Ahoj! Welcome to this week's digest. This week is a very special "Paradise Squared" edition, because I visited Santa Barbara / Montecito for the very first time this week, and oh my goodness was it gorgeous. I thought Santa Monica was paradise, but my ignorance was quickly revealed by learning that there exist even more paradise-y versions of paradise. The day trip was a beautiful reminder to keep exploring and discovering new lands.

This week's topics include better decision making, fun with near-death experiences, the importance of focus, the subjectivity of our perception, and Scandinavian punk rock. Enjoy!


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"A man will be imprisoned in a room with a door that's unlocked and opens inwards; as long as it does not occur to him to pull rather than push." — Ludwig Wittgenstein

Every day, as part of my morning ritual, I read my "morning wake-up poster". It is a collection of mantras that I find incredibly motivating.

This week's highlighted morning mantra is "All matter, so far as we know it, is a mental condition". This mantra comes from Will Durant's 'The Story of Philosophy', in his discussion of the works and ideas of the "British Empiricists" - John Locke,  David Hume, and George Berkeley. This is an incredibly powerful mantra for me because it strikingly demonstrates the vast difference between objective reality on the one hand, and on the other hand our mere subjective interpretation of that objective reality into the felt experience of our lives. So often our experience of each moment is just a reflection of our mood or our emotion wrapped up in that moment, as compared to truly being present with and open to the objective reality.

I complement this idea with an (apparently) Neo-Darwinist interpretation of the subjective nature of our mental perceptions. That's a fancy way of saying that our agreed-on / accepted perceptions are simply the memes that were best at being passed on, which does not make them objectively correct or better than other memes or potential perceptions. One silly example of this is that I live in LA without a car, and other peoples' reactions to this fact vary widely. Some people (mostly LA natives) think that is absolutely nuts, while others think that is entirely reasonable. Whatever the reaction, their mental state and felt experience within their reaction to that fact is almost completely a result of the random cultural memes and expectations that they were exposed to earlier in life. Ultimately, my current belief is that the perceptions we layer onto objective reality define our felt experience,  and our perceptions are largely a product of our environments and personal histories, which are mostly driven by luck.

- The Decision Checklist: A Practical Guide to Avoiding Problems by Sam Kyle (My full Kindle notes) - A quick, concrete, and valuable read to become a better decision maker. The recommendations are not rocket science, but they do require discipline, curiosity, and precision. Decide to take action today for a better tomorrow!

My highlights:
  • One of the most important tools in improving ourselves is self-reflection. In the context of making better decisions, that means keeping a decision journal... The key to understanding the limits of our knowledge is to check the results of our decisions against what we thought was going to happen and why we thought it was going to happen.
  • Successful leaders are those who, in the face of fear and hesitation, make a decision anyway. They don’t avoid the responsibility of making the decision. They just do it despite the fear.
  • There’s a lot of “bestselling” stuff out there, but there’s always a more fundamental, underlying idea that we already knew about. The “new idea” is only a retelling and packaging of old ideas. We spend a lot of time keeping up with “new” ideas at the expense of learning the old, fundamental ideas.
  • "A man will be imprisoned in a room with a door that's unlocked and opens inwards; as long as it does not occur to him to pull rather than push." — Ludwig Wittgenstein
  • ...the WRAP model... Widen your options... Reality-test your assumptions... Attain distance before deciding... Prepare to be wrong
  • The PrOACT Process... Work on the right decision problem... Specify your objectives... Create imaginative alternatives... Understand the consequences... Grapple with your tradeoffs... Clarify your uncertainties... Think hard about your risk tolerance... Consider linked decisions.
  • We can extract two valuable lessons from Deresiewicz’s comments. First, you want to focus on one thing at a time. Second, you want to make time to think. Not thirty seconds here or there, but a lot of time. You need to have time to concentrate. Most people won’t schedule the time they need to think about a problem.

