A Few Things: Escaping the X-Axis, Happiness 401(k), Becoming Superhuman, Blockchain Infrastructure
February 19, 2022
I am sharing this weekly email with you because I count you in the group of people I learn from and enjoy being around.
“Things that matter most must never be at the mercy of things that matter least.”
- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
“If you are ever tempted to look for outside approval, realise that you have compromised your integrity. If you need a witness, be your own.”
"Time will multiply whatever you feed it. Good habits make time your ally. Bad habits make time your enemy."
- James Clear
A. A Few Things Worth Checking Out:
1. Super article by David Perell titled: Hugging the X-Axis, about the culture of commitment phobia, that reminded me of the book: Four Thousand Weeks that we discussed last year.
Super because I have a habit of chasing shiny objects.
A few key paragraphs:
As my priorities have shifted, I’ve discovered a tradeoff between the shine of novelty and the consistency of commitment. Western culture over-indexes on novelty. It suffers from commitment phobia. I see this in our culture of digital nomadism, job-hopping among yuppies, and listening to books at 3x speed instead of reading them deeply. Anxiety is the driving force behind this game of hopscotch.
The problem is that a life without commitment is a life spent hugging the X-Axis.
Where does our culture of commitment phobia come from?
I have hypotheses, but no firm conclusions. Here, I’ll present three theories: a cultural one, a technological one, and a sociological one.
For a cultural explanation, I look at the rise of liberalism. In Why Liberalism Failed, Patrick Deneen argues that the project of liberalism seeks to detach us from the constraints that once tied us down — family, culture, place, identity, tradition. As liberalism grew more popular, the circumstances of kin and place became more malleable. Thus, today’s Westerners are increasingly free to shape their identity. I don’t think liberalism is inherently a bad thing, but like anything else, it has its tradeoffs.
For a technological explanation, I look at our culture of abundance. The “so muchness” of modern life has given us commitment anxiety. It’s a version of the Paradox of Choice, which argues that people can reduce anxiety by eliminating choice.
For a sociological explanation, I look at shortening time horizons. People in most Western countries are having kids at below replacement rate. People are getting married later too. Instead of thinking about building intergenerational family wealth, people are thinking about their own desires and their own freedom. People are more likely to grind for their own success instead of their family name. Furthermore, I worry about our culture of antinatalism because having children gives you a stake in the world of tomorrow, and that stake is driven by blood. What happens when our world leaders don’t have children? Here’s a guess: a culture of shortening time horizons where people value the present more and the future less.
As a result of these convergent trends — the rise of liberalism, technological abundance, and short time horizons — we’ve been overvaluing optionality at the expense of commitment.
People think they’ll be happy if they don’t have any obligations. In actuality, total optionality is a recipe for emptiness — and hugging the X-axis — because opportunity and optionality are often inversely correlated. The challenge is that the greatest rewards generally go to people who are tied down in certain ways. A real lifelong marriage is the deepest relationship you’ll ever have because you’ve committed to a lifetime of faithfulness. Likewise, you only get to raise money for a startup when investors are confident you’re committed for the long haul. The challenge is that people who treat their lives like a game of hot potato, always moving from thing to thing, can’t take advantage of exponential curves — and climb the Y-axis.
The bottom line is commitment is undervalued. If you have commitment phobia, you’re not taking control of your own life. You’re taking your hands off the wheel of reality and letting happenstance define your life. And yeah, you take a stand whenever you make a commitment and expose yourself to the potential for pain and criticism.
In matters of the heart, commitment brings meaning. In matters of the mind, commitment brings knowledge. And in matters of the material world, running towards the responsibility that comes with commitment takes courage — and with courage comes achievement. People can only become world-class at things they commit to. Ultimately, the more hesitant people are about making commitments, the higher the rewards are for people who do. The alternative is empty hedonism and hard work without the rewards to show for it.
Long story short, commitment is undervalued.
So here’s how I suggest responding to this trend: whatever your tolerance for commitment is, raise it.
If today you’re comfortable committing to something for two hours, try committing for a weekend. If you’re comfortable committing for two weeks, then raise it to two months; once you’re comfortable with two months, raise it to two years; and once you’re comfortable with two years, raise it to two decades. It’s okay to start small. All big things do. But they have to start somehow and with commitment comes momentum. Commitment happens in stages, and only by embracing it can you stop hugging the X-Axis and climb the compounding curve.
2. Thoughtful Atlantic article by Arthur C. Brooks on the “The Seven Habits That Lead to Happiness in Old Age” and I really liked the idea of Happiness 401(k), which is the US pension saving scheme for those outside the US.
