read.  So where you might power through a 7 habits, or a GTD, this one is harder to read BUT has significantly more value in it.  I would have liked it to be easier to read but it really is like the bible of all things productive.  And he wrote it to be that, not the story-telling feel-good book.  This book is the technical manual, not the storybook.  Approach if you dare.  But it does have all the answers.


Part 1 here: Books I read 2017; Part 1. Relationships, Learning

Meta: Part 3 coming soon.  This is a lot more work than I ever thought it would be.  And I guess I retain less of the books than I thought I did.

This took too many hours.  Possible on the order of 10-15.  Mainly because it takes flipping through the books to make sure I didn’t miss any good insights.  I basically re-read the book to summarise it.

Posted in books notes, self-improvement | Leave a comment

Transcript: Problem solving with a friend.

A conversation in a self development server.  S just join. We talk about and make plans for some of the problems.  After having the conversation someone else mentioned that it was a great read because I didn’t let excuses sit on the table.

At the time I was pushing him for concrete actions and progress steps.  Some of these problems are big and hard to work on.  They don’t get solved over night. They do get solved one step at a time.

Maybe some of the solutions work for you too.  [Links have been added in brackets to annotate the conversation] for the convenience of the reader here.  They were not included in the conversation.


S: Found this forum on Reddit, I’m just an average loser really. 25, still studying, never worked, no driving license, virgin, stuff like that. parents still giving me money, bad posture, underweight.
E: Why don’t you start lifting?
S: No idea what to do. Zero motivation. Feeling like its too late to change anything.
E: Start small. Make a list.
S: I did.
E: Share.
S: Its really long and on paper.
E: Share, Take a photo. This is what we call external accountability.
[I noticed I didn’t get an answer so I asked again.  This happens a number of times where I don’t get a satisfactory reply]
S: It’s not in English, I’ll write it down from memory.
S: Gain 10kg, fix my posture, quit weed and drinking, finish college, find a job, learn Spanish, get a girlfriend, beat anxiety and depression, have more friends. That’s it I think.
E: Okay.  Gtd (Getting things done): For each one. What’s the first step?
[Write down the next action to move toward the desired outcome]
S: My biggest issue is anxiety and depression because I don’t like how I look.
E: That’s not a next step.  I don’t care what the issue is, I care about actions you can take about the issue. Things like track food each day and eat more calories to gain weight.
S: I’m working out at home and eating more.  But i give up after few days or weeks.
E: What do you eat every day? Record it somewhere. Confirm that it’s enough food or eat more.
[Track yourself with a form]
S: I eat twice in my college cafeteria and the rest is peanut butter sandwiches. It’s around 3k calories.
E: Okay. Or eat more?  Fix posture. How are you going to do that?
S: Found some workouts online for posture.
E: Are you doing them?
[People often know what they need to do but aren’t doing it.  The hard part isn’t the knowing part.]
S: Not really.
E: When do you want to do them?
[lets be concrete about the goal, be SMART about it]
S: When I wake up. It’s only 3 minutes max. A few times a day.
E: Write out instructions. Put it on the bathroom door.
[Book: Taking charge of adult ADHD suggests this and other tips for overcoming lack of focus on tasks]
S: I’ll do that.
E: Write out a set, leave it on your bed, when you go to sleep, take it off and do it. When you wake up, do it again and put it back on your pillow.
[Building Trigger Action Plans]
S: Okay i can do that.
E: What’s next. Weed and drinking.
S: Weed and booze is easy.
E: What’s your access like?
S: My roommate. But I refuse to smoke mostly.
E: Ask him for help.
S: I didn’t smoke for the last month. Don’t even like it very much.
E: Tell him if he can make you smoke you have to pay him $50.
S: Hahah sounds good.
E: Then you have to actually pay him if you do smoke.
[This is one of my own concoction to actively encourage your environment to be adversarial.  A friend no longer helps you out by offering you a smoke.  Rather they keep you on your toes by doing so]
S: Next is job and college
S: I can pass exams. But I can’t do presentations.
E: What does that mean?
S: Or I just don’t go and then I don’t have attendance.
E: Right.  Next time you have to commit to walking to the building. You don’t have to turn up, just need to get to the building.  When you get to the building you can turn around and go home. Or once you get there you can go in if you like.
S: I need to present a PowerPoint in front of 200 people.  Getting out of bed is hard.  If I leave bed I can go.
E: It is.  Why is getting out of bed hard for you?
S: I’m just depressed about life in morning. I don’t care about college.
E: Right. Have you tried a coffee nap?
S: Nope.
E: Drudge out of bed, drink some coffee. Go back to sleep. Wake up 30 minutes later with energy. Also supplement Magnesium Citrate in the evenings.
[My Supplement sheet has suggestions]
S: I dont drink coffee.
E: Okay
E: Reasons to get out of bed… Phone on the other side of the room.
S: Okay I’ll do that. Smart.
S: So job, I’ve never had a job. There are students jobs here but its mostly restaurants or driving. I am too anxious to be a waiter and I don’t have a driving license.
E: If you could work anywhere where would you work?
S: I don’t know.
E: Make a list of 10 companies you like.
[Stable Marriage Problem says that the searcher gets maximal first preference over the responder]
S: Haha okay, this is [location redacted]. Doesn’t work like that.
E: Email them and ask for a job. “I like you guys, can I work for you?”
S: It’s all about connections here.
E: Start talking to everyone you meet in person. Ask around.
S: There are jobs but I’m not qualified for anything.
E: No one ever is. Be honest about that. You want to learn though.
S: Yes. I want to be a waiter. Its good pay here. but no one will take 25 year old dude.
E: Okay, so ask around, friends who work, places you walk past. Somewhere near your house would be good.
S: You don’t get it. I look terrible. No one will give me a job.
E: Change that.
[Something you are unhappy with should inspire action to improve it.  Things do not get the right to stay in your life and be bad]
E: Ask anyway, fix your appearance after. Do it all at once. Also there are always kitchen jobs where people don’t need to see you.
S: Then I’ll be overwhelmed and quit.
E: Ask your friends and family if they know of any jobs.
S: Okay.
E: Network of friends. That’s a start. And make that list of companies.
[2016 study – 85% of jobs come from networking, study might be dodgy but there are more saying the same.]
S: I don’t have a list. I only have a few loser friends.
E: That’s fine. Ask them. Ask them how to make money. Maybe you can hire them. Start a business.
S: Starting a business right now is too much too soon.
E: Okay don’t.
E: Spanish? Reddit/Learnalang and Duolingo, https://discord.gg/q3GRBZ7
[learnAlang discord, https://www.reddit.com/r/languagelearning/https://www.duolingo.com/]
S: Yes I’m doing Duolingo.
E: So what’s the problem?
S: And watching movies.
S: Well i dont do it often. No consistency.
E: There should be language practice forums. You might be able to have coffee with someone in your city who wants to practice your language.  How often do you want to watch movies? How many times a week? 3?
S: Every day at least.
E: 3 evenings. Watch a Spanish movie.
S: Okay. I could do that. next is girlfriend which is hardest. And impossible at the moment. Or in the near future.
E: You can’t materialise a girlfriend. That’s not how the universe works. But you can improve your odds. Put yourself in the right places. You said you are lifting.
S: Yes I’m working at home.
E: How often do you have the chance to meet new people?
S: I don’t unless I’m drinking.
E: You know you can go to a bar and not drink. Right?
S: Then I can’t talk to women.
E: They are just humans.
E: You know there are other hobbies apart from drinking. Hobbies give you something to talk about.
S: Yes, I know there are but I’m not interested in anything.
E: You need to put yourself in a place where you can meet new people once or twice a week. The easier it is to start a conversation with you the better. But for starters – a place with new people.
E: Practice eye contact wherever you go. Look people in the eye and smile every time you see a new person. It’s exhausting at first.
S: I can keep eye contact when I talk to people.
E: And smile.
[Book: How to win friends and influence people]
S: Okay.
E: I can’t give you a girlfriend but this is about increasing your chances by taking better actions.
S: Yes of course. I understand that. I just feel I’m not good looking enough yet.
E: Okay. And that’s fine. Work on that. How would you change how you look?
S: And i want to suppress my sexual thoughts because they are ruining me.
E: Do they? Okay. Do that too.
[I have other strategies around suppressing thoughts, but it’s too complicated to bring up here.  For now I want to acknowledge the experience and help him feel understood]
S: Yes but how do I forget about sex and women for 6 months?
E: Get busy with other goals. There are lots of important things to do. Do other things.
E: In the process of improving yourself you will get the things you want. It will become easier to do the next step. That’s what this is about. Small steps to increase capacity.
S: That sounds easy.
E: It is easy. In small steps. Hard to do it all in a day. That’s an important point though, every good idea I have given you. Everything that sounds great and doable. It won’t work. It will hit a stumbling block and then you need to try again.
[Staying on the wagon, and getting back on the wagon when you fall off is an Alcoholics Anonymous concept.  You will fail, but you have to try again]
S: Thanks for your help.
E: Work out how to do it again. Think about why it didn’t work and try again. The note on your pillow will fall off or something. Shit happens. You need to work with reality to try again. Come back and ask more when you get stuck.
S: I’ll start small but I’m weak willed.
E: The last 4 are depression, anxiety, more friends and looking good.
S: Maybe if I achieve something I’ll feel better.
E: If you are weak willed then you need to make it easier for you to do actions. Plan for your future weak self. You want to eat more? plan the meal so that it’s easy when you get there.
[Use willpower upstream. People good at willpower are just better at knowing where to use it.  i.e. use it to make a shopping list, not every time you open the fridge.]
S: I do that.
E: You want to meet people. Sign up to some thing so you can just turn up. You want to quit weed, make your roommate work with you, not against you.
S: No faith that it can be better. I don’t believe any girl would be with 25 year old virgin.
E: Appearance – you can probably do some research about how you want to look. Consider planning a wardrobe, tidying your face or whatever.
S: Okay. I’ll try.
E:No one cares about virgins. It’s an adult thing to stop caring about it.  It’s like a few minutes for the first time and then it doesn’t matter any more. In the scheme of a lifetime what is that? Nothing. By all means when you have a girlfriend, communicate that before you get down to sex. For the purpose of someone with experience being able to support you having a good time.  Expectations are stressful. But other than that don’t worry about it. Being honest about your experience is going to be important to having a good time.
S: Okay I’ll remember that.
E: It’s not necessary to pretend anything. You’ll just feel worse if you make anything up.
S: But that’s distant future.
E: For now it’s not important.
S: I think posture and gain weight will be my focus. If I do that I’ll lose anxiety. Then I can get a job.
E: Okay.
S: My face is shit but hopefully being tall and muscular will beat that.
E: Friends… Are easier with interests in common. Feel free to ask around, tell people when you are looking for a job you are also looking for a new friend group.
E: I am sure you have a face and it’s fine. But your anxiety about how you look matters to you. And that’s fine. You can work on it.
S: No this is not my depression its a really bad face. But I don’t want to talk about it.
E: Sure. I just have to believe you. That’s fine.
E: Depression and anxiety can be treated and managed with CBT and medications and by listening to the underlying concerns and validating the feelings that come up.
S: Well if I go to therapy here I’ll have problem getting a job later.
E: Self research online. Mindfulness stuff is good for a lot of people. Headspace app is well talked about.
[https://www.headspace.com/]
S: okay Thanks E, I wrote all down. Must sleep now to wake for college. I’ll place my phone away from my bed, haha.
E: Good luck. Come back when it fails. Continuing to improve is part of the process.


