My 2022 self (I don't know them) was very wrong about meditation, huge monitors, and... sleep.created: ; modified:
When I read Richard Hanania’s Reflections on 2022 in which he listed a bunch of major topics he changed his mind about, I realized that I really admired him for doing this. Then, immediately afterwards, I thought “Wait, am I worse than Hanania? The person who made the entire twitter angry at him more times than everyone else dead & alive combined? If he can call himself out on his bullshit, so can I.”
Thus, this post. Briefly:
- Meditation is terrible -> meditation is amazing.
- Sleep minimum sustainable amount -> sleep enough to have maximum energy.
- The more the bigger monitors the better -> one 16" monitor is perfect.
Note that a lot of what I previously believed is stupid, wrong or just doesn’t make sense. I can’t say I’m proud of any of that stuff, but, also, what else did you expect from a person whose claim to fame is being prolific in hot takes on twitter?
Meditation is terrible -> meditation is amazing
I was very vocal about this. March 2022: “in 2050 it will be an accepted fact that focus on psychological health (including meditation) was one of the biggest biggest disasters for the advancement of humanity ever”. March 2021: “What should one do to get the effect on one’s mind the opposite of that one would get pursuing meditation?”. Three more tweets. Even in October 2022, I spent hours arguing with Evan Conrad telling him that meditation is obviously bad.
What I changed my mind about
1. Meditation was invented to make people get rid of all desires and self-mummify.
Actually, I have no clue why meditation was invented. I think I just saw a picture of a monk who meditated himself into a mummy once and the image got stuck in my head.
2. Successful people only talk about how good meditation, balance, sleep, etc. are after they become successful.
What about Evan Conrad & Sam Altman?
Evan used to have regular panic attacks and be a big “mental health” person. Today, after meditating a lot, he is extremely intentional, um, bubbly, and frighteningly benevolent.
Sam used to be “a very anxious, high-strung person … just generally unhappy and somewhat miserable and also just work-wise, tremendously less effective and a much worse leader”. For example:
I had been negotiating this deal. It was not going that well. It was pretty important, and it was under extreme time pressure and down to the wire. I remember at one point just like feeling like I was going to explode from the stress about it. … I was so stressed I was laying on the ground with my arms out to the side and trying to breathe and feeling like I was just like going to explode. …
He used to share my view on meditation (“If someone was like you just need to go meditate more, I would basically be like fuck you, I’m really busy. That’s a dumb thing. You don’t get it.") but eventually decided to try it hoping it would make him more productive. It did. And it also turned him from a very anxious, high-strung, and unhappy person into an extremely calm and joyous person.
So, meditation helped Evan and Sam to become vastly more functional while keeping all the things they liked about themselves, rather than turning them into pot-smoking hippies.
3. I’m very happy with how my mind works. I don’t want to mess with it and risk losing my edge.
2022 was my first real year of running a company. I spent a ton of time being extremely stressed (very fun) and anxious/worried/scared (not fun at all). Sometimes I would see a difficult email and spend days being anxious about it. Or I would be scared to take the responsibility for a decision I had to make and would have someone else make it. Or I would be scared of having a difficult conversation and just keep delaying it for weeks and months.
I gradually realized that whatever edge I might have, I don’t want to get stuck here.
What I do now
As of writing this, I’ve been meditating >=1h/day for 48 days in a row. On my very first day, I felt like I haven’t really thought in like 5 years.
By “meditating” I mostly mean sitting around with my eyes closed. I haven’t done any research at all on what meditation is supposed to be. Apparently there’s a million different styles of it, so I’m just going to go ahead and call what I do meditation too, fight me.
Sometimes I have specific prompts to think about (from me/from my friends/from LLMs) that I try to keep my focus on. Usually these prompts are about my feelings or problems or questions I’m facing. Sometimes I let things bubble up and my mind wander from one thing to another.
Sometimes I focus on my breath and just let the thoughts pass through me. Sometimes I lie on the floor and try to feel what’s happening in my body (it turns out it has a lot of feelings too…). This seems very difficult to do properly without having a fully private space where you can lie on a floor talking to yourself and making weird sounds for hours without any disturbances.
