Minimum Viable Goal

People set goals too high and then get disappointed. We should encourage setting small goals and keeping promises to ourselves. Setting the right goal is half the battle won. A minimum viable goal (MVG) is the smallest goal that you have yet to achieve.

To arrive at an MVG, I encourage you to use the slice-and-dice approach. 

Say that you want to run a marathon for example. Let’s break it down:

Can you already run a half-marathon (21km)? 

What about 10km? 

5km? 

For beginners, 3km (or even 1km) could be a good MVG. 

If you want to write a book, the stepping stones would be to publish a long-form blog post or a Twitter thread. Want to do fifty push-ups? Set a goal of ten first. If that’s too difficult, aim for just two!

Now I’m not advocating to only aim small. By all means, shoot for the moon. But keep in mind that long-term goals, by their nature, will take a long time to accomplish. They’re there to serve as the North Star to your life. You might want to run a marathon, or write a book. Adding MVGs into the mix is a healthier approach than setting stretch goals that set you up for failure.

The Goldilocks Rule states that humans experience peak motivation when working on tasks that are right on the edge of their current abilities. Neither too hard, nor too easy. Just right. MVGs take you one step ahead in the direction you want to go in.

Use this to your advantage to steadily increase the difficulty of your next MVG to lie in that sweet spot of challenging, yet achievable. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you have hit your limit. A limit is just a mental barrier that your mind subconsciously restricts you with.

After running 5km many times, you might put off gunning for 10km. But that’s your north-star goal! You can define your MVG to be 6km. Didn’t work? Define your MVG as 5.5km. 

I promise you that’s achievable. 

Now go and do wonders. 

And don’t forget to HAVE FUN!

What’s your current MVG? Tell me in the comments below.
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Gaining from Randomness

Change is the only constant.

When things go wrong, and they eventually will, there are different ways we deal with them. If something gets easily destroyed when stressed, it’s called fragile. If you can bounce back into shape when stressed, you’re resilient. Imagine the ability to become better with shocks and stress – that’s antifragile for you!

The term “antifragile” was coined by Nassim Taleb, one of the leading philosophers of modern time. Here’s a simple test of asymmetry: anything that has more upside than downside from random events (or certain shocks) is antifragile; the reverse is fragile.

The classic example of something antifragile is Hydra, the Greek mythological creature that has numerous heads. When one is cut off, two grow back in its place.

I find Taleb’s writing a bit hard to read but the content is pure gold. Here are some of his core ideas that I really resonated with:

  1. The need for Redundancy
    I loved this point as I always like to be someone who takes backups. As well as backups of backups. That’s how I keep my mind calm. You need to stock up for emergencies to avoid being wiped out completely. Here’s a relevant excerpt:

    Nature likes to overinsure itself – we have two kidneys, and extra capacity in many, many things (say, lungs, neural system, arterial apparatus), while human design tends to be spare and inversely redundant, so to speak — we have a historical track record of engaging in debt, which is the opposite of redundancy (fifty thousand in extra cash in the bank or, better, under the mattress, is redundancy; owing the bank an equivalent amount, that is, debt, is the opposite of redundancy). Redundancy is ambiguous because it seems like a waste if nothing unusual happens. Except that something unusual happens — usually.”
  2. Skin in the Game
    Incentives run the world. Never ask the doctor what you should do. Ask him what he would do if he were in your place. You would be surprised at the difference.
    This is the reason why I love watching Shark Tank so much. Giving advice is easy. But if you put your money where your mouth is, I’m listening. Here’s a relevant excerpt:

    “Opinions are dime a dozen. Anyone producing a forecast or making an economic analysis needs to have something to lose from it, given that others rely on them (what’s their portfolio?). People voting for war need to have at least one descendant (child or grandchild) exposed to combat. Engineers need to spend some time under the bridge they built.”
  3. Barbell Strategy
    This was my greatest takeaway. Stay rational in larger decisions. You have to take risk to get ahead, but no risk that can wipe you out is ever worth taking. You have to survive to succeed. The odds are in your favor when playing Russian roulette. But the downside is not worth the potential upside. There is no margin of safety that can compensate for the risk. Same with money. The odds of many lucrative things are in your favor. Real estate prices go up most years, and during most years you’ll get a paycheck every other week. But if something has 95% odds of being right, the 5% odds of being wrong means you will almost certainly experience the downside at some point in your life. And if the cost of the downside is ruin, the upside the other 95% of the time likely isn’t worth the risk, no matter how appealing it looks.
    Housing prices fell 30% last decade. A few companies defaulted on their debt. That’s capitalism. It happens. But those with high leverage had a double wipeout: Not only were they left broke, but being wiped out erased every opportunity to get back in the game at the very moment opportunity was ripe. Here’s another relevant excerpt to drive the concept home:

