Habits vs. Homeostasis

Length: 4500 words

Executive summary: This post is about habits; not habits in general, but my particular habits in areas such as food, sleep, exercise, learning, alcohol, leisure and work.

When, how and why do I do what I do, and are there any general takeaways for you?

In short, I recommend you focus on sleep, food and everyday movement and exercise; and the rest will take care of itself.

Create a good solid drum beat of healthy and natural habits, and lead a varied, lateral life, ad libbing with moderate extremes, while following your natural tendency to explore, recognize patterns, learn new things and solve problems.

Habits


Good habits are bad too

Even good habits are a form of homeostasis; stagnation. Sometimes it’s not even possible to objectively tell which habits are good and which are bad. It’s one of those “how long is a piece of string?” issues.

E.g., it might be better for me to stop lifting weights, and I consider it every now and then, but just can’t do it.

That said, it still seems to be easier to slip into bad habits, such as sitting for several hours per day, watching blue-tinted screens before bed-time, or eating junk food.

I, however am quite unbiased in my habit-forming. Yes, I admit that is one of very few things that actually is a bit unusual about me.

Anyway, I’ve been asked about my particular habits, why I stick to them, and how they were formed to begin with. So, with the caveat that my habits are not optimal in any way, and that different strings work for different things, here goes…

 

Sleep

I go to bed around 11:30 pm and fall asleep at midnight. I typically wake up a little before 8 am, after slightly less than 8 hours of sleep. In the summertime I sometimes wake up for a bathroom break at 5-6, due to the sunrise but I go right back to sleep afterward.

I often spend time on my computer until right before going to bed, but that’s okay, since my “lights out” time is midnight. Blue light screens like TV sets, computers and most mobile devices trick the body into believing it’s day time.

I read a little on my Kindle Paperwhite e-reader from Amazon every night, aiming for falling asleep close to midnight. If I nod off three times while reading, I just hit off, drop the book, close my eyes and fall asleep exactly as I lay reading (on my side).

My bedroom is dark and cool, to mimic a prehistoric African night.

I sleep in my underwear and with my feet outside the covers (and outside the bed) to keep them particularly cool.

Restless Legs Syndrome Is No Joke

I live alone, but my dog Ronja has her bed right next to mine. If I need some extra oxytocin (calmness and bonding hormone), I can just put my hand down and pet her.

Sometimes I micro meditate for a minute or two, mentally going through my body parts until I fall asleep.

Ronja feb 27 2016

I’ve written more about sleep optimization, the how and the why here. In this post I’m focusing on the over-arching habit structure.

One thing to keep in mind, though, is that sleeping well affects your health, your willpower, your ability to stick to healthy routines, your general life balance, your level of stress and anxiety, which in turn affect your sleep.

Hence, you want to make sleeping part of a synergistic process, instead of a vicious cycle:

Sleeping poorly affects your income, your health and your happiness. To counter the effects you might turn to drugs (caffeine, tobacco, alcohol or cocaine), which only make matters worse. Perhaps it’s time to ditch the nasty habit of bringing your smartphone into bed, or at least install an app for red-tinting the screen.

Another way of fixing your sleep is by fixing your life and health first…

 

Exercise

I work out every second day, spending two and a half hours per session in the gym.

After my morning walk with the dog, I head for the gym. I warm up on the treadmill for 15-20 minutes and then lift weights.

 

This year I’ve been following one of Sheiko’s strength training programs for bench press, squat and deadlift. Including 10 sets extra for biceps after the ordinary program, I spend around 2 hours on the strength and hypertrophy exercises.

What’s almost magical with Sheiko’s program is the undulating/periodisation of intensity and range of exercises within exercises (!), within sessions, between sessions, between weeks and between longer time blocks. The variation is good both for the muscles and make training more fun.

A very good reason for exercising is that it releases the BDNF substance, which makes you smarter (neurogenesis; birth, growth and plasticity of neurons) or happier (BDNF controls depression more than cognition in some people). Maybe BDNF is connected to the experience of stress relief from the day’s constant pressure to fight or flight as well. Or that’s an added benefit.

 

You are a smoker; you just don’t know it yet

Exercise makes you healthier as well of course. Not least, exercise gets you up on your feet…

I’m sure you’ve heard that “sitting is the new smoking”. Already after 20-25 minutes of sitting, bad and weird things happen in your body, with fat and muscle tissues exchanging unhealthy signal substances, blood vessels becoming more inflammation prone etc. It’s almost as if sitting was a signal of dying back in the day when we normally roamed the savannas.

It’s difficult to do really deep work for 90 minutes, if you have to move around for two minutes every 25 minutes (the Pomodoro method may have something to it) but it might still be worth it. Just don’t look at your phone during your breaks. By the way, I stand at least half the time I’m on my computer.

Anyway, my routine is that I work out for 2.5 hours every second day, of which 15-20 minutes is cardiovascular exercise. (it used to be 12 minutes sharp, but I’ve recently expanded the allotted time).

