Hujambo! Welcome to this week's digest. This is a very special "Philadelphia" edition, because a wedding brought me back there last weekend, and the trip reminded me of the beauty that city can create.

This week's topics include an introduction to attachment theory, analyzing groupthink, the power of self-interest, the impact of technology on children, and classic Motown. Enjoy!

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"Never seizing the initiative, and always being reactive, is a way to ensure that long-term, you are I-lose-you-win mode, or worse, I-lose-you-lose mode, when a little initiative could have brought your unique strengths into play, creating more wins for everybody." ~ Venkatesh Rao
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR (AKA I have a lot to learn from you)

Amira, replying with general feedback
: I’m not sure how I found out about or decided to sign up for this newsletter, but I wanted to let you know how great it is. I honestly enjoy reading it, and it is actually the inspiration for a personal experiment I’m trying out to better retain information from the content I take in (I assume this newsletter is a similar exercise for you). So, thanks!

*Thank you* for your warm words, Amira, that means a lot to me. This is absolutely a labor of love, and to hear that praise is quite inspirational. You are 100% correct, part of why I do this is information retention. Basically, this digest becomes a forcing function for: (1) Efficient information consumption; and (2) Organized information retention. I strongly recommend having a single depository to start with (e.g., when I created my Sensible Living doc), and then all new information gets added to that starting point. Then you follow a recurring process (of your design) and reap the rewards of compound interest :D Complement with Farnam Street's Helpful Guide to Reading Better.

Christine, replying to NYC hot chocolate deliciousness: If you’re looking for small indulgences in winter, February is hot chocolate month at City Bakery. They have a different flavor every day, and a mini (3-oz) cup is $2. Few things are better than a salted Carmel mini hot chocolate paired with a fresh-out-of-the-oven pretzel croissant.

🤤🤤🤤🤤🤤 Yes! (Those are the faces of moderation :D)


: Attachment theory is a scientific framework for understanding our "relationship strategies". Per Mark Manson's blog post, "Your attachment strategy probably explains a great deal of why your relationships have succeeded/failed in the manner they did, why you’re attracted to the people you are attracted to, and the nature of the relationship problems that come up again and again for you."

When I catch up with my friend Ruwan, we inevitably talk about relationships. We have been friends for over 15 years, so I feel tremendous trust and vulnerability with him, and he is an expert on relationships (really). He happened to be in NYC last weekend, so we found a block of time to wander and bullshit.

As we discussed dating in NYC, Ruwan shared the concept of attachment theory. Essentially, there is clinical research showing that there are four attachment types which explain a lot about how we seek out and act in relationships. This was really exciting... A complex concept boiled down to a simple framework that I can summarize?! Sign me up ;D Ruwan also pointed me to this Mark Manson blog post on the subject to learn more, and it was an incredibly helpful explainer. (Note: All quotes in this section are from Mark).

Here are my highlights and learnings:
  • "According to psychologists, there are four attachment strategies people adopt: secure, anxious, avoidant, and anxious-avoidant." These attachment strategies are apparently developed in childhood based on our relationships with our parents. Based on Ruwan's initial explanations of the different strategies, and my perception of my relationship with my parents, I assumed that I was primarily Anxious, and secondarily Secure.
  • "[Y]ou can exhibit tendencies of more than one strategy depending on the situation..." Our attachment styles are incredibly context dependent. Contextual variables that seem important include: Current environment; current and recent relationships; recent 'major life events' like death or job change.
  • You can learn more about your attachment style here (it's free and took me ~10-15 minutes to complete). My results are at the bottom of this post.
  • "Psychologists Bartholomew and Horowitz have hypothesized a model showing that one’s attachment strategy corresponds to the degree of positive/negative self-image, and the positive/negative image of others." A major part of why I felt Anxiety in past relationships was almost directly linked to lack of / low self-esteem.
  • "The good news is that your attachment style can change over time — although it’s slow and difficult." My 'shockingly' Secure results are not so shocking when I think back to explicit self-improvement efforts over the past few years. For example, I am focused on learning to love myself unconditionally (as compared to only showing myself conditional love), and I have embraced meaningful work as core to my professional life and way of being (as compared to doing socially prestigious work that was not meaningful to me).
  • Perhaps the most important change I made to impact attachment style was drastically changing my environment. My recent move from LA to NYC was specifically to feel more local love and support. Now that I feel significantly more secure in my local relationships, because of volume and depth / duration, it is not surprising that I am less Anxious (though I don't have the 'before' data to prove this). (Note: As I write this, two friends are literally cancelling dinner plans for later this week, and I am not feeling the Anxiety that almost certainly would have accompanied this moment in LA).