I want to emphasise this was just a normal conversation.  There are people in this world that think like S, all the time.  They just need a bit of help.  I don’t know if I was ever as in need of help as S but I know that I couldn’t have solved all these problems when I started my journey.  It’s been people, videos, books, experiments and so much more to be able to get to a place where I feel like I have answers to every problem.

Meta: the conversation in the wild took about 45mins, the tidy up took an hour and extra annotation/edits took another hour.

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Personal cheat sheet on what vitamins do to me

I have been supplementing vitamins for a year and a half at the date of this post.  To Identify my stack and have it published will make it easier to refer back to it.  This is not completed, every day is a new trial, but this sheet does represent my daily stack, as recorded on my personal tracking form every morning.

The information below is also located on this google sheet if you want to edit it for your own use.  I can only endorse this as far as my own experience.  Do your own research, I can’t emphasise that enough.  Read books, read papers, read examine.com, talk to people about what they take and run your own trials because every body’s biochemistry will be a tiny bit different.

Supplement nameWhat is is supposed to doWhat it does to meDose
Vitamin Chelp with colds (disproven), help with tidying up free radical particlesI can't put my finger on what it does but it makes everything run cleaner.1000mg/day
Fish oilBrain stuff, good for you in lots of waysRemoves my self critical brain loop.4000mg/day
MacaCause testosterone increase like symptoms without increasing testosteroneExactly what it says it does.1500mg/day
Magnesium Citrategood for general body repairs, muscles repairs, gets rid of cramps, good for sleep1hr less sleep. Probably good things around body repairs too.130mg before bed
Calcium CitrateGood for bones, Citrate more absorbable form, good for general body (calcium molecules used all the time)Probably good for bones (genetics of bad bones). Part of my regular supplements. I feel like this makes everything smoother.350mg/day
Vitamin DSunlight vitamin, supposed to help with lots of things, probably everyone is deficient. Helps with bones as wellNot sure but I suspect good things. Will be testing by cycling off soon5000IU/day
KTo be supplemented with Donly here for the D500mcg/day
ZincIf low on zinc - supplementing can bump up testosterone to where it should be.,Good for nails, skin, hair, muscles and generally for being healthyProbably did a testosterone pickup, will cycle off to see effects later25mg/day
Whey protein powderRepair muscles, make body work betterBoosts metabolism, Included in the "make me feel great" list.60g/day
Soylent 1.6replace food for the lazy technotopianseems to just make sure I get the rest of the vitamins each day.2 tablespoons/day
CreatineWeightlifting supplement, good for growing muscles, Phosphorous donor molecule for the ATP-ADP energy in muscle cycleGives me energy, Gives me the wake up on fire feelings, Probably also helps grow muscle and stuff too.7.5g morning, 7.5g before bed
Irregulars and experiments-----------------------------------------------------------------
B6Causes dreamsCaused daydreams and night dreams. Would be good on days I need to visualise and weigh up future outcomes. Bad on days that I am trying to avoid distractions100mg
Spirulinadetox??no idea if it does anything. still testing500mg
Bromelainsexy things (look it up)unconfirmed500mg
Kelp + IodineIodine has been proposed as a magical drug sometimes, and there are suspicions that everyone might be deficient.unconfirmed150mcg Iodine
Bacopabrain-drug-thingbetter stare-at-screen power70mg
Beta-alaninemuscle growing magic thing, funny tingly muscle side effect.funny tingly muscle side effect confirmed. Other effects unclear1500mg/day
Choline and InositolDescribed as "more cope".Unclear500mg
MelatoninSuper well rested sleepI have no trouble falling asleep, in higher doses it made me wake up groggy.2mg
BCAABuild muscleShelved for possibly causing cloudy headedness. Need to retest7.5g/day
GlutamineBuild muscleShelved for possibly causing cloudy headedness. Need to retest5g/day
COQ10gut enzyme that we lose as we get older. Better digestionEither part of the "general awesome set" or not. Needs retesting100mg
B complexChange colour of pee to extra green yellowpee effects confirmedlarge tablet mix
Posted in life maintenance, self-improvement | Leave a comment

How I accidentally discovered the pill to enlightenment but I wouldn’t recommend it.

Eastern enlightenment is not what you think.  I mean, maybe it is.  But it’s probably not.  There’s a reason it’s so elusive, and there’s a reason that it hasn’t joined western science and the western world the way that curiosity and discovery have as a driving force.

This is the story of my mistake accidentally discovering enlightenment.


February 2017

I was noticing some weird symptoms.  I felt cold.  Which was strange because I have never been cold.  Nicknames include “fire” and “hot hands”, my history includes a lot of bad jokes about how I am definitely on fire.  I am known for visiting the snow in shorts and a t-shirt.  I hit 70kg,  The least fat I have ever had in my life.  And that was the only explanation I had.  I asked a doctor about it, I did some reading – circulation problems.  I don’t have circulation problems at the age of 25.  I am more fit than I have ever been in my life.  I look into hesperidin (orange peel) and eat myself a few whole oranges including peel.  No change.  I look into other blood pressure supplements, other capillary modifying supplements…  Other ideas to investigate.  I decided I couldn’t be missing something because there was nothing to be missing.  I would have read it somewhere already.  So I settled for the obvious answer.  Being skinnier was making me colder.

Flashback to February 2016

This is where it all begins.  I move out of my parents house into an apartment with a girl I have been seeing for under 6 months.  I weigh around 80kg (that’s 12.5 stones or 176 pounds or 2822 ounces for our imperial friends).  Life happens and by March I am on my own.  I decide to start running.  Make myself a more desirable human.

I taught myself a lot about routines and habits and actually getting myself to run. Running is hard.  Actually, running is easy.  Leaving the house is hard.  But I work that out too.

June 2016

Some of my fellow Sydney Rationalists have decided that we want to go trampolining.  This is almost certainly an excellent idea and we start going weekly.  There’s a warehouse with large area of trampolines.  I am in charge.  I round up my friends on a Monday night to go trampolining.  The most strenuous workout hour that lazy nerd types have ever had.  The first time we try it we are out of breath within 10 minutes of our hour long session.  We make a lot of jokes about it.

My running routine (3 times a week now) looks something like:

  1. Go to bed shirtless (prior intention)
  2. Roll out of bed in the morning
  3. Go to the bathroom
  4. Leave the house to go for a run.
  5. Don’t think about it too hard.

Barefoot, shirtless, don’t think about it too hard, go for a run.

July 2016

Enough people in my life suggest that I should try lifting, including my ex.  I do something between scoffing and deciding “not just yet”.  I continue my running and trampoline and start to notice serious pain.  At this point I am 77kg (down from 80kg and trending down).  That’s because I’ve been dieting.  Sticking to a routine diet with a calorie deficit.  New rules – only healthy food in my house.

Everything hurts.  Especially after trampoline.  I do some reading and decide it’s some kind of DOMS.  At the same time I investigate protein powder because it seems like a good thing that healthy people do.  Also I am lazy and could stand to be more lazy with food.

I wander down the street to one of those strange stores with obnoxiously large bottles on the shelves and mutter something like, “I don’t know anything about protein powder, what am I looking at”.  The lovely lady at the counter gives me a tour of the entire shop, explaining which products were in fact just overpriced versions of the other ones.  I end up spending 15 minutes deciding between cookies and cream and strawberry flavoured whey protein powder in obnoxiously large jars.  I also jump on Ebay and buy some Creatine because hey! Why not?  It’s worth trying.

Big-ass jar of protein powder

Trampolining is one of the most strenuous exercises you can do to your whole body at once.   Throwing your body around uses every muscle you have.  Which is why I remember the day so well.  I was up to my 5th day’s worth of pain from trampoline.  I remember a week earlier, considering quitting the whole exercise thing because of the recurring pain problem.

The “Rage-against-the-trampoline” group coins the “weakest link” theory (Sam comes up with the puns).  In the process of using several of your muscles at the same time, one of your muscles will be the weakest link.  Which is to say that it won’t be as strong, as flexible or as durable as the others.  That’s the one you’ll feel tomorrow.  And the day after.  And maybe the day after that.

We can now jump for 45mins before being tired.

