DO THIS: Practice resets the default mode

Ok, I am a nerd so computer science metaphors really work for me and “default mode” is a real doozy. When a computer system is powered on and not doing anything it is in the “default mode.” Just sitting there waiting for something to do. It has all its resources memory, hard drives, processors, programs, network connections, just sitting there waiting for inputs to it can decide what to do with the inputs. Ready and waiting for the next action. In default mode, the capability of the system for action is constrained by the capabilities of the resources available to the system. Too many inputs can lead to overload. Faulty inputs can lead to errors. Buggy programs can lead to errors. Slow processors can lead to long delays in action. Small memory can lead to thrashing. The system’s capacity for action can be improved by upgrading the resources available to it. This upgrades the default mode to handle harder problems. Ok enough with the computer stuff.

Humans have a default mode also and our capacity for action is constrained by the quality of the resources available to us.

  • Pick up something heavy? You have a certain strength in default mode.
  • Emotional state? You have a default mode. Fearful, calm, curious, etc.
  • Smarts? You have a default mode.
  • Problem-solving ability? You have a default mode, a standard way to approach problems with a given toolset (resources).

The default mode can be upgraded by upgrading the resources available in default mode. Human resources are upgraded by practice, training. Practice the opposite of the default mode.

  • Pick up something heavy? Practice lifting ever heavier things.
  • Emotional state? Practice the desired default state. Meditation, breathwork, ketamine, psychedelics, gratitude, etc.
  • Smarts? Study. Open a book.
  • Problem-solving ability? Practice problem solving, preferably with proven structured mental models.

Two things to keep in your consciousness about the Default Mode concept:

  1. Be aware there is a Default Mode
  2. Practice and training can upgrade the Default Mode

Take the Red Pill

I have written before about the Red Pill – Blue Pill dilemma. We are definitely in a time where the choice of pills is right upon us. JP Sears nails the current dominant Blue Pill narrative around Corona Virus: be fearful, stay at home, listen to your leaders, mistrust everyone. While I haven’t seen as clear a summary of the Red Pill view of Corona Virus, Aaron Ginn, Elon Musk, The Carnivore MD and Dave Asprey are doing good work on that front. Total lockdowns are unsustainable, most people will get it and have very minor effects, the real problem is not Covid-19, but underlying metabolic health. I, for one, will stick with the Red Pill.

DO THIS: The upside of Regret

Jeff Bezos had a problem. He had a very well paying job with a promising career track, but this “internet thing” had caught his interest and overtaken his dreams. Should he leave the good job and start an internet book seller? He told everyone around him. Most counseled to stay with the “sure thing”. That didn’t feel right to him.

I have written about the downside of regret. Today is about the (limited) upside.

As with all emotions, the problem is not their existence in our consciousness. That we have little to no control over. The rub comes in our reaction to the appearance in consciousness. Do we ascent to and identify with the emotion? “I am regretful.” “I regret that.” “You did a regrettable thing.” Once you attach an emotion to a thing, it can become deeply colored by it. While regret is generally an adjective/adverb modifying some “thing” or action we are regretful about, it can become a noun when consciousness identifies very closely to it “I am…” Existence of the emotion doesn’t tend to cause problems, identification, attachment, personalisation tends to.

Yea, yea, Martin I know all that shit, get to your point. The upside comes in the wisdom of the difference between recognition of the existence of an emotion and ascent/identification/attachment to the emotion. Understanding the destructive, disruptive power of a negative emotion like regret can be powerful wisdom to take right action TODAY to avoid future regret. This “regret minimization framework” is how Jeff solved his problem. Of course it has been studied by other choice theory researchers also. As Bezos puts it:

I knew that when I was 80 I was not going to regret having tried this. I was not going to regret trying to participate in this thing called the Internet that I thought was going to be a really big deal. I knew that if I failed I wouldn’t regret that, but I knew the one thing I might regret is not ever having tried.

Jeff Bezos

Knowledge of the massive negative power of regret was useful to Bezos. It gave him confidence to take a big risk. He calculated the damage of regret from not trying was greater than any damage from failing at the venture. Now this regret minimization framework didn’t cause the success of Amazon, but it was the spark. Likely this mental model has been applied continuously to new projects at Amazon as they moved beyond books to groceries, web services, payments, and more. Continuing to apply the framework likely has kept them on the leading edge.

Useful: regret minimization framework

Not useful: Attachment, personalization, ascent, identification with regret.

DO THIS: Don’t be a “Meditator”

At first blush this seems to be exactly the opposite advice I have given before. And to go against my investing rule to only invest in companies with CEO’s who meditate. Yesterday I watched Ryan Holiday talk about his book Stillness is the Key at Google. He gave his 10 tips to add Stillness to your life “and I am not going to tell you to meditate because you probably won’t anyway.” Yesterday I also listened to something from Sam Harris in his Waking Up app where he pointed out the purpose of meditation is not to become a “meditator”, but to become better at life.

As I roll back through my own meditation journey, I started out of a feeling of guilt and shame. I had tried to “meditate” to be “a meditator” and had “failed”. I couldn’t find a rhythm, it didn’t flow, I was a failure. So my first forays back into learning to meditate were to “win at meditation”. To right the wrong, the failure. That certainly was enough motivation. And as my practice evolved I started to realize the change in my everyday awareness and ability to pause in difficult situations and consider the right action. That pause is likely a result of the practice of meditation, a benefit from the practice which caused everything in my life to change. More resilience, more calm, more pause, less emotional reactivity. The real upside is all that stuff not the time “meditating”.

One of Ryan Holiday’s 10 suggestions is “practice presence”. That is basically meditation. Anytime you are awake to the present moment, you are meditating. There are many ways to be awake to the present moment, having a meditation practice like a mantra based, or breath focused practice, is one. So is gardening, fixing a fence, mowing the lawn, fixing a motorcycle, riding a motorcycle. Anytime you must focus on something right in front of you and let the rest go, you are meditating.

