Michael Ashcroft

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September 20, 2021 19:51
Crabs helping each other out of the bucket

When you put a load of crabs in a bucket together, any crab near the top that tries to escape the bucket is pulled back into the bucket by the other crabs. This is known as crab mentality.

Photo by Chandler Cruttenden on Unsplash

Crab mentality is often invoked to demonstrate the mindset of “if I can’t get what I want then I won’t let you have it either”. Of course, we have precious little insight into what’s going through the minds of those crabs, but let’s assume they are indeed playing zero-sum games.

The image is compelling because it’s something we see frequently in day to day life. It can be found within the English class system, where the expression “if it was good enough for me, it’s good enough for you” can lead families to hinder their own social mobility. It can also be seen in the managers who overwork their teams because they themselves were once overworked.

It won’t surprise you to learn that I find this way of being in the world deeply unhelpful. At the end of the day, all the crabs remain in the bucket and people continue to overwork, whether through external or internal authoritarianism.

But what if we lived in a world where the crabs helped each other out of the bucket? What would that be like?

The words that come to mind for me are nourishing, earnest and trusting. Nourishing, because this would be a world that validates our desires and helps us to meet them, should their pursuit not bring harm to others. Earnest, because we would feel free to explore and express those things that most bring us to life. Trusting, because to do all this means we could reasonably be our true authentic selves without fear of judgement or attack.

Worlds like this often seem like naive utopias doomed to fail the moment a hostile agent enters them. And, indeed, it seems likely that a perfect utopia such as this can’t exist, but that doesn’t imply that a world more like this than not can’t exist in a stable equilibrium. It can be true that most crabs help each other out of the bucket most of the time.

To stretch the metaphor even further, I sometimes find myself reflecting on how I might behave to help the other crabs out of the bucket. Here are three things I’ve settled on as being good things.

First, I reward earnestness with validation, support and my own earnestness. Earnestness is a precious expression of our authentic selves, the person we are when we’re not trying to be anyone in particular. I believe we are at our best when we are in that mode, so I want to see a world that encourages this.

Second, I support people on their creative journeys. When someone is taking their first tentative steps into making something that I might like or pursuing an independent life, I lean towards giving them money for that thing. Where possible I tend to give generously, should it feel appropriate to do so. By doing this I am not only helping this particular crab out of the bucket, but improving their capacity to do the same for other crabs down the line.

And finally, for this note anyway, I try to connect people who share this perspective to each other. I’m not great at this at the moment as it’s not a longstanding habit, but I’m getting better and better at it. If there is a community of people, or crabs, that have a culture of helping each other out, then each new member of that community increases the capacity of that community to effect change and help more people, or crabs.

We’ll never reach a perfect utopia, and that’s probably a good thing, but we can create a cultural pressure that creates ever larger communities that are nourishing, earnest and trusting. And all it takes is for each of us, individually, to make choices, over and over, to help the other crabs out of the bucket rather than to pull them back into it.

Who knows, maybe once they escape they’ll give us a hand, or claw, as well.

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September 15, 2021 14:25
Getting my business to nudge me towards behaviours I want

The main way that my business makes money right now is through the sale of my Alexander Technique online course. There’s also some 1:1 coaching, but I don’t do much of that so it generates less than $1k a month.

Until now I’ve sold the course through a series of launches, where I would make it available for a few days and then close it. Without a doubt this was a wise approach as I was getting started and I would do it again. It led lots of people to buy the course, because scarcity, then talk about it online, because hype, and all this drove more sales in later launches.

I didn’t do the launches to create scarcity. I did them to help focus my attention on building the course, but that’s the effect it had, regardless of whether it was intentional or not.

Now, since my personal income is entirely derived from my business, I am massively, some might even say foolishly exposed to how many people buy the course. So you’d think I’d spend most of my time thinking about it, improving it and marketing it… right?

Right?

Doesn’t look that way. In fact, It looks like the launches created a perverse incentive, one that I’ve decided to unwind.

Instead of remaining engaged with course development, some part of my mind knew I had recently made several months’ worth of personal income, which led me to just leave the course alone, even though I wanted to build it. Not only that, but the weeks leading up to each launch are always an intense period of thinking and filming videos, so I suspect there was a kind of mini-burnout cycle appearing,

Ultimately all this led to a kind of on/off, stop/start approach to engaging with ideas that matter a lot to me. This is not how I want to behave, now or over the years to come.