I reached 74kg.  I just assumed that 5 days of pain was the cost of exercising a human body.  The constant experience of minor or major pain is just what fit people put up with (I was still completely out of tune with my body).  Then the day came that I actually tried the protein powder.

I was thinking, “maybe all this pain is for other people and not for me”.  I came up with the theory that maybe there are two kinds of people. “People who enjoy exercise” and “people who don’t”.  In theory the people who enjoy exercise are the ones who are fit already.  The ones who don’t are the ones that are fat.  The ones that hate the exercise (and maybe get less salience from exercise, less dopamine reward perhaps), won’t ever change.  Maybe people can’t change?  I talk to Tim (he’s my 60 year old weightlifter friend).  He suggests planning rest days and actually honouring them because your fitness actually grows on the days that your muscles repair.  The days that you don’t exercise are more important than the days you do.  Maybe I am working too hard.

And then it happened.  On a whim.  I figured I would try this protein thing.  I made a milkshake with protein powder.  It took about half an hour to take effect.  I was sitting at my desk in pain from some combination of running, trampoline and whatever torture I was delivering my body at present.  And I was reading the internet, or writing my blog, or doing something irrelevant when I started sweating.  And my muscles started to buzz, and they weren’t hurting, and my heart sped up, and I got excited.  And suddenly a voice in my head said “I want to go for a run”.  And I didn’t know why, or where that voice came from.  I went for a run.

And then I realised.  When you don’t have enough protein in your body, because you’ve been dieting so hard that you’re not eating any more protein, and you’re exercising like a wild animal…  you are breaking and damaging your muscles and there’s no way they can repair and grow.  Even with enough rest days.  It’s going to hurt.  But when you get enough protein, pain that can last 5 days goes away in 24 hours.

I go to the supermarket and buy some fish oil, magnesium, calcium, vitamin C.  Just for kicks to see if vitamins can magic away more problems.  I start doing some light research on examine.com to see what else I can buy.  I find a bunch of names, make a list of things to try, get confused or distracted and give up.

August 2016

I read https://www.julian.com/learn/muscle/prep and following on from my Protein success I start planning for starting some lifting like behaviour.  I jump online and find someone selling a 5kg dumbell for $10.  I figure why not.  I meet a scrawny 18 year old and swap my dollars for a lump of metal. I start playing around with it.  It’s heavy to begin with, but it gets lighter.  I approach the plateau of how much muscle can be improved by occasional deciding; I should hold that thing in the air today.  I can hold the weight out with a straight arm for 5 seconds, 10 seconds, 20 seconds.

The Julian guide suggests a few specific supplements and I don’t hesitate before ordering the one I am missing.  As I wrote before…  you must be willing to experiment.  The three are:

  • Protein
  • Creatine
  • Citrulline Malate.

The guide quotes:

3. Supplement: Citrulline malate

If you’re not looking to get very muscular and don’t plan to continue past the 2 month mark of this program, you can skip this since you won’t need the endurance boost.

Citrulline malate is the final muscle building supplement worth taking. Citrulline malate (CM) has been demonstrated to significantly increase the volume of sets (we’re talking an extra 50%) you can perform in a workout session (studystudy). We’re going to need the muscle endurance boosts CM provides when we hit the third month of this program.

CM is an amino acid found in several foods including musk melons, squashes, gourds, cucumbers, and pumpkins. There are no known side effects when it’s taken at the recommended doses. (You can dive into the CM research over at Examine. You can also peruse the reviews left for citrulline malate products on Amazon.)

The recommended dose for CM is 8 grams (0.28oz), which is 4 scoops of the product linked above. Take this 60 minutes before your workout. (The timing is important; you won’t feel the endurance enhancing effects until 60 minutes have passed.)

There is no benefit to taking CM post-workout or on non-workout days. Just take it before workouts.

A heads up that CM is incredibly sour 😬 Mixing it with other drinks will completely ruin them. So take it with a tiny bit of water and drink it in one shot!

That’s pretty sweet.  I went straight to ebay and ordered some.  I also had creatine already.  The full list looks something like:

  • COQ10
  • C
  • Fish oil
  • Calcium
  • Magnesium
  • Creatine
  • Protein
  • Citrulline Malate
  • Garlic paste (Alum)

And some new ones to try out, “5-htp”, “l-theanine”, “Sam-e” (from examine.com).

I try them one day at a time, then I try to take everything at once because who can wait?  Most of these are vitamins, life is pretty variable anyway.  Your normal diet heavily influence the vitamins and nutrients you get.  If it’s a random Western diet you’d get a mix-match of vitamins any other day of the week..  swapping up vitamins won’t matter for a one-off trial.  Or at least that’s what I thought.

I had a great day!  Turns out that when you pump yourself full of vitamins you take a boost in all manner of ways.  Like the weakest link theory.  Chances are one vitamin or another was slowing down whichever processes your body was trying to do.  I get some sweet gainz – clarity of thinking, strength boost, focus, healing time…  super human capacity to love…  turns out that music sounds better when I am in a better mood.  Good to know.

I can now trampoline for an hour and a half without dying.

September 2016

I learn that there is a difference between wet and dry protein.  A big difference.  The difference is water weight.  A 100g piece of fish is only 30g of protein.  Not nearly as much as I first thought.  When the Recommended Daily Intakes (RDI) suggest 0.5-2.2g of protein per kilogram bodyweight they are talking about dry protein weight.  Not wet protein.  I literally double my protein intake over night and I feel like I reached the next level greater.  Everything is going great.  Except eating enough protein – that’s now hard to do.

I can now trampoline for two hours in the same night.  I’m sore the next day, but that goes away quickly now.

Late December 2016

I am pretty much on top of the world.  Nothing hurts more than a day after trampoline.  Starting to go trampolining twice a week.  I’ve been training for long enough that I am probably more fit than I have ever been in my life.  I weigh 72kg.  I’m clearly on the higher end of the testosterone scale.  Judging by how often I am finding myself starting conversations with strangers (assertiveness)…  judging by my sex drive…  and judging by my ability to feel empowered/agenty.  A blood test confirms 27nmol/l.  inside the normal range, but only just.  For a healthy young person that’s fine.

I go to a beach with friends.  A very charismatic friend of mine points out that there appears to be a pipe on the cliff wall next to us.  “wouldn’t it be cool to go in there” he says.  3 people agree and laugh at the idea.  No one moves.  Something about being top of the range of testosterone can make you boldly do things.  I silently get up and climb into the pipe about 3 metres up the cliff face.  It’s a neat rainwater tunnel about a metre in diameter which goes about 300m before the pipe gets too small for a human to get through.  it’s about two streets away at the other end by GPS.  I walk back and report my finding.  I climb out of the drain and onto the ground.  My Very Charismatic Friend decides to copy me.  He successfully climbs into the pipe.  I suggest that maybe he wants to take his phone as a torch.  Then I realise that based on the fact that he managed to get into the pipe without a torch…  he’s not always good to go off on his own, and I should go with him.

I go to climb the wall…  Put my hand on a branch, and craaaaack…  I fall 3 metres through the air and land on my left foot.  I hear a crunch but I don’t show other people I am in pain.  I hobble back to the car eventually.  I never get an x-ray for it, but for now I can’t run.  I can’t even walk.

It took about 6 weeks to heal, as you might expect for a broken bone.  I didn’t go to a doctor, because they probably can’t do anything, and I don’t really like doctors.  While I was waiting for my foot to heal I decided that I probably don’t need to be downing all my supplements.  I can’t exercise, what are supplements going to do?

I try swimming but it just doesn’t stick.  Trampoline is out of the picture now.


January 2017

Somewhere between taking some supplements and not others, something went out of wack.  I ran out of COQ10 which I was fairly sure was doing nothing.  I switched brand of protein, I was having difficulty keeping track of how much Citrulline Malate and Creatine I was taking (two powdered substances that you have to measure out).  My dose would vary between 1g and 5g depending on the day and how much I convinced myself was the “right amount” today.  Sometimes I would eat protein, sometimes I wouldn’t.  I started up a google form for myself, but my adherence to the form went on and off.  My adherence to my supplements goes in and out.

My head went cloudy sometimes, I would crash in the afternoons sometimes.

S0ph1a shared the PNSE paper.  It was a curious read at the time but nothing more.

(February 2017 at the start)

March 2017

Symptoms also include reduced sex drive (don’t worry – I can get it up but I am just not interested in initiating), lack of motivation, and this strange feeling of enlightenment and contentedness.  I already know that summer is my season for high sex drive.  And anything that’s not summer is essentially, “not the season”.  As I’m getting the feelings of enlightenment, that “everything will be okay” sense.  I am also reading a lot of books.  Spirituality books since they take my fancy right now.  Books like Waking Up by Sam Harris, Search inside yourself by Chade-Meng Tan, Gateless Gate.  I am probably about 20 books into the year’s 80 or so.  I have this strange feeling that they are all agreeing with each other.  That every book that I read is starting to make sense of and drawing a part of a bigger picture.  I take this as a clue that I am going in the right direction.  The epiphany is getting closer and growing larger.  I’m “working it out”.  “It’s all making sense”.

My adherence to my supplements goes on and off.  I am lethargic but I don’t know why.  Starting to get annoyed with how often I notice being cold.  That’s a shock to my system.  I look up more things and discover the vasodilation and vasoconstriction dichotomy.  I notice that I recently reduced my cholesterol which would have had an impact in the general vasodilation direction.


It was at this point in writing this story that I found a 600 page textbook on vasodilation and vasoconstriction and went down a rabbit hole trying to understand biochemistry well above my education level in human physiology.  After two days of procrastination I stopped and decided to go back to telling the story.


April 2017

I discover Zen Koans.  But I work out how to feel the feeling of Zen Koans.  I sit with Erratio online sharing various koans and describing them to each other over the slack.  I work out how to think like a koan wants you to think (hint it’s not hard and I have instructions in that post).  But the only way I get there is through mysterious enlightenment feelings.  I investigate Taoism.