A few key paragraphs:
Each of us has something like a “Happiness 401(k)” that we invest in when we are young, and that we get to enjoy when we are old. We can all teach ourselves to do some very specific things at any age to make our last decades much, much happier.
Using data from the Harvard study, two researchers showed in 2001 that we can control seven big investment decisions pretty directly: smoking, drinking, body weight, exercise, emotional resilience, education, and relationships. Here’s what you can do about each of them today to make sure your accounts are as full as possible when you reach your later years:
The best way to maximize your chances of happiness in your 70s is to pursue all seven of these goals with fervor, sort of like balancing your 401(k). But if you can choose only one to pour your heart into, let it be the last. According to the Harvard study, the single most important trait of happy-well elders is healthy relationships. As Robert Waldinger, who currently directs the study, told me in an email, “Well-being can be built—and the best building blocks are good, warm relationships.”
This is the Harvard study the article is based on:
3. I came across Dr Andrew Huberman, a neurobiologist from Stanford, on the Tim Ferris podcast last summer. He guested on Tim's show, and they chatted about optimising sleep, enhancing performance, reducing anxiety, and how to use the body to control the mind.
That's Huberman's niche – neuroscience – and working out how our brain and its connections with the organs of our body control our perceptions, our behaviours, and our health.
A great episode from his own podcast that I dug into was on goal setting and how to prime your brain (and body) to pursue the right goals in life. It was a superb listen, fascinating, educational, and useful in equal measure. And whatever it is you're pursuing – whether that's building a business or going for a run in the morning – there are a tonne of hints and tips to be harvested.
4. Dan McMurtie is one of my favourite emerging hedge fund managers. He runs Tyro Partners. Dan was on the Value Hive podcast in August 2021. Dan is only 30 but wise beyond his years. There was a lot here to think about:
- Understand the path dependencies of your life and your portfolio. Can you survive bad stuff happening to you.
- Who can help you understand this stock? What is the specific thing here you should be doing work on? What is the best way to get your information?
- Do a meta analysis of your systems - how does your investment machine work? Where do your returns coming from?
- If the company says they aren’t worrying about the startups, cause they have been good for 20 years, then they are already dead.
- Be flexible, or be dead. Don’t get married to an abstraction or notion.
B. Becoming Super Human
I believe our bodies are amazing. They are capable of so much more than we will ever use them for.
Wim Hof (aka The Iceman) is one of those people that wakes you up and helps take your body out of the civilised cubicle you find yourself into its raw powerful form.
Wim holds 26 world records, including a world record for the longest ice bath. He’s even climbed to an altitude of 22,000 feet on Mount Everest wearing nothing but shorts and shoes!
Wim has also reached the top of Mount Kilimanjaro in his shorts within two days as well as completed a full marathon above the Arctic circle in Finland with temperatures close to minus four degrees Fahrenheit. He broke the ice endurance record twice, with The Guinness World Record now set for one hour and 52 minutes and 42 seconds.
Here’s a short documentary on him with 15mm views:
The main thesis behind Wim’s work is that the combination of cold treatment and breathing techniques can help bring out the “superhuman” in you.
One of the best podcasts he did was with Lewis Howes on the School of Greatness, on Mastering your breath, body and mind and is how I first started my Wim Hof journey.
You can check out this book Scott Carney wrote about his journey investigating Wim’s work.
Try this guided breathing session. I do this periodically and a freezing cold shower every morning. It’s been a life changer!
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, and don’t want to play a doctor on the internet. These are just ideas and techniques I am interested in and learning about.
C. The Tech and Crypto Section:
1. Last week, I interviewed Emil Woods, Managing Partner of Liberty City Ventures. Emil has been involved in crypto and blockchain since 2010, initially as a miner and buyer of bitcoin and more recently as a venture investor in blockchain infrastructure, in companies like Paxos, Lukka, Animoca….
Given his decade in the market, we discussed lessons he’s learned, what is blockchain infrastructure and how is it being used in real life, and where the blockchain/ crypto ecosystem headed and how will it impact our lives.
2. Bitcoin: the state of Colorado to accept cryptocurrency for taxes by the middle of this year. Soon after, it will also accept crypto for other state fees, including driver's licenses and hunting licenses. But because of regulation around the kind of assets that state governments are allowed to hold, Colorado will immediately have to cash whatever crypto it earns into US dollar.
Can "Hugging the X-Axis" be tied to "How the Economic Machine Works" by Ray Dalio (and other Business-minded men)? There would be a correlation between wellbeing deviation patterns vs economic distribution patterns.