I’ve discussed elsewhere that I want to build my kind of lifestyle business, which in the context of that note meant ‘not working too hard’:

For now I shall build my business around the lifestyle I want, one where I can spend my days reading, thinking, writing, travelling, talking to people and, yes obviously, also working. To me, today, the sense of freedom and flexibility I get is worth sacrificing more money.

But there’s another angle to this. I want to build a lifestyle business that actively encourages me to read, think, write and talk to people, always, and not one that just allows time for those things.

Rather than chastise myself for not working with the appropriate focus, intensity and consistency, I’ve decided to change the incentive structure. No more launches. The course is now available for purchase at any time.

It's the end of a launch. Get it? Because they're landing? You get it
Photo by SpaceX on Unsplash

I actually made this change a few days ago. Do you know what happened the moment I made the course available for purchase? Absolutely nothing. I didn’t make any money. This is the point.

The only way people will buy the course is if they know it exists and that it can give them what they want. For these to be true I need to talk about the course and the ideas within it a lot, i.e. to write consistently. I need to do my own R&D to move more deeply into the subject matter so I can build more and better stuff. And I need to figure out what people really want and explore new ways to give them that.

Actually doing all this requires much more consistent engagement from me than doing a launch every few months and hoping for the best, which has been my current strategy until now, even if it was implicit.

I want to keep this design approach firmly in mind as my business grows. If ever I find myself behaving in ways that are counter to what I and my business need, I will explore ways to change the structures around me so that my behaviour naturally aligns with what I and my business need.

As long as I keep certain principles in mind: that I don’t want to create a burden for myself and that I want to pay myself properly, this should lead to outcomes that feel good.

It’s an experiment, anyway. Let’s see what happens.

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September 14, 2021 15:44
Writing gives you access to the online game

There is an online game being played around you.

Photo by Lucas Santos on Unsplash

In this game people are making new friends, meeting up around the world, working on exciting projects and generally creating opportunities to change their lives radically, should they so wish. There is no central story line; it’s all side quests based on curiosity and relationships.

While everyone can observe the online game for free, participation has a cost. This cost isn’t financial, although a little money is required for access and tools. No, the online game uses ideas and attention as currency.

In business, though interestingly not in poker, the term ‘table stakes’ refers to the minimum requirements needed to participate in any arrangement, i.e. to play a game. When it comes to the online game, the table stakes are some thoughtful published work, usually written.

When someone reaches out to me online, the first thing I do is look for their personal website.

When I come across someone saying interesting things on Twitter, I check their bio, look for a personal website and scroll their feed for evidence of thoughtful tweets. Without one of those things I’m unlikely to follow.

When (online) friends mention or introduce me to a new person, they send me a link to their website or Twitter profile, both of which act as a kind of modern-day business card.

I spoke to someone yesterday who reached out to me via Twitter DM. She has no following, no website and just a few interesting tweets, but something about her vibe felt good. I happened to be in an open mood when I saw the DM, so we Zoomed.

But this move on her part, while audacious and successful on this occasion, is more likely than not to be met with radio silence. I have ignored many such requests. In this case I know from 45 minutes of discussion that she has great ideas and that she would be a fantastic player in the online game, but neither that truth nor my word are enough to give her a seat at the table.

She needs to make, publish and share. That’s level 1, which gives gives access to level 2 (make new online friends), which eventually unlocks level 3 (do fun things with online friends).

If you’re currently a non-player character of the online game, someone who reads and watches, and you wants to become an active player, this is your next step: write sincerely, write earnestly, write prolifically.

And most importantly, share your writing to let the others find you.

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September 13, 2021 12:42
Design games so you enjoy playing them

One of my metaphysical axioms is that existence is fundamentally playful.

Yes, this was inspired by Alan Watts, but he got it from Hindu cosmology, so I’m okay with this not being an original idea. It just sits well with me.

Playfulness is that which happens for its own sake. To inquire as to the purpose of play is to miss the point, and if you ask a child what they’re playing for you will get a confused expression. The point of play is play! What a silly question, grown up.