BLOG POST - RibbonFarm: Near-Deathness by Matthew Sweet - A wonderful take on the value of contemplating our mortality and accepting death. I attempt to embrace this concept by updating my 'death countdown' digital post-it note every morning. This 10 second morning ritual brings me into momentary contact with my mortality and the preciousness of life, helping to bring more aliveness and appreciation into my day. Not for everyone, but an interesting experiment to try out!

My highlights:
  • “The healthy state of humans is mild existential terror. In Frankl’s words, “a certain degree of tension.”
  • ...a sport like BJJ fills a need in the human psyche that we all have, but don’t all decide to satisfy. It allows us to dance with death, to meet with our mortality, to know what it feels like when the continuation of our existence is taken out of our control.
  • Bolelli’s point is that modernity has dulled the aliveness of our perceptions and senses. That’s part of why subreddits like r/SweatyPalms exist. They’re catalogues of people trying to turn their engines back on, to make that “altered state” the default. And isn’t this what extreme athletes spend their life preparing for and doing: living momentarily in a state of higher consciousness?
  • In To Philosophise is to Learn How to Die, Montaigne speculates that philosophy is an art less concerned with living well than dying well. More specifically, he stumbles—in typical Montaigne fashion–upon the insight that the people who die well are the ones who keep their mortality in sight whilst they are alive.
  • Short-cuts to near-deathness are conscious choices that require little resources and whose effects fade rapidly. The tasting of the extremes of existence are sometimes willed and sometimes foisted upon a person, but their resulting effect is both longer-lasting and of a more intense nature. Near-deathness via philosophy, on the other hand, requires decades of investment and has unmatched consequences; it changes the nature of a person’s existence completely. It is neither a shallow nor a deep etching in one’s soul, but a complete renovation.

BLOG POST - Farnam Street: Smarter, Not Harder: How to Succeed at Work by Shane Parrish - Shane's post riffs on well-known thoughts from thinkers like Warren Buffet about the importance of focus. Except this time, Shane makes the concept even more poignant, easier to grasp, and actionable with some simple math and and next steps. How many goals were you able to eliminate to enable more focus on what matters most?

Complement this post with Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown (My summary).

My highlights:
  • As I looked around, I noticed that the most successful people I know have one thing in common: they are masters at eliminating the unnecessary from their lives.
  • Incredibly successful people focus their time on just a few priorities and obsess over doing things right. This is simple but not easy.
  • ...everything that’s not on your top-three list should be dropped. You can pick up the “everything-else” list after you’ve achieved a goal, but until then it’s what Warren Buffet calls your “avoid-at-all-costs” list.
  • The direction you’re going in is important to the extent that you’re applying energy to it. If you’re focusing your energy on 10 goals, you’re not focused, and instead of having a few completed projects, you have numerous unfinished projects. Like Sisyphus, you’re constantly getting halfway up the mountain but never reaching the top. I can’t think of a bigger waste of time.

- Pennybridge Pioneers by Millencolin - A wonderful punk rock album from a fun Swedish band that I was lucky to stumble upon in high school (Thank you Chong!). As I drove up the California coast to Santa Barbara this week, this album markedly enhanced all of the scenic beauty on the trip by more easily bringing forward a variety of linked emotions. Music has always helped me access my emotions, and Millencolin does a great job helping me be more emotionally honest with myself.

My highlights:
  • No Cigar - Part of the Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 soundtrack, so I've heard (and kick-flipped to) this too many times.
  • Penguins & Polarbears - This song is actually how I discovered Millencolin in the first place. In another video games reference, this was the soundtrack for a friend's Counter Strike highlight video (if you don't know what that means... you're not missing much :D). I also ended up 'hacking' Final Fantasy XI to make this my default fight music, so have heard snippets of this song ~1 billion times more than No Cigar.
  • The Mayfly - Amusingly whiny and melodic, like most great teenage punk rock.
  • The Ballad - The token acoustic sad song on the album still tears me up, as it captures a lot of my nostalgic angst and loneliness from middle and high school.
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