Saturday, 2 June 2018

Very Stable Idiot Week 22: May 28 - June 3 2018


"It is not necessarily the one with more information who will come out victorious; it is the one with better judgment, the one who is better at discerning patterns.” - Frans P.B. Osinga


The Antilibrary: Why Unread Books Are The Most Important

"Because we underestimate the value of what we don't know and overvalue what we do know, we fundamentally misunderstand the likelihood of surprises.

The antidote to this overconfidence boils down to our relationship with knowledge. The anti-scholar, as Taleb refers to it, is “someone who focuses on the unread books, and makes an attempt not to treat his knowledge as a treasure, or even a possession, or even a self-esteem enhancement device — a skeptical empiricist.”

“It is our knowledge — the things we are sure of — that makes the world go wrong and keeps us from seeing and learning.” — Lincoln Steffens


I write into an abyss without any expectation or understanding of feedback


The Four Elements that combine to make something complex: 

  1. adaptability
  2. interdependence
  3. interconnectedness 
  4. diversity

The more these characteristics exist within a system, the more complex that system is.


There is a profound difference (as Albert Einstein noted) between the simplicity that lies beyond complexity; and the simplicity this side of complexity, that does not probe deeply


I believe it was Steve Magness who shared Scott Barry Kaufman’s latest on Twitter this past week.

I enjoyed the read - but I just don’t ever seem to warm to Kaufman, TBH.  It might be because I listened to his podcast, and find him super-annoying - so now he is more difficult to read. 

Bias …

Some highlights, and some comments:

Since psychologists use of the term ego is very different ways, let me be clear how I am defining it here. I define the ego as: “that aspect of the self that has the incessant need to see itself in a positive light.”

Make no doubt: the self can be our greatest resource, but it can also be our darkest enemy

On the one hand, the fundamentally human capacities for self-awareness, self-reflection, and self-control are essential for reaching our goals. On the other hand, the self will do anything to disavow itself of responsibility for any negative outcome it may have played a role. 

As one researcher put it, the self engenders “a self-zoo of self-defense mechanisms.” I believe we can refer to these defensive strategies to see the self in a positive light as the “ego”. A noisy ego spends so much time defending the self as if it were a real thing, and then doing whatever it takes to assert itself, that it often inhibits the very goals it is most striving for.
MY COMMENT: How much of ‘fooling oneself’ is necessary for an athlete?

In recent years, Heidi Wayment and her colleagues have been developing a “quiet ego” research program grounded in Buddhist philosophy and humanistic psychology ideals, and backed by empirical research in the field of positive psychology. Paradoxically, it turns out that quieting the ego is so much more effective in cultivating well-being, growth, health, productivity, and a healthy, productive self-esteem, than focusing so loudly on self-enhancement.

MY COMMENT: When it is boiled down to its essence, don’t we all operate out of self-interest? Ask enough questions, and it will almost come down to ‘because it makes me happy’

To be clear, a quiet ego is not the same thing as a silent ego. Squashing the ego so much that it loses its identity entirely does not do yourself or the world any favors. Instead, the quiet ego perspective emphasizes balance and integration. 

As Wayment and colleagues put it, “The volume of the ego is turned down so that it might listen to others as well as the self in an effort to approach life more humanely and compassionately.” The quiet ego approach focuses on balancing the interests of the self and others, and cultivating growth of the self and others over time based on self-awareness, interdependent identity, and compassionate experience.

MY COMMENT: like ALL things, the EGO is dynamic.  It is not a matter of just turning down the volume.  

My amateur take:

The ego is one of the biggest subjects going and has obsessed thinkers for 1000s of years.  There truly is no real consensus.  

There are times in a minute, hour, day, week, month, year, lifetime where ‘the ego’ - as Kaufmann defines it  - “that aspect of the self that has the incessant need to see itself in a positive light” - will need to be relatively ‘loud’; other times where it will need to be relatively ‘quiet’, and other times where it will need to be relatively ‘silent.’  

All of these are situation-dependent.  

A quote from the article from Wayment: “The volume of the ego is turned down so that it might listen to others as well as the self in an effort to approach life more humanely and compassionately.”  

I mean - we cannot really argue with that - can we?  But what does it really mean??

Also “the quiet ego perspective emphasizes balance and integration.“ - so basically, what we are saying is sometimes it is about YOU, other times it is about OTHERS, and other times it is about SOMETHING GREATER.  