Play is also inherently unforced and unforcible. The most effective way to prevent play is to try to be playful. And the harder you try, the more serious you become and the more play eludes you. You can try this with children (although please don’t): commanding them to play for their aunts and uncles will just cause them to freeze or they'll learn to 'perform' play. That state of grace has to emerge naturally!

It’s easy to think of play as something that exists outside our normal lives and routines, something frivolous in which we may occasionally indulge.

No. Playfulness is a state of mind, a state of being, a perspective.

Photo by eleonora on Unsplash

Navigating the world in a playful way doesn’t mean you can’t play towards a particular goal. It just means that the goal you want to achieve can’t be more important than how you attain it.

Or, as Alan puts it:

“We thought of life by analogy with a journey, a pilgrimage, which had a serious purpose at the end, and the thing was to get to that end, success or whatever it is, maybe heaven after you’re dead. But we missed the point the whole way along. It was a musical thing and you were supposed to sing or to dance while the music was being played.”

The point of dancing is to dance, but you can still dance in a coordinated way with a partner such that you both end up at a certain place on the dance floor.

This is how we can make progress towards our goals in a playful way. I want to build muscle, so it makes sense for me find resistance exercises that I enjoy and eat food that I find delicious. I want to write a lot, so it makes sense for me to write about things that bring me to life, to write for people who appreciate my writing and to use tools that I enjoy.

I also want to maintain a sufficient level of not caring about whether or not I actually achieve my goals. It might happen, it might not, who cares, I’m just enjoying the ride. And by enjoying the ride it actually becomes more likely that I’ll keep doing the things that will allow my goals to ‘just be achieved’ one day.

This is increasingly how I approach the things I want to do in my life. I remember that it’s all a game. I still choose to play it sincerely, but ultimately I seek to unwind the forcing mechanisms that serve to get me stuck.

The liberating insight from all this is that if some area of life isn’t experienced as playful then you can change things until it is. Make the game easier, make it more challenging, include other players, find new players, change the rules, flout the rules! Do whatever you can to make it lighter, easier, more fun. This isn't always easy, but it is a move that's available.

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September 8, 2021 10:41
Striving for the good qualia

I have become one of those people who eats a weird diet.

Right now I am doing strict keto, which means I eat less than 20g of carbohydrate per day. I also exclude all nuts, cow dairy, alcohol and caffeine. Not only does this make ordering any drink at a pub difficult ("I'll have an overpriced sparkling water, please"), it also requires a lot of thought, planning and not allowing myself to have things I enjoy.

So why do I do it? I do it because I just really, finally want to feel consistently good.

It took me a long time to realise that many people feel the same most of the time. They wake up and go "hmm, yes, these are indeed my qualia, off we go then."

This is not how things are for me. It seems like my moods, energy levels, ability to focus, emotions and even the contents of my thoughts are highly sensitive to environmental and internal conditions in one way or another. They all bounce around a lot.

When I drink even a single shot of coffee I get a 20 minute rush of euphoria and hyper focus, then I get sweaty and scattered, then comes the crushing anxiety and then I get a few hours of low-mood fatigue. For alcohol, the 'feel good' curve now seems to come after the 'feel bad' curve, so I just feel tired, sick and withdrawn before I get any of the fun stuff that alcohol promises.

In the winter here in the UK we don't get many daylight hours, and those that we do get are often hidden behind thick grey clouds for weeks on end. I'm sensitive to this and experience what I assume is Seasonal Affective Disorder. My life is reliably most subjectively terrible around January and February, but if I fly south to somewhere sunny then my entire life outlook shifts within 24 hours.

And, finally, even when I eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly and sleep at sensible times, there seem to be random days when things are great and random days when they are not. I assume nutrition and sunlight are implicated here, but I'm still experimenting.

These sensitivities have actually increased with age, but I think they were always there and my youth just hid them somewhat. All this means is that I have developed a strong tendency to tinker with my environment, with what I put into and with what I do with my body.

Keto is annoying, restrictive and means I have to deny myself certain pleasures (like cake). But is it more annoying than seeing my life drift by in a distant, anxious, low-energy haze? No it is not.

