The Law Of Iterations

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.

Study Your Antithesis

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.

Increasing Your Vocabulary

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.

Two Hard Things I’ve Started

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.

Podcast Episode with Ryan

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.

Finance and Data Science Interview Questions

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.

Choose the Steepest Path

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.

Facing Boredom

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.

The Curse of your Phone

Social media and focus

For a long time, I didn’t have a social media account, I didn’t use Facebook nor Instagram nor Twitter. When my friends saw the benefits of being on social media, I didn’t see any, I didn’t see the point of taking pictures of your food and sharing that online.

Last year, I made the jump. I created my Facebook and then my Instagram account. I did that because I realized that one of the reasons I was not on social media was because I was afraid of other people’s judgment. Is my life cool enough compared to others? Will people approve of my photos (by liking my posts)? At first, I was completely stifled by the platform, timidly posting photos, but then I kind of got used to it and became a typical regular user.

There are a lot of different axes we can dissect the impact of social media. However, in this post, I want to discuss one in particular: your ability to focus. So now one-year in social media made me realize that my ability to focus for interrupted periods of time suffered. When I’m working, I realized that at the first glimpse of boredom, my hand in a Pavlovian way reaches for my phone systematically. Did somebody message me? Followed my account? Liked my content? Shared a story? Social media, I realize made me weak in face of boredom. Instead of embracing the natural and necessary moments of boredom that arise in hard work, it made me avoid them and scatter my focus. It made my monkey mind even more chaotic.

Regaining your focus

After this realization, I needed to claim back my ability to concentrate deeply. Because it became a habit to constantly check social media. I had to break that pattern. One way I found to do that is to baby-step my way into it. If before, I was able to focus for one-hour non-stop. Now I will first set the timer for let’s say 20 minutes, and focus without any distractions for that time. If during the 20 minutes, I checked my phone for notifications, I will not count it as a success. After each session, I will take a 5 to 10 minutes break and restart. After successfully completed several sessions of a fixed duration, I would then gradually increase the duration of the sessions.

The duration of the sessions is also highly dependent on your energy level. In times of the day when I will more energized, I would usually stretch myself into longer sessions and inversely when I felt that my energy was low. The confidence of successfully completing consecutive sessions tend to give me the “feeling productive” dopamine that make me push myself further in the hard work at hand.

Controlling technology

Technology is both a blessing and a curse. In the book Flash Boys, I remember reading a passage about Russian coders and why they were the best in Wall Street in the 2000’s. Most of them learned coding through punched cards. Because the process was very long and tedious, they had to think very thoroughly before making the card. i.e. what would be to write a line of code nowadays. And precisely because the technology was so scarce, they had to be excellent in the coding process. Nowadays, technology is insanely abundant. Each one of us has access to previously unimaginable computing power, and because it is so readily available, most of us do not care about it. Imagine, we had to pay $10,000 to use a computer for an hour, how much more attention will we pay? How much more efficient will we be in that hour? I will leave you with a quote from Cal Newport in his latest book Digital Minimalism.

The key to living well in a high tech world is to spend much less time using technology.

Cal Newport

On Doing Hard Things

Difficulty is what wakes up the genius.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Antifragile

A task is difficult when given the status quo, the task requires a level of skills that is higher than what one’s currently is capable of. To complete the task, we need to build the makeshift ladder that will shift us from point A to point B.

However, as Cal Newport, the author of Deep Work, calls attention to, there is a difference between hard work and hard to do work. Doing hard work is doing things that are above our current level of competence and make us grow. Conversely, hard to do work is work that is hard but does not make you grow. The frontier between the two is debatable but nonetheless provides a useful dichotomy to classify work. An example could be working on a project with your smartphone distracting you (hard to do work) versus thinking intensely without distraction (hard work).

Embracing hard work daily makes you grow. But sometimes the discomfort that arises from hard work makes you procrastinate. A method that I’ve stumbled upon in a mentoring I was doing helped me internalize moving towards hard work. The method is cold showers. Except Wim Hof, cold showers make most people cringe. Why do cold showers when we have the luxury of comfortable warm showers? The benefits of cold showers are plenty, such as an energy boost, builds your mental toughness, and improves circulation.

Cold showers are hard work. The process is difficult and it makes you grow. By doing them daily, I noticed that I was more willing to take on hard work and challenge myself. Understanding the value of hard work is one thing, the other one is to actually do it every day.