Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Conflicted Progress

Read these two articles:

How can these two exist at the same time? One must cancel out the other like antimatter/matter annihilation. Or can they both be right?

Interestingly, I think both are possible, though the “Superpowers” article is mainly writing from the viewpoint of survivorship bias. That is the author is saying that because they did it, so can you, and because you are reading it then they succeeded wildly by following their own rules.

The Farnam Street Blog looks at several cases of Winner Takes All, but doesn’t tell you how to overcome that, except maybe buying several thousand copies of your own book. Does it cancel out the rule-following concept in the more positive article? No, but I think it tempers it quite a bit.

When it comes down to it: We can all improve, maybe even the top performers, but really the only person that would have thought we have superpowers is our former self. Let me frame it with the Recency Effect.

Let’s say that you are a hotdog eating contestant and you can eat ten hotdogs in a minute. You are so good that you have sponsorships and tour the country. Then someone comes along and introduces a new technique and is able to eat one hundred hotdogs in a minute. At the behest of your sponsor you learn the technique and are able to eat one hundred plus one hotdogs, reclaiming your crown.

Being at the top and then reclaiming the top certainly looks like superpowers to folks lower in the pecking order, but even the lightweight packing away only eighty per contest would scoff at your old record of ten due to your new achievement. You might appreciate the difference, but you only really have your initial reaction to gauge just how monumental a jump that is.

All’s good in hotdog-land, but what about starting from the bottom like removing a bad habit? Initially people may notice if it is an obvious habit, but soon it will be old history. Good changes are like a differential for people noticing and hopefully a integral in improving life. That is: people will only really notice as the change is happening, or if asymptotic like a haircut, right after, but then that will be the new normal. But maintaining a good habit like brushing your teeth might literally improve your life expectancy, and no one runs away from conversations anymore.

Self-set rules will only get you so far in becoming the best, the rest is how they relate to your goals, but I think they are a huge step in getting you away from the worst. Rule-following has another name: discipline.

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