Written by Dima Syrotkin, Founder at Panda Training
A bit more than a year ago I started reading 1+ book per week (here is an article with the list of 50 for which I’ve published reviews). This was the single most profound change in my habits so far. Actions speak louder than words. That’s why I wanted to show what practical changes and effects this habit had on my life.
Even though I only added this in the “Other” category when reviewing Poor Charlie’s Almanac (A) by Charlie Munger, this quote started my journey of taking reading seriously:
“In my whole life, I have known no wise people (over a broad subject matter area) who didn’t read all the time — none, zero. You’d be amazed at how much Warren reads–and at how much I read. My children laugh at me. They think I’m a book with a couple of legs sticking out.”– Charlie Munger
As you see, in order to start reading, I had to read 😅 Quick advice to those who want to read more (what worked for me):
- Drop the book if you don’t like it. Yes, really. Right away. If you don’t, it’s likely to discourage you from others you might have enjoyed. Also, it’s okay to jump around. Don’t like the chapter? Check the one that sounds more interesting. Joy has to be a part of reading, if it isn’t you are not going to read.
- Make a public commitment. Something like this could work where you commit to admitting failure. Writing reviews worked amazingly well for me, plus it allows me to come back to the central ideas I liked the most to refresh my memory.
- Audiobooks! Oh my god, audiobooks (so far only used Audible). If you think they are not for you, try the speed-up function! Surprisingly, making the book play at 3X normal speed makes me more focused on the content not less. I speed-up everything now, from Youtube videos to Spotify podcasts.
Writing down principles
Reading Ray Dalio’s Principles (A) inspired me to write my own checklist for life. I started tracking my principles, values, mission, interests, projects, strengths, beliefs, assumptions, etc in one document.
“Principles are fundamental truths that serve as the foundations for behavior that gets you what you want out of life. They can be applied again and again in similar situations to help you achieve your goals.”– Ray Dalio
Building habits by tracking them
In the past months, I’ve built a number of habits (some more are still work in progress) around reading, meditation, yoga, sleep, food, limiting TV/movies, and games. The biggest hack was having a habit tracker. It all started with an incredible book Atomic Habits (A) by James Clear:
“Keep a habit tracker: i.e. have a calendar where you put an X on each day if you did a habit that day. It can also be having two jars with a certain amount of paper clips in one of them. When you do a certain task (i.e. call a potential client), move a clip from one jar to another. Don’t stop until all are moved, repeat the next day.”
I rarely write anything and put it on a wall, usually only digitally. After reading Awareness (A) by Anthony de Mello I wrote down and put on the wall “If I die tomorrow, I will die happy” and “Observe Dima without trying to change Him”. Instead of me talking I will just include two quotes that I think are truly transformational.
“When the archer shoots for no particular prize, he has all his skills; when he shoots to win a brass buckle, he is already nervous; when he shoots for a gold prize, he goes blind, sees two targets, and is out of his mind. His skill has not changed, but the prize divides him. He cares! He thinks more of winning than of shooting, and the need to win drains him of power.”– Anthony de Mello
“You will fear no one and you will fear nothing. Isn’t that extraordinary? You’ll live like a king, like a queen. This is what it means to live like royalty. Not rubbish like getting your picture in the newspapers or having a lot of money. That’s a lot of rot. You fear no one because you’re perfectly content to be nobody. You don’t give a damn about success or failure. They mean nothing. Honor, disgrace, they mean nothing!”– Anthony de Mello
Aligning my actions to advance the progress of aging research and longevity in the long-term
I’ve been interested in longevity before, but Lifespan (A+) by David Sinclair made me a lot more serious and made me think about the long-term prospects and how those might be affected by my actions in the present.
We’re on the cusp of upending nearly every idea we’ve ever had about what it means to be human. And that has a lot of people saying not just that it can’t be done but that it shouldn’t be done—for it will surely lead to our doom.
Realizing that untapped human potential is the biggest secret I know
In Zero to One (A-) Peter Thiel said that “great businesses are built on secrets”. After reading The Listening Society (A+) by Hanzi Freinacht, which I heralded as the best book I’ve read in a while, I realized that the secret I’m building my startup around is that there is huge untapped human potential. I truly believe that we can unlock that potential if we develop the right tools for personal development, reflection, developing self-awareness.
The king’s road to a good future society is personal development and psychological growth.
Inner experience – and the direct development of the subjectivity of organisms – is crucial to all things, and is perhaps the main ingredient lacking in the perspective of the modern world; acknowledging inner experience is often the golden key to managing society’s problems.
