Today I want to discuss some things that I normally don’t write about on this blog. There are now over 100 posts published here (wow, the time has flown by) with almost all of those being about travel therapy, early retirement/financial independence, or personal finance/investing. I did write one post about nutrition and one post about today’s society, but both of those were over a year ago when pretty much only Whitney and my mom were reading (Hey, Mom!).
Seasons of Life
As I mentioned in my about me section and introduction post for this blog, I have many interests and my life seems to go through “seasons” (as much as that is possible in 29 years of life with no kids…). I have an addictive and obsessive personality when it comes to knowledge, which I have come to embrace. This means that when I become interested in something, I become VERY interested to the point of other things in life falling by the wayside. I spend countless hours learning about that topic (taking in information from podcasts, books, research studies, other blogs, etc.). I research until I reach a point, eventually, where I feel that I have a very firm grasp on the subject and that further research would lead to significantly diminished returns on the time investment. This is definitely not always a good thing, but overall I believe that it has served me well and I have learned to better harness this tendency to positively influence my life as I’ve gotten older.
When I was younger, and felt that I hated to learn or use my brain in any meaningful way, this personality trait was expressed in my obsession with playing chess and video games. I spent tens of thousands of hours becoming as good as possible at chess (including lessons and national tournaments) and various video games (tournaments also involved). I never amounted to anything special in either of those domains, but I did become pretty good compared to those around me, which seemed to be my end goal at the time. Becoming proficient at those things did not serve me very well, but I want to illustrate how my desire to excel in different areas has been a consistent theme in my life.
What’s interesting to me is that, with all things in my life, I reach a point of proficiency that I am subconsciously happy with and then become mostly disinterested in that area. This happened with chess, video games, nutrition, exercise/lifting, health, physical therapy, and now it seems to be happening to me with personal finance and investing. All of these areas I spent thousands of hours learning (or playing), to the detriment of other areas of my life, only to eventually fall out of my favor. Personal finance and investing have been my obsession for the past three years, but as I get closer to proficiency (financial independence) the less I seem to care about the intricacies. I find myself being less excited to write about finance, less inclined to participate in Facebook discussions on things finance related, and even less interested in talking to people in my personal life about it. It’s not that I don’t care about it anymore, but more that I feel that I’ve reached the point of diminishing returns on the subject, which makes me less interested in learning and talking about it further.
I honestly thought that personal finance and investing was going to be where the proverbial buck stopped for me, but now I don’t believe that to be the case after further self reflection.
Two Types of People
The above personality trait is something that I never really realized I had until around the time I started this blog. I always assumed that I was the same as everyone else in my passion and style of learning, but now I’ve realized that most others are not this way. The people I’ve encountered seem to fall into two camps:
- Devote their lives to learning everything about a topic and become a master on that subject, or
- Have a vast array of knowledge about a variety of topics, but no significant knowledge about any one area.
I think of those two types of people as having knowledge that is an inch wide and a mile deep, or a mile wide and an inch deep. Or as a master of one trade vs. a jack of all trades. I feel that I’m in between those two types of people, and although I’ve met others that are as well, it doesn’t seem to be nearly as common. I’d say I go maybe 100 feet deep and a quarter of a mile wide? Eh, you get the point. I have no desire to be a master of any one subject, because I lose interest and think that the utility of learning additional information decreases quickly. But I also want a decent depth of knowledge on a subject to be able to have an intelligent debate on it throughout my life. What that says about me, I don’t know, but I’d love some opinions on the matter.
The New Age
What I find troubling is that with the rise of social media, I feel that there is, yet another, type of person that is/has emerged: the type of person that is willing to just never think in depth about anything. They just skate through life with superficial interactions, while basically living their life in a constant state of distraction. This type of person believes that they have significant understanding of a variety of topics, with very little or no actual research in the area. To make matters worse, they now have a platform (social media) to talk about their ill formed opinions and have their “friends” confirm their biases and feed into their certainty and expert status.
