How can you change the powerful loop that is your habitual life

Topic: You are a product of your friends, co-workers, family, furniture, architecture, restaurants, shops and streets

Discussion: You start out shaping your environment, but soon it’s shaping you, until you form a stable, self-reinforcing loop.

Tip: Try to identify malign loops everywhere you can think of (investing, macroeconomics, relationships, health)

Conclusion: If you’re not happy with your life you probably need to make bigger changes than you might think


Trauma induced psychopatic behavior is inheritable

Psychopaths can be identified through a brain scan. The trait is inheritable and their brain patterns are highly specific. Jordan Harbinger found out as much when he studied psychopaths. Later, when researching Alzheimer’s in his own family he found out he himself had the brain of one of the worst psychos he had ever come across. And yet, he wasn’t behaving like a psychopath, e.g., he never harmed anybody. More about that a little later…


Looping behavior and post traumatic growth

Recent research shows people often react positively to intense stress and shocks. They are beneficiaries of adverse circumstances. Other people develop PTSD from severe stress. Some people turn into raging psychopaths if exposed to a certain kind of trauma, as if the organism says “Apparently, I can’t trust other people, so instead I’m going to use them”. The good news is that they need to carry the psychopathy genes for that. What’s worse, however, is that once the genes are triggered they can be inherited in their triggered state to up to two generations.

Think about that for a while: the genes for psychopathy can be carried but silent forever, but once triggered by a traumatic experience, epigenetic changes occur that means the children and grandchildren of a psychopath can become active psychopaths themselves without the need for triggers. The pattern for inherited antisocial behavior could have significant implications for societies when observed over very long cycles. Strauss and Howe call those cycles “Saeculums” which are about 90 years long, or the span of a long-lived human. More about that in a little while.

Humans move in stable loops. We conform to our environment, move or change it until we fit in. The people we see, the establishments we frequent, what we eat, the shops we go to, the way our living quarters are arranged shape us. Once set, the context decides most of your life for you, just as you become part of other peoples’ life shaping context. If you’re  not careful you’ll live your life as a domesticated animal with hardly any active choices or enriching experiences at all.

In any case, our environment and experiences shape us, and there is good reason to take control of that process, lest we spend our lives as zombies or psychopaths.


Breaking the loop

With some effort you can change your context and break out of your homeostasis. However, unless you actually move, change jobs, spend most of your time with other people and so on, you’re likely to slip right back into your old habits.

By all means, start small: just take different routes to and from work, walk your dog in unfamiliar areas and visit new shops and restaurants. That way you might meet new people which is key. You’ve probably heard that you are a blend of the five people you spend most of your time with. Are you? And do they represent your values and ideals? If not you need to change them or dilute their influence. For that you may need to make bigger changes such as moving and getting another job. Recent research in psychology and psychedelics have shown that certain intense psychotherapy can break a decade of, e.g., depression looping in one single sitting.

Ideally, you want your environment to be like bicycling downhill rather than uphill, that your environment pushes you forward as opposed to hampering your efforts. You could compare the right technological, cultural and social context to always having homemade food in the freezer and your gymbag at the ready, as opposed to candy and cookies at the house.


Two topics fascinate me regarding this interplay between surroundings and choices: does it explain the Fourth Turning theory, and what can be done to prevent too much perosnal looping?


Could transgenerational epigenetic triggers of pychopathy explain The Fourth Turning?

  1. Big traumatic experiences that affect a whole generation of young people can trigger an entire generation of more or less antisocial behavior. Such a psychopathic generation would share certain memories, feelings and behavioral traits that make them prone to certain kinds of decisions in certain kinds of situations and lines of work
  2. Due to the mechanics of transgenerational epigenetics a certain number of their children are affected as well, and a number of their children. Then, for the fourth generation the bad blood (epigenetically pre-triggered psychopathy) is finally cleaned out, creating a generation that is quite different from the other generations.
  3. Unfortunately, when the Social generation and their children are still young, the Psychopaths are in charge of society’s most important institutions and risk causing a new cycle of trauma and psychopaths. Maybe, just maybe, this is part of the mechanics underlying Strauss and Howe’s theory of generational cycles in The Fourth Turning. Well, I’ll leave that to Howe, whom I’ve recently contacted regarding his updated edition of the book.

What can be done to counter your own laziness, homeostasis and looping behavior?

