Get down on the couch with me
Who are you? What are your defining characteristics. Why? What experiences shaped you?
I’m sure you have at times been fascinated by certain life stories. Now it’s your time. Write your own mini biography of what makes you you and what made you that way.
A) do you believe in freedom, in violence, democracy, God, free will?
B) why? were you a bully, or bullied? well off or poor parents?
C) does it actually matter at all?
I’ll go first.
The most important foundation for happiness
Knowing yourself is the alpha and omega of success and happiness
Sure, you can get pretty far, stratospherically so, on luck alone. However, the path of the child star or lottery winner is razor thin, beset with booby traps (albeit boobs too) and steep falls on all sides.
There are many aspects of who you are, and just as many ways of triangulating the answer. You are stardust (the remnants of supernovae). You are genes (the most recent of an unbroken successful line of countless (trillions? quadrillions?) reproductions over three billion years.
Only the last 10 000 generations were “humans”, but they all had sons and daughters in a straight line of healthy and fertile offspring, all the way to you. And people these days complain that it’s difficult to get pregnant…
If you look back in time far enough, one specific cell was your grand…mother, and she was mine too. Make no mistake, you can go too far in knowing thyself. I certainly don’t advise a life time of asceticism or hermitism in order to fully know yourself before dying alone.
5 ants outnumber 4 elephants
Use some of your experiment quota (the 1% of your time reserved for personal Research & Development – see my article about the 1/50 principle of effectiveness) every now and then. It is all too easy to fall into the Joneses trap otherwise.
I recently listened to an episode of The Freakonomics Podcast. The researchers showed that the number and quality of words a child was exposed to during its first 4 years were very important*. It’s not just about vocabulary, the right intellectual environment -even before memories start forming- creates a whole different (Turing) machine. They also demonstrated a positive “Sesame street effect”: kids in areas with access to the TV show in the early 1970s performed better than other kids.
*poor children hear 30m less words than affluent children
Since Sweden only had one TV channel at the time and all households had access to it, there was no similar effect in Sweden. All Swedes know that “5 ants are more than 4 elephants” (the name of a pedagogical children’s show in the early 1970s in Sweden, which I claim taught me to read by myself when I was 4 years old).
Here’s my suggestion for today
If you want to increase your chances of becoming independent (in effect creating a monopoly of you), successful and first and foremost, happy, map out:
1) How you got here and
2) Where “here” is
Then we can get to the questions of:
A) Do you want to change? and
B) How to go about it
I’ll go first…
Are you the average of the five people you spend the most time with? For a long time (15 years) that was my colleagues at the hedge fund (Futuris/Brummer) and my girlfriend. Now, I’m alone most of the time and spend most of my time with my ex girl friend, my dog, my podcast partner, a former colleague and various people on social media. I don’t even have 5 people, it seems.
Anyway, I can’t see many obvious similarities between my friends, colleagues, girlfiends and me. Sure, there is a streak of libertarianism, intellectuality, curiosity, Asperger’s and interest in health in most of us, but hardly anywhere close to you being able to guess who I am from them.
Try remembering key events in your life and see how they fit with your current traits, beliefs and principles. List what makes you you, and find the narrative leading there. Perhaps you can even identify traits you’re not too happy about, trace their origins to a key event, and change.
These are my beliefs and principles, my center (originally stated in August 2014):
- A is A and logic is logical: I accept deductive reasoning
- Ahimsa: don’t initiate violence, unless you want me to reciprocate (three lefts make a right). My principle is non-violence, but if you demonstrate the wish to use a violence based principle, I can live with that (you however, won’t)
- Pacta sunt servanda: keep your promises (I have lent out money numerous times, it’s always a hassle getting it back. What’s wrong with people? I on the other hand always overdeliver)
- Every person is an island (including 100x more bacterial DNA than human DNA, but they are yours too; btw, read this short article on fecal transplants): you have no claim on other people
- That island is yours: suicide, active death help and drugs are your choice. Nobody has a claim on you
- There is no God. There is plenty of room for new non-metaphysical discoveries in the 96% of the universe made of dark matter and dark energy though. Earth or the entire universe might be a zoo, or a simulation but no room for anything remotely similar to the deities typically discussed
- Free will is, ehrm, well, free: behave as if it is, take responsibility for your choices
- The mind is nothing special: the body includes the mind
Libertarianism and free will are not logical conclusions; they are practical conclusions for an effective society.
They are also fair in as much as that they are reciprocal and symmetrical. If you leave me alone, I’ll leave you alone, but if you don’t I won’t either (by twice or thrice as much). If you take responsibility for your free willed actions, I’ll do the same. But if you don’t, and claim irresistible urges, I too will express my irresistible urges.
What are yours? Jot down the first few that springs to mind. keep it somewhere accessible and add to the list when you realize more hard core beliefs.
This is how I got here, how I formed my beliefs and principles:
I was born a month late (it’s been said I was 6 weeks late, but the measurements weren’t that exact in northern Sweden in 1971-1972) in Jukkasjärvi. How is the brain affected by a prolonged pregnancy, by possibly a lack of stimulation or nutrition? You might guess that was a negative, and I did walk and talk much later than other children (at 2 yo rather than 1 yo). However, once I started, I knew how to from the beginning and instantly surpassed my peers.