In addition, I go for 3 dog walks every day, 1 hour each, sometimes more, depending on who I meet in the park. The walks are very low intensity but I’m up on my feet, i.e., not sitting, and moving around for 3-4 hours a day. And that, my friend, is what will keep both my brain and body inflammation and alzheimer’s free until I’m 150, as opposed to “office sitters” who can’t expect to remember their own children by the age of 75.

In addition, I listen to science podcasts and do some power posing while out on my dog walks.

But enough about me, I don’t recommend my extreme lifestyle unless you are in the same situation as I am.

You don’t need to walk as much as I do. What you should focus on is never sitting down for more than 90 minutes straight, without taking 5 minutes for some brisk walking (or burpees, but that would be aiming too high in my book). That is both practical and has long term benefits at the same time. Besides, walking outside the box often opens up new perspectives and resolves issues with being stuck mentally.

Finally, I do a set of 5-10 mobility exercises around 5-10 minutes a week, and micro meditate (just taking a deep breath, e.g., or touching a surface mindfully).

 

Learning

I subscribe to 26 podcasts which more or less are all about science or economics, and are all intellectually challenging. I also subscribe to numerous science channels on YouTube, and regularly read scientific and economy blogs, journals and newsletters. I don’t watch the news, read regular newspapers, watch typical TV-shows etc. I do watch certain select TV-series and movies though, and I really like going to the cinema for the best movies.

Yesterday I watched Allegiant (2016):I

I listen to the podcasts when walking my dog (3 times a day, in total some 3-4 hours a day). Moving around helps both focusing, understanding and learning. The rest of the material described above, I consume at home, sometimes while doing mobility exercises.

podcasts

Oh, and I take notes in longhand, which forces me to process the information while writing (rather than taking verbatim notes in shorthand or on a device). In addition, I write about what I learn (Evernote, Twitter, e-book, blogs, Facebook etc., even Periscope sometimes), which further enhances my understanding and learning.

 

Food

The choice of food ties in closely to the sleep, exercise and learning complex. Duh, its life.

I do intermittent fasting every day. 8 hours of eating between 1 and 9 pm and 16 hours of fasting the rest of the time.

It’s good for me. For you. For everything (age, Alzheimer’s, cancer, inflammation…) Google it. I’ve been doing it for several years, since I learned about it from Martin Berkhan (leangains).

Actually, it’s not true. The last few months I’ve reduced my fasting, in order to focus more on strength gains. Now I typically have a protein shake earlier than 1 p.m. and one later than 9 p.m. In addition, I eat breakfast before going to the gym, which means around 10 am. So, I guess I’m not fasting at all anymore…, even if I still fast more than I eat, but perhaps 13:11 on average instead of 16:8.

Hello! “fasting” for 12 hours overnight is just called sleeping…


 

So, what and when do I eat, when I eat?

breakfast I

First meal

I turned flexitarian two years ago (for ethical reasons only). At the time I ate meat (land living or poultry) every day. I had fish every day as well, but the important distinction is that in September 2014, I decided to significantly limit my consumption of beef, pork, lamb, chicken and other land dwelling mammals and birds.

It began as just one day, but turned into 30 days straight. Since then I’ve relaxed my new habit a little and I probably have some kind of meat once a week or so, or with 3-5% of my meals. I’m hoping for and investing in alternative food sources like insects, algae and bio printing.

I get up at 8 and drink a large glass of water (I keep it by the bed in case I get thirsty in the middle of the night… which never happens, so I drink it in the morning instead).

veggo burger

veggo burgers

New habit: morning drink. Now, that I’m trying to gain weight and have relaxed my fasting routine, I mix (and drink) about an ounce (30g) of whey powder with about an ounce of olive oil and water and then go out for an hour’s walk with Ronja.

During my waking hours, if I’m at home, I have a drink like that every three hours, unless I’m eating a real meal at the time. Sometimes I have one with my meal anyway. My reasons for this routine are as follows:

1) There is no use eating protein more often than every 3 hours, but every 3 hours, protein should boost net muscle growth

2) whey protein is digested very quickly. Hence, having more than some 30g at a time will be burnt for fuel rather than used for building muscle

3) I want to eat a little more than 2g/kg (4.5g/lb) body weight of protein a day, or approximately 210g of protein. That takes 7 meals at a 30g clip to accomplish

4) spaced 3h apart I need to start eating at 8 am and stop at 11 pm, with at least one meal getting 2x30g of protein.

When eating “real” food, that takes longer to break down than whey, it’s no problem wolfing down more than 30g of protein, so I typically have a total of 40-60g of protein with lunch and dinner.

I eat three meals a day, breakfast around 10 am – 1 pm, post workout or lunch around 2-3 pm and dinner around 8 pm, often complemented by a final whey drink at 9 pm. Now, that I’m “bulking” I often have one more drink right before bed-time, around 11 pm.

A typical breakfast consists of 5-6 fried eggs, half a can of beans (usually black or kidney) and some spinach and kale. And a cup of coffee. Another typical breakfast is 100g of oatmeal (cooked to porridge with half a liter of water) and some whey.

I season my eggs, my whey drinks, my beans, most about everything, with turmeric, cinnamon, oregano, chili and black pepper. The last month I’ve sprinkled Spirulina algae from Simris Alg on top of my food and drinks as well.