    “About all solutions to uncertainty are in the form of barbells.
    Let us use an example from vulgar finance, where it is easiest to explain, but misunderstood the most. If you put 90 percent of your funds in boring cash (assuming you are protected from inflation) and 10 percent in very risky securities, you cannot possibly lose more than 10 percent, while you are exposed to massive upside. Someone with 100 percent in so-called “medium” risk securities has a risk of total ruin from the miscomputation of risks. This barbell technique remedies the problem that risks of rare events are incomputable and fragile to estimation error; here the financial barbell has a maximum known loss.”
  4. Keep your Options open
    I now also optimize for optionality and only engage in activities that have massive upside and minimal downside. I’m also trying to remove luck from my life. I take a lot of small risks, avoiding the ones with significant downside, to play the long game. Here’s are some relevant excerpts:

    “Take literature, that most uncompromising, most speculative, most demanding, and riskiest of all careers. There is a tradition with French and other European literary writers to look for a sinecure, say, the anxiety-free profession of civil servant, with few intellectual demands and high job security, the kind of low-risk job that ceases to exist when you leave the office, then spend their spare time writing, free to write whatever they want, under their own standards.
    Professions can be serial: something very safe, then something speculative. A friend of mine built himself a very secure profession as a book editor, in which he was known to be very good. Then, after a decade or so, he left completely for something speculative and highly risky. This is a true barbell in every sense of the word: he can fall back on his previous profession should the speculation fail, or fail to bring the expected satisfaction.”

Think about this: If you have to leave your current job for any reason, can you get it again whenever you want? Tell me in the comments below. If not, you are in a swamp my friend. Now is a good time to build a safety net. If you’re knocked off, think of how you can get back to a better place. If you felt like you could have skipped this post, you’re already at a powerful place with high leverage. Kudos!
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Life is easier with Pronoia

I grew up with a zero-sum mindset. This is the saddest thing about our education system. It teaches that if someone wants to be successful, they need to make others unsuccessful. This always kept me on the lookout for others trying to bring me down.

Three years back, I read The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho which flipped my mindset. Its central theme is pronoia, the opposite of paranoia. Instead of feeling that everyone is out to get you, pronoia is a feeling that the Universe is conspiring to help you. The protagonist is a young boy, who is told by an older man to pursue his dreams. He tells the boy, “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” The book also deals with omens, signs that the universe wants the boy to follow a specific path, which eventually leads to his goal of fulfilling a dream.

This thought of the universe conspiring in my favor is oddly comforting to me. I now firmly believe others are there to help me. This change towards a positive mindset is also self-fulfilling, i.e. the more you expect that, the more it actually works out. Instead of believing that someone is out to get you, why not think that other people are plotting to make you happy?

Think about it. Do other people actually look at you so much? Are they really watching you around the clock and lying in wait for the perfect moment to attack? It seems rather unlikely and yet, many of us feel that the spotlight is on us. A young friend of mine, when he was a teenager, used to spend a lot of time in front of the mirror arranging his hair. And once, when he was doing that, his grandmother said, “Everyone is too busy worrying about themselves to pay attention to how you look.” He says that it got a bit easier for him to deal with life after that.

No one is out to get you.

If you’re willing to put in the work to become the best version of yourself, you might as well pick pronoia over paranoia. There’s really no good reason to assume otherwise. Assume good intent and it will start manifesting itself.

This reframing is infinitely powerful. Now when I cold reachout to someone, I do it with the mindset that they want to help me. If I don’t get a reply, I think that maybe they haven’t seen the message yet (in which case I need to stand out) or they feel that I can figure it out myself (which is quite empowering).

Pronoia is a way of life. It is a reminder that we get to choose how we view the world around us. We get to choose the thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes that serve us or do not serve us. Don’t let others dictate your feelings and opinions. You can very well choose to sit in the driver’s seat of your life. You are the hero of your story. And there is no villain. Always remember that.

I have pronoia. Do you? Tell me in the comments below.
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Why do I keep enrolling in CBCs?

I’m addicted to cohort-based courses. There, I said it.