I am extremely aware of my qualia and I know that my qualia are malleable. My belief is that the default qualia mode should be clear, happy, exploratory and energetic; if it's not then there is some kind of dysfunction in the system. If that dysfunction can be resolved, say by eating a nutritious, non-harmful diet, by moving a lot, by being in the sun a lot, by sleeping consistently well, then those qualia will emerge.

I confess that having to do so much work to notice, decipher and resolve the dysfunction is frustrating, but it is what it is. I shall keep going. I want those good qualia.

Photo by Zhuo Cheng you on Unsplash

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September 6, 2021 16:54
Why I love Anjunabeats

Anjunabeats is a record label that, according to Wikipedia, specialises in electronic, trance, progressive trance and progressive house music.

I listen to an enormous amount of Anjunabeats. I have been to at least 20 club nights, concerts and events put on by their artists and have introduced many of my friends to them. Literally two days ago I went to the live event for their 450th weekly radio show (needless proof).

So it's probably about time that I explain why I love them.

Their music just works for me.

Sometimes you hear a piece of music for the first time and it just clicks. You realise that this is what you've been longing for, that this is what was missing from your life.

This was my experience when I discovered Above & Beyond, the band that created the Anjunabeats label, at Glastonbury festival in 2014. I hadn't heard of them, but was convinced to go by a new friend, and I'll be forever grateful to him for that (thanks, Kev).

Above & Beyond were the last official set of the festival, at something like 10pm on day five — the Sunday — and I was ruined. Absolutely, thoroughly used up and totally worn out, although not quite ready to loudly proclaim "Wow! What a Ride!"" (with apologies to Hunter S. Thompson).

I had been dancing until dawn the previous Thursday, Friday and Saturday (well, Sunday morning). Since Glastonbury is always the week after the summer solstice, and since the UK is surprisingly far north, it got dark around 10.30pm and light at 4.30am. I was not sleeping much or well. 

And that was a rainy year, so my 200k+ fellow revellers and I had turned Worthy Farm into a swamp with sticky mud inches deep. The only place that it was ever possible to sit down was inside my own tent, and I wasn't there much.

I thought it worth stressing all that to give you a sense of just how broken I was. And yet, when Above & Beyond came on and I heard their music, all the pain and tiredness went away. Charles Darwin, of all people, captures it well:

“Attention, if sudden and close, graduates into surprise; and this into astonishment; and this into stupefied amazement" — Charles Darwin

It's been seven years since I first felt that stupefied amazement and I still experience it regularly when I listen to their music. It just makes me feel so good.

The song that really grabbed me was "Hello". You can watch the video here. I love that the energy of the video matches how the track makes me feel. The way to listen to these tracks is to let them take you to where they want to go. See what associations come up in your mind, notice what feelings emerge, and let them get more powerful. 

They treat their music like art.

Listening to someone wax lyrical about why their favourite music is the best music is unlikely to be convincing, so I'll give a concrete example that supports my argument here.

Consider their regular Anjunabeats Volume X albums, where X is a number. You know how most albums are a sequential list of tracks that are generally disconnected from each other? Well, all the tracks on the Anjunabeats Volumes are mixed together, flowing seamlessly from one to the next. You can tell how much an electronic music artist cares about their music by the quality of their transitions, and these are always... hmm, sublime is the only word I'm willing to settle for.

Not only that, but these albums are shaped. Each one is a journey. They start softly, perhaps even a little melancholically, and then surge unapologetically towards euphoria.

If you want to see what I mean, I recommend Volume 11, which is where I started. It's in two parts on YouTube for some reason, or it's all on Spotify. Listen in order!

YouTube Part 1

YouTube Part 2

Spotify album

They are prolific.

Sometimes you discover a new artist, get all excited, go look up their other works and realise they have maybe one other album. Sadness ensues.

Not so with Anjunabeats. Because it's a well-curated label with dozens of talented artists that share a specific set of vibes, there is an essentially endless amount of music to fall into. 

I'm currently enjoying and playing with the idea of an online oasis, a place on the Internet that you can discover and take refuge in from the noise outside. Well, that's what discovering Anjunabeats was like for me. A musical oasis with many gardens and paths, some well sign-posted, others more hidden, and almost all leading somewhere delightful.

They sign a large number of talented artists.

Related to their prolificness, the label accommodates a vast list of artists, of course some very well known within the scene who date back to the early years of the label, but many new ones as well. 