I think that this is extremely dangerous for us as a society and is becoming more and more the norm instead of the exception. This is what I want to have a discussion about and for people to recognize.
Rise of The Intellectually Lazy
I struggled coming up with a title for this post. That’s probably because I’m almost 1,000 words in and have barely touched on what I actually intended to write about. Another title I considered was “The Rise of Intellectual Laziness,” and although probably more fitting, I decided that would probably discourage some from reading. Nevertheless, the title I chose is relatively fitting. Deep thought about any subject seems to be gradually disappearing day by day.
I have been baffled many times in the past reading through internet “debates” (read: heated arguments) by two people who are incredibly certain of their opinion and aren’t willing to even consider the other side. They are extremely quick to resort to attacks on the intelligence and character of the other side, instead of being able to discuss the subject in a reasonable and intelligent manner. I also see people regularly “offended” by even the slightest indication that their view on a subject may be incomplete, or that their opinion may be changed by introducing new facts. It’s almost as if the majority of people tie their identity as a person to their opinions so that any opposing viewpoint is a direct attack against them as a person. I used to be baffled by this and always wondered why that would be; but after being introduced to some new ideas by some wonderful books, I think I have a hypothesis on why things are devolving so quickly and why no one wants to have intelligent debate anymore.
In short, people have so little basis for why they believe what they believe that when pressed by someone with an opposing (or even just different) stance on the subject, they immediately revert to being offended and to character attacks. This is because admitting to themselves and others the truth would damage their ego. To be clear, this is not a conscious decision but rather an unconscious defense mechanism at play to protect their ego. The sad part though is that it seems that often after the “discussion” has been had, instead of both sides being closer to a midpoint, they are even more polarized and certain that they are right than before. Instead of learning from the other side, questioning their own beliefs, and further researching, they have their supporters (friends and family who are also likely completely uninformed on the matter) confirm their biases. They also have the ability to “Google” exactly what they believe and read even more about how right their opinion is (further confirming their biases) without any exposure to the other side. Do you see how this is dangerous? It leads to people being completely certain that their ill formed conclusion on a topic is 100% right and that anyone who doesn’t see that is an idiot or intentionally evil. People with no real knowledge on a subject are just as confident that they are right (usually even more so) as someone with decades of research, experience, and expertise in the area, and they are even willing to argue with the experts! Crazy world, right?
If I’ve learned anything in life, it’s that there is never anything that is black and white. The more I learn about anything, the less certain I am of what I think is correct and the more questions I have. The problem with the type of people that I’m talking about is that they don’t know enough to know how little they know, which is frightening. This is exactly what David Dunning and James Kruger were talking about in the Dunning-Kruger Effect.
People are becoming more intellectually lazy and social media enables that behavior. Why put in the energy needed (and it literally does require energy to engage in deep thought) when it’s much easier to form an opinion based on article headlines and have your friends confirm that you’re right? Humans (and all other living creatures for that matter) have evolved to take the path of least resistance. Deep thought and research involve work and some adversity. It seems fewer and fewer people are willing to go that route and instead rely on article headlines and social media posts to shape their worldview. I think that this road eventually leads to destruction for us and needs to be changed soon. We can’t have a society of polarized people that are certain of their opinion on everything, with no real knowledge or background, without there also being significant violence, and I think that is what we’re seeing right now.
Unfortunately, as I mentioned earlier, these are not conscious choices but instead unconscious results of our current society for most people. Intellectual laziness is not just a result of social media. Like I said previously, it actually takes energy to engage in deep thinking. Let’s consider some health/lifestyle factors leading to the current situation in my opinion:
- Increasing prevalence of poor food choices
- Decreasing amounts of physical activity
- Quality and quantity of sleep are both decreasing
- Attention span is rapidly decreasing with smartphone usage
- Real social interaction is decreasing with the rise of digital communication
I think these factors are leading to depression as well as insulin resistance, and all of these factors feed into each other causing a downward spiral. I’d like to call this “The Circle of Unhappiness,” and I (poorly) created an illustration below:
I am no wizard with the “Paint” program, but hopefully this conveys the message I’m trying to get across.
