Eliminate Low-Effort Inputs
I define low-effort inputs as data points (impressions) you're exposed to in your environment you don't have to spend any effort to consume.
Indulging in these inputs is like downloading a virus that hijacks your brain, lowers your IQ and makes it 10x harder to become happy, healthy, wealthy.
The different kinds of inputs:
TV: Maybe one of the worst. Reality shows that lowers your IQ, 24-hour news that spikes your cortisol, sports events that’s designed to invoke your emotions. TV Series that make you live in their hyperreality, and you end up having deeper relationships with virtual characters than your own family.
Radio & Music: Used as background noise. Subtly affect major parts of the brain.
Modern Movies: If not consciously chosen these are designed to influence you with super tailored music, film, script and acting all created to entice certain emotions inside of you.
Porn: Trick your brain into believing that you've fucked the entire village, the dopamine rush is close to nothing else. Rewires your brain.
Social Media: It’s entertainment. Even though you may look at business or self-development content, the effectiveness of the content is less than 1% of reading books. Eg. how many hours of content you have to consume before a behavior change occurs. It’s 100x more effective reading books, or conversing with smart people than watching youtube videos. Twitter is similar to youtube. Facebook & Instagram is pure poison.
People: One of the greatest influences of human behaviour. “Monkey see monkey do”. Same with emotions, if someone in your close circle is depressed, it won’t take long before you’re depressed too.
Environment: The zeitgeist of the place you're living. The physical environment around you. The clothes you're wearing. Art on the wall.
In the following few paragraphs I will exemplify the issue with these forms of mediums from several different angels.
GIGO - Garbage In Garbage Out
Imagine how much easier your life would be if you didn't have to fight against your own thoughts. Your default state was total focus. You wake up and your first thought is a new business strategy. You don’t have to force yourself to work or do what you’re supposed to do, it happens automatically. To achieve this state, we need to understand where our thoughts come from.
Let's suppose that your thoughts are “produced” in the subconscious and bubble up to the surface of your conscious mind. In your subconscious there are “thoughts-factories” constantly pumping out all kinds of thoughts. Everything from your environment, to worrying about your financial situation, to thinking about the opposite sex is produced by these factories. These factories have a feedback loop, so the more you think a certain thought, the stronger that “though-factory” grows, and it will start to produce more of these thoughts.
From this we can make a conjecture that your subconscious thoughts come from your conscious mind. Since if you would not be conscious of something, the input would not have reached your subconscious. Your conscious mind is a gardener while your subconscious is a garden. Do you want a garden similar to The Hanging Gardens of Babylon or do you want it to look like a dumpster?
By attaching these arguments to the popular quote below, you can see how the inputs you introduce to your mind, will become your destiny.
Inputs-> Thoughts -> Words -> Actions -> Habits -> Character -> Destiny
Or as William James observed “we must reflect that, when we reach the end of our days, our life experience will equal what we have paid attention to, whether by choice or default. We are at risk, without quite fully realizing it, of living lives that are less our own than we imagine.”
Mimetic Theory & Dunbar’s Number
Dunbar’s Number explains the cognitive limit humans have in social relations, and limits the number to around 150 people. These relations are not just outgoing relationships, but they are two-way streets, so they influence you as much as you influence them.
“You are what you worship”.
Not only are these 150 people the ones you feel a familiar connection to, they are also the 150 people you will consciously or unconsciously compare yourself to. Humans have a natural instinct for hierarchical instinct, and from an evolutionary perspective it is critical to understand at which level of the dominance hierarchy you were at.
But there’s an interesting twist to the Dunbar’s Number that’s often ignored, which is that anything we perceive as a living entity with a personality is included within our tribe of 150 buddies.
This could include celebrities, brands, imaginary characters etc.
If a significant percentage of your 150 people consist of brands with large marketing budgets (Coca Cola, McDonalds), celebrities (Kim Kardashian and Justin Bieber). As explained with the Dunbar’s Number, people will unconsciously start comparing themselves to these personalities, and justifying their behavior based on what people do on TV.
At a certain point your subconscious might believe you’ve done a good job when you’re working harder than someone frying their brain on Tiktok.
Deep Work vs. Distraction
Deep work is a term coined by Call Newport, where he explains the two different ways you can work. On the one hand you have the popular shallow work; check your mail while reading a book, work on 4 projects simultaneously, and keep your phone close to check notifications. The other option is deep work; lock the door, disable the wifi, turn off your phone and work for a long time on one singular problem.
Deep work requires a lot more resources, and to be able to do it for a long time, you need to take breaks from focus and relax. Not by taking a break from distractions, those few hours during the day when you’re working.
As Charlie Munger stated in an interview “The best advantage I have is a long attention span”.
It’s possible to train your brain to be able to work focused for an entire day. Because neural pathways that are repeatedly used grow in strength while those not used eventually go away. Trying to do deep work while spending the rest of the day on Tiktok is almost impossible, as your brain will be optimizing for 2 contradictory end points. On the one hand it’ll optimize for being very efficient in scrolling through your news feed, and on the other hand you want it to optimize for deep focused works. The ancient idiom applies to this as with everything else “The man who chases two rabbits - catches none”.