I discovered them in late 2019. I’ve been on a learning spree since then, enrolling in 6 CBCs so far: Startup School by Y Combinator, Entrepreneur First, UI/UX design, Stoa School, Brand Experience design, and now Write of Passage.

Yeah, I’m one of those cohort junkies. This is intentional. I think of CBCs as slipstreaming in life. Remember Need for Speed racing games? A fast-moving car creates a partial vacuum behind it, where you can position your car to get a nice assist. That’s what I’ve been doing.

I pick experts in the domain I want to upskill in. Then I simply slipstream behind them. For business skills, I have slipstreamed behind the teams of Y Combinator, Entrepreneur First, and Stoa School. To learn design, I look up to Abhinav and Sneha – the team behind the UX and BX cohorts. And now I’m slipstreaming behind David Perell to improve my writing skills. CBCs are modern-day apprenticeships. Accelerated learning at its best. You get to learn 80% of things in 20% of the time.

Ah, time. That’s our most precious resource, isn’t it? Note that investing time is a level playing field. Everyone has the same amount of time to spend. The course fee gives you skin in the game, yes, but I see it as my investment portfolio of time and energy. And I take bets. I have a couple of other cohorts in my mind already for next year.

Once you get into this investment mindset, you start detaching yourself from the individual outcomes. You get objective about it. You give it your best shot without worrying about the end goal. You start enjoying the process. If it leads to something better, great! If not, that’s okay as well because you’re looking at it from a long-term investor perspective. Last weekend, I spent 15 hours on CBCs and still missed an assignment deadline. The anxiety got to me. I reminded myself of this mindset to calm down. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have signed up for multiple CBCs running in parallel. I’ll pace myself better from now on.

A follow-up question I get is: What makes a good CBC? I strongly believe the secret sauce is having fast feedback loops. Deadlines keep you accountable to do deep work. You also get to meet a bunch of highly motivated and diverse folks. But both of these are cherries on top of the cake. The future of online education is creating fast feedback loops. That’s what is missing from books. Content is everywhere; getting good feedback is as rare as sighting a purple cow.

My experience has been phenomenal so far. Does that mean it’ll work for you as well? No. Like books, CBCs need to come to you at the right time. Also, you get what you put in. The overall structure is designed to reduce friction but you need to show up. You need to put in the work. Every single week. It’s not easy. If it was, everyone would be doing it. CBCs are not magic pills. I know the FOMO is very real but don’t join CBCs simply because of it.

With time, I’ve realized another thing. Whenever I enroll in a new CBC, I feel as if I’m buying into their network. Just like an investment. As their network grows, you get to reap the benefits too as their future cohorts will attract more like-minded people. I’ve found 3 potential co-founders, hired 2 folks, and made more than a dozen close friends from the network. Since I’ve received good returns so far, I see myself continuing on this path as long as I’m having fun. That’s what really matters anyway.

I want to be the very best,
Like no one ever was.
To be a lifelong learner is my real test,
To solve problems is my cause.
CBCs! Gotta catch ‘em all!

How has your CBC journey been so far? Tell me in the comments below.
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My 12 Favorite Problems

Richard Feynman used this mental framework to give life meaning and purpose. In his own words,

“You have to keep a dozen of your favorite problems constantly present in your mind, although by and large they will lay in a dormant state.”

Every time you hear a new trick or a new result, test it against each of your twelve problems to see whether it helps. Every once in a while, there will be a hit, and people will say, “How did he do it? He must be a genius!”

In essence, your favorite problems are questions that help you get into an explorer mindset. When you read through other people’s ideas, you’ll unconsciously make connections to your favorite problems. Day by day, you’ll make progress on finding solutions.

I spent my weekend jotting down my favorite problems. In order of importance, they are:

  1. How can I enjoy life more?
  2. How do I sustain my child-like curiosity about everything?
  3. How can I meet folks who are more ambitious than me?
  4. How can I help others make more money?
  5. How do I maintain my lifting routine?
  6. How do I become a better storyteller?
  7. How can I help change our education system to have more hands-on learning?
  8. How do I engineer serendipity in my life?
  9. How can I increase my optionality?
  10. How do I build a team of inspiring people with shared values and long-term vision?
  11. How can I spread Adlerian psychology to more people?
  12. How do I build a brand that outlasts me?

Once you know your favorite problems, you don’t need to work on them constantly. Your mind will look for answers while you’re focusing on something else.

What are your 12 favorite problems? Tell me in the comments below.
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