Practical Lessons I Learned in 2020

Jan 03, 2021 · ideas

Rather than setting goals or reviewing particularly eventful periods in 2020, I think it is more interesting to dilute the mess that was this past year into concrete advice I can confidently carry into the future. This post is vaguely inspired by this listicle that I originally discovered on LessWrong.

1. Pay for Information

These past couple of years have shown that free information, particularly from major news publications, is not really free — it leaves important bits out, undercovers the interesting parts, and is often written with the goal of clickbaiting, enraging, and/or pushing their audience to one side or another with little room for discussion or thought.

This was the first year I began to read the Financial Times and The Economist, both of which cost a hefty penny but provide detailed and nuanced reporting. I believe this is due to financial incentive alignment; they've already received your money and have no incentive to lie or send an ad barrage your way. I'd argue this is a small price to pay for staying informed and protecting mental sanity.

2. Reddit is a Better Search Engine Than Google (In Some Cases)

Whenever shopping for anything or searching for human perspectives on a topic, appending reddit to a search query delivers much better results. Reddit posts are a place of discussion and debate among individuals which allows one to circumvent clickbaity listicles and cut right to the chase.

Now I only wish the search engine built into Reddit was better...

3. Consume More Longform Media

By longform media, I don't only mean books. This extends to podcasts, essays, and movies. Personally, I've found traditional articles to lack nuance (as I've explained earlier) and longform essays provide the ability to not only inform but also educate at a deeper level. This heuristic also tends to eliminate 99% of garbage floating around on the internet as longform content requires much more knowledge and dedication to produce.

Moreover, while I've discovered TV shows to be a time suck (unless the number of seasons is < 4), there have been several movies this past year that have changed my outlook on the world. The time necessary to watch a movie is significantly less than that required to watch a TV show, so I'm surprised this isn't argued more often.

4. Measure, Track, Record

Venture capitalists are notorious for asking for various KPIs (Key Performance Indicator) and metrics during pitches. While products may sound great or terrible on first impression, the numbers may tell an entirely different story.

In a similar vein, I've found setting personal KPIs to be an incredible way to stay on track towards one's goals. This could be keeping track of runtimes, caloric consumption, number of new individuals met, engagement on projects launched, etc. In hindsight, if you don't at a minimum broadly measure certain indices, how can you even be certain you are on the right track?

5. Link Habits to Form Systems

Back when I was on campus earlier this year, I worked out every single day, where I would lift weights for 5-6 days and run on the remainder. After working out, I'd generally wash up and go for a meal. By linking my workouts to my mealtime, I formed a system such that if I didn't work out, I would effectively forget to eat a meal due to my busy colllege schedule. I noticed that I rarely missed workouts and on the days that I did, I felt unusually hungry in the night, only then remembering that I had skipped a meal.

This sort of linking framework forms systems that push one towards their goals. It's described in great detail in James Clear's Atomic Habits, a book I read last year.

6. Learn From Nature, Not From People

Ideas derived from nature (how things fundamentally work) are more persistant than those derived from people (how things could work). Ideas from people change all the time. A programming language that is popular one year can entirely disappear in the next decade. However, the lower level compilation and how the code actually runs is likely to remain the same

7. FOMO Does Not Exist

As Bitcoin rallies past $30,000, it's important to recognize that there is no FOMO, or "fear of missing out", as there is always another opportunity in the future to make up for the one that you missed.

Adopting this idea has given me a peace of mind whenever I skipped out on hangouts to stay at home or missed an awfully obvious investment choice (in hindsight). In the future, I would be more diligent in making these opportunities happen again.

8. Learning via Repetition

Knowledge isn't free, it has to be learned. I found summarization and spaced repition to be incredibly helpful when preparing for courses this past year.

After a class was over, I would spend 15 minutes summarizing the contents of that lecture as if I was explaining it to someone else. This is loosely based off the Feynman technique. I used Anki for spaced repition. Any time there was a new theorem or piece of vocabularly I could easily forget, I would create a new card in Anki. I'd spend another 15 minutes every day going through my deck (which contained cards from all the courses I was taking).

9. Find Forums for Your Interests

Rather than just reading a book or watching lectures around a new interest, consider joining some sort of a forum (subreddits come to mind) to complement your learning. This past year, I was deeply invested in learning about personal finance and the stock market. While books provided me with the jargon necessary to comprehend ideas in finance, r/investing and some YouTube channels taught me what good due diligence looks like, how people spot for trends, and basic company valuation techniques (reading the three financial statments).

As I'm looking to purchase an Aeropress in the coming weeks, r/coffee has been a fantastic resource to get more immersed in the incredible world of coffee and brewing techniques.

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Copyright Varun Shenoy