Even though I created this in a circle, all of the factors really impact each other, not just the ones before and after. Poor sleep is associated with obesity, disease, impulsiveness, psychological disorders, insulin resistance, lack of attention, and decreased physical activity. Lack of physical activity is associated with obesity, chronic disease risk, depression, insulin resistance, and poor sleep. Poor nutrition is related to attention deficits, obesity, insulin resistance, less activity, and lower quality sleep. Do you see where I’m going with this?
These things are all interconnected, so I’m proposing that the lack of deep thought, increases in violence, psychological disorders, obesity, disease, tribalism, and unhappiness that we’re seeing in society today are all intertwined as well. I think that by making changes in our own lives (that will ultimately make us happier), and educating our friends and loved ones, we can change the entire society for the better and bring back deep thought and reason, as well as love and kindness.
I want to leave you with some practical tips on things that you can do to help address this issue (and share with others), and some resources where you can learn more.
- Sleep 8-9 hours per night.
- Avoid blue light in the evening that will disrupt melatonin production, leading to poor quality sleep.
- Find an eating style that works for you and allows you to maintain a healthy body weight.
- Avoid excessive alcohol consumption, especially close to bed.
- Engage in some form of resistance training that you enjoy at least 2-3x/week.
- Drink half of your body weight in ounces of water per day. (200 lbs = 100 ounces of water)
- Take daily walks outside to think, decrease stress, and get some vitamin D. (All of my best ideas happen while walking outside and thinking, including the idea for this blog post.)
- Incorporate some form of mindfulness, meditation, or prayer into your daily life to keep things in perspective and decrease stress.
- Don’t allow yourself to be constantly distracted by social media which erodes your attention span and decreases actual, physical, social interaction.
- Read nonfiction books often on topics that interest you.
- Listen to podcasts hosted by people that are smarter than you on topics that interest you.
- Encourage and engage in the discussion of thoughts and ideas with friends and family without allowing them to devolve into attacks on intelligence and character.
- Get your finances in order! This is a major source of stress for most people in the developed world. Reach a point of financial independence as quickly as is comfortable for you.
- Actively challenge your biases by seeking out opposing viewpoints with an open mind. The more passionate you are about an idea, and the more confident you are that you’re right, the more you need to make sure to challenge that idea with an open mind.
- Assume that the “other side” of any topic or idea has some individuals that are more intelligent and more kindhearted than you are. Instead of thinking that everyone with an opposing viewpoint is an idiot, assume that they are extremely intelligent. Attempt to reconsile how someone more kind and intelligent than you could have the exact opposite view on a matter. This is a valuable and enlightening practice in my experience.
Resources to Learn More
Much of this post is influenced by books I’ve read recently, in addition to years of learning from and listening to people much smarter than I am. Here are some great books and podcasts to check out.
- “Misbehaving: The Making of Behavior Economics“
- “Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams“
- “Sleep Smarter: 21 Essential Strategies to Sleep Your Way to A Better Body, Better Health, and Bigger Success“
- “Thinking, Fast and Slow“
- “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life“
- Hidden Brain
- You Are Not So Smart
- Waking Up with Sam Harris
- The Model Health Show
- Radical Personal Finance
- The Tim Ferriss Show
- The Joe Rogan Experience
If you made it this far then thanks for reading my ramblings. At this point you can probably guess what my new area of interest has been lately. Psychology, philosophy, and sociology are areas that I’ve been interested in for a long time but have really been a focus recently. I’ll definitely still continue to write about personal finance, investing, and travel therapy in the future, but I’ll also be incorporating more posts like this when I have the time and inspiration to write them. I hope that you got some value out of this, and if so, please comment below (or on Facebook) and share with you friends and family that may be interested. If you disagree or think I’m completely off base in my thoughts, I’d love to hear that as well!