It strikes me that they are always on the lookout for up and coming names and giving them opportunities to rise through the ranks, so to speak. This suggests a collaborative sentiment and willingness to innovate, both of which are important to me. It also means that I get to be delighted more often and experience the joy of discovering someone new I really like.

They spread a positive message of love, appreciation and connection.

Above & Beyond have a weekly 'radio' show called Above & Beyond Group Therapy, based on an album by the same name.

GROUP THERAPY.

That might give you a hint as to the general vibe of their music. If you want to feel feels, if you want to do some emotional processing in an environment that validates that your feelings are okay, go to an Above & Beyond concert.

It's common for them to write messages up on a screen behind them, where everyone can see.:

  • "Life is made of small moments like this"
  • "Our current mood is gratitude"
  • "You are not alone"
  • "Never forget about the ones who love you back"
I took this picture.

It's a huge relief to enter such a space. While the music can be heavy and intense, it's never aggressive. If someone bumps into you while dancing they apologise and maybe give you a hug. The fans are generally lovely people, although of course some bad eggs are always present at events like these.

Going to an Anjunabeats event can often feel like finding the others. In fact, so many people seem to make friends through Anjunabeats that there's a name for the people you know who are also very into Anjunabeats: Anjunafamily

Is it cheesy? Hell yes. Is it also awesome? Hell yes.

All this and more is why I love Anjunabeats.

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September 4, 2021 12:29
All at once or not at all

This is how I seem to work. 

I can write a note like this, with 500 - 1000 words, in about 45 minutes and then it’s done. I mean, done enough that I can publish and feel satisfied. 

It’s both a blessing and a curse that my first drafts are largely immediately publishable. A blessing, because that means I have sufficient writing skill to be able to do that, and a curse, because it means I’m stuck at a local maximum of never editing my work.

If I look around my life more broadly, this is not just constrained to my writing of little notes. It seems the phenomenon of “I can either do it all at once or not at all” shows up in quite a few places, so I tend to struggle with bigger, more complex projects. It’s common for me to start many things and make good progress on them. Yay, great. But then I stop, put my work somewhere and experience aversion whenever it occurs to me that I could go back to it.

I know what you’re probably thinking. “Hmm, Michael, I don’t know much about ADHD, but this sounds suspiciously like ADHD”. Maybe, I don’t know. I often think there’s something, but I’ve also never really resonated enough with the image I have in my head of what ADHD is. 

Have you noticed how the last five paragraphs started with the letter I? Neither had I until just now. That’s the kind of thing one might otherwise edit out if they were fond of editing, but no, I shall leave it.

Whether it’s ADHD or something else, it’s there, and I’m keen to find ways to navigate through or around it. All at once or not at all is surprisingly effective in many circumstances, but it relies on being able to capture a spark of creativity in the moment and make a thing with it. I would like to be able to chip away effectively, relentlessly, and patiently at something until one day a vast and epic creation appears before my eyes.

Writing is a good playground for this. I know I can put decent words on a page without much difficulty, but I struggle with longer form writing. Anything that requires planning, structuring, restructuring, writing, rewriting, editing and polishing, that’s where my existing methods break down, so that’s where I need to go.

Write of Passage is coming up. It’s a little embarrassing, as an alumni mentor, to admit that I suck at this crucial aspect of writing. I’m going to lean into it though and use Write of Passage to give myself permission to write longer pieces. 

Perhaps a way forward is this. I won’t allow myself to publish my first draft of anything that I intend to be an essay. It’s fine for notes — these are designed to be high velocity anyway — but essays are where the craft and art of my writing will be cultivated.

Then, once I’ve proven to myself that I can maintain focus on a single project over time, I can expand my ambition. I’d like to be able to spend a few weeks really diving into a topic and then compile my explorations into a solid essay. And then to repeat that, over and over again. If I could become that person, wow, that would be exciting.

And to close, I remind myself that the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona has been under construction since 1882 and is still not finished. It's a masterpiece, though, and I'm grateful for the people who have worked on it consistently for so long. I take inspiration from them, their vision and their persistence.