  1. Humans have a very limited agency as it is, i.e., room for voluntary action that is not immediately and deterministically triggered by circumstances. Some would say we have no free will at all. Be that as it may, but at least we feel we can change our behavior just a little.
  2. Thus it’s crucial to tweak and design one’s surroundings as thoughtfully as possible, to make them conducive to… well, whatever it is you want to achieve.
  3. The following might help: Feng Shui furniture, dark bedrooms, TV placement, computer and phone screen habits, refrigerator contents, shopping habits (I recommend shopping groceries online, right after having eaten and using fixed lists).
  4. Learn to be aware of, recognize and break non productive loops and ineffective coping behavior. Try to guide your coping behavior to loop-breaking rather than loop-reinforcing, e.g., by letting thoughts of “staying the course”, “choosing laziness” trigger the opposite. Drop to the floor right now and make 10 push-ups. Don’t feel like it? You’ll do it later? But there are people around? Those are the exact triggers you want to make you do it without delay. Now!

Conclusion and summary

Never mind the Fourth Turning, that’s for another day and another author, no matter how fascinating.

Take charge of your context. What do you want to achieve? What do you need to achieve that? What kind of traits would help? Where do people with those traits live and hang out? Seek them out. What traits are in the way? Stop seeing people with those characteristics. Design your life around people, activities, companies etc. that  on average are what you want to be. Make a plan on how to get from here to there and take the consequent action, be it moving, resigning, take a course, break up and so on.

Just be careful what you wish for; you need a very good grasp of who you truly are and what you really want, before taking drastic action.

Final thoughts: If you’re not happy with your life something is seriously wrong. I know people who are retired and pretty well off who have planned for reading books and making oil paintings but find themselves constantly renovating the house, just as constantly complaining they never have the time to relax, read and paint. They are stuck in a loop, unhappily so. Are you happy with your job, your activities after work, the level of meaningfulness in your social life, your overall level of belonging and self-actualization etc? If not, no New Year’s resolution about going to the gym or joining a book club is going to change that.

You need to put yourself in a whole new context.


P.S. If this resonated with you here are two suggestions: 1) bookmark my website, 2) check out Start Gaining Momentum and his book Breaking Out Of Homeostasis.

How to become an investor – a practical check-list

Topic: a practical check list for becoming an investor

Length: short

Conclusion: focus on the psychology not the maths; read books; continuously refine your strategy by objectively analyzing your decisions (good and bad)


Investing has very little to do with advanced math, statistics and accounting

Sure, you can take that approach, but unless you are talented and have a special interest in those areas, you’re unlikely to be able to compete with those that do*. Instead focus on getting the big picture right; avoiding big mistakes, and controlling your emotions. Use the one, single competitive edge private hobby investors still possess: patience and the lack of impatient clients and monthly update requirements. You can’t compete with high frequency trading algorithms or forensic accounting experts, but you can compete in low frequency trading.

* even professionals who are very skilled and experienced sometimes lose big, despite armies of analysts and accountants spending thousands of man-hours finding value – or lack thereof – hidden in company books (cooked or not). Quickly browse through my 50-point check list for fundamental investors if you’re interested in what you’re up against — and that’s the short version.


Start by reading books about the psychology of investing

I have a few suggestions on my blog (here). I will also soon make my video course on investing available through my and Ludvig’s podcast Future Skills. You might want to check it out, but don’t expect quality advice to be for free.

Another good place to start is my TAOS series of 12+ posts about important investor character traits, practices and habits (the site says 369$ but the artwork actually costs 199$; the price is right once you enter the store. The article series is free of course). You should also browse my previous articles on investing on my Best Of page.

A few of the suggested books are: Margin Of Safety – Seth Klarman, Reminiscences of a stock operator – Edwin Lefevre, The Most Important Thing – Howard Marks, The Black Swan – Taleb, The great crash – Galbraith, How an economy grows and why it crashes – Peter Schiff, The Death of money + The New Case For Gold – James Rickards, Fed Up – Danielle DiMartino Booth. And my own book.


There are dozens – if not hundreds – of viable strategies

The key is to find a strategy that is a good fit with your personality, not forcing yourself to comply with some kind of objectively optimal plan. Nothing beats actual experience on the financial markets so try to get some action as soon as possible to learn the ropes, both in terms of knowing yourself and the markets. Formulate strategies, backtest them, and try them out in demo accounts or with very small amounts of real money.

One more thing: investing on the financial markets does not mean stocks only. There are alternatives: commodities, precious metals, real estate, private equity, your own business, education or skills etc. I personally like the quattro stagione approach (read more here about choosing your investment strategy and building a multi-asset class portfolio)


Find (or create) a place where you can discuss and refine investment ideas and strategies

Avoid the typical gun-slinging machissimo stock trader forums where mostly guys post and brag about their best trades and mock anyone with a serious question. Investing is about truth-seeking, about eliminating unnecessary mistakes and losses, not about being right. Those obsessed with being right usually run into huge losses when they fail to admit their errors and cut their losses.