So Remember Martin: Don’t be a meditator. Be present. Practice the pause between stimulus and response.

Remember Martin: Be wary of spectacle

I am in transit again. Sea->lax. In the airport lounge working. Monday night football is on. The Seahawks. Many of my friends are there. Many of them took the whole day off to go to the game. An entire day watching grown men play a game that most of them had exactly zero stake in.

This reminds me that my attention is one of the few things I actually have to give the world. There is a limited amount of it. Distractions are always pulling at my attention. But being a “sports fan” is another level of distraction. It is actually a commitment to watch the spectacle every time it is on. It is not a short term distraction like a game of poker. It can become an identity. People become attached to their status as a “fan”. All that time, all that attention toward a spectacle that does not improve the world or themselves in any way. Ok, if you are in that business and that is your life I understand being part of the spectacle. But what could be accomplished in the world if all the attention of all the fans of Monday night football did something else? It seems like an enormous squandering of an incredibly precious resources.

This is not a call to stop watching sports for anyone else. Only a reminder to myself why I chose to NOT be a “fan” of any spectacle sport. I have made the affirmative decision that I would rather spend my time doing just about anything else. It is an absolute negative return on investment for me. At one time I had season tickets to the Seattle Sonics. But I used those times to go with friends and family to create memories and close business deals. I have never read a sports page or online stat site in my life. The minute the game is over I am on with life. I use the spectacle as a connection framework to improve relationships. It is good for that. But I have never been attached to the games or teams themselves.

Remember Martin: be wary of spectacle. Be very choosy with your attention. If you attend spectacle do so in support of a personal relationship with those you are with. Not a commercial entity.

DO THIS: Upgrade your brain function

One of the amazing things I am able to do as CEO of Upgrade Labs is to run a bunch of NOf1 experiments on myself. Lately I have been very interested in how to upgrade brain performance in the short and long term. At Labs we have an astonishingly easy to use tool called the WAvi which tests things like brain voltage, beta/theta ratio, and P300 delay (a measurement of executive function). I recently ran a test on myself before and after a 100mg injection of NAD. The left is before, the right after. Brain voltage went up 38%! All the red areas are active. P300 delay was also improved over 20 percent. Which brain would I rather have? Yea the one on the right.

While I was able to feel the effects of nad in prior trials, this is the first visual and measurement I have of what is actually being upgraded in the brain. Very cool stuff. With anything you are considering to add to your life, design a way to test and quantify how it is working and to what degree. I am going to repeat this test with caffeine and nicotine and a couple other things to compare the magnitude of the changes for different things. Stay tuned…

DO THIS: read “A calendar of daily wisdom” from Tolstoy

Ryan Holiday recently mentioned an all but forgotten book from Tolstoy which the author claimed was really his culminating life’s work. A Calendar of Daily Wisdom is Tolstoys attempt to summarize the best advice he had read over his lifetime into a daily inspirational work that could share his version of how to live a good life from authors and thinkers around the world. He quotes from the likes of Kant, Marcus Aurelius, Buddha, the Bible, the Koran, and event the Talmud. It is wide ranging and refreshing in how much similarity there are in the core ideas across cultures and time. While a bit heavy on the religious themes and invocation of faith in a higher power, it is clear that the goal of all philosophy and religion is to give is insight to live a good life NOW. I have added reading the days inspiration. From this to my morning routine and I recommend you do too.

Some selected quotes:

One of the key questions we face is whether our lives end after death. Whether we believe in eternity or not determines our actions. Therefore, it is crucial that we determine what is mortal in us, and what is eternal, and that we cherish those things eternal. Most people do exactly the opposite.—After BLAISE PASCAL

It is not the place we occupy which is important, but the direction in which we move.—OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES

The only real science is the knowledge of how a person should live his life. And this knowledge is open to everyone. Leo Tolstoy

DO THIS: Best public speaking advice I have received

I do quite a bit of public speaking.  At one time I spent six months with a TED talk coach.  I believe the TED folks have dove very deep into what makes a compelling presentation, especially of an idea.  And most talks are really selling ideas, getting buy in from the audience on something in a way they were not previously thinking about.

These are the four most important takeaways from that coaching.

  1. Practice out loud. In front of a mirror.
  2. Few slides as possible.  One to three.
  3. Care.  About your subject. About your audience. (see #4)
  4. Honor the time your audience is giving you.  Give value.


DO THIS: Test your health age (I am 37 vs 55 biological)

I am a nerd about data.  One thing I constantly do is take different tests which measure different health metrics.  One which has been very scientifically validated is the World Fitness Test.  It is a questionnaire that uses an algorithm to calculate VO2Max so you can take it online.  While I prefer the actual VO2Max test done in the lab, these algorithm results are similar to actual, so their science is good.  I am 55 years old biologically and have the fitness level of a 37-year-old.

DO THIS: Use failure as a “reset” time

Was reading an interview with Fight Club author Chuck Palahniuk and he mentioned this about Brad Pitt:

“Brad Pitt had made some movies he wasn’t particularly happy with – one was Meet Joe Black – and he said every movie is the antidote to the one you just made; that the real blessing of failure is that it is the only thing that gives you the isolation and time to reinvent yourself. If you’re moving from success to success, you don’t have that daydreaming period that will allow you to come up with something new and unique.”

That parallels my experience.  Failure is never fun.  I have been fired before.  I have had companies fail. I have had investments fail, losing millions.  But after failure, a weird thing happens: space opens up.  You are free of the responsibilities to make your last thing “successful” and have the open space to daydream and create.  Remember this: failure opens up space.