In keeping with an annual tradition I began in 2017, I hereby give you the 2022 edition: 22 thoughts, musings and nuggets developed from a year of reading, learning, un-learning and re-learning. From books to podcasts to notes scribbled in a book, I hope you get something out of it.
If the first two decades of the twenty-first century have taught us anything, it’s that uncertainty is chronic; instability is permanent; disruption is common; and we can neither predict nor govern events. There will be no “new normal”; there will only be a continuous series of “not normal” episodes, defying prediction and unforeseen by most of us until they happen. – Jim Collins
To summarize the top habit books of the past 10 years (Good Habits/Bad Habits, Atomic Habits, Tiny Habits, Rewire, The Power of Habit, Stick With It, How To Change, Re-Direct) in terms of commonalities:
- Make it easy
- Take smaller steps
- Make it compelling/attractive/sticky
- Disrupt your habit loops
- Change cues/context/proximity
- Reward the right way
On emotions (Dr. Susan David):
- Emotions are neither good, nor bad (including anger, stress, sadness) and they don’t need to necessarily be “controlled”
- The “tyranny of positivity” perpetuates denial and the capacity to be authentically with our experiences. (ie miss me with “positive vibes only”)
- We tend to either battle or brood with our emotions (brush aside/repress or dwell/ruminate). Both lead to maladaptive coping mechanisms.
- Emotional agility is developing skills to deal with the world as it is – not how we wish it to be.
When all the dust settles from the literature of what makes a “great coach/therapist” we are left with an individual who is kind and supportive. The therapist/coach, NOT the technique makes the difference – whether this is mental health therapy, physical therapy or personal training/coaching. The quality of the relationship between coach/client matters most. Understanding, empathy and collaboration are central to this.
There are 4 styles of thinking (largely prominent in online debate) : preacher, prosecutor, politicizer or scientist. (Adam Grant: Think Again).
- Preaching: We are convinced we are right and we will bang that drum trying to persuade others of how right we are.
- Prosecuting: Trying to prove someone else wrong.
- Politicizing: Trying to gain approval of an audience.
- Scientist: Favoring humility over pride and curiosity over conviction.
So basically practice thinking like a scientist.
Facts don’t change minds: Minds are generally already made up. We aren’t “researching” we are conclusion shopping to fit preconceived ideologies. The problem is too many see their ideas and opinions as an identity and will defend it at all cost – playing fast and loose with sources (cough, cough covid interventions).. Instead, if we treat ideas as just that.. Hunches, we can update views based on data, not appeals to emotion and conspiratorial ideation.
Engage in actions and reps that take you out of your comfort zone. Deliberate practice is the most efficient way towards progress. Deliberate practice should be uncomfortable in some way. Practice doesn’t equal perfect, it equals repetition. Deliberate practice = improvement. Deliberate practice is consciously and intentionally pushing performance. Practicing a skill you are already proficient at only makes you over-confident. Practice should bring some humility. (Anders Ericsson)
We are not rational animals, we are rational-IZING animals. All the conscious mind can do is give us options – of which there are thousands. What narrows these options down to something actionable is our emotions – our aversions/affinities. The strongest ones are the ones we act on. Therefore becoming “rational” is not a viable goal.
Conspiracies and half-baked ideas prevail because our brains latch on to simple, monocausal, univariate accounts over complicated, multivariate causes. The best theories don’t always “feel” right. To the conspiracy theorist, simply seeing explanations of complexity warrants instant skepticism. All conspiracy theories reflect the anxieties of people who believe in them, and those anxieties cause people to employ pattern recognition to begin building a case for why they feel so anxious. They do this by cherry picking “evidence” for clues. The biggest predictor of conspiracy theorists is antisocial personalities – a need for self identification. They are also likely to have some unresolved trauma.
Critical thinking and intellectual bravery isn’t questioning experts’ beliefs when they disagree with yours, it’s questioning your own beliefs when they disagree with the vast majority of experts. Science is ever evolving.. Theories and minds are changed by better science, not by rogue youtube doctors, google U “researchers” or other such regular-ass people.
Expectations shape reality: Focus on personal experiences that make you feel successful. Beliefs change emotions: it lowers stress, blood pressure and re-directs our attention in productive ways.
Expect the best of people and expect the best FROM them. This encourages generosity. That generosity makes you likeable.. Your likeability encourages people to give it back. (Cialdini)
The old model of making money is going to school, getting your degree and working for 30 years. Things change fast now. Now you have to come up to speed on a new profession within 9 months and it’s obsolete 4 years later. But within those 3 productive years, you can get very wealthy. It’s much more important today to become an expert in a brand new field in 9-12 months than to have studied the “right thing” a long time ago. You really care about having studied the foundations so you aren’t scared of any book. – Naval Ravikant
Everything takes skill and time and every new skill has a frustration barrier – a place where you become painfully aware of your incompetence. Push through the first 20 hours of learning – no matter what. This is the steepest part of the learning curve. Embrace the idea of sufficiency. You are looking for zero to small skill.. Not an expert, but a very visible improvement. (Josh Kaufman – The First 20 Hours)
Change your reward value. Our brains form and store dopamine-driven reward value. We learn that “ice cream tastes good” and our brains lay down the memory and everything it’s associated with in terms of both cues/context (a birthday party) and/or emotional state (lonely on a saturday night). The brain shifts how and when it fires dopamine in anticipation of behavior. We change habits at least in part – by updating reward values – by bringing awareness into the situation. When we don’t pay attention, we do not update our reward values. (Dr Jud Brewer)
Notes on healthy relationships:
- Sacrifices in a relationship should be minimal and mutual. You shouldn’t ever have to give up a huge piece of your ambition/identity. If you are giving up a lot, your partner should be willing to as well.
- A solid relationship is when both partners feel they can grow. They need to help our “self-expansion” flourish (our innate need for growth, expanded sense of self).
- Kindness, generosity and emotional stability are the most important traits of lasting relationships (John Gottman)
Beware the “Self-Health” trends. While the diet book industry is mostly toxic, I’d say books like “Breath” and “Why We Sleep” also ultimately do more harm than good. It’s more fear mongering over yet another thing we don’t need anxiety over. I can assure you that while slowing breath down has benefits, I can also assure you, you don’t have to be worried about “breathing wrong”. Also, you don’t have to worry if you are “walking wrong” and being told of all the ways you will die if you don’t sleep well (shockingly) won’t improve your sleep.
The brain’s most important role is not: Empathy, logic, rationality, imagination, emotion or creativity – it is to control the body and manage allostasis.
Every intentional act towards better health runs along a value/cost continuum: If you’re struggling, go with the low effort/high value actions (low hanging fruit). This could be buying a roasted chicken at the grocery store, going for a quick walk, drinking a glass of water or doing 15 squats.
The Self-fulfilling Cycle of How to Get Good at Stuff:
- It starts with a belief
- Belief feeds action
- Action feeds growth
- Growth reinforces belief
- When I believe I can grow, I am more likely to engage in action, take on challenges, learn from mistakes, put in effort, and accept feedback. (Trevor Reagan)
They’ve done reams of studies/meta-analyses when it comes to interventions and techniques that spark action towards self-improvement. There are strategies that work better on average but no intervention is clearly better for most people, most of the time. What really works is having agency and flexibility. Self-awareness and knowing how your mind and body work. Believing you are capable of growing/learning/progressing will be a bigger predictor of success than anything else.
If there were a secret to fat loss, better health, wealth or happiness – it wouldn’t be a secret.
I wish you all the best in your health, fulfilment and relationships this year.