Lessons in observing emotional triggers, how a barbell can be useful in everyday life, and a very crypto December

Winter in Mississauga, Dec 25 2020

“I would rather be in end-game writing than in end-game Stardew Valley.”

Another month, another snippet from my journal. This one comes from almost falling hopelessly addicted to the farming sim Stardew Valley. I absolutely loved Harvest Moon on the PS1, so Stardew slotted right into my grind-obsessed, build-an-empire psyche perfectly. Thankfully, I was able to break out of it. When I saw the type of stuff people were building in Stardew’s end-game, slime farms and whatnot, I knew had to get out. As much as I would love to farm some pixelated slimes in my Stardew career, there’s another end-game I would much rather invest my time into: writing. Choose your end-games wisely.

And so… here’s another edition of my monthly retrospective!

Some housekeeping notes…

First, you will have to forgive me for the rambly, haphazard nature of these “retrospectives”. For one, I am still experimenting with the format and length of these things. And perhaps more importantly, what am I trying to achieve exactly with these monthly posts? I’m still grasping at answers, and even at the risk of losing interest from my (few) readers, I must nevertheless continue writing. Naval’s tweet about iteration sums this point up nicely:

Finally, if I can’t even commit myself to a meager monthly post, then how could I ever live up to some of my favourite newsletter-style/Substack writers? Sid Jha, one of my favourite finds from Twitter, does weekly Sunday Snapshots. Even more impressively, David Perell, otherwise known as “the Writing Guy” on Twitter, commits to weekly Friday Findings and Monday Musings posts. And neither of the aforementioned “newsletters” are weak, pay-walled blabber. They can be full out essays.

I subscribe to this Jack Butcher heuristic, with a David Perell modification:

“To learn fast, fail in public.” — Jack Butcher

“Learning in public is the business card of the future.” — David Perell

I digress.

Last month, I drew out major themes and learnings, which I will continue to share this month. Additionally, I’d like to tack on a few new segments, if only to add some semblance of value for everyone!

And although December may seem like a good-a-time as any to do a year-in-review, truth be told, I haven’t done these long enough yet to justify doing a year-in-review. Keeping these monthly posts tight should take precedence — hopefully in December 2021, I can write a proper full-year retrospective.

Without further ado… My December Retrospective

Read of the month

You’ll have to excuse me, but this month will be aggressively crypto-oriented Yes, crypto-oriented… as in stuff like Bitcoin and Ethereum. No, I did not take a loan out on my house to buy bitcoin near its all time highs. But for reasons soon unveiled, I gladly sunk deep this month into learning, researching, and writing about crypto on personal time (including over the Christmas holiday).

For those with any semblance of a passing curiosity around crypto, the history of money, Bitcoin, or why crypto is about to usher in a new era of math-based, cryptographically secured definitive truth, then there is honestly no better read than Andreas Antonopoulos’ “The Internet of Money Volume One”. It is a polished, easy-to-read book which avoids technical tropes. In that sense, it makes for a casual onboarding read for a general audience.

The terms “Bitcoin” or “cryptocurrencies” can be understandably triggering for a lot of people. If you didn’t lose a lot of money (and therefore motivation) to scams and failed projects from the 2017 bull market, then you have heard horror stories, been elevator-pitched crypto by family members spewing abstract buzzwords, or likely, the topic just bores you to tears. Most people find discussing money alone a triggering topic, but I paraphrase one of Naval’s tweets to shake you from your stupor: DON’T PLAY STATUS GAMES!

Are you awake? Good.

The author, Andreas Antonopolous, is the real Bitcoin Jesus (not Roger Ver). Since 2014 (and probably a lot earlier), Andreas has been spreading the word of Satoshi around, championing for an open, decentralized, accessible, and borderless future. “The Internet of Money” is actually a collection of talks he’s given all around the world (many of them can be found on YouTube) at meetups and conferences. He admits he never plans any of his talks, and usually improvises a topic of discussion a few hours before he’s set to give it. So the entire book reads very naturally, because you are reading the words from someone whose rolling everything off his tongue in a live setting.

As topics around cryptonetworks can often be complicated and interdisciplinarian, materials found online are usually dense with jargon and acronyms. It can make for either a very boring read, or a very confusing one. Andreas, on the other hand, breaks the ideas of cryptoassets down to elementary concepts — typically a sign of someone who understands his field deeply. More than that, Andreas possesses outstanding mental models, with which he masterfully builds scaffolding around Bitcoin to give readers insightful angles for interpreting the importance and relevance of this technology. For those of you who are interested in such mental models, I summarize two examples he uses in the book in my tweet storms here and here.