My attachment style survey results:


ARTICLE - Quillette: The Incentives for Groupthink by Neema Parvini - I share this with you because Neema provides an excellent summary of groupthink, and a direct application of that framework to his specific hypothesis. While I do not agree with the overarching, negative tone of Neema's argument (there seems to be an axe to grind,  but at least it seems to come from a well-intentioned place), I appreciate his incentive-oriented lens for analysis (similar to Jonathan Haidt).

My highlights:
  • ...we can analyse what has happened in terms of the incentive structures within the academy, which has a tendency towards rewarding groupthink and the pushing of the status quo in a more extreme direction.
  • It is a well-known phenomenon that groupthink leads to increased polarisation and a tendency to pull towards extremes because views within the group are repeated routinely, and countervailing views are not heard because they have been shut out.
  • “Mind guards” are appointed. Members protect the group and the leader from information that is problematic or contradictory to the group ’s cohesiveness, view, and/or decisions. This is confirmatory bias writ large.

BLOG POST - Breaking Smart: Self-Interest and Seized Initiatives by Venkatesh Rao - Venkatesh can see the world in such interesting, novel ways. This 'tweet storm' offered a number of intriguing re-frames for me, including self-interest as group-interest (Note: The right flavors of self-interest). I also strongly agree with his points about anxiety generated by reactivity, self-interest resulting in others better understanding their selfishness, and the opportunity to learn self-interest.

Complement with The Hard Thing About Hard Things and Essentialism.

My highlights:
  • We default to reactivity because reacting is easier than acting on your initiative. It takes less imagination or judgement. Somebody has made a neat little to-do for you.
  • Rationality is time/attention/energy leverage, but it needs to be underwritten by the courage of seized initiatives to work.
  • You can’t “manage” time. You can’t even “manage” attention or energy outside of a fairly narrow band. All you can do is limit the number of things you choose to react to and seize the initiative more often. Create more room for YOUR logic to work, over that of others.
  • Only YOU have access to all the information, conscious, unconscious, and subconscious, to act with self interest. Only YOUR thinking is uniquely air-gapped and firewalled away from others’ interests allowing actions based on that particular set of information. Self-Interest is a responsibility.
  • Your refusal to react as I want reshapes my attempt at leveraged action. It forces me to contemplate the use of power and coercion to get my way. If I choose to use those, I’m being selfish rather than self-interested. Your self-interest is what helps me detect my selfishness.
  • Anxiety is, in a way, conflict-aversion debt. When you consciously curtail self-interest and avoid responsibility, you let conflict debt accumulate in relationships. Your subconscious recognizes this and mints AnxietyCoin in your head to represent deferred conflict debt.
  • Not enough people have the skill, self-awareness, and most importantly courage to fulfill their responsibility to be self-interested. Self-interest is not a natural and automated intuition. It’s a learned skill and an expression of nerve.
  • Never seizing the initiative, and always being reactive, is a way to ensure that long-term, you are I-lose-you-win mode, or worse, I-lose-you-lose mode, when a little initiative could have brought your unique strengths into play, creating more wins for everybody.

ARTICLE - NY Times: A Dark Consensus About Screens and Kids Begins to Emerge in Silicon Valley by Nellie Bowles - More anecdotal fire and brimstone to feed my confirmation bias re: negative impact of screen time (on kids, especially). At least this time it's coming from the epicenter of the technology universe ;D

My highlights:
  • Technologists know how phones really work, and many have decided they don’t want their own children anywhere near them.
  • Their daughters, ages 5 and 3, have no screen time “budget,” no regular hours they are allowed to be on screens. The only time a screen can be used is during the travel portion of a long car ride (the four-hour drive to Tahoe counts) or during a plane trip.
  • “Other parents are like, ‘Aren’t you worried you don’t know where your kids are when you can’t find them?’” Ms. Chavarria said. “And I’m like, ‘No, I do not need to know where my kids are every second of the day.’”
  • “We thought we could control it,” Mr. Anderson said. “And this is beyond our power to control. This is going straight to the pleasure centers of the developing brain. This is beyond our capacity as regular parents to understand.”
  • John Lilly, a Silicon Valley-based venture capitalist with Greylock Partners and the former C.E.O. of Mozilla, said he tries to help his 13-year-old son understand that he is being manipulated by those who built the technology. “I try to tell him somebody wrote code to make you feel this way..."

- Build Me Up Buttercup by The Foundations - Speaking of relationships, this lighthearted Motown-ish classic always puts a smile on my face (even though its lyrics model an Anxious - Avoidant relationship dynamic ;D). I actually first discovered this song via There's Something About Mary, and it was my karaoke go-to for years before I realized just how terrible I was at singing it.

Editor's note: This song is easily confused with My Little Buttercup, which can really win over a tough crowd.

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