No. 493 — October 9, 2022
Brain Food is a weekly newsletter with the insights you need.
“Learning is necessary for our success and personal growth. But we can’t maximize the time we spend learning because our feelings about what we ‘should’ be doing get in the way.”
My conversation with artificial intelligence researcher Kenneth Stanley discusses why creating ambitious objectives ruins our ability to achieve them and what you should do instead.
“As a culture, we do not discuss whether something’s interesting. Because again it seems to somehow veer around this accountability issue. We don’t want to know your subjective view of why your little thing is interesting, your pet idea, because I can’t assess it in some objective sense. And so I don’t like to hear about it. This is one of the problems with peer reviews that we don’t allow them to discuss interestingness, but the truth is interestingness is the magic sauce, and that’s what I think humans are really good at.”
Annie Duke on quitting.
“A common misconception about quitting is that it will slow your progress or stop it altogether. But it is the reverse that is actually true. If you stick to a path that is no longer worth pursuing, whether it’s a relationship that isn’t going well, or a stock that you’re invested in that’s losing money, or an employee that you’ve hired who isn’t performing, that is when you lose ground. By not quitting, you are missing out on the opportunity to switch to something that will create more progress toward your goals. Anytime you stay mired in a losing endeavor, that is when you are slowing your progress. Anytime you stick to something when there are better opportunities out there, that is when you are slowing your progress. Contrary to popular belief, quitting will get you to where you want to go faster.”
Where you focus can hold you back.
Focusing on the outcome makes the gap between now and the finish line seem larger than it is.
Yesterday I wanted to go for a long run. That little voice in my head said “Imagine running for 90 minutes. Dude, you didn’t sleep well, and that’s a lot of effort. Let’s save our energy and check Twitter instead.”
Taking the first step seems impossible when the gap between now and your desired outcome seems large.
Changing your focus changes the size of the gap between now and achievement. When you shrink the gap, doing what you know you want to do becomes easier. I was focused on the gap between now and 90 minutes from now. The gap I needed to focus on was between me putting my shoes on and running to the end of the block.
This happens with my kids all the time too. They often come home with a boatload of homework that takes them hours. When they focus on the gap between getting home and being done, getting started is hard. “I’ll never get all this homework done.” When they focus on doing the first exercise, action becomes inevitable.
Don’t focus on writing a book. Focus on writing a good sentence.
Don’t focus on getting healthy. Focus on cooking a healthy meal tonight.
Focus on the next step.
The results aren’t pretty:
“Student scores on Michigan’s standardized test are sharply down from before the pandemic, underlining the severe academic toll of virtual learning and other COVID-related disruptions and traumas.”
“Optimism is seeing problems as challenges that are solvable; it’s having the confidence that there are things that we can do to make a difference. “Urgent optimism,” “pragmatic optimism,” “realistic optimism,” “impatient optimism” — I’ve heard many terms for this concept. To make my case for why optimism is so essential for progress, we need to understand the positions of optimists versus pessimists. The definition of pessimism is “a tendency to see the worst aspect of things or believe that the worst will happen.” Optimism, on the other hand, is the “hopefulness and confidence about the future or the success of something.” People mistakenly see optimism as an excuse for inaction. They think that it’s pessimism that drives change, and optimism that keeps us where we are. The opposite is true.”
Maybe we can go back to two blades:
“Engineers at MIT have studied the simple act of shaving up close, observing how a razor blade can be damaged as it cuts human hair — a material that is 50 times softer than the blade itself. They found that hair shaving deforms a blade in a way that is more complex than simply wearing down the edge over time.”
P.S. The key to a vibrant city.