Lunch and dinner are typically variations on the same theme, and not seldom the exact same thing: Some kind of pan fried fish (salmon or cod) with broccoli, haricot verts and beans, potatoes, pasta or rice.

I know, I don’t have much imagination when it comes to food. I actually don’t rule anything out (unless it’s been kidnapped, like cattle, pigs, chicken and sheep). I have no problem eating bread, butter, cream, snacks, gluten or whatever you can think if, I just never buy it or make it myself.

fish

My recipe: Fish. Boil it.

I often eat too little carbs and thus have to force feed it to myself sometimes. It can take the form of a leftover cold boiled potato from the fridge, muesli/müsli with milk, or crispbread sandwiches. Or alcohol… If I know I’m going out for a drink later, I don’t feel the same need to chase carbs for lunch or dinner, since I know I’ll get some later anyway. To make up for the lack of carbs I consume about 1 dl (3 oz) of olive oil every week.

One more thing, I drink a liter/a quart of milk right after my workout sessions. The timing of protein isn’t that important, I hear, but I’m thirsty anyway, and it’s usually 4 hours since my last meal, so I figure it can’t hurt.

As a rule I shy away from vitamins and other supplements.

Anti-oxidants, e.g., have been shown to cause damage, if eaten as supplements instead of as whole fruits, berries and vegetables. Hence, I eat a varied and colorful natural diet of whole foods instead. I add various red and blue berries, as well as leafy greens and spices to my whey drinks. My diet of milk, beans and lemons (to the fish) add further to my intake of vitamins, minerals, fibers ant anti-oxidants. Check out this article for more details on what I eat, rather than when.

However, living in Sweden, I do eat a vitamin-D supplement of 4000 IE (100 ug) a day between September and April. I also have a pill of lactic acid bacteria every day (Biogaia’s Lactobacillus Reuteri product Protectis) to help my little friends in the gastrointestinal tract stay varied and healthy. I also supplement my food with fish oil from Arctic Med (and right now also with the cleaner and more sustainable, albeit more expensive, algae based omega-3 oil from Simris Alg).

omega-3

Supplements, fasting and saunas: All three supplements help reduce inflammation, strengthen the immune defence system, speed up recovery after injury, stress, illness, exertion etc., as well as in general reduce a lot of modern welfare diseases and vague symptoms of stress and weakness. As does fasting by the way (including reduce the risk of cancer it seems).

Hot saunas are a fifth miracle cure in the same vein:

Bonus: Link to Tim Ferriss and Dr Rhonda on saunas

(No, I’m not providing any other references; google it, check out examine.com, listen to the Discovery podcast etc.)

Most of all I think about creating a good environment for my microbiome, my bacteria. After all, they account for more than 99% of my genetic material and are probably the ones controlling my behavior anyway. I care for the ones living on me as well as in me…

 

Hygiene and grooming

I shower every second day (after gym), or if necessary (a particularly hot day, before a date, after swimming in a lake).

I scrub my heels and big toe briefly every time I take a shower, and apply a fat foot cream afterward. I use the same cream morning and night as well, to keep my feet soft and supple. I doctor friend of mine once said that bacteria living in heel cracks have been associated with Alzheimer’s. Be that as it may, nice feet are nice.

I use a combined hair and body wash in the shower, but I don’t wash my face with anything but water (I rinse my face carefully morning, evening and when showering).

Afterward I use lotion on my face (from Bulldog), and apply a mild deodorant (Nivea or Bulldog) before taking care of my feet with foot cream.

When I’m done I spray some after shave/eau de cologne on the back of my neck (currently Armani Code Ice or Bvlgari Man in Black, if you care at all).

I shave when I have to or when meeting people, appearing on TV etc. On average I shave about every second or third day or so. I use an electric shaver – it’s convenient and I don’t have to use any product on my skin that might kill off the good bacteria residing there.

I don’t use any hair products, but I do rub off some excess lotion in my hair, to make it slightly shiny and easier to shape.

Sometimes I can get a pimple after partying. I try to refrain from touching it, but every once in a while I can’t resist the urge to squeeze it (especially if I’m meeting someone the next day), using some protective tissue and very clean hands. Depending on the damage, I sometimes (rarely) apply alcohol or zinc paste afterward (or instead of squeezing).

I brush my teeth when I get up, after breakfast, before seeing someone and after the last meal of the day. I floss (J&J) thoroughly a few times a week.

Once a week or so I indulge in a hot sauna at home, sometimes throwing myself in the snow on the balcony. I keep a book for reading, and a water proof notepad (that I got from Ludvig Sunström) for taking notes in the sauna. 

 

Leisure, socializing and alcohol

I don’t work, I spend a lot of time with my dog (and other dog owners) and in the gym, and I’m a bit of a loner.

Consequently, I don’t spend much time seeing other people (except in the dog park or nodding curtly and manly to fellow weight lifters).

When I do see my friends, alcohol is often involved. It could be a wet lunch, dinner and party, a house party or during travels (I have a few recurring party vacations every year).

