We try to ameliorate our lives via positiva, or by adding things. We want to add productivity methods, exercising habits, or taking daily supplements in order to to be more productive, build muscle, or becoming healthier.
However, it could be that via negativa, i.e. removing things, is more powerful. Removing social media, stopping to smoke or to drink alcohol, or to eat junk food could have more bang for your buck than the associated via positiva activities.
At the beginning of this week, I experimented the above assumption by suspending temporarily my Instagram account. Now one week in, my focus has improved quite a bit. I replaced the relentless scrolling of the social media feed by reading books and listening to audiobooks (reading currently Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, Beyond Order by Jordan Peterson, and Skin in the Game by Nassim Taleb). I also create a GitHub blog here where I intend to write articles about the combination of self-help and data science. Per moments, I still have doubts about my ivory tower situation and whether I should re-activate my social media account, but for now I don’t need it. I need to focus hard to create valuable and novel tools.
One of the fundamental laws I believe in is the “Law of iterations”. Sometimes it is summarized in the more famous saying, “Practice makes perfect”.
As I’ve recently started my Youtube journey, I’ve already uploaded 46 videos. My goal with each of my videos is always to provide value.
But it’s also little experiments I’m trying with each. I’m trying different mediums: sometimes I’m recording myself in front of the camera, sometimes what I will say, sometimes not. Sometimes I put music, and sometimes I don’t. In this apparent chaos, I’m experimenting. I’m trying to auto-correct and improve upon my mistakes and weaknesses. I always have in mind that many of my viewers will view my videos as not professional enough or not creative enough. But I believe that this will undoubtedly be the convergence of all my previous videos.
People usually don’t only to see the result: the successful person or company. But they tend to overlook entirely the amount of deliberate practice and calibration that was at play.
Recently I’ve became focused by my weaknesses and by my will to improve them. I’ve always been wary of becoming a one-trick pony [one that is skilled in only one area]. When I was in high school, I noticed that often my classmates who were talented in science were not talented in arts and vice-versa. Myself, I was naturally more skilled in science than in arts but I was also mesmerized by art. So, I took lessons and read countless books on learning how to draw (the one that revolutionized my conception of drawing was: Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards).
I have nothing against becoming a master in your field. I think that’s probably one of the noblest goals one can have. But I also think that in studying our antithesis, our weaknesses, beyond simply becoming a jack of all trades, is fundamental in order to think fluidly and from different perspectives. Mixing finance and philosophy together for instance, helped create ideas such as Antifragility from Nassim Taleb, a veteran options trader.
Beginning of this year, I took a self-help coaching from somebody who I knew was good in its field, but also whose methods which involve for instance trauma healing I wasn’t particularly fond of. However, after the coaching I realized that this was precisely what I needed at that particular time of my life. Sometimes going against your intuition and towards your antithesis is exactly what you need.
For quite some time, I know that one of my weaknesses has been my vocabulary. I do not possess a wide and rich vocabulary in either French (my native tongue) or English. Therefore, since the past few days, I’ve been aggressively expanding my vocabulary. I’ve found the website Merriam-Webster quite useful for that endeavor in that it allows you to save words to re-look at them later. One of the ways I’m thinking about anchoring the new words into my brain is simply to use them as often as possible. Therefore, for my next articles on this blog or my YouTube videos, expect to see/hear new words I’ve recently learned.
On a previous article, I wrote about doing hard things. Recently, I’ve started doing two hard activities: reading Nietzsche and drawing from imagination.
I’m currently reading the first essay of Genealogy of Morals from Friedrich Nietzsche. The motivation for reading the book stemmed from a conversation with a friend who highlighted the importance of reading classics, i.e. books that perdured, versus reading modern books. Reading Nietzsche is challenging because of the vocabulary and the arrangement of the thoughts of the author. Drawing diagrams of the concepts outlined permitted me to follow much better the thoughts of the philosopher.
Second hard thing I’m doing is drawing. Often we look at our environment but we don’t observe. For instance, we see the computer in front of us, but we wouldn’t be able to draw it from memory. This is because we don’t observe it. When I started to learn about drawing, I realized that drawing had nothing to do with the pencil you use, but everything to do with your observation skills. One drill I’ve come up with is to observe an image for 30 seconds and then draw it from memory.
Practicing daily hard things is what make you improve your skills. Do it enough times and I believe you will be a grandmaster at the activity.
Last Sunday, I had the chance to get interviewed by Ryan from the channel The Idea Of, and founder of Atlas Geographica. I discovered Ryan through his video series on Nassim Taleb’s books, and I was pleasantly surprised to see how many common areas of interest we had (finance, economics, practical philosophy).
In the one-hour and a half podcast, we talked about digital minimalism, generalists vs. specialists, fast learning, antifragility, finance, and much more.
I’ve been spending the last few days creating videos on my YouTube channel. In particular, my last two videos are practical ones: 100 Finance questions and 10 Data Science questions.
100 Finance questions:
10 Data Science questions:
The slides for the Data Science questions are available here.
Note: My YouTube currently is a bit unusual because it is a mix of self-help and finance/data science. Most YouTube channels focus usually on one topic. But I really think that there is a way to connect them smoothly. I’m thinking in particular to Nassim Taleb, author of The Black Swan and Antifragile who transposed his experience as an option’s trader to philosophy or Ray Dalio, founder of the hedge fund Bridgewater Associates, who transposed his experience as a hedge fund manager to life principles.
When I was younger, I was always told that once I had a shiny diploma, my life would be easy. So I worked hard and got my master’s degree (actually not one but three). But my life didn’t change much, it was pretty much the same. I was actually even working more than before.
I realized a shift in my thinking recently. Where you currently are doesn’t matter. Your position, diploma, level of wealth are irrelevant. Being born in a wealthy family is nothing to be proud of. What’s more interesting is where you’re going. What is your growth?
Like a mountain climber looking to efficiently reach the summit, you want to look at the “slope” of your decisions. For instance, sometimes you might have seen companies offering unpaid internships. When I first heard of those, it sounded completely ridiculous to me. But after thought, depending on the growth possibilities and skills acquisition, it might be the most sensible choice.
I’m someone who gets bored quickly. I’m like the person who buys the latest iPhone, enjoys it for a day and then returns to his daily boredom. In the previous article, I wrote about how nowadays most of us give in to scrolling social media when boredom shows its unbearable face.
Boredom often arises when you’re doing tasks that are not challenging enough, creative enough, meaningful enough or varied enough. What is the opposite of boredom? In terms of energetic state, we want to be like our cavemen ancestors when life was all about survival. When you have snakes, lions and bears surrounding you, every act you do dictates life or death. Life was surely never boring nor bland.
Increase your challenges
I remember yesterday I started to feel boredom, my days felt quite similar one day unto the next. That’s when I decided to add volatility to my day. Nassim Taleb in his book Antifragile, writes extensively on the subject. Put simply, he argues that as humans we need volatility or shocks in order to grow, otherwise we simply atrophy.
Therefore, consciously make your day more exciting. Increase the challenges and face them. In my case, here are three of the challenges I created: competing in a data science competition, mastering Chinese and 1.5x heavier weights at the gym.