Lethargy symptoms, feeling cold symptoms, sex drive symptoms are all still there.  Things are not improving and I’m getting really annoyed with my poor adherence to supplements so I decide to stick to my routine religiously.  I write it out on paper.  I am at 5g of Citrulline Malate and 5g of Creatine, any other quantity of either supplement and I just forget the number.  Or forget which of the two measurements is which supplement.  I am forgetting things more.  I start using more lists to compensate for forgetting things.  Concentration is hard.  I spend more and more time on my couch and not at my desk.  I have long stretches of not writing anything at all.


Taoism

Taoism is an interesting one.  It’s in the enlightenment cluster, that’s for sure.  But Taoism is strange because any time you try to talk about Taoism it’s said to be not the “true way”.

Dào/tao literally means “way,” or one of its synonyms, but was extended to mean “the Way.” This term, has special meaning within the context of Taoism, where it implies the essential, unnamable process of the universe.

Let me try to put it this way.  I am going to describe something specific.  This specific thing is designed not to be described.  Taoism is “the true way” to live.  Think “the path”, righteousness, “a good life”, all these other names.  Seeking that “way”, that’s the way to be.  But attaining the way, there is no such thing.  There is just the seeking.  You can’t show someone the way any more than you can show someone an invisible dragon.  You can kinda describe what an invisible dragon is going to be like but you can’t show someone else the way.

That’s enlightenment for you.  It evades description by design.


May 2017

I remember the PNSE paper from 6 months ago.  I am having more enlightenment symptoms.  I reread it twice because I couldn’t remember it very well the first read through.  I am at location 1-2, noticing bits of the continuum in my life.  But it’s okay, everything is connected.  I feel very calm.  I notice my solution to an interpersonal problem is, “let’s talk about it until we work it out”.  I take the position that I seem to have a good understanding of how everything is connected but I have a poor ability to explain it (not sure how I concluded that since poor ability to communicate is as good as not having a good explanation.  I was so sure of myself that I knew I was right if only I could communicate it).  I try to solve the interpersonal problem but don’t make much headway.  I write down what I want to communicate and try to talk about it with the person.  It doesn’t help me clarify things.

Lethargy symptoms are really impeding my life.  I decide to try going off my supplements one at a time to try to work out the cause of the problem.  I go off fish oil for a day and notice that I get a critical brain loop.  I go off garlic and don’t notice much change.  I go off magnesium for a few days and nothing happens.  A month later I look back to notice reduced sleep quality.  I sleep an hour extra a night on average without magnesium.  I go off vitamin C and can’t seem to pin down a difference…  I go off Creatine and nothing happens at first.  Eventually I find myself without energy.

I research the finders course protocol and Jeffrey Martin – creator of the PNSE paper.  I find Gateless Gatecrashers, I look into other meditation methods, including non-self/non-duality, mental noting, mindfulness, mantra, and more.  I can see how they all get different people to the same enlightened place.  According to the finders course and the PNSE paper you need to get the right method for the right time of your life.  I can see what methods won’t work for me.  I can’t explain clearly but it’s got to do with the version of a brain that you have and the relationship you have with reality.  I think my best method is via gateless gatecrashers.  Also mindfulness doesn’t suit me (so HA to everyone who commonly suggests mindfulness meditation).

June 2017

I go off citrulline malate for 48 hours.  And it hits me.  Lethargy gone.  Cloudy headed thinking gone.  Ability to be productive returns.  I spend 10 hours at my desk in a row.  I write several thousand words.  I send off 10 emails and clear my inbox.  I power through my to-do list.  I stick to my diet for the first time in months.  I send emails, I round up outstanding notes, reorganise myself.  Reset my GTD system and power through for a day.

I start doing some research into citrulline malate.  Turns out it’s a vasodilator.  Vasodilation symptoms also include getting cold, poor sense of smell, lethargy, low sex drive…

I look over that interpersonal problem and the notes I made.  I think about how I will solve it now.  The solution that comes to mind is now, “it’s my way or the highway, so shut up and listen or else”.  Which is a stark contrast to before.

My sense of smell comes back strong.  The fascinating part is how it could be so clear one day to the next.  Food tastes better – probably connected to a sense of smell.  [editor note: I may be remembering this relationship backwards]


Some science about Vasoconstriction and Vasodilation

Vasoconstriction is when all your veins and capillaries are constricted.  It probably means you have higher blood pressure – because everything is under pressure.  Your heart is working harder, you would find it hard to exercise, like trying to run with restriction on your lungs.  Any movement is hard.  Some dietary causes include:

  • Caffeine (peripheral vasodilator, central vasoconstrictor)
  • Stimulants (Amphetamines)
  • Salty foods, high sodium concentration foods
  • Saturated and trans fats
  • Refined carbs.  The more refined ones.
  • Anything that can cause cholesterol build up in the blood vessels (high cholesterol generally)
  • glycyrrhizic acid (licorice) (also increases cortisol and decreases testosterone)
  • Methylphenidate (Ritalin)
  • Nicotene
  • Adrenalin
  • http://www.catalog.md/drugs-categories/vasoconstrictors/letter-A.html
  • Lots of alcohol

Then there’s Vasodilators.  Also influenced by a bunch of dietary choices.

  • Tea
  • Chilli
  • some alcohol (not too much)  (also some people get vasoconstriction)
  • THC
  • estrogen
  • CO2
  • Chocolate
  • Citrus
  • Green vegetables
  • Garlic, onions
  • ginger
  • red wine, grapes
  • fish oils
  • most nuts
  • COQ10

There are more than just this list.  Including other foods and medications.


This year I read Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman.  The book proposes a link between physiological states and emotional states.  Some of the side remarks include that a strategy to reduce anger is to leave the room.  By changing your environment, you give your heart rate a chance to calm down and from there you become less angry.

The same applies to many other physiological states.  For example seeing dilated pupils is a clue of attraction.  Which is why bars often have dim lighting, then everyone’s pupils are dilated and everyone looks attractive.


Citrulline Malate is a weightlifting supplement.  When you are lifting, you want to deliver the nutrients (protein, BCAA, glutamine, other vitamins…) to your muscles to help with repair.  And you want those supplements to circulate to all of the muscle and be absorbed as much as possible to help with the growth of muscles as fast as possible.  So ideally you want some vasodilation effect to help that happen.  In addition to that, if you exercise when vasodilated, your heart will have an easy time delivering blood and oxygen to your muscles.  You will have better endurance, and you will have more capacity to use your muscles.

If you think about the physiological state that you might reach after spending ten years meditating in monasteries as monks do to achieve enlightenment.  It’s probably pretty damn calm.  If you think about the physiological state of vasodilation, this seems like a pretty obvious link.  One that the finders course, while overselling itself is probably very very aware of.

My pill to enlightenment is 5-10g of citrulline malate a day for 6 months.  But I wouldn’t suggest you take it.  There is no guarantee that citrulline will cause the same cluster of experience in you as it did in me.  Without paying attention to the symptoms and how they influence your head it’s likely to leave you feeling lethargic, sleepy, cold, forgetful, fatter, with less salience for food, distractable and easily zoning out, unable to concentrate on hard problems, unable to access heavy churning mind, but also very calm, relaxed and “at peace with the world”.

Other symptoms include the feeling that no matter what happens, everything will be okay.  Famine, natural disaster, lose your job, major car accident…  It won’t matter you will feel like everything will be okay.  That’s what the enlightenment state is like.  I suspect its two parts.  The first is a physiological calmness that hangs around.  And the second is the detachment from reality in that you remain physiologically calm in light of stresses that previously increased physiological symptoms (elevated heart rate, blood pressure, etc).  Unless you go through an inhuman amount of stress.  As reported in the PNSE paper:

some individuals reported that stressful life events caused them to lose their PNSE. The first hint I had of this was a woman who approached one of my associate researchers after I spoke at an event. She lost her PNSE of 5 years at a time when her father had just died, her son was ill and unlikely to survive, and her husband of many years had left her.


I look back at the continuum from Vasoconstrictor to Vasodilator and the fascinating thing that strikes me is that, (apart from a few outliers), Vasoconstriction has the lifestyle of: coffee, fast food, salt, alcohol.  Vasodilation has the classic “health foods” lifestyle – Green plant foods, tea, ginger, fish oil, red wine, nuts.  Almost like all the health food fads neatly line themselves up into the physiologically relaxing territory, and all the unhealthy foods are the ones that put your blood pressure up.  Almost like all health fads are clustered at one thing and the western diet is clustered at another thing.

It’s a curious phenomenon and the correlation is too strong to be a coincidence.  All health foods?  The memes are clear.  Yoga and heath food diets at one end and deep fried cheeseburgers at the other end.  But what does that mean now?  That’s left as an exercise for the reader.


Seth Roberts – Author of The Shagri La Diet, was an advocate for self experimentation like the story above. He passed away in 2014 through an unforseen heart attack while hiking.  He was fit and healthy but it’s not clear exactly what he was trying out at the time and if his habit of inventing new experiments to try on himself had a hand in his death.  A word of warning.  I was an idiot here.  I fundamentally changed my mindscape by taking a substance that I was not fully informed about. I wanted results and I wanted them fast.  The results could have been a lot worse.  When playing with constriction and dilation I could have caused a stroke.  I didn’t because I am young and healthy.  But that experiment was more dangerous than I am willing to admit among polite company.

A father of self experimentation is dead from unknown causes.  Be very careful if you decide to try.  Do your reading, then do more reading, then track lots of variables, then be hesitant and take things slowly when you alter your normal behaviour.  Take care of yourself.  And good luck.


Meta: this post is 4800 words long.  It took 5+ hours to write and 5+ hours to edit.  I am trying out a new narrative style.  This story is about as true as I can recount.  It’s scary what you can do to yourself.  You only have one life in which to make mistakes.  Be careful.