All in all, however, I socialize so rarely it can hardly count as part of my daily, weekly or even monthly habits. Somehow, I still manage to find an occasion about twice a month on average to go all in on the juice of the devil. Perhaps I should learn to hold off just a little, but it’s just sooo much fun to get drunk, goof around, party, dance, surf on Spotify, YouTube or the internet in general, climb things, talk about life etc.

I didn’t drink until I turned 18, so I do have some experience of partying and dancing sober, but it feels way more fun and natural with alcohol than without. Perhaps a warning sign, but I’ll start heeding that a little further down the road… (the “I don’t have a problem” fallacy)

 

Working and writing

Finally we’ve come to my raison d’être: my writing.

I don’t work the (Wall) street for money anymore, and I don’t write for money either; just for fun. The question for the day, however, is when and how I go about it, not why.

I use an app called RescueTime to keep track of how I spend my time at the computer. If you’re looking for productivity you should look elsewhere, if that app is any reliable. I manage to accumulate just 1-2 hours a day of desirable work (blogging, writing on my next book, answering comments etc.) and a little more than that on “distractions” like social networks – of which Twitter is the “worst”.

Lately I’ve been spending as much as on hour a day on weekdays on my trading platform as well (up from 1-5 minutes a day a year ago; no doubt an effect of talking to day traders on Twitter all day).

It’s hard to objectively discern between productive and distracting activities, but one thing is clear, I don’t spend much time producing quality and lasting content, and too much on indulging in online socializing.

I’m useless and hideous; don’t look at me!

(I don’t write enough, I just tweet my life away)

Well, it’s my choice right now to focus more on learning, weight lifting and relaxing, working based on inspiration (otherwise a no-no among culture workers), rather than having set time or productivity goals (hours or words per day, e.g.).

working

OK, let’s get down to concrete numbers and times.

I don’t write before working out, and I don’t write before let’s say 5 pm after working out and walking the dog. As a rule, I don’t write after dinner or the late dog walk either, which leaves about two hours between 5-7 pm for writing on gym days. Right now, I’m closing in on the end of exactly such a writing window.

On workout free days, there is in theory much more time to write, but I often eat more slowly, brush my teeth or floss watching TV, spend more time on Twitter and my trading platform, or reading articles on Kurzweil, Hussman, Singularity Hub, ZeroHedge, Contrarian Edge, Financial Orbit, HORAN, James Clear, Wall Street Playboys, Barking, Raptitude, Wait But Why, Danger & Play, Start Gaining Momentum, various Swedish and international exercise and nutrition blogs (Styrkelabbet, Hjärnfysikbloggen, Tyngre, Träningslära, Träna Styrka etc.)

In effect, I torturously manage to squeeze in an hour between 1-3 pm before dog walk nr 2, and another hour or two between 4-6pm, and finally, if needed 1-3 hours late in the evening between 8-12 pm.

Funny thing: I’m actually a little worried of getting too caught up in my writing, becoming obsessed and stop socializing altogether. At the same time I worry about not producing enough; that I’ll “wake up” in the future and think I squandered my life on dog walks and tweeting.

Well, all things considered, things are the way they are because I’m happy with them – both in the moment and when taking stock of my accomplishments a few times a year. Yesterday’s “hard” decision was saying no to a wet lunch, in order to write this. “Too asocial or writing too little?”, well how long is that bleeding string?!

 

Life and habits summarized

Good habits are good to have (“Oh, thank you Sprezza, for dispersing such wisdom”); they make you healthier and more productive, without spending any willpower.

On the other hand it’s easy to get married to your habits and suboptimize life; climbing just one hill, and the nearest hill at that, instead of several, more interesting and higher hills elsewhere*. The string measuring habits and homeostasis is of unknown length, as with all interesting things in life.

* life achievements; not mounting or conquering other *ehm* things

Life needs both routine and variation, just like a Sheiko strength training program, with intensity and choice of activity undulations.

In Gödel|Escher|Bach, Hofstadter explores recursivity (self-reference) in music, math and music; and finds beauty and intelligence in the complex, half-chaotic space between the monotone and the completely disordered.

That’s where you want to be as well, exposing yourself to moderate extremes (convexity*) of all kinds (food, exercise, focused work, socializing…), albeit with a recurring healthy underlying bass rhythm – like a Bach fugue, Sheiko’s program or the starting values of Mandelbrot’s fractals.

*That word – convexity – has vexed me my entire life. I don’t think it fits with pictures of convex items.

 

Final summary

OK, let’s get practical and focus on what you can do instead of what I happen do be doing

Foster an underlying drum beat of habits supporting physiological and mental health; a base line you always fall back to after other ventures like traveling or partying. The bass should be strong enough not to be derailed by simple things such as after works, dating or friends visiting town.

Aim for a “natural” set-up of daily everyday exercise and whole foods, rather than compensating sitting all day with gym class in the evening and then back to sitting again. Or pills instead of fruits, berries, beans and leafy greens. Eat real food with lots of color instead of relying on pills.