Sometimes I sit at my computer and write thoughts down as I meditate. Sometimes I write them down afterwards. Sometimes I take a big piece of paper and draw diagrams of what I think or feel and ask myself “why?” endlessly.
Some of the things that have improved so far (some by a lot, some marginally):
- Attention & meta-attention: I realized that I can consciously direct my attention. Therefore, I can decide e.g.:
- To remember the current page number in the book, map directions, wifi passwords, etc.
- To notice how I feel and what I want to do with the feeling, instead of executing a cached for it routine.
- Whether to fall into an obsession when tempted.
- Mental health: I processed a lot of my feelings, beliefs, and frames, many of which I’ve been repressing or unconsciously living under for years (fuck you, Dostroyevsky, in particular). I now feel a lot less social anxiety, shame, and fear. A lot of what Sasha Chapin describes as “deep okayness” resonates.
- Productivity: I worry about and delay tasks/emails/messages a lot less. I take more ownership for what I do. Sometimes I spend an hour sitting around with my eyes closed and make a decision that would’ve otherwise taken days and a big google doc to make.
While the changes feel transformative, they aren’t stable. In another post, Sasha Chapin noted how difficult life situations force the old stuff to come back & how thinking that you’re “done” means you don’t notice this happening and get fucked. There’s always something to improve and life is always trying to fuck you up.
I’m a bit worried about potentially losing my capacity for being obsessed with things and for losing my full range of feelings that I do want to feel but this hasn’t happened just yet 🥲.
I think meditation has been very good for me and that it would be very good for a lot of other people too.
Get minimum possible sustainable amount of sleep -> get enough sleep to have maximum energy during the day
Sleep makes me angry. I mean, why on Earth do I have to spend hours every day lying around unconscious?????????
In 2019, trying to learn about the science behind sleep I read Why We Sleep and got so angry at it for being essentially pseudoscience that I spent >100 hours debunking it. In 2020, I slept 4 h/day for 2 weeks and shown that this didn’t make me dumber (not recommended, it was terrible). In 2022, I published Theses on Sleep, with points like “Experiencing sleepiness is normal and does not necessarily imply that you are undersleeping. Never being sleepy means you are probably sleeping too much.”
What I changed my mind about
1. There’s no good medical reason to sleep more than the minimum you can sustain.
Not this one! Fight me.
2. I can sleep 4h/day, so 6h/day must be easy.
It turns out that sleeping 6h/day is hard… I have to track sleep & adjust for every party I go to, deadline, travel; worry about sleepiness during boring meetings/tasks; etc.
3. It’s fine to sometimes be sleepy.
I tried Adderall and it made me more awake than ever before. I noticed that this made me want to do stuff more, pay more attention, be more intentional, think quicker, have more ideas, and remember more. Conversely, I started to notice that being sleepy has the exact opposite effect.
Therefore, I realized that it’s very important to be as awake as possible and that my model of sleepiness where you can be “awake”, “sleepy” and “asleep” is dumb.
4. I don’t have another 10h/week to spend being dead.
Come on 2022 Alexey, you definitely lose >10h/week to just random bullshit. Ahem, CS:GO.
5. Many impressive people sleep 5-6h (Elon, Napoleon, Thatcher), so I can too.
Sure. And many others (Bezos, Zuck, Isaak Freeman) sleep 7-8h.
What I do now
- I default to sleeping 2300-0600. I do my best to always wake up at the same time because I wake up 10-15m before the alarm if I do this for several days in a row.
- I don’t worry about sleeping 3-4h occasionally. I’m actually writing this at 4am after <3 hours of sleep. But I avoid doing this often because it messes up my schedule.
The more the bigger monitors the better -> a single 16” laptop monitor is perfect.
I was so proud of my old 4-monitor setup (49" + 34" + 24" + 16") that I recorded an entire fucking YouTube video about it and I spent many years telling everyone to get huge monitors & low-key concluded that they were maybe just not very bright if they disagreed. 🥲
What I changed my mind about
1. More & bigger monitors make me more productive.
One 16" monitor is perfect for reading and writing. Coding is the only task that really benefits from having more monitors and I barely code.