I was bullied right from pre-school through middle school due to my accent*, being small (I started school a year early) and having weird or cheap clothes. That caused me to become anti-social and insecure**, focusing on math, gymnastics, reading and writing from the age of 4. It also made me a justice warrior and sowed the seeds of becoming a libertarian.
*(we moved 750 miles to the south, from Jukkasjärvi to Västerås when I was 4… apparently they forgot to mention wolverines were not welcome [järv=wolverine])
**(however neither low self-esteem, nor low self-confidence – see Jesper Juul for the importance of distinction between those two)
I watched my older brother drown when I was 8, and my parents divorced not long after. If I was emotionally “cold” before, that hardly helped my thawing… I think it hardened me further, taught me about losses, about relations – not all good or correct lessons of course. I’m just saying it shaped who I am, what I feel, how prepared I am for adversity.
I lived alone a lot in the aftermath, since my father was an international salesman and I often refused to live with my mother (she smoked). When he was away he turned down the heat and left me with little food and a cold house (14 C = 57 F).
A computer nerd: When I turned 10, in January 1982, I got a computer for my double digit birthday present, a ZX Spectrum 48K. That enabled me to truly withdraw from the bullies and focus on programming, learning algebra, logic, discipline, English, persistence and thoroughness as a by-product.
Outsider computer: Sure, we were early. But, as soon as neighbors and friends bought computers, they all bought Vics and Ataris.
Thus, the Spectrums in Västerås were few and far between. I biked tens of miles around town to program and trade games, like a physical data package… It taught me independence, to argue for the minority, for relying on facts, not opinions. In addition, Spectrum people tended to be more intellectual, more independent, special, not to mention better at programming. The Vics and Ataris, however, did have superior sound, and possibly better graphics too.
Independent and stubborn: I hardly had anybody to ask (no readily available internet in 1982) so the all nighter toiling with programming, debugging, optimizing, creating algorithms…, all done in a foreign language, must have made my brain into a completely different tool compared to my peers’.
Business acumen: I sold user time on my computer when I realized there was a demand (among other things, for playing games I had programmed). The economic laws of Supply, Demand and Prices thus became ingrained at an early age. I wanted to play and program around the clock, but also saw the value in having friends around, as well as making an extra buck (or cent, as was more the case)
8 concussions: I mean, wtf? Why do I keep banging my head. Admittedly, it’s been a few years now since the last time, and the scars from stitching me up in my teens have faded, but all this head trauma must mean something.
Tee-totaler: I’m anything but these days, but up until I turned 18 I honored a 100 dollar wager with my father on not drinking alcohol until I could buy it legally myself (18 in restaurants and bars in Sweden, 20 in state stores). Considering typical pastimes for 15-18 year-olds, I had to be independent but still able to fit in a crowd of “normals”.
My main personal characteristics are:
- Patience (derived from debugging, from late nigh public transport after ninja practice, from being home alone a lot – or possibly the other way round, you never know what’s cause or effect)
- High physical pain threshold (cause and effect? from living alone in the cold, from ninja practice, or did I endure thanks to an already high tolerance? Unfortunately I’ve ignored massive injuries at several occasions not wanting to be a pussy about it… including two torn ACLs and a few broken bones)
- High emotional pain threshold (watching my brother die… But, when the threshold is passed, there is no turning back; I don’t get angry, but you really don’t want to see me when I finally do. There are a few guys with massive head traumas who eventually learned not to try to kick my ass)
Slight bruises, but you should see the head injuries and head bandages of the other two bigger guys
Is there any use?
Perhaps this exercise is a waste of time. Perhaps you become you no matter what. Perhaps your fate was sealed from the get go?
Is there a relevant correlation (causal relationship) between background and personality?
Recent (much more carefully designed than earlier) twin studies show variability in, e.g., intelligence is highly correlated with genes. The famous child psychologist and author Jesper Juul (“Your competent child“) advocates witnessing your child, not raising it, not being in its way. To be a role model, tell it what you think and why, but not lecture or give orders.
On the other hand, the power of forming habits is firmly established. Tweak anything just a little every day, mentally or physically and you’ll seem a completely different person a decade later. Your brain reacts to stimuli according to its wiring and its electrical pattern, but the stimuli also reshapes the wiring. Changes add up exponentially (try getting your wrists painfully twisted for six hours a week year after year after year – works wonders for your pain tolerance).
As Yogi Berra warns: If you do not change direction you may end up where you are heading (more of my favorite quotes here), which also implies you possess the power of changing.
execute what little free will you possess and change into what you aspire to be
Your free will may be severely limited by bacteria, fungi, genes and previous brain wiring, but just a little free will counts. Postpone checking your cell phone for 5 minutes next time it vibrates. Before you know it, you’ll leave it at home some days.
1) List your foremost characteristic or personality trait, as well as your most overarching principle or belief. Feel free to add more if you like
2) Spend 5 minutes trying to figure out why you are and think that way
3) Change. Is there anything you want to change. No? Good, I’m happy for you. Yes? Alright, take one little step in that direction today (make 5 push-ups, say “hi” to a stranger, help somebody)
Share this article with a friend or your social networks. Sign up for my free newsletter for more articles (and my free eBook), and don’t forget to check out my signature articles here, and my podcast in Swedish here.