No. 498 — November 13th, 2022
Brain Food is a weekly newsletter with the insights you need.
Sherlock Holmes on the memory attic:
“A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skillful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic.”
Justin Su’a on using friction:
“Take a look at the system that you’re living in, that you’ve created for yourself. And where could you create friction to avoid doing bad things? And where could you avoid friction or diminish friction to do those things that you should be doing?”
The Stonecutter’s Credo:
“When nothing seems to help, I go and look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that blow that did it, but all that had gone before.”
— Jacob Riis
Eventually, everyone loses the battle with willpower; it’s only a matter of time. Consider my parents. Neither of them smoked when they joined the armed forces, but it didn’t take long for them to join their smoking co-workers. At first, they resisted, but as the days turned into weeks, the grind of saying no when everyone else was saying yes wore them down. Decades later, quitting proved nearly impossible when they turned to willpower. Everyone around them smoked. The very same force that encouraged them to start was preventing them from stopping. They were only able to kick their habit when they changed their environment. They had to find new friends whose default behavior was their desired behavior.
What looks like discipline is often a carefully created environment to encourage certain behaviors. What looks like poor choices is often someone trying their best to use willpower to go against their environment.
The people with the best defaults are typically the ones with the best environment. Sometimes it’s carefully chosen, and sometimes it’s just plain luck. Either way, it’s easier to align yourself with the right behavior in the right environment.
The way to improve your defaults isn’t by willpower but by creating an artificial environment where your desired behavior becomes the default behavior.
Joining groups whose defaults are your desires is an effective way to create an artificial environment. If you want to read more, join a book club. If you want to run more, join a running club. If you want to exercise more, hire a trainer.
Your environment will do a lot of the heavy lifting for you if you align it with where you want to go.
Why is education so unaffordable?
“The short answer that I’ve come up with can be summarized in two words: administrative bloat.”
P.S. FS merch.