Trial by fire

As soon as you have a working and backtested strategy, start using real money (albeit small amounts). It’s the only way to stress-test your psychological constitution and verify your fit with that strategy


Make sure to create a feedback loop…

…by writing down your reasons (compliant with your strategy) for entering an investment, and following up on those reasons when you exit the trade. Analyze what went wrong, what went right, what was skill and what was luck. A well executed trade based on good decisions may very well end in a loss, and a string of bad decisions may create a gain. Don’t let your wins fool you into thinking the decisions were better than they objectively were.

Choose and formulate your ex-ante reasons for entering a trade in such a way that they are helpful in deciding when to exit, as well as analyzing whether the ex post result was luck or skill.

Refine your strategy with any new long-term insights you gather from every investment

Remember that both you and markets continuously evolve, meaning your strategy and investment method must too.


Summary

  1. Psychology is more important than maths in investing
  2. Read books and insightful articles about investing, not testosterone dripping online stock forums
  3. Find a strategy that suits you. Refine it in company with likeminded truth-seekers
  4. Use real money; it’s the only way to truly stress test your emotions and your strategy-psychology fit
  5. Create a feedback loop of continuous improvement, your work as an investor is never done
  6. Bonus tip I: it’s not easy, anybody who says it is don’t know what they are talking about (or are actively trying to fool you). Anybody who has simple one-dimensional solutions to the ‘problem’ of investing is either a narrow minded sheep destined for slaughter, or a snake oil salesman out to trick you.
  7. Bonus II: 10 newbie habits you should avoid (+watch CNBC all day long)

P.S. Don’t forget about my podcast Future Skills and the coming video course.

Why you can’t recall changing your mind

Topic: You keep changing, but you keep forgetting you do

Conclusion: You can bypass some of your evolutionary mismatches by keeping smart records of the self

Length: very short


You are different

You were a different person twenty years ago. You had other habits. You thought other thoughts. You reasoned differently. You harbored different beliefs. In short, you have changed your mind since then, whether you realize it or not.

Typically, it’s difficult to remember clearly that you actually were of a different mind, unless you have actual tangible records for reference. If you are a mindful and highly metacognitive person you might be able to do it, but not without a certain amount of effort.


The different yous are like different religions or cultures

In my conversation with serial entrepreneur Ola Ahlvarsson on my podcast Future Skills a few weeks back, Ola talked about observing the world through different cultural lenses. Among other things he said it’s very dificult to truly understand a different culture. We are trapped within our own cultural box of , e.g., believing in “freedom”, “pursuit of happiness”, “individualism”, “socialism” or “martyrdom”. Within that box it’s all but impossible to grasp what’s inside another box without ending up in that box instead.

One thing that really struck me was Ola’s claim that many people in the western world think that an Islamic State warrior probably would come around to our views of freedom and justice with the right amount of education. However the IS warrior might think the same about us. We just don’t understand each other, and a little education doesn’t fix that gap.

Ola makes a much better job at explaining the concept than I could ever hope to do, so do check it out on any podcast app you like (here is a link to the iTunes page). It’s the podcast Future Skills, episode #10.


Evolutionary mismatches

I recently listened to a science show about the self, and the memories of the self. The host talked about how there aren’t any evolutionary advantages in remembering being a different person. On the contrary, much of the conscious self is occupied by continuously adapting its narrative and back story to fit with current events. Being a person is mostly an illusion, an afterthought made-up to keep us safe and sane.

Unfortunately that’s an evolutionary mismatch with the modern world, since being of a fixed state mindset makes us less prone to trying new things — since we assume we are static anyway. In Future Skills we devote a lot of time to analyzing mismatches between our prehistoric brains and the modern world, as well as suggest ways around them and our numerous and counterproductive psychological biases.

In short, Future Skills is there to inspire you to make yourself future proof in a world of accelerating change.

Another interesting avenue of thought was how we judge ourselves based on our thoughts, but other people based on their behavior. Sure, we don’t have much choice about others, but in theory we could judge ourselves based on our behavior rather than our thoughts. I actually try doing that myself sometimes, not least during interviews: “I think I want A but it turns out I most often choose B, so I guess my personality really is B rather than the A I otherwise assume”. It still feels weird, however, thinking I am A, but having to say I am B based on what a past version of me simply happened to do rather than the very tangible thoughts I am having now.


Take aways — embrace change

Here are a few things you could do to map out your changing personality and take advantage of the information gleaned from the exercise:

  1. Keep a diary of your thoughts, decisions and beliefs — it will become increasingly interesting and valuable as the decades pass.
  2. Analyze your past behavior (which could be inferred from photographs and other records)
  3. Remember that just by internalizing the fact that you do change, will increase your propensity to try new things and adapt even faster to your environment — a superpower in the way the world works in this century
  4. Check out my podcast Future Skills for more inspiration through our three different show formats (10-minute future skills tool episodes, half-hour long expert episodes, e.g., #12 about entrepreneurship, and longer format guest shows)