Examples of barbell strategies
On taking advantage of both extremes of risk and reward in friendship, caffeination, reading, dating, working, and more
The barbell strategy is an investment concept that suggests that the best way to strike a balance between reward and risk is to invest in the two extremes of high-risk and no-risk assets while avoiding middle-of-the-road choices. (source)
Here are some barbell strategies for everyday life:
Instead of drinking one cup of coffee every morning (thus making light caffeination your new normal and loosing any long term productivity gains), avoid caffeine during the week and drink as many expressos as you want on Saturdays and Sundays as you work on your exciting weekend project.
Instead of reading mid-wit pop-sci books which just offer vague metaphors or irrelevant anecdotes, read books that are either pure fun (fantasy, sci-fi, manga, etc), or actual hardcore science (textbooks and review papers).
Instead of having a dozen semi-close friends, get to know hundreds of people casually through meetups and via the internet, and make a small group of really close friends you see many times a week.
Avoid editing and writing a blog post at the same time, where you erase two words for every three you scrawl. Instead, write five streams-of-consciousness in one day and edit them into coherent essays throughout the week. That way, the artist inside you isn’t immediately neutered by the critic and actually has the opportunity to create. At the same time, the critic will get a chance to make sure that the artist doesn’t just take a big shit on your blog.
Don’t be a tech worker who does pathetic side projects in his free time (an infrequently updated blog, a useless webapp, half-hearted attempts to learn more about math or ML). Instead, work multiple jobs at the same time for half a year, and use the earnings to spend the next few years fully engaged in hare-brained schemes (working full time on your startup, becoming a Gwern style independent researcher, etc).
Instead of meditating twenty minutes every day and getting marginally better over time, spend 10 days every year at a meditation retreat making giant leaps towards enlightenment, and just live your life for the other 355.
Similarly, instead of reading a chapter a day, where you can’t consolidate the points made in the book due to the distractions of everyday life and the drawn out period of absorption, spend two weeks every few months on a reading retreat. You’ll go through a book a day, and you’ll spend your free time thinking about what you read, allowing you connect all the ideas in the books you’re reading
You could build a lazy profile on OkCupid and occasionally swipe when you’re taking a dump, but you’ll end up with a date every few weeks if you’re lucky, and most of the time, you won’t be compatible anyways. Instead, spend a weekend optimizing your dating profile and swipe until your fingers ache (physical training necessary to prepare you for future success). Don’t stop until you’ve organized seven or more dates for the coming week. Even if you’re only compatible with half of them, you’ll have a lot of fun and have three potential leads to pursue. Spend the next three weeks exploring these infant relationships. If nothing comes of any of them, rinse and repeat.
You could read a book a week, but you’ll inevitably end up forgetting even the main thesis of most of the titles you pick up (the auxiliary ideas and information will be gone even faster). Here’s another idea. Don’t read a book the following week but instead spend your allotted reading time writing a Scott Alexander type book review, where you explain the book’s main points and think carefully about its weaknesses, implications, and lessons. Go on Wikipedia and Google Scholar goose chases for all the interesting topics which the author didn’t go into enough detail on. For extra brownie points, start a podcast and invite the author on for an interview. It was only after I started my podcast that I learned to read with judicious skepticism of the author’s claims and deductions, sensitivity to his message and intent, and genuine openness to his explanatory models and challenging conclusions.
I don’t follow all these practices nor do I necessarily recommend them. But I thought they were interesting and potentially useful applications of the barbell strategy idea to everyday life.