Cross posts:

 

Posted in exercise, models of thinking, self-improvement | Leave a comment

Global trend predictions 2018

My global trends prediction for this year:

  • The world will be more pro recreational drug.
  • Voluntary euthanasia will be legalised in more places
  • Bitcoin will crash
  • health food/exercise market will grow massively.  like twofold.
  • Electric cars will grow, not fast enough to meet demand. Automated driving sector will grow.  Regulation will not change fast enough.
  • X on demand will grow. food delivery etc. will grow a bit but it’s probably reached market capacity (which is huge and profitable). Everyone who wants to order food is already ordering it.
  • What other sectors will automate… Unsure.
  • The non-drinking generation will grow up a bit and I don’t know how culture will change because of this.
  • Facebook is dying, I don’t know if it will lose market share or something big will happen or not.
  • Amazon in Australia seems to be not taking off very well. Which is funny because they usually know what they are doing.
  • People are not liking apple. That’s going to impact market.
  • People are organising into small groups. I don’t know what this means. But people are forming small communities on various issues. Maybe coordinated action, maybe polarisation, maybe competition and less trust of people not close to you.
  • Mindfulness, meditation and enlightenment will grow as a fad interest area. But it will die/shrink in 2 years.
  • Increasing technology integration.
  • Maybe more home automation.  (although there is limited things left to automate)
  • Digital voting systems won’t come in this year in Australia
Posted in lesswrong, models of thinking | Leave a comment

Object level weight loss tips

Finding specific instructions on weight loss is difficult.  They are all buried in the internet. Covered in clickbait and a waste of time to find. And plenty of them don’t work. So here’s my list. As object level as I can.

Weight loss is hard. Life is busy. But it’s do-able.


1. Make a list of healthy foods that you eat. 

To me this looks like this:

  • lettuce
  • mushrooms
  • cottage cheese
  • white raddish
  • vegetables
  • leeks
  • pickles
  • onions
  • peas
  • carrots

This list specifically excludes asparagus and a few other green vegetables that I don’t really eat despite them being supposedly good for me.

Now when you go shopping, only buy things on that list.  Use an app to keep track of the list.

2. fix the “ooh it’s cheap, it’s on special I should buy it” habit.  

I care more about health than I do about cheap products.  Yet somehow I can still get tricked by a half price chocolate, or various other foods discounted.  Fix the part of your brain that makes this mistake.  Accept the better argument.  Optimise for health over expense.

3. Remove unhealthy things from your house

If you eat it and it’s unhealthy and as of this instant you don’t want to – it’s okay to throw it away.  It’s also okay to give it away.  But ideally throwing it away is better.

4. Eat healthy as a baseline. 

If you are at home, just eating the normal meals, they need to be the right things.  If they are not right then you are probably on a general weight gain trajectory.  Fix the basics first.  If necessary learn to cook some healthy meals.  You probably already know enough about what to cook.

5. Stop wasting food.

You know what would be a waste.  It would be a waste to throw out that food because it’s food.  But you know what else would be a waste.  It would be a waste to eat it when you don’t need to.  It would be wasteful to your waistline.  When it’s bad for you and going to make you more unhealthy.  That would be a waste too.   And that’s the more embarrassing waste.

6. When you go out to food with friends. 

Don’t buy the “cheapest thing on the menu”.  Don’t buy the “most delicious thing on the menu”.  Buy the “healthiest thing on the menu”.  If that’s not healthy enough, don’t buy anything.  Or maybe you value maximum delicious over health.  Or maximum money savings.  That’s fine.  Don’t try to lose weight if you want to maximally save money.

7. Track metrics

Any metrics are poor.  But you can still weigh yourself daily.  You can still measure your waist once a week, and you can still keep a food diary (not talking about full all out calorie tracking, just simply each morning writing down the things you ate the day before.  Keep track of it in an app.

8. Exercise

Not a magic bullet but the thing I want to say about exercise is that the best exercise to do is the exercise that you enjoy.  If that’s rock climbing and it’s not soccer.  Don’t play soccer.  If it’s soccer and not rock climbing – don’t go rock climbing!

Also – make it easier to exercise, prepare your exercise stuff so that you can go exercise easily.

9. Immunity to change

In the immunity to change process, you look at the competing commitments you have, for example: eating my grandmother’s cooking and losing weight.  It’s okay to have commitments to other things, but at the end of the day – one of the commitments will win.  It’s important to look at the commitments and what’s behind them, and work with them to try to design a good strategy.  The process has more details but look up Right Weight, Right Mind if you are interested.

10. Eat less carbs, and more protein, oil and low calorie vegetables (Essentially keto – reduce fruit, cheese, sugars)

It’s not rocket science.  A steak doesn’t add to your waistline like soft drink potentially does.  If you eat more protein, say – double your protein and eat less carbs, you will have an easier time losing weight.


There are more because there are always more.  But that’s enough for now.  The best ones for you might not be in this list. Feel free to add yours below.

Cross posted: https://www.lesserwrong.com/posts/Kv3MwsimmsQdiqpSR/object-level-weight-loss-tips

Posted in exercise, self-improvement | Leave a comment

The answer sheet

I always wished I had an answer sheet.  A cheat sheet to a lot of my problems.  Well now I do.  But it’s all in my head.  I solved a lot of my problems by reading books and building models to understand how things work.  This is a cheat sheet.


Interpersonal

If you have problems letting yourself connect with other people, making sense of why you do that, and moving past that is probably connected to vulnerability – daring greatly by Brene Brown (video).  If you want more – Read The Art Of Asking by Amanda Palmer.

If you have problems communicating what you want and need from people.  OR if you have problems with people demanding things from you – NVC (video) by Marshall rosenberg is what you need.

If you can’t seem to say things without them getting personal – look at Concrete instructions.  (It’s from NVC (video))

If you need to apologise to someone, read On Apology by Aaron Lazare (video). (If you don’t think you need to apologise then this isn’t the right resource)

If you need help understanding how to manage emotions, read Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman (plus NVC (video), guilt series).

If you want to closely connect with people in the present moment, read the Circling handbook by Marc Benetau, also probably information about mindfulness, and the book The Charisma Myth.

If you want people to feel important when around you (or you want to be a politician), read The Charisma Myth and Rethinking Narcissism.

If you want to get better at sex (any gender), read Come As You Are.  Also if you are anxious about if a thing is normal (P.S. it probably is, if it doesn’t hurt, if you like it – enjoy it.  If you don’t avoid it)

Psychology

If you are finding yourself thinking that people have fixed traits like, “Bob is smart”, and “I am not good at maths” read Mindsets by Carol Dweck, then start adding “yet” to the end of every sentence that wants you to be fixed.

If you are finding yourself using fixed mindsets in your relationships like, “Dave is lazy”, and you want your relationships to do substantially better than the statistics – Read John Gottman’s 7 principles for making marriage work.

If you want to know how to coordinate a group of people…  If they are an anonymous crowd – read Swarmwise by Rick Falkvinge.  If they are a middle class crowd read Saul Alinsky’s Rules for radicals.  If it’s an open source collective read Jono Bacon – The Art Of The Community.  And if they are a business read Turn That ship around by David Marquet and also The Hard thing about hard things.

If you want to learn a skill in the realm of “difficult human” – that is, anything that humans find hard to do.  From musical instruments to sports, to arts – Read The Inner Game Of Tennis by Timothy Gallway

If you want to optimise learning – read Peak by Anders Ericsson, as well as A Mind For Numbers by Barbara Oakley, The Art of Learning, (Maybe skip The Talent Code).

If you want to become the best in the world at something, read Mastery by Robert Greene and if you are not convinced that you do want that then read So Good They Can’t ignore you by Cal Newport.

If you dream, daydream or imagine a lot of things and want to turn that into productive goal-oriented behaviour, read Rethinking Positive Thinking by Gabrielle Oettingen, If you don’t dream and want to dream more – Take B6 (warning it cause bad distracting dreams just as much as enjoyable fantasies and I don’t have advice on how to direct that dreamery).

If you think you have Autism and want to read the one current theory about Emotional Quotient and Systemising Quotient EQ/SQ, You might like to read The Essential Difference by Simon Baron-Cohen.

If you want to understand how people mature and grow over time, and how they relate to the world, read Robert kegan’s developmental theory.

Personal

If you have problems with negative emotions of guilt, or spirals of feeling bad about things that might be out of your control – The Guilt Series by Nate Soares is for you.

If you have problems thinking clearly in a world where you are unsure what you can trust, you might like to read Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance.  If this is too boring and slow for you, maybe the hard mode of Rationality: from AI to Zombies is for you (alternate text version).  If that’s too dry, Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality is an easier read.

If you have the epistemics under control and you have problems being instrumental – stop trying to be smart about it and start doing the dumb and obvious things.  Much dumber people than you have done well in life, you are overthinking it.  You can read GTD for ideas.

If you want organisation systems, make your own FIRST, live with it for a week, THEN try Bullet journals, GTD, Secrets of Productive People, 7 habits of highly effective people, Eat That Frog, and other self-help books (see a list of some here).

If you have problems causing creativity to happen, watch this video of John Cleese, and read The Identification of Creativity.  Then read The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.

If you don’t know what to do with your life you might need to explore more and understand the exploration-exploitation dichotomy, or you might need to read Design Your life by Bill Burnett.

If you want more meaning in your life read Flourish by Martin Seligman, then read Jordan Peterson’s Maps of Meaning for a similar but different take.  Then actually follow the exercises they set out.

If you want to be able to predict things, measure things, and generally get good at looking forward to a stable future, You might want to understand Revealed preferences, And read, How to Measure Anything, followed by Superforecasters, and brush up on Fermi estimates.

If you want to know how to change yourself, Read Right Weight, Right Mind for the being the best book on the Immunity to Change.  better than The power of Habit which covers similar territory.  If you want go for systems, not goals – read how to fail at everything and still win big.

