Sunday Wisdom No. 75
When you have options, you don’t have to care about the average outcome—only the favourable outcomes. Because your wins far outweigh your losses.
Welcome to Issue 75
👋 Hi, I’m Abhishek. Welcome to Sunday Wisdom—a weekly advice column on decision-making, clear thinking, creativity, and everything else that’s stressing you out in business and life. I appreciate you being here. If you are loving Sunday Wisdom, you can buy me coffee or share this newsletter with a friend.
What I’m Thinking
Optionality: When More is Merrier
In the short story Without Glasses, the house help mistakenly breaks the author Robert Lynd’s glasses thus making him angry. Lynd makes an interesting case explaining his plight. What he wants, more than anything, is the ability to pickup today’s newspaper and read it if he wishes. What angers him is that he doesn’t have that option any more.
I had read this story as part of my school curriculum, and Lynd’s argument had made an impression on me as a kid. He stresses upon the significance of having options available. Let’s understand why that is important.
One of my childhood friends suffers from constant money problems. It’s not that he doesn’t earn enough; more like he doesn’t know how to keep it with him. Despite earning above average, he is constantly running out of money. Like him there are countless others who don’t know how to think about money.
Those who don’t have money problems have other kinds of problems. We call them life problems. Life problems come in many forms—relationship problems, work problems, health problems, personal problems, etc. All of them fall under the category of what I call visible problems. But the roots of all problems, that lie above money and life problems, are invisible to us. They are thinking problems.
Bad thinking is the root of all mess in our life. Most of us don’t know how to think, and the sad truth is that none of us are aware of it. Sure all of us do some sort of thinking, but what we call thinking is unstructured, foggy, and all over the place.
When we know how to think well, money and life problems become easier to solve. The art of structured thinking is the art of taking a step back, identifying the status quo, reassessing situations, and reframing them into a problem statements. I discuss this and more in RE:Thinking, my live online course on structured thinking.
Why I Live Below My Means
In this video I talk about some key insights on building long-term wealth, and share some of my lifestyle choices—why I live my life and spend my money in a certain way—and their benefits. Hope you would learn a thing or two about wealth from this.
What I’m Learning
Communication is Co-creation
A strange truth about communicating is that we don’t get to choose whether we do it or not. In the presence of others, we are always sending messages. And in the online era we are almost always in the presence of others.
When someone sends you an email, you communicate either by replying or by not replying; when someone comments on a picture you posted on Facebook, you communicate either by liking the comment or by not liking it; when you read a WhatsApp message without replying to it, the other person wonders what you meant by that.
Even when you deliberately send a message, you have frustratingly little say over it. You can say or text the words “I like you” and the other person might receive them as “I despise you”. You can carefully explain why you believe something to be true and the other person can walk away with a totally different idea of why you believe it.
What your interlocutor thinks you mean is heavily influenced by what they know about you, or think they know about you. That might be a lot, in the case of a spouse who “knows you better than you know yourself”, or almost nothing, in the case of a stranger, in which case the void may be filled by stereotypes and prejudices. Either way, the impact of what comes out of your mouth or your phone is not something you can ever fully control.
The truth is, it’s misleading to think of communication as an individual act of will. A person doesn’t simply decide when or what to communicate; she participates in a communication that’s always already underway. Communication is co-creation, whether or not we want it be.
Dealing With Chronic Stress
Constant pressure to push yourself creates chronic stress, and there’s all sorts of studies that show that chronic stress is really bad for you.
in order to understand how much we should be pushing ourselves, we have to better understand stress. We need to understand what the stress of pushing ourselves does to our bodies, how much of it we can take, and how we can, hopefully, learn to cope with it.
Stress is an external factor that causes stress response in your body. The stress response pushes certain parts of your body into high gear—but it also turns certain parts of your body off. For example, when you’re stressed digestion is inhibited. What’s the point of wasting energy on digesting food for later when you might not even survive for 10 more minutes?
This makes sense if you have to deal with stress temporarily, but humans have developed enhanced stress anticipation ability through the centuries. We anticipate bad things months, years, or even decades out. And when we do this, the very same stress response gets turned on—even though there is no immediate danger, and there is no immediate way to avoid it.
Suddenly, you aren’t just activating the stress response for a few minutes when you’re running for your life. Instead, it’s activated all the time—chronically. And this is when the problems start.
Now you start to have problems. Suddenly, your digestive system isn’t just inhibited for a few minutes while you’re escaping danger. It’s chronically inhibited. The same thing happens with your immune system—chronic stress tamps it down, and makes it harder for you to fight off diseases.
Stress isn’t good or bad. It’s a tool. In small doses it’s good, but too much of a good thing becomes a bad thing pretty quickly.
When your stress response is working properly it makes you run faster, your memory gets better, you’re able to focus better. But when your stress response is over-activated, or chronically activated—you get ulcers and heart disease.
So it’s great to push yourself—but you should be paying attention to the signs that tell you that you need a break. It’s to give yourself plenty of ways to manage stress while you’re going through it, so that it doesn’t affect you as badly as it could.
Interestingly, stress isn’t mathematical. Expose the same person to the same stressor and they will have different stress responses based on their coping strategies. Which means if you want to live a life where you’re pushing yourself, it’s best to develop a variety of coping strategies to help you manage it. Just knowing you have the option to reduce stress is enough to make something less stressful—even if you’re not actually controlling the stressors at all.
That’s why, if you take therapy, the first few sessions are often so powerful. You realise there is a way to manage how you’re feeling, even though you probably haven’t gotten around it yet.
Here are couple of ways to deal with stress:
When you’re facing mild to moderate stressors, ask yourself, How can I increase my sense of control in this situation? You might find there are simple answers that will make you feel better.
Making the stressors in your life more predictable can have a similar effect. For example, don’t observe how your stocks are performing every other minute if it gives you a mild heart attack every time.
Try exercising or journaling as outlets for your stress. Make sure not to lash out on your spouse or coworkers.
Lastly, create a vibrant sense of social support amongst friends and family..
Pain isn’t Gain
One thing that is incredibly clear about pain is that it’s an action signal. Touch the stove, it hurts almost instantly, so you pull your hand away. If you don’t do it fast enough, you’ll not only get a burn, but also lose all the skin on your hand. We naturally understand that pain is trying to tell us something, and we respond to it.
But for some reason, fitness makes people dumb about it. They think they need to experience the pain, and that it somehow correlates with results. So they ignore pain, what it’s trying to tell them, and push through.
If you push too much, it can get complicated soon, and pain can become chronic pain—one of the worst things you can have to live with.
Pain always means either of the following two: you are doing something too much, or you’re not doing something enough. It’s the single best heuristic to figure out what’s wrong.
Never, ever, ignore pain signals. They’re trying to tell you something.
👋 That’s All!
As always, please give me feedback. Did any of the stories resonate with you? Do you disagree with anything? What do you want more or less of? Any other suggestions? Please let me know in the comments, or simply reply to this email.