Monthly Archives: February 2020

Lessons I learned from the book Poor Charlie’s Almanack

In this post, you’ll find a few lessons I learned from the book Poor Charlie’s Almanack.

Life and the universe around us are both very difficult puzzles. The crazy thing about it is not the degree of difficulty of each, but the fact that we have to solve both within the limited constraint of a human lifetime. So it stands true that the best we can do is to try to solve our part of the mystery, and we can only do it well by establishing a relationship with the wisest around us, both the living and the dead.

Once in awhile the wisest among us give us the gift of their wisdom through the written word, where it will, as a result, propel what the knowledge through generations and time. This post is about the book Poor Charlie’s Almanack by Charlie Munger, which is perhaps one of the most important books anyone of any demographic should read at least once in their lifetime.

Lessons I learned from the book Poor Charlie’s Almanack

The time we live in is one in which it’s easy for anyone whether skilled or not to do anything regardless of whether it takes skill or not. One of these things is writing. Today anyone can write a book, and if we’re lucky we’ll find a golden nugget or two in it. Most of the time, however, the shiny cover and the shiny tittle are all there is to the book. When you’re done you’re lucky if you’re as clear-minded as you were before you started. But we needn’t lose hope. There are still a few books out there packed with knowledge and this is one of them. Below are two big, but by no means the only takeaways I got from it.

The pursuit of knowledge

The first big thing was the emphasis on knowledge acquisition made by the author throughout the book. When it comes to self-improvement advice, tons of people out there tell us about the importance of working on ourselves continuously. Few mention the knowledge aspect of it, and the few who do most don’t live what they preach. One of the head raisers I got from the book was that both friends and family members reported how the preacher not only wasn’t a hypocrite but also lived hist truth to the fullest.

So he advises us to improve ourselves by improving our minds. And the way to improve our minds is through the pursuit of knowledge. This knowledge could be in person through mentors, or through the written word, by reading what the wisest who we don’t have access to have written.

The thing about the pursuit of knowledge is that the return per time effort invested is often orders of magnitude higher. What you learn today stays with you forever. It’s essentially the same as paying making a $10 investment today on a machine that keeps on printing money indefinitely.

The removal of ignorance

Still on the same vein is the idea of removal of ignorance taught in the book. Something happens the more you read on a varied number of subjects, and it’s that not surprisingly you become less and less ignorant over time given that you enter the learning experience with an open mind. As we discussed, life is too complex, and to handle that complexity our brains come up with mini theories on virtually everything around us. Most of these little theories tend to be wrong, but the problem is that 1) we don’t know which ones are wrong, and 2) these theories are a part of who we are. We believe in them, and in some sense, we are them, as they are us. This is why it can be difficult to give up a belief we hold dear even in the light of overwhelming evidence pointing against it.

So it’s important to begin your studying with an open mind and to fight against the tendency to discard any new and conflicting piece of knowledge you get thrown your way because it either will be an opportunity to decrease your level of ignorance, or a chance to sharpen your reasoning skills as well as your ability to defend your points through the use of logic.

Math and science

One very important thing the book mentions is also the kinds of disciplines to study and the reasons for it. The reason why different disciplines can be more or less beneficial is that different benefits can exercise your thinking in different ways. Take math and science for example. Instead of just taking what’s give, both have at their core the need to problem-solve. The deeper you get into math and science the more you adapt your brain to solve problems for whose solutions will likely come not from a cookbook but from the combination of struggle and creativity. There is also the self-doubt that you eventually grow to tolerate, whose effects can be so damaging as to prevent you from gaining the insights you so desperately seek.

Math and science force you to think differently. At first, this way of thinking will likely be unnatural to your mind, and this is probably the reason why most people quit after a few tries.

I have a background in computer science

One real-life example comes from me. I have a computer science background, and I could definitely see how thinking about problems in my field all day long eventually translate into real-life non-computing related problems. He needs to reduce the complexity of a problem so you can solve it better, as well as the desire create solutions that allow you to solve a multitude of problems is one of these things that every software developer is born with, or eventually grows to appreciate with the passage of time. The point is that even if math and science seem difficult at first, you owe it to yourself to take the first steps towards the land of understanding.

Cognitive biases

The second big picture idea I got from the book was with regard to the human mind’s propensity for error. Again, life and the world around us is too complex to understand all at once. There are just too many variables to keep track of  and it’s not too large the number that would be enough to keep us busy for a lifetime. So the mind comes up with shortcuts for faster decision making. Rules of thumb. The problem with these rules of thumb is that what you gain in speed you lose inaccuracy. Often your decision will be the right decision, but there are some cases in which it just isn’t. The book brings awareness to this fact as a way to help us make better decisions. These cognitive biases were useful in the earlier times of human history. Now, even with time on our side, i. not being in the act or die kind of environment, we still rely on these primitive decision-making shortcuts. The problem with many of the instinctive mechanisms that run our lives is that we often don’t realize they’re at play. It’s as if for the car, it and itself only is the reason why the wheels are spinning and turning at a given time when there Is some entity at a higher level giving the commands. The only difference here is that becoming more aware of them is the first step towards having the power to decide whether we want them to make /not make the decisions. Knowing alone gives you power.