Photo by Luca Bravo on Unsplash
September 1, 2021 11:43
We must be able to talk about taboos

This one turned out quite long, but this is still a written-all-at-once first draft. I might edit it properly and turn it into an essay. I reserve the right to change my mind or articulation of anything below.

I started my career, way back in 2010, as an intern at the Royal Society, which is the UK’s national science academy. 

It was an incredible experience for many reasons. We interns were shown various treasures in the library, like the manuscript copy of Newton’s Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, I organised a conference where I met Naomi Klein, among others, and I swam in the choppy waters of a topic that even today is controversial: solar geoengineering.

Let me start with some science before I turn to the more important matter of what’s allowed in public discourse.

Solar geoengineering is the intentional reflection of sunlight into space to moderate some effects of global warming. At the sci-fi end of the options is the deployment of tens of thousands of tiny mirrors into space between the Earth and the Sun. But that’s expensive and probably silly.

More sensibly, we could do it by increasing the Earth’s surface albedo (reflectivity), say by painting buildings white, by covering dark landscapes with a light-coloured material or by making marine clouds brighter with special ships that turn seawater into a fine mist.

We could also inject aerosols into the stratosphere with planes or high-altitude balloons to replicate the global dimming effect of volcanic eruptions. Did you know that when Mount Pinatubo erupted in 1991, the 20 million tonnes of sulphur dioxide it released reduced global temperatures by 0.5ºC for two years? It could be worse; when Krakatoa exploded in 1883 the material it released reduced global temperatures by 1.2ºC and had a century-long impact on ocean temperatures. 

Lithograph of Krakatoa exploding in 1883

All this to say, we know how it works and that it works. It would also be quite cheap, all things considered, maybe $18 billion per year per ºC of cooling. Given this, let’s assume that when people say solar geoengineering they mean stratospheric aerosol injection.

Now the obvious question: if stratospheric aerosols can definitely reduce global temperatures for cheap, why aren’t we doing it or even planning to do it. Ah yes, the downsides.

First up, it does absolutely nothing to change the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which would continue to rise if we don’t reduce emissions. So while average global temperatures may be held down, other effects of increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide, like ocean acidification, would continue.

It’s likely that solar geoengineering would disrupt global weather patterns. We’re talking droughts in some places, flooding in others, crop failures and the like. Oh, and injecting aerosols into the stratosphere could turn the sky white

It would also disproportionately affect developing countries, which are least responsible for the emissions that have driven global warming, are least able to invest in their own resilience and have the least influence on the global stage. But this is a complex area. If you’re a small island state facing obliteration from rising sea levels, you might support measures that promise to keep sea levels down.

Finally, there’s the risk of moral hazard. Do you drive a fully insured rental car as carefully as you drive your own? Similarly, if you know you can just turn the sun down a bit, are you as motivated to decarbonise our civilisation as fast as possible? This is the risk I see talked about most often and, as you'll see below, I think often unhelpfully.

Fundamentally, solar geoengineering is a terrible idea that we shouldn’t have to even vaguely consider. Yet it seems that the impacts of global warming may actually be worse than solar geoengineering, so here we are. To let that sink in, I’ll quote my friend Andy Parker, who was my manager at the Royal Society, who is now Project Director for the Solar Radiation Management Governance Initiative, and who, disclaimer, has not read or ‘approved’ of anything in this note:

“We live in a world where deliberately dimming the fucking sun might be less risky than not doing it.” 

I think in most places this is quoted as “deliberately dimming the <expletive> sun”, but I have it on good authority that said expletive was fucking. You’re welcome.

Alright, enough of that. Solar geoengineering is a stupid thing to do that may look quite sensible if we continue on the lacklustre path we’re currently on. Let’s turn to the actual point of this note, which is about the vital need to be able to talk about this topic, and others like it, in a sensible way.

You may have heard the terms climate mitigation and climate adaptation. Mitigation means all the things we can do to reduce new emissions into the atmosphere. This means renewable energy, reducing energy demand, flying and driving less, all that stuff. Mitigation is probably 95% of what you think of when you think about fixing global warming.

Adaptation means accepting that we are committed to some level of impact from global warming, let’s say new droughts, flooding or sea level rise, and then doing something about those impacts. This might mean building stronger coastal defences for low-lying regions or investing in more sophisticated irrigation systems. It might mean creating new insurance products for farmers, developing extreme weather warning systems or even non-coercively relocating entire communities.