There is a great fabric of relations, behaviors and emotions, reverberating with human and animal bliss and suffering, a web of intimate and formal relations, both direct and indirect. Nasty whirlwinds of feedback cycles blow through this great multidimensional web, pulsating with hurt and degradation. My lacking human development blocks your possible human development. My lack of understanding of you, your needs and perspectives, hurts you in a million subtle ways. I become a bad lover, a bad colleague, a bad fellow citizen and human being. We are interconnected: You cannot get away from my hurt and wounds. They will follow you all of your life – I will be your daughter’s abusive boyfriend, your belligerent neighbor from hell. And you will never grow wings, because there will always be mean bosses, misunderstanding families and envious friends. And you will tell yourself that is how life must be.
Niche, niche, niche!
Finding your niche is something people in business/marketing have heard over and over again. It’s common sense. But is it really common practice? At least for me, it wasn’t. Crossing the chasm (A-) by Geoffrey Moore was revealing in the sense that picking a niche is not only about more targeted product development but also about recognition within the niche and word of mouth. That is how we went from 50 EUR in monthly recurring revenue to 750 EUR in monthly recurring revenue and 2 investments in the GrowthClub startup I’m advising: by focusing on a niche of entrepreneurs instead of having a service open for all personal growth enthusiasts.
Winning at marketing more often than not means being the biggest fish in the pond. If we are very small, then we must search out a very small pond indeed. To qualify as a “real pond,” as we also noted before, its members must be aware of themselves as a group, that is, it must constitute a self-referencing market segment, so that when we establish a leadership position with some of its members, they will get the word out—quickly and economically—to the rest.
Antifragile (A) by Nassim Taleb is a mindblowing book. First, it introduced me to the barbell strategy. In finance, a barbell strategy is formed when a trader invests in long- and short-duration bonds, but does not invest in intermediate-duration bonds. In other areas, this means investing in the combination of super conservative and super risky stuff. Example from my life: I am starting a PhD (super conservative) and I am involved in two startups (super risky) but I am in no rush to pick up a 9-17 job, freelance or open a traditional business (middle risk).
If you put 90% of your wealth in boring cash or government bonds and 10% in very risky securities, you cannot loose more than 10%. But you also have massive upside potential. Compare this to someone with 100% in so-called “medium” risk securities. They risk total ruin from the miscomputation of risks. (Not just Black Swans.)
Time and Negative Knowledge
On the Shortness of Life (B+) by Seneca wasn’t new in many regards, but it reminded me of a very important insight:
“People are frugal in guarding their personal property; but as soon as it comes to squandering time they are most wasteful of the one thing in which it is right to be stingy.”– Seneca
Combined with another insight about ‘negative knowledge’ from Antifragile (A), you will understand why most of my habit building and life optimization revolves about cutting things out of my life, minimalism, saying no to useless meetings:
“In practice it is the negative that’s used by the pros, those selected by evolution: chess grandmasters usually win by not losing; people become rich by not going bust (particularly when others do); religions are mostly about interdicts; the learning of life is about what to avoid. Negative knowledge (what is wrong, what does not work) is more robust to error than positive knowledge (what is right, what works). So knowledge grows by subtraction much more than by addition—given that what we know today might turn out to be wrong but what we know to be wrong cannot turn out to be right, at least not easily. If I spot a black swan (not capitalized), I can be quite certain that the statement “all swans are white” is wrong. But even if I have never seen a black swan, I can never hold such a statement to be true.”Nassim Taleb
Before reading The Fifth Discipline (B) by Peter Senge I thought I understood what systems thinking is. I was wrong. This changed my mindset dramatically trying to spot feedback loops everywhere. One big part of it is my work at Panda Training. What we realized is that coaching doesn’t have to be only a bottom-up tool. You can use anonymized data extracted from the coaching processes to understand how the system works and use the top-bottom approach to fix that system. You can read more on our website.
“Systems thinkers see the problem entirely differently. They see immense positive feedback loops causing swarms of agents to exploit the Earth for their own benefit and population growth. This mode becomes unsustainable when negative feedback loops finally start to push back as environmental limits are approached. They don’t see people’s misbehavior as the problem. Instead, they see the structure of the system as causing that misbehavior. To solve the problem, system structure must be understood and changed, so that feedback loops can be redesigned to cause people to behave sustainably as a natural part of their everyday existence. This takes far more work than writing a few quick new laws and pleading to save the world.”– Peter Senge
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About the author
Dima Syrotkin is a founder of Panda Training, an adviser at GrowthClub, a bookworm and soon-to-be a PhD graduate. Dima is looking for Coal Replacement Heating ideas (HEC) and studies factors that affect longevity.