If you want to understand meditation – read Sam Harris Waking up, Chad-meng Tan Search inside yourself, The happiness trap, this post about zen koans, the PNSE paper, and The Mind illuminated By John Yates.

If you want to understand the basics of a field read the 101 textbook.  Ask for recommendations from friends.

If you can’t seem to make a coherent journey out of your existence.  If goals, plans and intentions don’t seem to stick, read or watch Russel Barkley (video)Taking Charge of Adult ADHD. And track more things about yourself.  Also exercises like the List of Common Human Goals

If you need help with motivation, procrastination or akrasia, Read The Procrastination equation (Alex Vermeer has good notes).  Also my Procrastination Checklist

If you are wanting to balance several of your interpersonal relationships, read Robert kegan’s developmental theory, More Than Two By Franklin Veaux, NVC (video) by Marshall Rosenberg.

Heck for interpersonal problems read this post on Human Relationships and read some of those books.

If you want the laziest path to enlightenment look at liberationunleashed.com.  If it looks like gibberish, don’t worry about it.

If your sleep sucks, fix it.  A very long list of sleep maintenance suggestions.

I wrote an exercise for how to plan so that you have consistently good days.

If you have critical brain loops, where you get stuck in a loop of self criticism where lots of cyclical thoughts arise being critical of yourself, try taking fish oil.  Also look into The Call of the Void and the Strategy against it.

If you are upset about intrusive thoughts like “what would it be like if I jumped off this here cliff… Be less upset, it’s pretty common, and it’s not a suicidal thought.  The one paper on Call of the Void proposes another mechanism, and I propose a strategy to make intrusive thoughts not come back.

Unless your email inbox is your only to-do list, it should not be holding tasks as if it is a to-do list.  You should aim for inbox zero, it’s pretty easy with this method.

If you have problems remaining a fluid person over time and your emotions are unstable use an app like “how are you feeling” and track yourself with a form to get the hang of a more timeless understanding of who you are as a person.

If you don’t know what Time Management even means try out empirically assessing your time use.

If you are not sure how much risk to take in the process of learning I would propose Mistakes bad enough you learn, but not bad enough they kill you.

Political

If you are uncomfortable with how the medical system deals with death, and you don’t yet support Voluntary Euthanasia – Read Atul Gawande’s being mortal.  Maybe fast-forward through some of the history though, it can be slow.

If you are in physical pain from your posture or conformation while exercising, read Kelly Starrett – Becoming a Supple Leopard.  And his other books.

If you want to do charity better read Doing Good better by Willam MacAskill.

If you want to understand better what science is – read Theory and Reality by Peter Godfrey Smith.


That’s enough for now.  This has been a few hours of effort to get these written down.

Cross post: https://www.lesserwrong.com/posts/BzhewKpooSPA3mx9W/the-answer-sheet

There should be more answers in the comments on the cross post.

Posted in books notes, life maintenance, models of thinking, self-improvement | 1 Comment

2017: a year in science

In Classical tradition for the Sydney Summer Solstice.  We look back over the year and gathering some exciting science that was worth sharing.  I present this year’s list of science (see previous years – 20162015)

Credit this year goes to Erratio for compiling the list.  And I hope that together with us you can celebrate some of humanity’s success over a wonderful year in science!


– first human head transplant (on a corpse). (https://nypost.com/2017/11/17/professor-claims-doctors-successfully-performed-human-head-transplant/)

– gay marriage in Australia (finally!)

– human-pig hybrid embryos created (https://www.sciencealert.com/it-s-alive-the-first-human-pig-hybrid-has-been-created-in-the-lab)

– major breakthrough in understanding the common cold (https://www.standard.co.uk/news/health/scientists-make-major-breakthrough-that-could-pave-the-way-for-cure-to-common-cold-a3474106.html)

– reversed aging in mice (http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-11-04/scientists-reverse-ageing-process-in-mice/5865714)

– premature lambs grown in artificial womb (http://www.iflscience.com/health-and-medicine/artificial-womb-used-to-successfully-grow-premature-lamb-for-the-second-time/)

– CRISPR has been used on human embryos (http://www.bbc.com/news/health-40802147)

– SpaceX has successfully launched and landed a reused Falcoln 9 rocket (https://www.theverge.com/2017/3/30/15117096/spacex-launch-reusable-rocket-success-falcon-9-landing)

– Elon Musk building words largest lithium ion battery as backup for South Australia http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-07-07/sa-to-get-worlds-biggest-lithium-ion-battery/8687268

– Tesla has built electric self driving trucks (https://www.theverge.com/2017/11/16/16667366/tesla-semi-truck-announced-price-release-date-electric-self-driving)

– AlphaGo beat everyone at Go (https://www.engadget.com/2017/10/19/google-alphago-zero-ai/)

–  Alpha Zero taught itself chess in 24 hours, beats all the other AI’s (https://www.technologyreview.com/s/609736/alpha-zeros-alien-chess-shows-the-power-and-the-peculiarity-of-ai/)

– Metallic hydrogen created (https://phys.org/news/2017-01-metallic-hydrogen-theory-reality.html)

–  51-qubit quantum simulator (https://www.newscientist.com/article/2141105-quantum-simulator-with-51-qubits-is-largest-ever/)

– Researchers demonstrate a prototype 3D printer that can print fully functional human skin (https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/01/170123090630.htm)

– DeepStack is beating everyone at poker (https://arxiv.org/abs/1701.01724)

– Negative mass fluid (https://www.sciencealert.com/physicists-say-they-ve-created-a-fluid-with-negative-mass)

– The first synthetic retina using soft biological tissues is created by a student at the University of Oxford

– Australia is getting a space agency (http://www.minister.industry.gov.au/ministers/sinodinos/media-releases/turnbull-government-establish-national-space-agency)

– A roundworm has been uploaded to a Lego body (http://edition.cnn.com/2015/01/21/tech/mci-lego-worm/index.html)

– The Minamata Convention, the first global treaty on mercury pollution, has been ratified (https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/minamata-convention_nations-meet-in-geneva-to-make-mercury-history-/43543598)

  • Oumuamua,  the first known interstellar object to pass through the Solar System. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%CA%BBOumuamua)
  • NASA announces its two choices for the next Discovery Program missions – the Lucy mission, to visit several asteroids, including six Jupiter Trojans; and the Psyche mission, to visit the large metallic asteroid 16 Psyche.[6][7]
  • Researchers publish evidence that humans first entered North America in around 24,000 BP (Before Present), during the height of the last ice age. This is 10,000 years earlier than previously thought.[23]

 

The first stable helium compound is synthesized, Na2He.[44][45] Helium is the most unreactive element.

Scientists at the University of Texas report a new phase of matter, dubbed a time crystal, in which atoms move in a pattern that repeats in time rather than in space

Physicists at CERN‘s Large Hadron Collider report the detection of the particle Ξ++ cc (with the Greek letter Xi), a new hadron, a composite particle containing two charm quarks and one up quark.

Nobel Prizes

 

Physics: Rainer Weiss, Barry C. Barish and Kip S. Thorne

“for decisive contributions to the LIGO detector and the observation of gravitational waves”

Chemistry: Jacques Dubochet, Joachim Frank and Richard Henderson

“for developing cryo-electron microscopy for the high-resolution structure determination of biomolecules in solution”

Physiology or medicine: Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young

“for their discoveries of molecular mechanisms controlling the circadian rhythm”

Literature: Kazuo Ishiguro

“who, in novels of great emotional force, has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world”

Peace: International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN)

“for its work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and for its ground-breaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons”

Economics: Richard H. Thaler

“for his contributions to behavioural economics”

Bonus section

– The eclipse (https://www.demilked.com/magazine/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/599c19131cb57-solar-eclipse-2017-coverimage.jpg)

– Harvey Weinstein et al

– Trump, North Korea, Brexit

– Robert Mugabe has resigned

Notable Deaths:

Hans Rosling

Isabella Karle

100 years ago in 1917

Holy crap this was a depressing year. WWI pretty much all the way.

Births:

January 25Ilya Prigogine, Russian-born physicist and chemist, recipient of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry (d. 2003)

February 14Herbert A. Hauptman, American mathematician, recipient of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry (d. 2011)

John Kendrew, British molecular biologist, recipient of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry (d. 1997)

April 10Robert Burns Woodward, American chemist, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 1979)

June 1William S. Knowles, American chemist, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 2012)

John Fenn, American chemist, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 2010)

Christian de Duve, English-born biologist, recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (d. 2013)

Rodney Robert Porter, English biochemist, recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (d. 1985)

November 22Andrew Huxley, English scientist, recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (d. 2012)

December 9James Rainwater, American physicist, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 1986)

December 21Heinrich Böll, German writer, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 1985)

Deaths

March 31Emil von Behring, German winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (b. 1854)

July 27Emil Kocher, Swiss medical researcher, recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (b. 1841)

November 11 – Queen Liliuokalani, last monarch of the Kingdom of Hawaii (b. 1838)

November 15Émile Durkheim, French sociologist (b. 1858)

March 8Ferdinand von Zeppelin, German inventor (b. 1838)

Nobels 1917

PhysicsCharles Glover Barkla

Chemistry – not awarded

Medicine – not awarded

LiteratureKarl Adolph Gjellerup, Henrik Pontoppidan

PeaceInternational Committee of the Red Cross


Meta: I want to thank Erratio because this would not have gotten done without me.  All love goes in that general direction.  I am just posting.

Cross post: https://www.lesserwrong.com/posts/Fer3LkjxnLvLLvGv3/2017-a-year-in-science

Posted in lesswrong | 1 Comment

Books I read 2017 – Part 1. Relationships, Learning

This year I read 79 or so books.  Also there are 24 more books that I put down without finishing.  That’s a lot to summarise.  I have already spent more than 15 hours and restarted the process of summarising twice.  This is attempt number 3.