Being able to talk about adaptation means being able to tolerate the paradox implied in the moral hazard. Yes, we are talking about building flood defences, but that doesn’t mean we have to invest less in mitigation efforts like renewables and energy efficiency. You can choose to sail your leaking boat back to shore while also bailing water out of it. 

I mean, in theory, anyway. In practice, talking about adaptation was frowned upon, even in academic circles. Even in 2013, there are references in the scientific literature highlighting that discussion of adaptation was, until recently taboo: 

Until recently, adaptation — a process by which societies address the consequences of climate change — was a taboo subject in the discussion of global climate policy, where it was viewed as undermining efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (see Pielke, Prins, Rayner, & Sarewitz, 2007). However, the realization that, even in the best-case scenario, emissions reductions can have little effect on social vulnerability to climate impacts over the next several decades has prompted a resurgence of interest in adaptation” — Stephanie Amaru, Netra B. Chhetri

Climate adaption is now considered mainstream, although all that means is that the truth of how significant global warming impacts have already become is now unambiguous and unavoidable. You might reasonably argue that if adaptation hadn’t been taboo for so long, we’d have talked about it more and earlier, and so benefited the millions of people around the world who now need to, you know, adapt.

And had we talked about mitigation properly earlier, we may not have needed to talk about adaptation. If we don’t talk about solar geoengineering now, we risk having to do it blind. And if it does turn out that we need to do solar geoengineering, I would prefer the science and governance implications around it to be as good as they can possibly be, because if we do have to turn down the fucking sun, I want it done as carefully as possible.

Whenever I see someone call for more climate action while also denouncing discussion of certain options, I become suspicious of their motives. “We must do everything we can, the world is on fire! Oh, but not that.” Perhaps solving climate change isn’t your top priority after all, then?

If the goal is to avoid dangerous global warming and its impacts then we need all options to be on the table. This is a both/and emergency, not an either/or emergency. Solar geoengineering is the most extreme example of this, but the principle applies as much to such things as carbon removal, carbon capture and storage and even nuclear power.

Being able to have hard conversations about hard choices means we’re more likely to have the conversations early on and thus make navigating the hard choices easier. We need to get better at talking about things that are considered, at least by some, to be taboo. The risks of not talking about something are vastly greater than the perceived fears of that thing happening if we do.

“What is true is already so. Owning up to it doesn't make it worse. Not being open about it doesn't make it go away. And because it's true, it is what is there to be interacted with.” — Eugene Gendlin 

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August 30, 2021 17:18
Building my kind of lifestyle business

When people think of a startup they often imagine something that needs investors who believe in a vision before there's a product or people to sell it to. Since it has no revenue it may need to exist for several months before it generates revenues, let alone a profit. And because it has investors, the expectation is that it scales quickly and to a high summit so the investors and founders can sell and make their money and sweat back. 

Photo by S Migaj on Unsplash

While on paper a lifestyle business may do all the same things as a startup — selling things to people who want them while paying its people, taxes and expenses — it doesn’t share the traits above. A lifestyle business can be profitable from day one (mine was), it doesn’t need outside investment, and it can grow slowly.

Because a lifestyle business is under the complete control of its owners, which in the case of my business is 100% me, its activities can be intentionally designed to operate however the owners want, as long it can still make money, of course.

But the word lifestyle can mean a lot of things. What kind of lifestyle? 

It’s possible to build a lifestyle business in which you work 60 hour weeks with no holidays and where your services need you to be working at the time. Coaching is a good example of this. You get paid per coaching session, but if you’re the coach then you need to be at the session.

It’s also possible to build a lifestyle business where you work fewer than ten hours a week, where those ten hours can happen whenever you want them to, and where your products sell regardless of whether or not you’re working. This is the kind of lifestyle business I want to build.

This all sounds great and obvious — very Tim Ferriss circa 2007 — so why am I talking about it? Because I need to keep renewing this commitment over and over again in the face of every opportunity that comes my way. If I’m not careful, I’ll end up building that other kind of lifestyle business.

Most of my revenue comes from the sale of my Alexander Technique course. At the moment this is basically fully self-paced for students. All I have to do is answer questions in the forum, do research and make new materials. I do plan to develop more synchronous workshops and office hours, though.