The trick is to know what is when, and when is what.

A personal example:
  • The 1st part of my career as a coach was mostly about me trying to figure stuff out.  So about MY EGO
  • The 2nd part of my career was mostly about me imparting any wisdom I had upon athletes I coached - to help them become better people, and better athletes. So a QUIET(er) EGO
  • The 3rd part of my career is more about the profession of coaches - and maybe larger than that - about athletes in general, sport, and how they fit into society as a whole.    So a SILENT(ish) EGO

Each of these three motivations is always there - the relative importance just oscillates slightly depending upon what is going on.  

We need to better understand that the ego has a dimmer switch - it’s not on-off.  
So in that sense, the article was useful.  

But like I said - what Kaufmann does not communicate well enough in my opinion, is the very dynamic nature of it.  

And the fact that we have the ability to control it. 

The volume of the ego is important,
But perhaps the control of it is even more so

Amplifier and equalizer both


(from Deep Survival, by Laurence Gonzales.  Really enjoying this book.  I cannot remember who recommended it to me.  If it was you - please let me know)

“ …emotions could trump reason and that to succeed we have to use the reins of reason on the horse of emotion. That turns out to be remarkably close to what modern research has begun to show us, and it works both ways: The intellect without the emotions is like the jockey without the horse.

Emotion is an instinctive response aimed at self-preservation. It involves numerous bodily changes that are preparations for action. The nervous system fires more energetically, the blood changes its chemistry so that it can coagulate more rapidly, muscle tone alters, digestion stops, and various chemicals flood the body to put it in a state of high readiness for whatever needs to be done. All of that happens outside of conscious control. Reason is tentative, slow, and fallible, while emotion is sure, quick, and unhesitating.

That horse can either work for us or against us. It can win the race or explode in the gate. So it is learning when to soothe and gentle it and when to let it run that marks the winning jockey, the true survivor. And that is what the dark humor of various subcultures is all about: It’s about gentling the beast, keeping it cool; and when it’s time to run, it’s about letting it flow, about having emotion and reason in perfect balance. That’s what characterizes elite performers, from Tiger Woods to Neil Armstrong.”

Chris Beardsley wrote a short review of periodization.  I’m not at all certain we actually need another periodization article - but here it was, and I generally enjoy reading Beardsley’s reviews, so I gave it a quick read.

Before getting into it - a quick take:

We need to stop talking about periodization. 
Instead, we need to talk about organization. 

As I define it - what we mean to ‘periodize’ is to organize training such that it will give an athlete the best opportunity possible to maintain health and perform as close to potential as possible at the most appropriate time.  

As Beardsley points out, we have difficulty even defining periodization to begin with, and I even disagree with his ultimate definition that it must involve ‘advance timetabling of changes to workout content’ (there is no advance timetabling in a Bondarchuk program, for example - so by definition, it is not periodized?  In my opinion, a Bondarchuk Program is the ultimate in ‘periodization’ - as I define it - as it organizes training based upon the actual outcome of any stimulus, rather than a pre-program prediction).

Anyways - back to Beardsley’s review:

He identifies 4 key principles in S&C:

  1. progressive overload
  2. specificity
  3. individuality
  4. variety

And states that “Periodization is one way in which the principle of variety can be applied to an athletic development program.”

He follows by introducing 3 separate ways in which we can define periodization: 1) normatively, 2) teleologically, and 3) descriptively.

Most research papers tend towards using a normative description (“how the word “periodization” should be defined”), although by referencing other viewpoints in support of their terminology, they can sometimes bring in descriptive elements, which is unhelpful.

He goes on to describe the four key features of periodization:

  1. Variety
  2. Non-random
  3. Planning in advance
  4. Time-tabling
As previously stated, variety is already built-in to the S&C Program so we can conclude that any periodized program must be non-random, planned in advance, and timetabled.  

See what I mean about not needing any more periodization articles?

What it comes down to is this:

As John Kiely (who wrote the final word on periodization, in my opinion) showed, and Beardsley sums up “currently, the research has identified that incorporating variety improves the outcomes of workout programs, yet it is still unclear whether this variety benefits from being (1) non-random, (2) pre-planned, or (3) timetabled.”