Engage your large muscle groups (legs, back, abs) for a few minutes at least once an hour. You’ll be much better of than if sitting all day and spending an hour on aerobics after work. Stand at your desk if you can, and take walking meetings instead of sitting (you’ll think better as well).

Read and listen to new things as often as possible. Cut out the daily news of your information flow. It’s not real anyway. Find better, more objective and to the point sources of information than digesting the same entertainment and propaganda in newspapers and on TV over and over again.

Create an environment, and foster habits, for sleeping well.

Sleep, food and physical activity (sex definitely counts) are the pillars of life

Then comes curiosity, pattern recognition and problem solving (you need them to find the first three, and you need those to keep going). The rest is more or less noise (though I do get that you need to finance your food, roof and bed somehow; just at least try to consistently tilt the balance more and more toward what really matters).

I have a whole other line of reasoning ready; from an individual’s starting condition of reactive “self” with limited free will, effects of external stimuli and pressure that nudges his development in a certain direction, which turns ideas into habits, which in time internalize and form a new self, partaking in and enjoying different activities and with just as little truly free will.

With the right guidance, your future self can be a healthy, wealthy productivity machine, but your experience of it will be effortless and sprezzaturian, almost with the perception of living day to day governed by whims of lust.

Perhaps it’s just me.

Anyway, the subject of self and free will (and consciousness and math as well perhaps) is for another day. Or year.

Please share this article with somebody you want to be quiet for 20 minutes :)

And, if you are new here, remember to subscribe to my free and spam-free newsletter and read my first e-book “The Retarded Hedge Fund Manager”, about my time managing The European Hedge Fund Of The Decade.

Retard’s foreplay – sticky icky life advice

Foreplay

Executive summary: It’s all about living life and not being a dick

  • Don’t try to impress – live for you, not others
  • Life is a spectrum – not discrete points and precise solutions
  • Always be prototyping – you’re never ‘done’

Reading time: 20 minutes

However, I hope you’ll spend much more than that on it in total. There is more depth to it than might be obvious at first glance.

Crab Corfu Pelekas Purple Red Retard

-foreplay or near dick experience (Greece 1991)


Why would you listen to my advice?

I come from a lower middle class family, with no contacts and no role models, born in a small town north of the polar circle, but eventually found myself in the upper echelons of European finance.

Then I quit, and transcended beyond conventional success.

I’ve experienced 8 concussions, 2 ACL ruptures, spent 2 hours on the summit of Aconcagua (6961 m / 22837 ft), received a physics award straight from the hands of the Swedish King, I was an honorary member of the Swedish Chemistry Association, I’ve received the award for the to date only European hedge fund of the decade, I’ve hitchhiked from Västerås to Marbella (the entire stretch of Europe) and back at the age of 17 (in 1989), been in numerous street fights, and I retired at the age of 41 with an 8-digit USD net worth (from negative between 19 and 24, and zero before that).

In short, I did it.

-Did what?

Lived. Hard and well; with grit, scars, material success, and eventually true progress and a deep sustainable and independent self-esteem and happiness.

I don’t pretend to know everything, or that my my experiences are translatable 1-to-1 to your situation. However, I think it would be worth the while just sneaking a peak at my solutions for development and personal success for inspiration.

Or are you worried about the Joneses across the street? Got a new car, did they? Perhaps diplomas, Whore City and the rat race is more for you then. As you were. 

 

Life after life?

Being fully retarded for over a year now, I’ve had time to think about purpose and pleasure in life after retirement. So, what do you do when you are financially independent and without obligations?

Short answer: Learning and sharing

Longer answer: Man is a pattern recognizer. We use it for collecting food and avoiding danger. We are wired for curiosity and finding pleasure in decoding patterns.

Man is also a social animal. We need others (though I seem to need people less than most).

Once I realized expensive things didn’t interest me, I explored myself in depth. It’s the result of that process that I want to share with you, hoping it will save you time and frustration, and make you a happier and truly more successful person – however you choose to define the latter.

In practice: I’m reading, listening, discussing, synthesizing information (pattern recognition), and then blogging and podding (social sharing) about my conclusions. Those activities lend structure as well as meaning to my otherwise fully retarded life.

 

Retard’s Playbook

In 2016, my big project is writing a book; a book for the lost generation, a life guide for people living in the aftermath of the cold war, for the post-Berlin Wall generation, for the iPhone and Snapchat generation.

Retard’s Playbook is a shortcut to wisdom for the app generation.

Retard’s Foreplay (today’s post) is a preview.

LIFE blodiga smalben

Without scars you didn’t live

 

Game changer

As far as I’m concerned, Retard’s Playbook will be the first thing I do. I expect it to be a game changer for anybody reading it, as well as for me writing it.

Below you’ll find just three of my favorite life heuristics, as well as a taste of my experiences that underlie them.

If this post doesn’t resonate with you, my book won’t either. Good to know.

Here are your short cuts to success and happiness:

 

Don’t be impressed or daunted

-Stop trying to impress. That’s living a second handed life for others, instead of knowing and being yourself.