Here they are:


Before I get into the books, let me explain how this many books is possible.

In 2017 I discovered FBReader.  An app for ebooks on android phones (Natural reader is a good app for IOS).  That is FBReader and TTS plugin.  With a bit of getting used to, and tweaking of speed I have managed to read an obviously startling number of books – I even surprised myself.  So many in fact that I challenge myself to be able to remember them all and act in line with everything they have taught me.  This summary and the parts to follow are as much for me as it is for you.  For me – to confirm I took away what I wanted to take away.  For you – to use as notes and evaluations on what is worth reading.  I hope you enjoy, a review of all the books I read this year.

I get asked if I properly take in the information by audio-reading.  The answer is yes and no.  Sometimes I miss things, sometimes I read a book twice.  Sometimes even more times.  Sometimes I don’t need to re-read it.  Overall I am in a much much better position for having read books in the way that I have than not at all.


Part 2: Books I read 2017; Part 2. Psychology, Management


Relationships & Communication

Reviewed here.

The conversation needs to be safe.  For example – “I want to help you as a person and I know how hard it can be to get feedback from other people and I want to make you into a better person.  I have an idea for how you might like to improve.  Before I tell you I want to reassure you that even though this might come across abrasive I want to help you grow and be better in the future…”

This book is about life.  It’s supposedly about conversations which is fine. I mean who needs to have those all the time every day forever to get anything done that is outside of the span of control of one person.  So you want to tell someone something and you have a hunch it’s going to be difficult.  Great!  The first step of being an alcoholic is to admit you have a problem.  After that it’s all rainbows and butterflies.   Except it’s not.  Well.  Without really explaining in detail this book borrows from some of the tricks of mindfulness, ACT Therapy and the book, The happiness trap. Where your job as a person preparing to have a difficult conversation is to recognise that you don’t have the full story.  You have your version of events.  Probably your version with a twist on it that shows that the other person was spiteful or calculated damaging you for one reason or another.  Trouble is that the other person also has a version of the story that explains why they were innocent as well as the hero of their own story as well as the victim of your calculated actions because yes. Without you knowing you are in fact the devil (credit where credit is due right?)

Everything in this book is really a drawn out way of saying that you need to step outside of The Stories we tell ourselves (another book worth reading and a great concept to carry around in your head), and into the 3rd person story that is built from the information as we lay them out.  If you want to steal the strategies and systems around “building a 3rd story” – fleece it for all it’s worth.  It’s got guides, scripts, you name it.  It does take a special kind of person to be able to take the attitude of “we need to build a 3rd story” and roll with it as if it were as powerful as an entire book without reading the damn book so maybe it’s best to read the book to get the idea.  It’s a light read all the same and the book recently featured in my list of models of human relationships where you can find some more words about it.

Reviewed here.

There are 4 types of difficult conversations around communicating a decision:
aConsultation (Bob asks Alice for ideas for the decision he is going to make on his own)
bCollaboration (Bob and Alice make a decision together)
cDeclaration (Bob tells alice the decision he has made)
dDelegation (Bob tells alice to make the decision)

Reviewed here.

There is a two way path between physiological states and emotional states.  Everyone can train emotional intelligence, they need practice.  This includes holding an understanding of your own states as well as being able to notice emotional states in other people.

EI is particularly important when it is particularly deficient.  In the book it talks about anger as a state that (to an untrained person) can cause a reaction before someone knows that they were angry.  Make sure to fix that first before moving to higher levels of emotional management.

Reviewed here.

I always recommend this book to people starting the journey because it’s a great place to start.  These days I have better models but when I didn’t know anything this was a place to begin.  Most of my models are now more complicated applications of the ideas initially presented.  You still need weak models before replacing them with more complicated ones which are more accurate.

The polyamory bible.  It will teach you to consider the things you didn’t initially consider when thinking about poly.  Covers communication, having a toolkit, working with jealousy, setting rules, and a whole lot more that’s hard to put into words.

These are all almost the same book.  They talk about the same thing (NVC) and the best is one of the top two.  Don’t let the name scare you, it’s basically what you are looking for in communication (despite sounding like the opposite of what you want).  If I had to pick one book that made everything all make sense, it’s this one concept.  If you are looking for the keys, look no further than here.  If the name screams “useless” then hopefully it’s time to wonder why I would suggest a book that sounds useless.  Things that now make sense: Guilt, Anger, Upset, Resentment, Apology, Forgiveness, Sadness, How to talk about your interpersonal problems, how to meet your own needs and so much more.  If you only read one book, read this one.  I have probably spent 75+ hours on learning NVC this year, independent of the time spent thinking about it and practicing it in my life.

This book is about creating the necessary vulnerability needed to form social connections.  How do you bond with people?  By having something to connect over.  How do you do that?  Share your vulnerability (not in a DUMP-FEELINGS way but) in a way that fosters bringing people closer to you.  And also recognise other people being vulnerable and appreciate it, even if it doesn’t meet your specifics for how to connect.

A whole book on the psychology of apology.  Ties in very well to NVC and Difficult conversation.  It’s everything you need to know about apology to get it right.  Most apologies don’t need to be perfect but I know that having this book under my belt means that I can craft a well-thought-out apology that hits on all the psychological needs of the offended person and allows healing to happen.

A book about the hard-to-explain activity of “circling”.  Something like a cross between group meditation and hailed as the fastest way to build close connection with people in a short period of time.  It’s not creepy or mysterious, just hard to explain because it’s about sharing present experience. I feel my breath as I was thinking of an example.  The amazing thing about present experience is that we all have them, so we all have a glimpse at understanding them and connecting to them is something we can all do.  I recommend circling (which is built on NVC) to everyone.  Just get a glimpse of something different.

Gottman is a mathematician who decided to study relationships.  While some of his statistical methods may be questionable he still offers a few good models in this book.  Models I use daily.  Emotional bids, 4 horsemen, repair attempts, love maps, positive sentiment, turn towards/turn away, solvable/perpetual problems and many more.  If you want to know how to make relationships work, this book has most of what you need to know.

Some good ideas about measuring relationship satisfaction.  CBT about beliefs in relationships.  Have a growth mindset not a fixed mindset around your partner.  A warning to beware of the “stories we tell ourselves” and don’t live in those stories (Agrees with NVC). We probably cause the exact problems we are trying to solve, don’t expect to solve the problem by doing the exact same thing as you just did.  Humans have a bad habit of missing obvious details like how exactly we cause the problems.  This book has more but having read all the other books, these things feel like overlap with the other books.

It’s a sex book!  Includes good models and information such as,

“take a mirror and investigate your genitals” because that’s interesting and most people have not.

Non-Concordance between mental desire and physiological response (thinking I am not into it when I am hard/wet.  Or being unable to get hard/wet when I want to be into it).

Accelerator and Brake as a model – Some factors turn you on, some turn you off but they don’t always interact.  Example: stress might turn you off but a sexy partner might turn you on.  But these are independent factors.  You may need to relieve the stresses and encourage your partner to be more sexy to get this going.  Make a list with your partner of accelerators and brakes, then swap lists and see if you can help each other.

Aim for an enjoyable experience.  Get naked with your partner and just enjoy cuddling and touching and don’t have any pressure to have sex.  Then gradually add in more, explore and enjoy each other.  Don’t overthink it (NVC message, stay in the concrete experience).

The whole book is laced with a message of “you are probably normal and less stressing about your sex life and experience actually makes it better because you are not stressed”.

I don’t know if I am relatively inexperienced in reading sex books but this one had a lot that I didn’t know yet.  Which is good.  I hope to grab more in the near future.


Relationship books I didn’t finish

Book about Free Open Source communities online and variously how to run a community.  I really wanted to look up one or two specific things so I didn’t get deep into this book.  but it’s still the bible of community building.

I read this years ago.  It was hogwash then and it’s hogwash now but it maybe has useful ideas of identities we can choose to play to.  “needs babying” “needs to be an adult” as identities.  But really I think NVC works better.

I want to finish this book!  And there are a small handful of books by this name.  It’s about the story of judgement about our concrete experiences.  If you live in a world of judgement, “he hates, she is mad at” you will live in a lot more pain than if you live in a world of concretes.  Living in “this happened/that happened” not “this happening implies he was mad at me” (looks a lot like fundamental attribution error).

The world you end up spending time in is the world that defines your meaning.  Which is, if you live in the world of conspiracy, those are meaningful and you can win and lose in ways that make for joy and pain.  If you live in the world of stoic, concrete experience you can’t lose, and everything is joyous in a way that is very hard to describe.  Anyway read NVC, read this, read all the other similar books and everything makes sense together.

I really wanted this to be a good book.  On the tail of giving up on The Black Swan, I wanted my next book to actually last.  I have heard many people say promising things about this book but unfortunately it didn’t carry it’s own weight.  I got about 150 pages in and was pretty sick of armchair evolutionary psychology ideas self justifying just so theories with no basis whatsoever that is even marginally better than a BAHfest entrant.  How they sold so many books and got into so many minds is beyond me.  I know what I didn’t find was some good reading on sexuality, polyamory or evolution.  It’s a shame because it came so well recommended.  I will not read the rest.


Learning

This book is amazing.  It will teach you how to think about learning any problem in the realm of difficult human.  Difficult human is “there is something that some people can do with their bodies.  It takes iteration and practice to solve a difficult human problem.  Like balance, chopping vegetables, juggling, playing music and many more.  This book has guidelines for learning that.  It’s based on tennis but that helps to show how well it applies to any skill.  If you want to know how to learn.  Read this.

This book is the story of how Tim Galloway basically discovered Daniel Kahneman’s Two System model from Thinking Fast and Slow.  Except he did it years earlier while trying to work out how to teach people to play tennis.  If you are interested in teaching or learning any skill at all ever – I would recommend this book because chances are it’s one of those skills like tennis where your body (system 1) just kinda plays the game and your planning and calculating System 2 basically takes a back seat.