Dr. Matt Jordan and I went into detail on this within the Strength Series a couple years back.  Let’s not get caught up in specific periodization ideologies, and instead, write our programs based on first principles

As Matt wrote:  “periodization is not about the model you choose but a process of discovery for each athlete in terms of how the elements of specificity, training load, time course of adaptation and inter-system interactions lead to peak performance at various time points throughout an athlete’s career … (it) is a reverse engineering process based on a specific gap-analysis where the coach is responsible for managing, integrating, and organizing all aspects of the training load - from mental-emotional factors to musculo-skeletal and neural factors.”

A periodized plan - or even the word periodization - gives us a sense of control.  

Of certainty.

If we can just follow what has been laid out before us - and what has been written about, and trialed many time previously - regardless of actual efficacy, it gives us a sense of comfort.  

But there are very few guarantees in sport.  While we seek certainty, it very rarely exists

Both training and competition exist within a complex, dynamic ecosystem - where if we are uncomfortable with the lack of certainty, we are doomed to eventual failure.  But coaches and athletes have been guilty of believing in the false narrative of certainty for as long as we can remember. 

Young coaches design complex training plans with pre-determined specific loading parameters that are based on little more than educated guesses as to how their athlete groups will respond.  Their assumptions are borne out of tradition, mythology, analogy - but very seldom actual objective data. 

Young athletes enjoy some success, often taking future success for granted, and thereby forgetting either what it was that led to their success in the first place, or what they need to do to continue succeeding in the future.  

We generally do all we can to avoid uncertainty.

This is most-likely hard-wired into us.

It perhaps explains why we tend to gravitate more towards what we know, rather than to what may be better for us but is new and uncertain.  It is increasingly apparent, though, that those people who are more open to uncertainty and therefore spend more time exploring more creative solutions, are generally leaders in their respective fields.  

However, most of us are not wired that way.  In our constant battle to be ‘sure’, we seek more information - assuming that this will increase the confidence we have in our decisions.  We feel that more information tends to increase our certainty - until it doesn’t.  


Paradoxically, more information has actually been shown to often decrease confidence in decisions.  In 2000, Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper from Columbia and Stanford University published a study about jams. 

What Iyengar and Lepper showed was that “choice paralyzes the consumer”: that while increased options may seem appealing, ‘choice overload’ often generates the wrong results - poor decisions.  

A study in 2015, published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, specifically looked at cases in which reducing choices boosted sales.  One of the four criteria that motivated consumers to buy included the ‘complexity of the product’; essentially concluding that increased complexity correlated with decreased confidence, and fewer sales. 

This is an important point to remember as we attempt to better understand our tendencies toward certainty and prediction.  

It seems that our desire for more information is not going anywhere - and in fact, with increasing access to social media platforms - and the information they present - it seems to be increasing.  Dopamine neurons in the brain play a vital role in the expectation of reward, and it is felt that our addiction to information is strengthened by the dopaminergic ‘cognitive reward’ that comes along with it.  It seems that this is hard-wired into us, as the ability to access relevant information was an important adaptive ability for our ancestors - as access to more information enabled us to better control our environment, and therefore increase our chances of survival.  

In April of 2009, Steve Mesler was about to begin his 10th, and final, spring and summer training in preparation for his winter job as a member of the United States Bobsled Team, with the hopes of it ending in Whistler in February with a gold medal placed around his neck.  This was to be our 10th and final season together - at that time, longer than I had ever coached anyone else.  

I remember sitting down to discuss the upcoming plan.

By this time in our coach-athlete relationship, he had as much input into the training process as I did, and it was not unusual for him to take the lead on some program decisions.  I’d be lying, though, if I said I predicted what Steve’s newest idea was:

Steve: “Every off-day, I’m going to go fly-fishing”
Me: “Fishing?  OK … where?”
Steve: “In the Bow River - in the mountains … secret spot an hour’s hike from the closest parking”
Me: “Oh!  So you’re going to drive an hour or two into the mountains, park your car, walk an hour to the river, fly fish for four hours, walk back to your car, and drive back to Calgary - every day off?  That sounds like a great idea!”

I was not amused, and not convinced.  But I agreed that we would start the season this way, and see how it went.  Steve understood the training process very well - he was a kinesiology major at the University of Florida.  He also understood the relationship between load and adaptation to that load.  But more importantly, he understood that the brain runs the show.  And if you can make the brain happy by fishing for a few hours on a day off - then that is probably a good thing.   

