Ciao! Welcome to this week's digest. This week is a very special "Lifeguard Getting Salad" edition, as Theodora Richards (incredible first name ;D) felt that it was my time to be launched into Instagram mediocrity. (Thank you Mark for sharing!) Also, we explore circles of competence, premortems, and our mental gremlins. Enjoy!

This week could also be titled the "Eating Crow" edition, as it turns out one of my sign-up form integrations was not working, so ~15 of you who had signed up did not get TD Digest until this edition. Uck, I am sorry for my technical incompetence, and so happy to have you join the squad :D Welcome!


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"True satisfaction and contentment have more to do with actualizing yourself than with actualizing your concept of who you imagine you are supposed to be." ~ Rick Carson

  • Aeon: Lifestyle changes, not a magic pill, can reverse Alzheimer’s - "Last summer, a research group from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) quietly published the results of a new approach in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. What they found was striking. Although the size of the study was small, every participant demonstrated such marked improvement that almost all were found to be in the normal range on testing for memory and cognition by the study’s end. Functionally, this amounts to a cure... Participants were counselled to change their diet (a lot of veggies), exercise, develop techniques for stress management, and improve their sleep, among other interventions. The most common ‘side effect’ was weight loss."
  • Aeon: Do we possess our possessions or do they possess us? - "...the possessions that we see as most indicative of ourselves are the ones that we see as most magical. These are the sentimental objects that are irreplaceable, and often associated with some intangible property or essence that defines their authenticity. Originating in Plato’s notion of form, the essence is what confers identity. Essentialism is rampant in human psychology as we imbue the physical world with this metaphysical property... Essentialism is the quality that makes your wedding ring irreplaceable. Not everyone acknowledges his or her essentialism, but it is at the root of some of the most acrimonious disputes over property, which is when they have become sacred, and part of our identity."
  • Aeon: Living with ADHD: how I learned to make distraction work for me - "Most curricula lack a preliminary phase of collectively exploring students’ existing interests, before introducing them to material in a way that will be relevant to what they already care about. Most classes, especially in secondary school and higher education, still rely on lectures of (far) more than five minutes straight. In contrast, notice how social media, video games and so many other aspects of our lives accommodate and exploit our fleeting attention spans, customising their design and content to fit our interests and grab hold of our attention."

  • Farnam Street: Focused and Diffuse: Two Modes of Thinking - "We are constantly in pursuit of true periods of focus – deep work, flow states, and highly productive sessions where we see tangible results. Much of the learning process occurs during the focused mode of thinking. The diffuse mode is equally important to understand and pursue... Both modes of thinking are equally valuable, but it’s the harmony between them which matters...  It’s about combining creativity with execution."

Per Warren Buffet's 1996 letter to shareholders: "Intelligent investing is not complex, though that is far from saying that it is easy.  What an investor needs is the ability to correctly evaluate selected businesses.  Note that word "selected":  You don't have to be an expert on every company, or even many.  You only have to be able to evaluate companies within your circle of competence.  The size of that circle is not very  important; knowing its boundaries, however, is vital."

The 'circles of competence' mental model helps me in a few ways:
  • (1) Intellectual Humility: Know what you are great at, and what you are merely good at (or worse). Fundamentally, we cannot be great at everything. As Warren says, knowing the boundaries of our competence is vital. For example, if I were asked my opinion on a lot of subjects, my best answer is probably "I don't know."
  • (2) Developing Expertise: Once we understand our boundaries of competence, we can more thoughtfully decide where to invest in further learning and growth. Often, the answer will be to further develop and hone our existing circles of competence (i.e., develop a niche).
  • (3) Delegating: Looping in the 'Comparative Advantage' mental model from economics, we can now also thoughtfully decide where to delegate or outsource elements of our work and life. Most of the time, the answer will be to stay within your circles of competence and hire experts (i.e., comparatively advantaged resources) to do the rest. For example, instead of handwashing the dishes, it probably makes more sense to invest that time into working more or getting better at my job to buy a dishwasher.

Note: For two incredible lists of mental models, check out Farnam Street and Gabriel Weinberg.