Finally, he does all of this with deep foundational acknowledgement of the context of the times we live in — one in which scenarios of hyperinflation and deep distrust of our institutions is increasingly becoming generational priorities. In that sense, he is wildly successful. Disseminating knowledge is, as Angela Jiang puts it, “Knowledge Compression.” Andreas compresses knowledge in a high fidelity volume with very little loss of quality, and even those well-versed in the industry would be wise to soak in his moral-compass wisdom.

I would recommend this book to your mom.

Soundbite of the month

“I didn’t get into crypto to make money — I got in it to make freedom.” — Balaji Srinivasan

Earlier this month, Messari’s founder Ryan Selkis and Silicon Valley venture capitalist Balaji Srinivasan had a fireside chat discussing Messari’s 2021 Crypto Theses. Over two+ hours, they poured over Messari’s predictions and implications for 2021, discussing everything from Bitcoin, Ethereum 2.0, decentralized finance (DeFi), stablecoins, cloud cities, and everything else in between. At some point in the conversation, the topic turned towards making money in crypto, which unfortunately, ends up being a primary incentive for the conventional masses. Balaji then goes on to say there are countless better ways to make money — true that, because bootstrapping a decentralized ecosystem that distributes fair outcomes is not exactly easy. In this sense, he opines “making freedom” with crypto is much more important than making money with crypto.

This is in keeping with one of the original ethos of the decentralized space.

Although saying crypto is for freedom may sound like a rehearsed cliche reserved for the most nerdcore of diehards angry at mom and dad (central governments), it’s actually not an exaggeration at all. Those in the space with the purest intentions, including Andreas Antonopolous from the previous section, deeply believe in this sentiment. Crypto has the potential to rewire and reshift some of the fundamental power imbalances existing in our world today, where central governments and big corporations hold sway over our money, our data, our privacy, and ultimately, our freedom

To build the infrastructure of tomorrow, where sovereignty is won back for the individual — that, my friends, is the real goalpost.

Tweet of the month

Heck, I guess this month will be both crypto-heavy and Naval-heavy. Naval Ravikant is well known for his short-quipped, but remarkably wise “Navalism”s. Those close to me will know just how big of a fan I am of his!

The tweet of the month is Naval’s musing on the prerequisite input for success: learning. More emphatically, he points out education, on the other hand, is not.

Learning is largely curiosity-driven. You wouldn’t learn or retain if it wasn’t interesting to you. And if it wasn’t interesting? Then you learn because failing to do so carries downside risk (e.g. touching a cooking element, getting into a negligent car accident, or losing your medical practice license). Learning is therefore self-enabled, sovereign, and increasingly accessible with the vast resources of the internet. Moreover, learning is fundamentally evolutionary. We would not be here if our ape-like ancestors did not learn from watching their friend HoogaBooga eat a berry and then asphyxiate to death.

Learning and education are not mutually exclusive. You can obviously learn, a ton, with an education. You wouldn’t trust a surgeon with no skin in the game to operate on you. But the surgeon would have had to undergo a lot of foundational learning to get to where s/he is.

“Learning is following your curiosity. Education is following the matrix. Big difference.” — @Devesh_wy

On the other hand, too many people conflate credentialing with success. Rather, education certifies you as a good cog in the anachronistic work society with which we inherited from our industrial forebears. Make no mistake, education is important in the context of the brand-based, credential-heavy society we live in, but really just how good is education as a predictor of success? My sneaking suspicion is that the data may show stunning, unmerited correlation, while factors in learning go completely unnoticed or undervalued.

Follow your curiosities, not the herd. I went to university for business school because it was a safe choice. Practically speaking, it was a useless degree (with obvious attribution to my own shortcomings as an individual, ofcourse).

Thankfully, there are obvious signs of the pendulum swinging back towards the tinkerers and the self-enabled learners, with the proliferation of YouTube, free online schools, and mass of survivor-biased success stories

To weakly conclude: I think there’s probably room to reassess the values and priorities of our education system.

Triggers

There’s a famous saying that goes something like: “You will know whether you are truly equanimous or not when you have spent a full day with your parents.” Well, I have. And I guess I am not equanimous.

