I've been struggling getting back into the swing of things after my summer vacation and feeling jet-lagged.
What makes it worse: I know there are all these things I should be doing (again) that I'm not doing. For example: pick up my morning & evening routines, exercise more, schedule my weekly priorities.
I often find people interested in personal development (myself included) have a bias to asking 'what can I do' or more often 'what should I do', e.g.
- What can I do to improve my health/relationships/leadership qualities?
- How can I succeed at X?
- Would you recommend that I do X?
Call this a positive, affirmative, confirming perspective.
Then, I was reminded of an alternative: via negativa.
The concept comes from theology and is about what cannot be said about god (e.g. 'God is neither light nor darkness'), as opposed to trying to describe what god is like in positive terms (e.g. 'God is just').
In Nassim Taleb's book Antifragile he takes the concept to decision-making: investing, career choices and - more generally - managing risk.
The point: asking what should not be done can be more valuable than asking what should be done.
- One piece of disconfirming evidence can overturn lots of confirming evidence ('all swans are white' but I have seen a black swan).
- Confirming evidence tells us that something might be true under certain conditions, but disconfirming evidence definitely tells us it is false in a certain situation.
- Looking for disconfirming evidence helps avoid confirmation bias where we seek out information that aligns with our existing beliefs.
What does this mean for our lives more concretely?
In investing, knowing when to say No to an investment may be more prudent than knowing (or believing to know) when to say Yes. It's the secret behind Warren Buffet's & Charles Munger's success.
In politics, we focus and criticize politicians so much for what they have done, but fail to see, hold them accountable or applaud them for what they have not done: not taking action on global risks, not going to war, not taking bribes.
In leadership, there is a lot of advice out there on what leaders should do. It's easy to get lost and forget the basics, the leadership traps to avoid, all essentially pointing to: don't be an asshole (simple but not easy).
In big life choices, we know from research that later in life, we will regret more what we have not done than what we have done. So, what are you not doing that you will regret not doing?
And - coming back to my current struggle - in our efforts to improve our daily lives: what are the things that I should not be doing? A few things for me right now: not scheduling my week without breaks, no junk food and alcohol, not trying too hard to go to sleep.
Not stressing out about all the things I could or should be doing: that's the concrete value of via negativa for me right now.
What's something you should not be doing?
p.s. 👇 below are 2 new podcasts, what I'm currently reading and my favourite quote this week
🎙️ My latest podcast
The podcast is back from summer-break!
2 weeks ago, I published a conversation with Carina Beckmann on Deciding to run for office. Today, on the same topic of running for office, an episode with Sahak
Carina and Sahak are both running to be candidates for the pan-European party Volt Europa for the European elections in 2024. They share their personal motivation, how they made the decision to run, and other insights & tips they have for anyone considering taking the step.
📚 What I read & listen to
Re-reading my notes on Nassim Taleb's book Antifragile:
And enjoying this talk by Taleb (and a great summary of the book):
🖋️ My favourite quote
"It's 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." - Charles Munger