RESEARCH - Rendering a Powerful Tool Flaccid: The Misuse of Premortems on Wall Street by Gary Klein, Paul Sonkin, and Paul Johnson - A detailed yet simple analysis of a powerful tool for strategic decision making, the premortem. Premortems are a prime example of 'managerial insight' that can lead to disaster if used incorrectly (mostly because you thought you nailed it, so you are even more confident in what is still likely a bad decision). The authors do a wonderful job of delineating not just the macro concept, but also the micro principles required to fully utilize the concept.

What do I do now?: Pick an important decision in your work / life involving multiple people and run a premortem process with them.

Complement with The Knowledge Project: Getting Better by Being Wrong with Annie Duke (TD Digest summary).

My highlights:
  •  A premortem is simply a method for identifying potential flaws in a plan. It works by having the team imagine that the plan has failed and identify the reasons for its assumed failure. A premortem enables problem finding and encourages candor between team members. One of the great features of a premortem is that it is conducted before the plan is launched. Therefore, any weaknesses it identifies can be addressed before the plan is implemented. When used correctly, a premortem reduces the risk of a plan’s actual failure.
  • Problem reframing. The goal of the premortem is to allow the group to identify weaknesses, poor assumptions or hidden risks associated with a plan or an idea...  Once the team members have shifted their mindset to accept that the plan has failed, the premortem allows them to become creative in identifying the cause of the plan’s failure and uncover its flaws and weaknesses.
  • A cognitively diverse crowd or group. The wider the group’s expertise and experience, the wider will be the range of suggested causes of the plan’s failure.
  • Creating psychological safety is a critical aspect of the premortem and one of its key differentiators when compared to other approaches used to identify a plan’s inherent weaknesses. For instance, in most critiquing sessions, fear stifles ideation. When team members worry that they may be offending or look stupid in front of other members of the team, especially the project leader, they will be reluctant to participate and present any “controversial” ideas.

- Taming Your Gremlin by Rick Carson (My full Kindle notes) - A thoughtful, actionable treatise on staying present and noticing our self-created bullshit. The key question this book plays with is "Do our current mental models still serve our best interests?"

What do I do now?: This week, see if you can start to notice 'gremlins' popping up in your daily life. Where are you putting on an act, rather than being yourself? Just notice for now, and maybe afterwards, think through whether being your act, and not yourself, is still the best way to serve your goals.

Complement with The Happiness Trap (TD Digest summary) and Cognitive Journaling: A Systematic Method to Overcome Negative Beliefs  (TD Digest summary).

My highlights:
  • Awareness and choice are the primary elements of simply noticing... I free myself not by trying to be free, but by simply noticing how I am imprisoning myself in the very moment I am imprisoning myself.
  • In every moment you are a devotee. In every moment you devote your life to something. You do so via your awareness... In each moment, consciously or unconsciously, you choose. It’s your choice. It’s your life. Your awareness can lead you or you can lead it. And that choice is with you here and now.
  • ...authentic, uncensored joy is powerful, beautiful, and contagious.
  • ...bringing your fears into the light allows the natural you to reevaluate them “in light” of who you are today—not who you were way back when he convinced you to cement those fears in place.
  • Your self-concept is faulty and self-limiting for one simple reason: you are more than a concept... True satisfaction and contentment have more to do with actualizing yourself than with actualizing your concept of who you imagine you are supposed to be.
  • Intimacy requires the ability to share the natural you with another and to experience his or her natural self. You cannot be intimate with another so long as your pure contact with him or her is interfered with by your act.
  • As you practice taming your gremlin by simply noticing, choosing and playing with options, shining a bright light on old habits and concepts, and experimenting with new behaviors, you will learn, or relearn, perhaps on a deeper level than before, that you are in charge of your life. It’s true. Like it or not you are, indeed, in charge. And if that realization has not left you shaking in your boots, then you have not fully had it.
  • Your gremlin wants you to believe that your happiness lies somewhere in the future as a reward to be granted once you have arranged your actions and the people and circumstances of your life into the right configuration... [T]he simple truth that contentment is not a static state—not an entity to be captured. Rather, it is an experience that, like misery, is available and accessible within you.
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