6 months later, and Steve was still fishing every day off.  

Although he competes in a violent sport and has put his body through more discomfort than what would normally be considered safe, Steve was enjoying the best preparation of his career.  At over 30 years of age, he was beating all his personal records in all the standard tests from 4, 6, 8, and 10 years prior.  He was lifting more weight, running faster, and was healthier - 

With his 3 teammates, Steve went on to win the first gold medal for the American bobsled team in 80 years.  

If you ask Steve today what the secret was to his great 2009-10 season, he will no doubt put it down to fishing.  

Not to coaching.  Not to his increased determination, diligence, dedication, or drive.  

Not to the 7 meals per day.  And not to the 10 hours of sleep per night.  

And not to the amazing PERIODIZATION


Going into that 2009-10 season, I would never have prescribed a 7-8 hour fishing expedition on days off.  Who would?!

That unique ‘regenerative’ session came about primarily because of two things: 

  1. I was confident enough in Steve’s understanding of his own body to share the reigns of the coaching process with him; and 
  2. Steve knew enough about his body, his sport, and his psychology to make a decision, that although somewhat counter-intuitive, he thought would be in the best interest of his preparation. 

There’s probably a lesson there somewhere 


“It is true enough that not every conceivable complex human situation can be fully reduced to the lines on a graph, or to percentage points on a chart, or to figures on a balance sheet, but all reality can be reasoned about. And not to quantify what can be quantified is only to be content with something less than the full range of reason.” - Robert McNamara

As President Kennedy’s Secretary of Defense, McNamara was responsible for the overarching strategy of the Vietnam War.  With no prior military experience, he had gained a deep appreciation for the power of data during his time as a business executive - most noticeably as president of Ford Motor Company.  

McNamara felt everything could be quantified, and only through extensive statistical analysis, could we hope to understand a complex situation.  The mass of unruly information could be tamed - if only we collected enough data; so spreadsheets, calculations, and charts became the primary means as to how the War would be fought.  The problem with this strategy is that the Vietnam War had little in common with the factory production line; and instead, the unmeasurable chaos of conflict led an unprepared McNamara to actually double down on his efforts, even as it became clear that his strategy was flawed.  Knowing no other solution, McNamara’s lack of appreciation for the complexity would extend a War that led to the loss of 50,000 American lives and 1 million Vietnamese.  

50 years hence, the McNamara fallacy remains a warning to all who feel they can reduce complex human processes to statistics - basing decisions solely on quantitative observations, while ignoring all others.

However, it is increasingly evident the role that data plays in our lives.  

To the point where some thinkers have opined that we are entering the final era in our evolutionary journey: from theism to humanism, and now to ‘dataism’, where final authority is given not to a god, not to man, but to data and algorithms, and where “humanity’s cosmic vocation is to create an all-encompassing data-processing system and then merge into it.”

While it seems that humanity is trending towards increased dataism, and ultimate algorithmic control, it is clear that humans still have a role to play.  

Yuval Noah Harari - in his book Homo Deus asks us to consider the following three practical questions:

  • Are organisms really just algorithms? And is life really just data processing?
  • What is more valuable; intelligence or consciousness?
  • What happens to society, when non-conscious algorithms know us better than ourselves?

In a potentially disturbing analogy, Harari asks what will happen if humans are no longer valuable? “When we stopped using horses, we did not upgrade them. We abandoned them.”

Our current reality finds us on the one hand trying to come to terms with human fallibility and bias, and on the other attempting to understand how to bring the increased data into the mix, with the ultimate objective of improving our decision-making abilities.  

Err too much on humans, and we end up with Trump.

Too much on data, and we end up with decades-long Wars. 

The answer is to better appreciate the complex nature in which we live, design systems that respect this complexity, identify the data which is most relevant to making the decisions that are most applicable to these systems, track this data in an objective manner, and deal with what is directly in front of us with an understanding of the dynamic nature of everything.


“When performance is judged by a few measures, and the stakes are high (keeping one’s job, getting a pay rise, or raising the stock price at the time that stock options are vested), people focus on satisfying those measures–often at the expense of other, more important organizational goals that are not measured. The best-known example is “teaching to the test,” a widespread phenomenon that has distorted primary and secondary education in the U.S. since the adoption of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

Short-termism is another negative. Measured performance encourages what the U.S. sociologist Robert K. Merton in 1936 called “the imperious immediacy of interests . . . where the actor’s paramount concern with the foreseen immediate consequences excludes consideration of further or other consequences.” In short, it’s advancing short-term goals at the expense of long-range considerations. This problem is endemic to publicly traded corporations that sacrifice long-term research and development, and the development of their staff, to the perceived imperatives of the quarterly report.

