March 10, 2022
 min read

Mind Macros 07: Defining enough, Occam's razor, and the fragility of life

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Hello, friend.

Welcome to another issue of Mind Macros - I hope you find something of value.

Food for Thought

1. Take artistic license with your life

“When a movie begins with the words ‘based on a true story,’ what crosses your mind? Do you assume every line of dialogue, every bit of clothing and song in the background is the same as it was in the true event on which the film was based? Of course you don’t. You know movies like Pearl Harbor or Erin Brockovich take artistic license with facts, shaping them so a coherent story will unfold with a beginning, middle, and end.

​Even biopics about the lives of musicians or politicians who are still alive are rarely the absolute truth. Some things are left out, or some people are fused into single characters.

​The details, you think when watching, are less important than the big picture, the general idea. If only you were so savvy when it came to looking back on the biopic in your head.”​ — From Happy by Derren Brown

We are often haunted by the details of our past.

Why did I say that? What an idiot! If only I hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t have come across as so rude.

Or larger events that plague us just as much, unhealthy relationships, dead-end jobs and toxic friends.

This microscopic analysis is a perspective problem; we’re obsessing over the granular details when we should be looking at the overall trend.

This image from Visualize Value helps remind us to zoom out.

2. Have you defined ‘enough’?

"The writers Kurt Vonnegut, the author of Slaughterhouse Five, and Joseph Heller, the author of Catch-22, were once at a party in a fancy neighborhood outside New York City.

​Standing in the palatial second home of some boring billionaire, Vonnegut began to needle his friend.

​'Joe,' he said, 'how does it feel that our host only yesterday may have made more money than your novel has earned in its entire history?'

​'I've got something he can never have,' Heller replied.

'And what on earth could that be?' Vonnegut asked.

'The knowledge that I've got enough.'"

​— From Stillness Is The Key by Ryan Holiday

The concept of enough can be applied to all aspects of our lives, but let’s look at how it impacts our finances.

Wanting to earn more is not a problem, so long as we’ve decided what enough means to us. Issues arise when we play the comparison game and begin setting moving goalposts that keep us living in a state of ‘I’m not enough,’ or ‘I’m not there yet.’

These goalposts can scale depending on who you are too.

The rookie athlete compares his income with that of the team's star, while the star contrasts his salary with that of a hedge fund manager. The hedge fund manager looks up to Warren Buffett, who in turn compares his wealth with Elon Musk’s.

Gaining the title of ‘richest person in the world’ is not the end, as there will always be more games to play. Having no fixed endpoint, it’s an unwinnable battle.

If we fail to define ‘enough,’ our ambitions will scale along with our achievements. Without describing the destination, how will we know when we’re there? After all, we cannot hit an invisible target.

Practical Advice

1. Use Occam’s razor to stop catastrophizing

“Simpler explanations are more likely to be true than complicated ones. This is the essence of Occam’s razor, a classic principle of logic and problem-solving. Instead of wasting your time trying to disprove complex scenarios, you can make decisions more confidently by basing them on the explanation that has the fewest moving parts.”​ — From The Great Mental Models by Shane Parrish

Many of us tend to dramatize everyday events, believing we are victims or the universe conspires against us.

Imagine our partner doesn’t reply to our text for a few hours. They usually reply within 15 minutes. After a few hours of silence, our thoughts begin to cascade:

Why are they ignoring me? Did I do something wrong? Who are they with? Are they seeing someone else? Is our relationship over?

Next, we begin cherry-picking examples from the previous week that reinforce the idea that something is amiss in the relationship.

All this might be helpful if you write romance thrillers. But it’s difficult to find a better definition of delusion than inventing narratives that support pre-existing theories, which in turn are used to justify actions.

If we apply Occam’s razor to this situation, they haven’t replied because they haven’t checked their phone, which could be due to several factors - none of which are likely as serious as we’re imagining. The most common being that their phone ran out of power.

2. Increase your response time

“When some event or interaction requires a response, you must train yourself to step back. This could mean physically removing yourself to a place where you can be alone and not feel any pressure to respond. Or it could mean writing that angry email but not sending it. You sleep on it for a day or two. You do not make phone calls or communicate while feeling some sudden emotion, particularly resentment.

​If you find yourself rushing to commit to people, to hire or be hired by them, step back and give it a day. Cool the emotions down. The longer you can take the better, because perspective comes with time.

​Consider this like resistance training—the longer you can resist reacting, the more mental space you have for actual reflection, and the stronger your mind will become.” — From The Laws of Human Nature by Robert Greene

90% of self-inflicted catastrophes can be avoided by waiting a day before responding.

By putting time between the trigger and our reaction, we’re allowing our brains to formulate a rational response rather than a knee-jerk emotional one.

Charlie Munger, Warren Buffett’s business partner, has a great observation on this:

“It is remarkable how much long-term advantage people like us have gotten by trying to be consistently not stupid, instead of trying to be very intelligent.”

Quotes to Ponder

1. Marcus Aurelius on contemplating our words, actions and thoughts:

“You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think.”

2. James Patterson on managing the fragile areas of life:

“Imagine life is a game in which you are juggling five balls…work, family, health, friends, and integrity…Work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. The other four balls…are made of glass.”

Thank you for reading,

Matthew Vere

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