Summary

These are a few of the things I learned from the book. As I said before these are by no means the only golden nuggets you can take from it. The book is an ocean of ideas that might be ground-breaking to such an extent that they might even change your life. I definitely recommend reading it from cover to cover once, and then again, and again, in essence making it more than just a read once and shelve kind of book but a friend. As a final note, I leave you with the one quote that I carry with me till the day of this writing and that is: “Spend each day trying to be a little wiser than you were when you woke up. Discharge your duties faithfully and well. Step by step you get ahead but not necessarily in fast spurts, but you build discipline by preparing for fast spurts. Slug it out one inch at a time, day by day. At the end of the day, if you live long enough, most people get what they deserve. ”

It is all about knowledge and experience 😉

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Statistics, Evidence, and Willpower

In this post, we’ll have a quick discussion on how to improve will-power in a way most people have never thought about before.

Willpower is one of the most important things for anyone who has goals and dreams, especially if these goals and dreams are ambitions. Because the bigger and more ambitious the goal, the harder it tends to be. As the saying goes, if it was easy everyone would do it. To get ourselves to do the things that we need to do in order to achieve our goals there are two main strategies:

  1. Habits
  2. Will-power

Lots have been written about habit formation both out there and on this website alike. The same goes for will-power, but this post, as mentioned above is here to bring new light to the second strategy.

Statistics evidence and will-power

The times we live in today is one of science. With the passage of time, we get a greater and more comprehensive understanding of the world around us. With this increased understanding we gain greater control of our environment, and things that once we’re out of our reach are not only possible now, but also second nature to us. We watch TV, use GPS with the same ease of breathing or eating. When we get sick we no longer resort to prayers and the hope of healing, but we also look more and more into what medicine has to say in the topic. How did we get here? One might say science, but the answer is much deeper than that. When we think of science we think of theories coming from the brains of geniuses in incredible feats of intelligence and creativity. We think Einstein and Newton, people whose intellects leave us and generations breathless. Yes, a part of the reason why we’ve gotten here is these moments of genius insight. But the big picture is simpler than that.

Evidence

One of the bases of what makes science is evidence. Empiric evidence as they say. It’s not enough to think the framework of thought and convince the world of its truth. The final say comes not from the number of followers you have, but from the ability to make predictions from your hypothesis. When you get it right it’s as if through experiments, you’ve gained the power to simulate the universe. Like a computer programmer, you can think and make something happen because you know how that particular part of the fabric of the universe works.

This is why getting evidence against a hypothesis is enough to kill the hypothesis. Through your framework of thought you’ve predicted black, but what you’ve got is white. You thought you understood, but now you realize you didn’t.

Statistics

The thing about evidence is that it by itself is not to prove a hypothesis. In case you’re not familiar with the term, to put it simply a hypothesis is what you’d call a theory. Technically speaking, a theory is a hypothesis that has been proven unlikely to be untrue. Be that through an enormous amount of confirming evidence or through the use of rules of logic. Having one case in which your hypothesis holds is not enough to prove it right. Not even two, three or a hundred. What makes you think that on the 1 millionth experiment your hypothesis will have its first disconfirming evidence? In science to prove something to be true is a hard goal, sometimes so difficult that we settle for the next best thing: the fact that we haven’t found disconfirming evidence for what we believe to be true. This is where we begin to enter the field of confidence intervals, the law of large numbers the field of statistics is known for, simply because we surrender to a weaker version of what we consider to be true namely: that which has been tested countless times and so far it hasn’t gotten any disconfirming evidence.

Will Power

That’s all interesting and good but how does it relate to willpower? Well. The ability to get ourselves to continue doing that which is unpleasant is a function of many things. The amount of sleep you’ve had the previous night, health physical and mental as well as the reason behind it. One of the factors we rarely address is the fact that sometimes we give up because we falsely believe we have no chance to win.

The overweight man/woman quits on weightloss plan not because the plan hasn’t worked yet, but because he/she falsely concluded that it will never work. This is, in my opinion, the most detrimental belief one can have. We quit on our dreams because the first few failures lead us to believe we’re not cut for it. But how can you know that? Because you’ve failed 10 or 20 times? Does that mean you can’t make it?

In science, a drug can work for 15 people, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the drug is the reason why people have gotten better. In science, there is a need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that what we think of as the truth really is the truth, and I think we should do the same when it comes to our goals and dreams. Failing a few times is no proof that you can’t make it special when there have been countless stories of people who’ve literally failed their way to success.

The point is to take a scientific approach to your self-improvement journey. To not quit too early to see the benefits, nor to hang on for too long to miss the change to try any other alternatives. This will allow you to know when to persevere, and for how long, as well as to be guilt-free when the time comes that you amount enough evidence to decide to quit on a given approach.

My proposal is to set a given number of experiments/trials for any given self-improvement approach. To set a number so high that you’re either guaranteed to succeed due to the law of averages effect or to quit with confidence like the gold seeker would after digging every inch of the expected to be profitable area.

It is all about knowledge and experience 😉

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