One of the reasons is dopamine. Dopamine is the hormone that’s released in the anticipation of a reward and is clearly connected with addiction. Social media and most other forms of low-level inputs use your attention to sell advertisements. Therefore the goal of the platform is to make you addicted, as the more time you spend on the platform the more money they will make.
The features to make you addicted are all over these platforms; infinite scroll similar to a slot machine, notifications, status symbols with likes and followers etc.
Your dopamine levels reach sky-high levels, which makes it difficult to get motivated to make long-term bets that will give the most benefit 20 years from now. Just look through Youtube for “dopamine detox” and you’ll find a ton of different channels explaining the benefits of reducing dopamine levels to make it easier to have enough motivation to work on more challenging stuff.
Most things that have positive 3rd,4th,5th order effects will have a perceived negative 1-order effect (going for a run while it’s raining, eating healthy but bland food etc.). There’s probably an inverse correlation between long-term success and the degree to which you’re addicted to instant gratification.
The issue with chasing instant gratification is that you’re always left searching for more. It will never leave you fulfilled and you’ll constantly have to chase the next high. As George Lucas explains in this speech;
“Happiness is pleasure, and happiness is joy. Pleasure is short lived, and it peaks very high, but the next time you want to get that same peak you have to do it twice as much. On the other hand is Joy, and joy is a thing that doesn’t go as high as pleasure, but it stays with you, joy is something you can recall, pleasure you can’t. The secret is, that even though it’s not as intense as pleasure, joy will last a lot longer. If you chase pleasure you have to keep going and eventually you will run out. You'll never be able to relive the moment you get your first car. Sure, you can get 3 ferraris and a Gulfstream jet, but it's never as good. If you try to sustain that level of peak pleasure you're doomed. Pleasure comes and goes, joy lasts forever. Pleasure is purely self-centered, it's all about YOUR pleasure, it's a selfish self-centered emotion. Joy is compassion, giving yourself to someone/something else. In its subtlety, joy is much more powerful than pleasure.”
It's obvious that you become smarter if you read a book than watching a youtube video. But the greatest benefit you will not notice immediately, imagine the difference after 20 years. Because reading books while watching youtube videos is cancelling out much of the secondary benefits that come from reading books that comes from rewiring your brain to be able to focus and think deeply about subjects.
Gauram Jad from his book “The Joys of Compound” explains the same difference in his book:
“It is essential to understand the opportunity cost of this one hour. On one hand, you can indulge in getting dopamine-laced rushes from emails and social media feeds while multitasking. On the other hand, you can dedicate the time to deep work and self-improvement. An hour’s time spent acquiring in-depth knowledge about an important principle pays off in the long run. This current investment is minuscule compared with the significant net present value that results over a lifetime. It is akin to buying a dollar for less than one cent. This is why good books are the most undervalued asset class: the right ideas can be worth millions, if not billions, of dollars over time.”
You have to decide for yourself what type of man/woman you want to become? Because by replacing these inputs with for instance book you’ll outsmart everyone who willingly drink the poison. Via negativa.
Easier To Get Brainwashed
Reading a book, or engaging in an argument requires a lot more effort than watching TV, so your brain has to be ON. Therefore when you're reading a book and the author makes an argument you disagree with, you'll instantly start arguing with the author. In many ways, reading books is like intellectual sparring.
But when watching TV or listening to the radio the amount of content that gets pushed to you makes it almost impossible to argue with every point you disagree with. Because by the time you’ve formulated an argument the conversation has already drifted. In combination with the fact that your brain is in a lazy position, you won’t be able to argue with all the different ideas. By not refusing these ideas, they start to lurk their way into your brain. The common saying: “den som tier - samtykker”.
In addition to this there are also a ton of other factors that influence you.
- Social media algorithms create echo chambers.
- Mental biases (Social proof, authority, mere-exposure bias, availability heuristics, music, russell conjugation)
It all comes down to that in many cases “the phone is using you more than you are using your phone.”
Over time medium changes to cater to the lowest common denominator to reach a large enough audience.
Similar to what Machiavelli observed in the 16th century Italy “How we live is so different from how we ought to live that he who studies what ougth to be done rather dan what is done will learn the way to his downfall rather than to his preservation”.
People might have the notion that what people are interested in is education oneself, reading the classics, discussing philosophical ideas. Unfortunately most people are more interested in seeing Kim Kardashian's ass from 20 different angles than Voltaire. As Ryan Holiday observed; "Reality is complicated. Reality is boring. We are incapable or unwilling to handle its confusion.” So we’re now at a place where, as a staffer in the Obama White House put it, “the controversy machine is bigger than the reality machine.”
As I’ve explained in this article there is no good and bad, but there are certainly more and less effective ways of reaching your goals. If your goal is to be wealthy, there are more effective ways of reaching this goal than looking at Kim’s ass.
The goal of this article is not to preach about the dangers of social media or urging you to quit and become a “digital minimalist”. Rather I hope that I’ve made you aware of some of the ways these platforms and services can influence your subconscious in ways you’re not conscious of. So that you avoid the risk of living a life that is controlled by someone else.