DO THIS: Apply First Principles Thinking to your Health and Fitness

A couple of years ago I heard Elon Must describing First Principles thinking.   Turns out most of us reason by analogy and we must in order to get through life.  When you pick up a taco, you must trust that every other taco you have eaten in that place has been good and you haven’t gotten sick, so you are very likely to have a good taco.  But if you want to invent a new taco, you have to ask the question, What are the components that make a taco, how do they work together to make a “great” taco?

For the last year I have been applying this way of thinking to my health and fitness.  In the past, I would read a book about a particular fad diet or workout that worked for someone I know, and my monkey mind would say “I can do that, seems to work, I will try it out.”  That is reasoning by analogy.  It worked for X, therefore, it should work for Y.  In health, most of my friends just live how they want and trust that the doctor will fix them when they break. This is reason by analogy.  Turns out a flawed analogy when you dive into medical error rates and start to question your doctor about stuff he doesn’t know about (which is alot – anything outside his/her specialty). So I started to ask myself a couple questions:

  1.  Do I like to work out? or do I want the results of working out?
  2. Do I like to meditate? or do I want the results of lots of meditation?
  3. If I want to build Muscle, is workout X the best way to do that? Or are there faster, better ways?  If the first principle is “build muscle”, is the solution being sold by the “fitness guru” the BEST way?  or Their way?
  4. Does my doctor decide on diagnosis by first principles or by analogy? Does he have time to get to first principles?
  5. Is the “cure” being sold for anything, actually getting at the first principle cause of the problem? or symptoms?

Turns out I got many bad answers.  First principle thinking is hard and causes lots of brain activity.  An analogy is much easier.

Here are a couple of stories where thinking about first principles has changed my decisions on a couple of vectors:

Sinus infections:

I used to have serious chronic sinus infections.  I went to a lot of doctors.  Most prescribed antibiotics or surgery.  One of my friends is a John Hopkin’s trained ENT surgeon.  When I asked him he said (surprise!) “Surgery.”  Hammer, meet nail.  So I asked him how the surgery to make my sinuses larger would fix the root cause which was infection/inflammation.  He said it wouldn’t, there would just be more room for the inflammation and it shouldn’t be a problem.  So I kept looking for something which would fix the underlying problem:  Infection and Inflammation.  I ended up with a sinus rinse which killed it and it has never come back with regular use.  Why treat symptoms if you can figure out the cause?

Fitness: working out

I like to ride by bike and surf.  But are those “fitness strategies”?  Not really.  They are activities.  They do some muscle building and cardiovascular strengthening, but only for those activities.  If I like to surf and bike and want to be fit enough to do those activities, do I just do more of those activities or are there other things that can be done to keep me in top shape for those activities.  The “weekend warrior” problem is real.  Doing an activity you like on a weak base is not a good strategy.  So how to stay fit for the activities I want to do without being a professional at them and taking all my time on them.  I added the Vasper machine twice a week for 20 minutes. Doing that I am able to surf and bike longer and stronger when I can fit in the time for those.  The First Principal is Stay fit with minimum time so when I need fitness, I have it.  I want to be fit, I don’t want to be a professional athlete.  I want to be able to do activities I love, AND have time for work and family and all the rest.

Depression

I used to suffer from bouts of clinical depression.  Is depression caused by a lack of Prozac?  Then why do doctors prescribe Prozac for depression?  Is depression caused by not enough one-hour sessions talking with someone on a couch?  What is the root cause (first principal) of depression?  Depression is a lack of happiness.  Maybe creating more happiness would reverse the happiness/depression balance and tip over.  So I added a gratitude practice, meditation, neuro feedback, and some other things which got to the root cause of the negative emotions and substituted positive emotions.  Depression gone.  This one was one of the most powerful times when I realized that the “CURE” which was being described was NOT getting at the ROOT CAUSE of the issue.  Depression is not a lack of Prozac or talk therapy.  95% of our emotional reactions are triggered by the subconscious which is not the part talking on the couch.  You have to get to the root causes.

Next time you are looking for a solution to any health and

DO THIS: Check your vulnerability to primacy effect

Read the two following list of words that describe two different people.  One is Bad and one is Good.  Which is which?