To the debit side of the ledger must also be added the transactional costs of metrics: the expenditure of employee time by those tasked with compiling and processing the metrics in the first place, not to mention the time required to actually read them … employees end up working longer and harder at activities that add little to the real productiveness of their organization, while sapping their enthusiasm. In an attempt to staunch the flow of faulty metrics through gaming, cheating, and goal diversion, organizations often institute a cascade of rules, even as complying with them further slows down the institution’s functioning and diminishes its efficiency.”


Lessons on belief from The Ethics of Belief, by Andrew Chianell:

“ …are norms of some sort governing our habits of belief formation, belief maintenance, and belief relinquishment?”

  1. Is it ever or always wrong to hold a belief on insufficient evidence? 
  2. Is it ever or always right to believe on the basis of sufficient evidence, or to withhold belief in the perceived absence of it? 
  3. Is it ever or always obligatory to seek out all available evidence for a belief? 
“Reaching a consensus on an objective description of the world is possible in principle. That is the wonder of science. 

Consensus on our subjective descriptions is impossible in principle. That is the wonder of consciousness. 
Truth is the single currency of the sovereign mind, the knowing subject, and the best thinking – in philosophy, science, art – discriminates between the objective and subjective sides of the coin, and appreciates both the unity of reality and the diversity of experience.” -- Jon Wainwright


Common Sense
Dan Carlin

  • Donald Trump is the symptom. Not the problem. 
  • He will be gone one day. The problems that made him will still be here 
  • Trump confuses even deep thinkers. What does that mean to those who are not?
  • The underlying problem - we have no way to have a productive conversation or debate anymore 
  • And if we can’t solve this communication problem, we won’t have a country that can be bought and sold at all anymore - so the corruption problem won’t even matter 

Carlin has said many times that he is “wishing for an America that matches the marketing material”

I am also slightly obsessed these days with Brian Koppelman’s podcast The Moment.  Billed as an exploration of the “pivotal moments that fueled fascinating creative careers”, it is a series of conversations with artistic folks (actors, producers, artists, musicians, etc) and thought-leaders (multiple chats with Seth Godin, for example).  

The conversations with Godin are excellent.  As are those with Paul Giamatti, Eric Heisserer, Ruben Santiago Hudson, Bomani Jones, and Hank Azaria. 

There are a ton of ‘sport performance’ podcasts on the market.  Among the best, in my opinion, are Resilient with Doug Kechijian and All Things Strength & Wellness (perhaps the dumbest podcast name going, but there you go), hosted by Robbie Bourke.  Robbie has recently also began hosting the OPEX podcast.  Robbie is a super-sharp dude, and if you can get him to shut up for more than 5 minutes, he does a great job of hosting some super-interesting people (seriously though - Robbie is usually smarter than his guests - so I don’t mind at all when Robbie has a little rant).  His recent interview with Shawn Myszcka was very good.  One pod that has featured Shawn quite a bit is also one of my very favorites - the Perception-Action Podcast hosted by ASU professor Rob Gray.  


“Imagine going to the doctor for medication and returning for a follow-up visit. In one case the doctor says you are reacting to the medication, in the other case the doctor says you are responding to the treatment.

There’s a big difference between responding and reacting.” - Zig Ziglar

“Much of our lives is spent in reaction to others and to events around us. The problem is that these reactions might not always be the best course of action, and as a result, they can make others unhappy, make things worse for us, make the situation worse.

The truth is, we often react without thinking. It’s a gut reaction, often based on fear and insecurities, and it’s not the most rational or appropriate way to act. Responding, on the other hand, is taking the situation in, and deciding the best course of action based on values such as reason, compassion, cooperation, etc.”

  • Think big picture. 
  • Put the situation in context. 
  • Blend logic and emotion
  • Ask yourself the key reaction question. 
  • Recognize choices. 
  • Create 20/20 vision


Do you have the patience to wait
till your mud settles and the water is clear?

~ Lao Tzu


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