It’s been a few months since I have lived at home with my parents after coming back from Taiwan/long-haul backpacking: the prodigal return of the wayfaring son. Honestly speaking though, I was already at my limits a few weeks in. The rest has been baring my teeth gritting — listening to my mom nag, watching my dad lifelessly watching TV, or hearing another argument explode out of a corner of our home. And that’s so messed up! I love my parents deeply, but short of properly and non-violently communicating our emotions in an empathic and open way, nothing will change. This is my stubborn, hyper traditionally-oriented parents we are talking about here after all.

So if I can’t change other people, because ofcourse that is unfair and unreasonable, then what else is there left to do? Cue Michael Jackson’s Man in the Mirror.

Triggers.

It is fascinating how triggers work. They can be so rooted in the subconscious, it takes intentional observation to notice them. You might not notice your emotions shift subtlely when something/someone says or does something — but it’s there! And it’s so important to recognize it for what it is: hairpin triggers that at best may slightly ruin 5 minutes, or at its worst set off a grenade of cataclysmic emotions. The best solution I have to offer at the moment is to meditate and observe. The ironic thing is… one of my triggers is actually (no joke) hearing someone walking up the stairs while I am meditating. It’s completely my own neuroticism and my own doing. But that’s besides the point. When I noticed this trigger, I noticed that my heart rate intensifies, the hair on my arm rises, and I am already anticipating someone barging into the room asking for something. So this triggers set off a litany of expectations, which then preempts my emotions, and great, now I am already insufferable and on the defensive. Only in the end, literally no one is knocking on my door. I created my own mirage of suffering. That, my friends, is a trigger.

Nothing in the middle

Nassim Taleb employs an interesting mental model that he calls the “Barbell Strategy”. Most often applied in the realm of investing and finance, the strategy advocates for extremes on either end and nothing in the middle. In the 2008 recession, he became famous for profiting while the entire market slid into crisis. How? By being hyper aggressive on one end of his investment portfolio, and hyper conservative on the other. It allowed him to capture value asymmetrically. His riskiest assets, many of them bets on a black swan event like a global recession, sent his portfolio through the rafters, while his least riskiest assets kept him safe from generationally declining numbers. This would not have been possible had he been otherwise sitting indifferently in the middle with somewhat risky, somewhat safe plays.

“If you know that you are vulnerable to prediction errors, and accept that most risk measures are flawed, then your strategy is to be as hyper-conservative and hyper-aggressive as you can be, instead of being mildly aggressive or conservative.” — Nassim Taleb

Which got me to thinking, the barbell strategy is a great mental model that can easily apply to life! Many times in the past month, I found myself sitting in the middle — teeter-tottering between kind-of working, kind of “relaxing” on Twitter, switching to my phone, back to kind-of-working, and then onto YouTube. It doesn’t allow me to capture any of the full benefits of any one activity. Instead, I should have been either fully concentrated on writing/working, or intentionally veging out watching TV, playing video games, or focusing my effort into a chore around the house. Applying barbell would have allowed me to do so. It is an interesting model, and perhaps why pomodoro clocks are so highly regarded.

Another cousin of the barbell mental model is Derek Sivers’ “hell yes or no” methodology. If someone asks you to do something and it’s not an immediate “hell yes”, then it’s an automatic “no”. Both models are binary in nature. Your miles may vary ofcourse, but fixing binary choices to your decision-making or productivity simplifies the process.

Major December Milestones

  • ⛓ Released my first ever blockchain article detailing how the creation of definitive truth is why we should be paying attention to this space!
  • 🔗 I have another blockchain article already completed and passing through the editing phase: it will be about Bitcoin’s definitive truth
  • ❤️ Big personal announcement coming up next month! This one is a personally significant one that I can’t wait to reveal :)

That’s all folks! See you again in 2021!

Alssa and I, during a less pandemic-y time back in Taiwan in July 2020

Hey! If you actually made it this far into my story, then thank you from the bottom of my heart for your consideration, patience, and love for reading so much of my work. Words cannot express how much I appreciate it.

They say ‘writing = clear thinking’, so I am on my own journey to crystallize my thinking (and thus my writing). If you enjoyed this story, you can find more of my work on Medium here. I also occasionally make long form blog-style posts on Instagram here. You can also find me blabbering on Twitter here. Finally, be sure to visit my website.

What were your major lessons learned in December? Please do share! :-)

If you enjoy my content, please consider buying me a coffee! :)

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