When I was 7, I bicycled down a slide blindfolded to impress a group of older guys. For the price of one concussion, some blood and a scar in my forehead, I got nothing but a few mean laughs. Another time, I slipped when running and jumping from meter-sized rock to rock, suffered another concussion, blood loss and head scar, but this time purely for my own pleasure, and some heartfelt laughter together with friends. There’s a world of difference.

When I was in my teens and twenties I thought famous people were impressive, and I wanted to be famous too, for no particular reason. I just wanted to emulate their lifestyle, without a thought to what it would take to get there and what it really meant. I mindlessly bought the media hype regarding conventional success.

In addition I thought the top was unreachable. I was daunted and had no wish to even try. It took stumbling onto the scene of high-level money management to learn that overnight success often takes a lifetime of effort.

Remember this: A movie star, a hedge fund billionaire and a Fortune 500 business tycoon are all objectively impressive, but they are still only human. And they got to where they are by putting one foot in front of the other; investing, building one order of size on top of the other. It’s a question of priorities and grit more than anything else.

So, stop being impressed or afraid, and make your choice. Do you want it or don’t you? I’ve realized I don’t want it, and I’m definitely not interested in impressing anybody.

By the way, do you think Elon Musk is trying to impress anybody? He’s too occupied living his life.

A wolf has no business impressing sheep

When I was 21, I threw myself off a 9 meter cliff (30ft) in Spain, more or less realizing right before that the water was less than 3ft deep. However, I couldn’t back down… solely for the shame of it. My pride could have killed or paralyzed me there and then. And, yet, I still hadn’t quite learned my lesson.

Ten years later, I probably stayed in the hedge fund business -more for money, status and pride than anything else. The same thing happened with sports cars, as I worked myself through a BMW, a Porsche convertible, a Ferrari 360 convertible (yes, the one I bought from Swedish soccer star Zlatan Ibrahimovich) and finally a bright (Midas) yellow Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder (convertible)

Eventually I understood what was going on, and studied myself to find out what really made me tick when I wasn’t playing to the approval of others or chasing an ad agency’s idea of the perfect life. For me the answer was learning and teaching/sharing, for you probably something else.

Don’t make my mistakes. Or, by all means, do, but pay attention to your actual feelings regarding the outcome, and perhaps you’ll be able to change ways faster than I did.

 

Life is a spectrum, not a point

-life is a super positioned state of both black and white and all the grey in between, simultaneously. Just as in quantum mechanics, the truth is revealed by taking action, by the act of observing the outcome of an experiment.

how long is a piece of string?

There is never a final truth, a platonic ex ante truth. The answer to all questions vary from occasion to occasion and is decided ex post.

And, yet, A is A; i.e., it is what it is and nothing else – once it is decided. This seeming paradox illustrates the quantum nature of life. Everything and nothing is fixed – at the same time

How long should you stay in school, at a job you don’t like (Whore Village), with a partner you’re not passionate about? How much money do you need to retire? Do blondes have more fun? Are drugs bad for you? Is love all you need, or is it ‘laughter’? When and how much and how to rest, when to sow, when to reap?

First, you must realize there is no spoon; there is no definitive answer to any important question

Then you can start exploring the ever changing options in between yes and no. Often, in my opinion, the answer is “try”. Dare experimenting, unless trying involves a significant risk of unacceptable loss.

What is ‘unacceptable’? Well, I have this piece of string somewhere…

Quitting your job or relationship is not dangerous, does not involve unacceptable losses. On the contrary, staying put, dwelling in homeostasis all but guarantees wasting your life.

 

From one cityboy to another

Several years ago, I asked the author of Cityboy, Geraint Anderson, for advice on when to quit my job as a hedge fund manager. He told me to hang in there until staying two more years was more or less inconceivable, and then quit right away. So, I kept pushing a 30-month deadline ahead of me, until I in January 2014 just up and left*

*In practice I stayed on for another year, but only as the managing director with no investment responsibilities or partnership dividends. As a perverse turn of fate, the fund was unexpectedly decided to be closed down, starting in September 2014. 

What if I hadn’t quit? Had the fund been closed down with me in it? Then I wouldn’t have been the (voluntarily) Retarded Hedge Fund Manager, but the Dismissed Doofus instead. Not quite the same legacy, or ring to it for that matter.

American Psycho

So, take the proverbial fork in the road, i.e., explore both extremes when deciding. Say yes, take action**; say no, keep your integrity. However, don’t be gullible just because you are a yes:er.

Never fall for the “come on, dare say yes” lure. That is just not daring to say no, which is really, really bad. Superpositioned quantum spectrum of yes and no – it’s a bitch.

** As a general principle in itself, you should always take the active choice whenever there is a close call. The mind has a tendency to obsess over future possibilities and decisions, but also to adapt quickly to any outcome of a decision. Thus, regret is strongest for passivity, no matter the outcome.

Yes, you should

Another way to think about it is that you are responsible for the effort, but the outcome is out of your hands. The latter is also very important in its own right, not least regarding investment success. No matter how sound your reasoning and process, bad luck and black swans can ruin the result completely.