Reason being if you have to think about every ball coming towards you, chances are tha t while you do the geometry on the projectile motion trajectory they will hit you in the face.  However if you train that part of your body that worked out how to walk via a variation on trial and error – that’s what’s going to make an ace or a dunce tennis player.  The ability to “feel” or intuit what’s next (using that other part of your brain) and act accordingly.

That’s not all.  It’s great to say that tennis is an intuitive game but standing on the court for 200 hours wont teach you very much.  Not without the effective feedback loops and the repeatability (See Peak – The book by the man who is the god of experience and practice).  There is a fiddly balance between the system that can calculate the spin on the ball, and why it went out (s2) — and the system that knows how to use muscle memory to respond to that (s1).  This book is a guide on how to balance the two systems and use them to work towards the goal, not against each other.

It’s a pretty great read which alternates between explanations and small anecdotes where Tim discovered the concepts behind the theory, this book is light on the anecdotes and heavy on the concepts.  It’s less of a book all about “ME ME ME” and more of a book about “here learn this”.  If you are looking to learn something, this is a must read.

This book is the semi-autobiographical book by Josh Waitzkin as he describes his journey through chess championships and then through Tai Chi [Taiji Push Hands (Taiji Tui Shou)] championships.  The great thing about his story is that it’s not often that you find a double champion to give a good eyeballing.  In any discipline at championship level you have certain meta-skills that creep in.  and Josh talks about what it’s like and how to do it.

There is a lot about “focus on your own style” and “turn inwards to your experience when learning”.  Also keep it fun, get lots of fast feedback, the ability to keep cool under pressure, the ability to see your own mistakes and learn from them and many more pieces of advice.  Which is basically why he called the book The Art of Learning.  Inspired by Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and distinctly with some similarities but with a more fun story and a more practical adventure.  Think less smug and bitter character, and more – Journey of discovery being shared as he works it out along the way.

If you look at what Josh is up to now, it seems like the book helped springboard him into an organisation that helps with revolutionising teaching styles so that they match the student.

Like any young genius I was raised on a diet of chess and science so I get what he talks about when he talks about the mindset of the game.  I too had experiences of watching my opponents make themselves lose the game.  I too learnt everything I know about the world via a chess board.  Maybe that’s why I loved this story.

Maybe it was all confirmation bias to hear his story, maybe it was reading about the mental game that ties into The Inner Game of Tennis, NVC, The Talent Code, Stories we tell ourselves and many more…  But if you get the idea that he knows what he is talking about, this is a great hero’s story of how a man conquered the world.  He starts on the idea (also found in Tony Robbins’ – Uncertainty, as well as Jordan Peterson – Chaos), that growth comes out of mistakes.  I wrote about it before when I said, mistakes bad enough that you learn but not bad enough that they kill you.

Other things mentioned include ideas that are also in peak about tight loop feedback, deliberate practice and 10,000hours of training.

One day you stop being able to follow other teachers, you become your own teacher.  You are the master of your own agency.  Then you need to ask yourself what next?  How do I get better?  How do I take a step forward?  This book talks about that.  And I would strongly recommend it.

Overall – definitely a fun read and firmly in the set of books I would recommend to read if you want to know about learning.

This book was probably made better by the fact that I had previously read Anders Ericsson’s earlier book – The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise which is essentially a compilation of papers about being an expert.  As you might expect from a compilation of papers – it was dry as all hell and was very difficult to extract value from.  Which is why I was thrilled when I found out about this book.  Peak is one of those fun story books about brilliant people and how they got to where they are, Mozart, “Steve”, Chess masters… And I love a good chess story.

Anders tries to build a story-mode version of the list of instructions on page 225/700, which ideally should have been on page 1 but that’s okay, he does it this way.  It’s fun all the same to read about all the masters and how they got to their 10k hours.  That’s right Anders is the 10,000 hours guy.  Well.  He’s the deliberate practice guy, and combined with the inner game of tennis, you can basically teach yourself anything by following these 7 principles.

  • Deliberate practice develops skills that other people have already figured out how to do and for which effective training techniques have been established. The practice regimen should be designed and overseen by a teacher or coach who is familiar with the abilities of expert performers and with how those abilities can best be developed.

  • Deliberate practice takes place outside one’s comfort zone and requires a student to constantly try things that are just beyond his or her current abilities. Thus it demands near-maximal effort, which is generally not enjoyable.

  • Deliberate practice involves well-defined, specific goals and often involves improving some aspect of the target performance; it is not aimed at some vague overall improvement. Once an overall goal has been set, a teacher or coach will develop a plan for making a series of small changes that will add up to the desired larger change. Improving some aspect of the target performance allows a performer to see that his or her performances have been improved by the training.

  • Deliberate practice is deliberate, that is, it requires a person’s full attention and conscious actions. It isn’t enough to simply follow a teacher’s or coach’s directions. The student must concentrate on the specific goal for his or her practice activity so that adjustments can be made to control practice.

  • Deliberate practice involves feedback and modification of efforts in response to that feedback. Early in the training process much of the feedback will come from the teacher or coach, who will monitor progress, point out problems, and offer ways to address those problems. With time and experience students must learn to monitor themselves, spot mistakes, and adjust accordingly. Such self-monitoring requires effective mental representations.

  • Deliberate practice both produces and depends on effective mental representations. Improving performance goes hand in hand with improving mental representations; as one’s performance improves, the representations become more detailed and effective, in turn making it possible to improve even more. Mental representations make it possible to monitor how one is doing, both in practice and in actual performance. They show the right way to do something and allow one to notice when doing something wrong and to correct it.

  • Deliberate practice nearly always involves building or modifying previously acquired skills by focusing on particular aspects of those skills and working to improve them specifically; over time this step-by-step improvement will eventually lead to expert performance. Because of the way that new skills are built on top of existing skills, it is important for teachers to provide beginners with the correct fundamental skills in order to minimize the chances that the student will have to relearn those fundamental skills later when at a more advanced level.

So yeah!  Just commit that to memory and you’ll be set!  Following an expert, Outside your comfort zone of what you know, specific goals, deliberate and conscious actions, short feedback loops, mental models of what you are trying to do and modifying what you already know to make it better.

It’s as easy as building a mnemonic and chunking that down right?  (nope, it’s just annoying to try to recall that list.  It’s still a good list though).  It does have some good ideas like finding an expert and doing some analysis to see what you are doing different and why.  There are lots of bits to expertise, and they are really well covered in the book.

Two other concepts that Ander’s destroys really confidently are, “zero to hero” sort of out-of-nowhere stories and savantism.  The short version is that there is no free lunch.  Even savants worked thousands of hours to get where they were.  Unfortunately it was probably more of a compulsive repetitive behaviour than an enjoyable learning experience.

Joshua Foer accidentally won a memory competition.  He was a journalist investigating the subculture when he decided to play and used Anders Erricson’s help to get so good he won.  The story of his journey is excellent!  If you like books that take you on a journey, like The Art of Learning – this one is a lot of fun.  It’s a bit of a boys book in that the whole “memory scene” as he describes it is a bunch of boys trying to do something stupendous.

The book is littered with details of our understanding of how memory works.  It’s fun to play along and try to recall syllables or phone numbers.  Also if you want to go into memory palaces, this book is a good place to start.  Even if you just want to know more so you can decide it’s not for you, that’s fine too.  Investigate https://artofmemory.com/wiki/Main_Page if you are keen to memorize decks of playing cards or other irrelevant memory feats.  (also I wrote the list of techniques to help you remember names a while before reading this)

This book has some excellent models around how to become a master in your field.  Including several phases of learning.  The transition from “apprentice”, to “scientist”, to “master”.  The steps of being an apprentice through
passive”, “practice” and “experimentation”.

Find a mentor who is doing what you want, ask them for advice then throw most of it out.  Pay attention to what they do, not what they say.  Emulate the things they do that you see working.

Robert green indulges in many examples of masters and the training they went through including Darwin, Mozart, Da Vinci and many more.  Whether it’s possible to coherently posit a connection between as many “masters” as he does and continue to present a thesis. That’s an exercise left up to the reader.  He certainly has a solid method for achieving mastery.  Whether that’s the best way… It’s not the only way, but it’s certainly food for thought.

Less good than all the above.  A few simple ideas about how to get people into the passion of a skill and how to keep the joy alive.  In theory the fundamentals of passions.  Whether it delivers… is up to you.

A book by a non-mathematical person on how they learnt to learn math.  Many good insights.  Goes well with deep work, and generally working on “hard things”.  talks about diffuse vs focussed mode thinking.  Basically the reason why shower-thoughts work so well at solving problems.  And how to get that without having to shower just to get on top of your problems.  Or alternatively the suggestion to shower as often as necessary.

This book is aimed at a simple level and is filled with exercises that can be tried out once.  It doesn’t necessarily guide you how to apply it to your own life.  While it’s neat insight to know that focused and diffuse modes exist it doesn’t do the most obvious of things of telling you to implement it in your working process.

If you are like me and have read at least 5 books on productivity, this book probably overlaps with one or more of them.  In that sense it’s not novel but it is good at covering the variety of relevant information.  I feel like Feynman covers his stuff in his own books, Joshua Foer covers his knowledge in Moonwalking with Einstein.  A poor copy is not ideal but for someone entering the field maybe it’s a reasonable summary?


This is part 1 and it’s over 5k words.  If I don’t split this up I can assume it won’t get read.  It’s phenomenal that it’s actually being published after months wrestling with it.  I’d say this could have taken anywhere from 5-15 hours in the fray of writing and rewriting and restructuring.

Cross posted: https://www.lesserwrong.com/posts/k6outE9pA6vxZSc8B/books-i-read-2017-part-1-relationships-learning

Part 2: Books I read 2017; Part 2. Psychology, Management

Posted in books notes, models of thinking, self-improvement | 1 Comment