  1.  EVIL, HATE, ANGER, JOY, CARE, LOVE
  2.  LOVE, CARE, JOY, ANGER, HATE, EVIL

If you said #1 is Bad and #2 is Good, then congratulations you are like 99% of people who look at these lists.  But you are also a victim of the priming effect.  Priming is when the brain subconsciously draws a conclusion based on the first thing it sees, or upon an existing state.  Since the first list of words begins with “Evil, Hate” the brain wants to make that list “Bad”.  The second list begins with “Love and Care” so the brain wants to make that list “Good”.  But in fact both lists are the same, just in reverse order.  So both people are described with exactly the same descriptors, just in a different order.  Both are equal, but the brain wants to choose and put into buckets based on first words.  Beware of Priming Effect in your own decisions.

 

DO THIS: Pay attention to the Stories

“There is no “Truth”.  Only Stories”

Martin Tobias

Yea I said that.  It is a summary of lots that I have learned over the years.  What do I mean?  When I was younger I was often searching for the “Truth”  with a capital “T”.  The ANSWER.  What I have found over time is that more and more things that I thought were “Truth” turned out to be stories that I was told, or that I believed.  And that turns out to be the case for many “scientific facts.”  For example, is the theory of Evolution a “Truth” or a story which matches our current data?  It is a story.  There are facts in there sure, but our current understanding is just a summary of what we know now.  The details of that story are different today than they were 100 years ago.  All scientific “Truths” are in fact our best guess about the Truth based on the data we now know.  So basically the story we explain this complicated thing to ourselves to us today.  100 years from now the story is likely to have evolved.  Hopefully more precise.   I am especially suspicious of “Truths” that are judgments.  For example “Global warming is bad”.  That may be so, and that is a judgment.  “Climate change is happening” is much more precise and free of judgment.

So now when I hear a “Truth”, I ask myself a couple of questions:

  1. What is the story that this person is telling me?
  2. What is the data and assumptions behind that story?
  3. How much of the story is emotion versus data?
  4. Do I choose to believe the story? (knowing I am unlikely to ever have all the data)

DO THIS: One and One

I overheard a conversation about New Years resolutions last week. In it the guys were talking about long lists of New Years resolutions. And I of course was thinking about my own. But then for some reason a snippet from Milan Kundera quote popped into my head “there are only two ways to define the self: addition and subtraction.” That has always rung true to me. I switch between addition and subtraction. When the to do lists get too long often I will simplify it to just one of each. Out of all the possible things I could do (addition) and not do (subtraction), what is the most impactful one of each I tan think of for this project? For 2019 mine are

Add: more personal time with my employees at upgrade labs

Subtract: poker

DO THIS: Stoic tasks to fill the time

Today from Daily Stoic, came a list of tasks which I am finding useful.  When you have half an hour, pick up one of these and do it.  It will build character.

[*] Throw away or give away stuff you have but don’t use anymore.

[*] Skip a meal. You’ll be fine. Remember what hunger feels like.

[*] See if you can go an hour without talking.

[*] Wear your worst clothes out. See how little anyone cares.

[*] Don’t read. Don’t do anything. Just sit there.

[*] Throw a rock up in the air. Watch it go up and watch it go down. (This is a metaphor.)

[*] Find something you’re not good at and practice being better at it. Write with your non-dominant hand, etc.

[*] If today was your last day on earth, who would you thank? Thank them. Who would you apologize to? Apologize to them. Who would you cherish? Cherish them.

[*] Take a walk.

[*] Think of the worst thing someone has ever done to you. Now say to yourself, “I forgive you.”

[*] Step outside tonight and just look up at the stars.

DO THIS: Remember purpose

 

As I have been reminded many times of the importance of purpose and taking agency over the decisions in my life, I see it again in a Harvard Business School instructor comment about HBS Graduates:

“I can guarantee you that not a single one of them graduated with the deliberate strategy of getting divorced and raising children who would become estranged from them.  And yet a shocking number of them implemented that strategy.”

So a bunch of really really smart people had their lives turn out different than they planned or even intended or even dreamed of. It is not a matter of resources or smarts.

“The reason? They didn’t keep the purpose of their lives front and center as they decided how to spend their time, talents, and energy.”

Now this brings up two points.

  1. did these people KNOW, or are they aware of the “Purpose” of their lives?  Or was their purpose just at odds with the family and kids?
  2. Did they understand the amount of Agency they had in their own lives?