And, just for fun… that time I got lost in the darkness, when descending from the summit of Aconcagua (6 961 m / 22 837 ft). I decided to stay the night, alone, at 6000 m / 20k ft and sleep on the bare ground with nothing but my jacket to protect me. After a while, I realized, I was about to be slowly covered in snow not to mention freeze my face off. When I sat up, one leg went outside some unknown edge, and when I threw a rock in front of me, I never heard it bounce.

Now, that is taking unacceptable risk on the Mountain of Death.

As a final word, when I’m asked for career, relationship or education advice; “Should I do this or that…?“, my answer is typically, though somewhat camouflaged, “Yes, you should“.

 

Go west

Well, that, and a more general “Go west young man, and learn programming“. With programming I mean in the widest and most generous possible sense of the word: as a coordinator, hacker, designer, Photoshop, robot control, AI, h/w tinkering, Human-Computer interfaces, organic algorithms, stock trading; or just Java/python etc., not only for practical use but as a brain exercise.

My own programming experience consists of a high level of self-taught BASICS (incidentally on a Spectrum)and much lower level of hexadecimal and machine code at a young age, followed by varying efforts in Pascal, GPSS (master level), SQL, Excel macros etc, and much later and much more lazily and impatiently, Javascript, XML and a little Python.

I managed to make money from database programming, Excel macros and computer games programmed in BASIC (when I was 10-12 yo). I suspect it also helped me keep my first job as a broker’s assistant. Most importantly though, programming made me disciplined, patient, thorough, structured, logical, good at problem solving, gave me a solid language base, made me good at algebra, confident with symbolic representations and abstract reasoning.

Today, I’m too impatient, lazy and unmotivated to make a real effort in programming. At the same time, I’m a little afraid of being sucked in again, spending my days on optimizing algorithms for no good reason, except the beauty of it.

Again, both 1 and 0 and all the things in between. Superpositioned.

 

Always be prototyping

I’ll keep this one short.

You are never done.

There.

However… (I wasn’t done after all, it seems)

At a certain point I started taking my Spectrum computer apart more and more to explore its innards and perform experiments. For example, once I realized how the keyboard worked, I constructed my own joystick (hand control) from a golf ball, a hockey puck, an aluminium pipe, tin foil, lots of tin foil, glue and tape.

It was quite difficult to get every tiny detail right with just my hands and ordinary tools, and it kept glitching. Once everything worked, I was tempted to just pour a liter of glue or candle wax on top of the entire thing to be sure it stayed that way.

Luckily, my teenage brain was smart enough to realize what central planners don’t – things will always change, no matter how much you try to fix them. Actually, fixing prices in an economy or halting a stock exchange is sure to move real prices faster than ever before.

Instead of an irreversible and ultimately disastrous permanent glue fix (a tip: don’t sniff glue, which I’m sure Bernanke, Yellen, Draghi and Kuroda do all the time), I kept prototyping, learning, improving, back-tracking and treating my disemboweled computer as a living entity. Did I mention (my) life was a Spectrum? Sinclair ZX 48K to be precise.

Ingves negative interest rates are FUN Mario-Draghi-laughing kuroda Janet Yellen

Certainty is impossible (about the future, the economy, the stock exchange, the integrity of electrical connections underneath a glue fix). Hence, stay humble and keep prototyping.

Thus, don’t go for that ultimate fix, the perfect education or perfect job before starting your life. Take a few steps at a time, see how it feels, adjust and keep moving. That is, unless you positively know you want to waste your life becoming impressive and rich to really show off that you matter*

Unfortunately, chances are all you’ll succeed in doing is fixing yourself as a person of status and importance, underneath a thick layer of glue, making breathing and living all but impossible.

*sadly, ‘matter’ to everybody but yourself…

 

Enjoy the journey, celebrate each boss

I like to liken life to a computer game, where the incremental progress, including beating intermediary “bosses” to get to the next level, is more important and enjoyable than actually finishing off the ultimate “boss”.

If the only thing that matters is winning an olympic gold medal, becoming a Fortune 500 CEO or “the richest” most will fail. Even coming in second would be a failure with that mindset, whereas it would entail hundreds, if not thousands, of sweet victories with my life philosophy.

 

Final words

I had selected 27 snippets* from my book for this post, but I’ll just have to limit it to three I see now. Prototyping. Always.

*including, e.g., Your own speed, Independent not contrarian, Awareness, Strengthen your strengths, Convexity, IRL, Don’t “work hard play hard”, Invest, Walk, Know, Amygdala learning and decision making, Break, One prio, 5 whys, Don’t hate, Input & Inspiration not Motivation & Copy, and as always: “just one more”

 

The article you just read (or if you skipped to here) provides a glimpse behind the curtains of my current book project. Retard’s Playbook is my condensed psychological and philosophical practical insights into effectiveness, success and most of all happiness.

It could save you years, or decades even, of unnecessary regret and anxiety, not to mention a ton of money – both earned and spent :-)

What should you do right now?

  • Share this article and my website with a friend or your social network. Please. Thank you.
  • Subscribe to my newsletter. You won’t regret it (and the unsubscribe link is included in every e-mail)
  • Read my first eBook: The Retarded Hedge Fund Manager for inspiration on how to re-craft your life from a conventional one to bespoke.