It could so easily be different. 

All those shiny cohort-based courses that sell for a few thousand $ a pop. So alluring. Much prestige. Having been a mentor for two of the big ones (Write of Passage and the Part Time YouTuber Academy), I have seen how much work is involved in those. You need a proper business, the kind with employees! You need team meetings, Slack channels and, I don’t know, internal policies, or something.

That sounds a lot like a job to me. Sure, a fun, creative, fulfilling, exciting and wholly-owned job, but a job nonetheless. I did that for ten years and I want a break.

Maybe I’ll want that one day. Actually, I probably will want that one day. But today is not that day. That’s why, whenever I encounter the siren call of much more money, I tie myself to the mast of but I don’t want to work that hard.

For now I shall build my business around the lifestyle I want, one where I can spend my days reading, thinking, writing, travelling, talking to people and, yes obviously, also working. To me, today, the sense of freedom and flexibility I get is worth sacrificing more money.

And, to be honest, I have a suspicion this approach will still lead to plenty of money, just indirectly. Money will happen serendipitously from the quiet reflection, the adventures and the new friends I’ll be able to make in all that space and time.

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August 26, 2021 10:42
Quitting my job was a no-regrets move

I want to share a mental reframe I made that gave me the push I needed to quit my job and head out on my own.

Photo by Denny Luan on Unsplash

In September 2020 I was toying with the idea of making an online Alexander Technique course. I pre-sold 50 spaces to test interest, before I had made anything, and when 50 people bought it I became more confident that there was something there. I was further comforted when they seemed to like what I ended up making.

But there’s an enormous difference between making $5k on the side and quitting your well-paid job to build and scale an online course and, hopefully, make some decent money from it. Such an enormous difference, in fact, that I grappled with whether or not I should quit for two torturous months.

Emotionally I felt ready to quit. I wasn’t enjoying my job and I was excited by the prospect of a new life, yes, but I couldn’t rationalise it. My intellect and my body were pulling in different directions. 

This resolved almost miraculously when I went through Tim Ferriss’ Fear-Setting exercise, based on the Stoic practice of negative visualisation (premeditatio malorum). The exercise goes as follows:

Page 1 - mitigate the downside

Make three lists, with 10–20 entries each.

  • Define — What are the worst things could happen?
  • Prevent — How do I prevent each from happening?
  • Repair — If the worst happens, how can i fix it?

Page 2 - explore the benefits of action

Make a list of the possible benefits if successful or partially successful.

Page 3 - cost of inaction

Make three lists of the costs of your inaction. In other words, if I avoid doing this thing what might I miss out on?

  • 6 months
  • 1 year
  • 3 years

All of this was useful and I’d recommend the exercise to anyone considering a big decision. 

One of my possible benefits of even partial success was that I would end up with some kind of online Alexander Technique course for which some people would want to pay some amount of money.

I’ve written that nebulously on purpose — who knows what it would look like or how much they would pay? It doesn’t matter, I had already proven that there was some value and some people were willing to pay something pay for it. It stood to reason that I could build something, an asset, that could be sold again and again.

Here’s the no-regrets part. There’s a scenario where I didn’t make enough money from the course to live comfortably and would have gone job hunting again. But I would still have had the course I made! The course that some people would want to buy for some amount of money! None of that would go away.

This means that I’d be returning to the job market in a different position from how I left it. Depending on the level of revenue the course could generate, I could go after different kinds of jobs! Perhaps a part time job, perhaps a comfortable 9-5pm job, perhaps an intense job at a non-profit that can’t pay high salaries. 

Even within the the conventional world of work, an entirely new landscape of flexibility opens up by having a meaningful secondary income stream. This is why a failure to be able to survive entirely independently could still have life changing impact. 

When I recognised this truth the decision was made and I resigned a few days later. 

Incidentally the course has now made about $80,000 since that initial pre-launch in September 2020, most of which was generated in the six months since I actually left work. I’m calling this a success. 

And the best thing is that the logic above still applies: I can still go and get a job if I really want to. But now I also have an asset that looks like it could generate $100k+ a year by itself. This is a nice place to be and it came from recognising that the leap I was about to take wasn’t actually as scary as it felt.

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