Agency and Purpose are intertwined.  And Purpose comes in different forms.  What has happened in my own life that led to my divorce was that the Purpose toward which I spent the vast majority of my time, talent, and energy (career and money) ended up in opposition to the Purpose of getting married and sharing my life with my wife.  I didn’t realize that until it was too late.  In fact, I thought I was doing it all right.  Grow up, get married, then make lots of $$ to take care of the family and give them all the opportunities in life.  Put my needs behind the needs of the family for money.  But the balance got off.  And half my money left with half my heart. It is a common story.  One that can be avoided with more awareness of a couple things.

  1. What is the purpose toward which 90-95% of your time, talent, and energy is going.
  2. Is that in alignment with your my long term goals?
  3. Am I exercising the Agency that I do have to choose the purpose that I am supporting with the time, talent and energy?

In the past I have gotten into trouble when:

  1. I have not stopped to ask the above three questions
  2. I have not recognized the amount of Agency I do have and exercised the Agency. I have let others decide for me.

 

DO THIS: Remember the impermanence of even MASSIVE investments

A couple weeks ago I went to China.  Of all the amazing things and people I saw and met there, one of the most striking things for me was The Great Wall.  On the ride out there my eager guide was telling me all sorts of stories about rulers and clans and infighting and this guy built X many KM of the wall and that guy built Y KM.  It all sounded like bees buzzing until she said she said: “at one point ruler XYZ had 1/5 of the entire population of China working on the wall, over 1,000,000 people and over 300,000 troops.”  Wait, What?  20% of the entire country on one project?  Building one technology?  And that technology is now falling down and completely obsolete?  20% of the national resources on something today totally useless.  Wow.  A couple thoughts came up:

  1.  There is NOTHING today that you could get 20% of Americans to work on all together.  Ok, in China that 20% was basically slaves, but I am even thinking of any common project that we could all voluntarily agree on is in the national interest.  Could we get 20% of us to do anything?  Unlikely.
  2. That is a massive investment in technology, in this case, defensive technology, that served for a time and is not completely and utterly useless.  Literally falling down and of no use other than tourism.  All those resources and dead people, thousands of years of effort.  Now obsolete.  How many of our current massive investments will be obsolete even that much sooner?  What massive efforts am I making today that will be useless even 10 years from now?
  3. Man, the command and control economy has some benefits.

Now when I think if the Great Wall, I think about technological change and investment.  How massive investments in technology can become useless.  How the timing must be right.  China likely got their money’s worth out of that technology.  But it is no longer useful.  Everything has a useful life.  No investment lasts forever.

DO THIS: Rules for Sons…

Saw a friend post this.  All good Rules I aspire to remember and follow (except the handkerchief thing).

RULES FOR SONS:

1. Never shake a man’s hand sitting down.
2. Don’t enter a pool by the stairs.
3. The man at the BBQ Grill is the closest thing to a king.
4. In a negotiation, never make the first offer.
5. Request the late check-out.
6. When entrusted with a secret, keep it.
7. Hold your heroes to a higher standard.
8. Return a borrowed car with a full tank of gas.
9. Play with passion or not at all…
10. When shaking hands, grip firmly and look them in the eye.
11. Don’t let a wishbone grow where a backbone should be.
12. If you need music on the beach, you’re missing the point.
13. Carry two handkerchiefs. The one in your back pocket is for you. The one in your breast pocket is for her.
14. You marry the girl, you marry her family.
15. Be like a duck. Remain calm on the surface and paddle like crazy underneath.
16. Experience the serenity of traveling alone.
17. Never be afraid to ask out the best looking girl in the room.
18. Never turn down a breath mint.
19. A sport coat is worth 1000 words.
20. Try writing your own eulogy. Never stop revising.
21. Thank a veteran. Then make it up to him.
22. Eat lunch with the new kid.
23. After writing an angry email, read it carefully. Then delete it.
24. Ask your mom to play. She won’t let you win.
25. Manners maketh the man.
26. Give credit. Take the blame.
27. Stand up to Bullies. Protect those bullied.
28. Write down your dreams.
29. Always protect your siblings (and teammates).
30. Be confident and humble at the same time.
31. Call and visit your parents often. They miss you.