Practice today’s three guidelines:

  • For you. Ask yourself: “Is this for me, or for somebody else, before buying, donning or doing something”, “Do I need to tell anybody about it for it to be worthwhile?”
  • Turn off the autopilot. Second guess at least one of your own automatic decisions this week. Maybe there is more than one answer. Be patient with others, think through their position before retorting harshly.
  • Redefine a project (diet, e.g.) you have going, into an enjoyable sustainable investment process without end, instead of a potentially unpleasant discrete project where a successful result is the only satisfactory outcome.
 sticky icky life advice legalize it everything
 
* The headline of this article warrants some explanation: sticky advice (I hope it’ll stay with you), icky (life is a superpositioned mess; embrace that fact), sticky icky (marijuana – always a click bait, plus signals I’m a libertarian: “legalize it”, where it=everything)

Mental core exercises, and the difference between doing and not stopping

The 5-second version: do some math to exercise the brain, or at least do something scary. Also: Ask yourself the reason you keep doing something and the (alternative) reason why you don’t stop

math brain retarded hedge fund manager novelty plasticity

You go to the gym to live, not make a living

Even if you never plan to enter a race or compete in sports in any way, you know you should still be keeping your body reasonably fit. If you want to live a longer, healthier life, that is.

aneurysm SpreZZaturian

Here’s the shocking news: The same goes for your mental “core”!

There are several ways of keeping your brain fit; and, yes, it’s at least as important as maintaining the rest of your body – even if you never plan to actually use the top level of your brain’s capabilities.

A fit brain keeps the body healthy, a fit brain postpones Alzheimer’s and other diseases. An active and fit brain simply doesn’t age the same way an idle one does. [Ref: the entire body of approximately 120 episodes of the Brain Science podcast]

brain plasticity science retarded math

Do math to live longer, not for actual calculations

 

In addition to all the other recommendations I have given [see some kind of partial summary below], yesterday I heard something new:

The [female] mathematician Eugenia Cheng, who is doing pioneering work in category theory (“the math of math”) called “doing math” a “core exercise” for the brain.

a lot of very low hanging

novelty fruit within math

to benefit from

Few people use more than simple arithmetic (in the grocery store, e.g.) and thus has a lot of very low hanging novelty fruit within math to benefit from. Why not try doing some slightly more advanced calculations in your head when suntanning, or if you have trouble sleeping. One “fun” exercise is doing “Power 2s” or simply “doubling”. Just try to go as high as possible in your head in this series: 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, 512, 1024, 2048, 4096, 8192, 16384, 32768, 65536 and beyond.

When I was a teenager, I regularly went up into the millions in that series, when I and my girlfriend lacked prophylactics… so the series does nothing good for me these days.

Check if I got the 2^0-2^16 series right. By the way 65 536 was how high the total memory count (in bytes!) my first computer went. After doubling numbers in your head, it might be time for some simple equations, or going hard core and firing up Khan Academy’s math section.

math find x retarded

 

(sometimes) Learn skills for the exercise, not the skill in itself

Languages. Cheng’s idea falls right in line with my advice to learn a new language for a while, the skip to another one. Never mind maintaining a semi-fluent level, unless you do it automatically by socializing with native speakers. just focus on fun learning to maintain brain plasticity.

Programming. And then, of course, there is programming, which is language and math all baked in the same cake. It can be just as frustrating as it can be fun. Actually more so. Nevertheless, you’re bound to make a lot of progress and get the satisfaction of controlling pixels on your screen and sound in your speakers like a God.

There are many other ways of feeding your brain with novelty (which apart from keeping you sane and sound longer also makes the present flowing, enjoyable and ephemeral, while the past – your life – will seem longer, fuller and more meaningful):

Walk barefoot on uneven surfaces

Do things blindfolded (just judging the distance 10-20 meters ahead, walking with your eyes closed to a certain tree, stone or lamp is enough, but try harder stuff too, like navigating your house… cook dinner?!)

Do something that frightens you (but not too dangerous; just scary)

Try controlling your neurotransmitters as advised in this article. It’s basic premise is to conquer social fear and submissive behavior, by “psyching up” (generating neurotransmitters), doing, letting go of the potential “failure shame” afterward by just relaxing instead of analyzing.

Mindfulness exercises – paying close attention to single sensory stimulus or activities.

 

New things, hard things, scary things

The key word here is novelty – experiencing new things, new challenges, using the brain and the body in new ways. Surprise and scare yourself.

And do math – at least a little when you are idle anyway, or if you have trouble sleeping and used to fall asleep in math class.

Cheng also shared this profound thought: There is a difference between the reason for doing something and the reason for not stopping. She was referring to herself: She does category theory because she loves math, not because it’s useful. To her it’s like art or music. It’s simply beautiful. However, if it wasn’t useful too she would stop.

Try applying that system of thought to your job, a TV series you follow, your somewhat stale relationship…

Now, 1) subscribe to my newsletter for more tips and for my free book, and 2) can you do 2^20 in your head? …”Michael, where are you?”

haters