Monthly update: Single-minded obsession and hosting great parties

Jul 30, 2022 5:05 am


This month I needed a break from anything too heavy, for reasons that will become clear in about 20 seconds.

So in this newsletter there's a distinct absence of anything related to investing or economics. If that bothers you, feel free to unsubscribe in disgust – or just archive this email and come back next month, when balance should have been restored.

🐣 This month in progeny

My wife had a baby this month. Showing a level of consideration I hope will become a stable trait, he was thoughtful enough to be born the day after we finally agreed on a name we both liked (a process for which we needed the full nine months) and I'd finally finished learning how to play "Tiny Dancer" on the piano.

As with anything where you level up in difficulty – from wrangling one child to two, in our case – we've found ourselves wondering how we found the previous level (just one child to keep alive) so hard at the time. Logically this means we should be able to add a third into the mix and we won't experience it as being any harder, but we've both agreed that is not going to happen.

πŸ“— This month in motivation

I recently read the book The Status Game by Will Storr.

Summary: everything humans do, from good to very very bad, is driven by the desire for social status.

Would I recommend reading it? Maybe: the book is basically that sentence illustrated over and over again with different (admittedly interesting, and little-known) examples.

To save you the trouble if you don't fancy tackling it, here are my three favourite insights:

  • We all believe we're more moral than the average person. In an ingenious study, people were asked to rate themselves on a range of virtuous behaviours. Six weeks later, they were shown the average ratings of other people and asked to rate themselves again. Everyone rated themselves higher than average, unaware that they'd been misled: the "average" was actually their own rating from six weeks ago.

  • Intelligent people have no better grip on reality than anyone else. In fact, they can often be more delusional because they're smart enough to find clever explanations to support any bizarre views they come to.

  • And I can't describe this any better than the author, so I'll just quote: "That 'you' that you are so proud of is a story woven together by your interpreter module to account for as much of your behaviour as it can incorporate, and it denies and rationalises the rest."

🎬 This month in success

Mr Beast is the biggest YouTuber in the world. I can't stand his videos – which isn't his fault, because I'm about 20 years too old. But I couldn't have more admiration for him as a person.

He's just an entirely normal guy – no special skills, connections or anything – who happens to be absolutely obsessed with a single subject (YouTube). That obsession, applied over 10 years, has led inevitably to him becoming the best.

He's then turned his success into an empire by re-investing the millions he earns into making his videos bigger and better – because growth, rather than money, is the motivation. He's built his team to over 100 people (including a philanthropy arm, and a dedicated voiceover studio to translate his videos into multiple languages) by intuitively adopting great principles, despite never having read a business book.

It's worth watching an interview with him, just to see where single-minded obsession can take you. His interview with Joe Rogan (Spotify only) is a good watch (for the first hour – it drifts after that), or you can watch this 15 minute clip on YouTube.

πŸ•Ά This month in personal development

Here's something obvious about personal development that only struck me the other day: you become who you are over decades, so what makes you think you can change in an instant?

You may not have done it consciously, but you've been conditioning yourself to respond in the way you do (whether it's reacting angrily, failing to speak up or avoiding taking risks) for decades and digging a deep mental groove.

Learning a technique to help you change isn't enough. Nor is the typical advice to stick with a new habit for 90 days. Logically, it took you years to become who you are so it should take you years to change too.

In my case, I went on a course a few months ago about having better conversations, with the aim of getting better at chit-chat with random people, parents at the school gates etc. I learned some tips that have absolutely boosted my skills and I have had better conversations. But I've also been actively avoiding interactions with strangers for the better part of 40 years – so I'm hardly going to go from that to non-stop chatterbox overnight.

The first implication of this insight is to accept it: if you're not expecting magic results, you won't be discouraged and write yourself off as a hopeless case when they don't arrive.

The second is to maintain a high degree of motivation to change, because that's what you'll need to put in consistent effort for as long as it takes. That could come from coaching, getting accountability from a friend, putting sticky notes on the mirror, or whatever works for you.

And eventually, slowly, without even realising, you'll become someone new – just how you became who you are now.

🍿 This month in media

πŸŽ‰ A long time ago I started semi-jokingly referring to myself as "antisocial". This isn't helpful, as we tend to live up to the labels we identify with. Also, it's not true: I love meeting interesting people, just not for unstructured events that drag on. So the model for mixing laid out in The 2 Hour Cocktail Party by Nick Gray is a dream – and I've set myself the goal of hosting two parties using its formula before the end of the year.

🧐 In the world of investing, there are a few "greats" who think deeply about the psychology behind the markets and distill their wisdom into easy, accessible reads. Howard Marks is a well-known example, and I recently discovered a less famous one: Dylan Grice. He publishes a newsletter called Popular Delusions, which is now an expensive subscription service – but you can freely (and legitimately) access some of his essays from 2009 to 2012 here. Obviously the examples used are dated, but many of the principles are timeless.

πŸ“Ί I've been watching Severance on Apple TV, about a company where employees' brains are "severed" so their work memories are completely separated from their home life. It takes a couple of episodes to really get going (it would never be described as "pacey"), but there was enough to hook me in while it gathered pace.

That’s it for July! Feel free to write back and let me know what you've been up to.



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