2. There’s no cost to more & bigger monitors.
I’m actually distracted by my task list, calendar, notes, etc. always visible. Also, I get attached to all of my neat context windows, become worried about working from a laptop, and end up not moving around enough.
What I do now
- I work on my 16" MacBook and do one thing at a time.
- My task list is in Asana, two clicks away.
- I reorient every hour checking that I’m following Asana & know what the next step is (often it’s “3m reorient”).
- “3m” refers to me setting a 3 minute timer with the Smarter Countdown Timer which I always have opened on top of everything.
- “Nothing ever goes according to plan”
- My phone is in “Do not disturb” mode and I check messages on schedule ever 3 hours.
- If I want to check messages off-schedule, I can do it after a 3m timer.
- Raycast shows when the next meeting is.
- I move around if I lose my “default productive” mood where I work.
Synthesis: attention is really important
I first drafted this post 6 weeks ago. Since then, I’ve become even more bullish on the takes discussed here. I can’t promise I won’t do yet another 180 by the end of 2023 though.
Yes, it would be a bit embarrassing, but… writing this post kinda sucked. I had to think super hard, then spend days writing everything up, then endure all my friends telling me “I’ve been telling you this for years you dumbass”… If next year I could just ask an intern to add “not” in front of every sentence, that’d be fucking awesome. I bet that post would get more views as well.
I dunk on EAs a lot, so, in case they win the struggle for power when the singularity hits & in hopes of indulgence from the eternal Dyson sphere-powered torture for me and my loved ones, here are my
credences for holding these beliefs in 2023 numbers with “%” I pulled out of my ass:
- 80-90% Meditation is amazing.
- 76% Sleep enough to have maximum energy.
- 69.14159365359% One 16" laptop monitor is perfect.
50/50 The simulation doesn’t get shut down in 2023.
What’s a more general lesson here? I feel like I’m writing a 2015 New Yorker thoughtpiece now, but… attention is really important & we only have so much of it.
- What does meditation do? It teaches to maintain attention on one thing & to redirect it upon slipping.
- What does being more awake do? It makes maintaining attention easier.
- What does a single 16" monitor do? It prevents attention from being split.
Finally, a bit of advice for myself: be just a bit less confident in your beliefs & remember Joel Becker’s minute-long “hmmmmmmmmmmmm” whenever he hears you be 100% confident and just maybe stop at 95%.
Thanks to Daniel Paleka for prodding me to write this post. Thanks to Misha Yagudin, Niko McCarty, and my Twitter followers for helpful feedback.
- I have Asana open in Firefox, which I don’t use for anything else. “ctrl 1 command 1” always shows me my task list for today.
- “ctrl 1” opens Firefox via a Raycast shortcut.
- “ctrl 2” opens Asana Mac app which I use to move around Asana without messing up my firefox tabs.
- “shift ctrl +” opens Asana’s quick add window. I have 1m to add a task/thought if I’m doing something else.
- Fuck Covid. I couldn’t go to the office for months in 2020 & comletely forgot that always staying at once place kills me.
- Why are my tasks not very stimulating? Take writing this post as an example: no hard external deadlines, face-to-face competition, intense visual stimulus or risk.
- More re: previous beliefs about meditation.
- I tried meditating a few years back and learned to direct my attention to my breath for 5-10 minutes. It was easy and boring and I didn’t notice any positive lasting changes.
- Meditation comes from Asia, where the culture is that of escape from the world versus the Western culture of embracing the world head on.
- e.g. China & Japan literally tried to close themselves completely to external world, no Asian countries really went to explore the world the way Europe did.
- More re: sleepiness
- I learned that Adderall is used for ADHD and one other condition: narcolepsy. This further implies the connection between attention/executive control and sleepiness. Like, does having ADHD basically mean that parts of the brain are shut off and the reason Adderall helps is because it turns the brain on just like it does for narcoleptics?
- Similarly, maybe the reason we don’t remember waking up in the middle of the night or turning off alarms is because the brain is mostly asleep & therefore memory formation is shut down? This implies further connection between memory and wakefulness.
- Current hot take: best time to go to bed is being 5/10 awake rather than 1-2/10 awake. This ensures completion of the evening routine (planning in the evening is just better) & proper planning of waking up vs unconsciously falling into bed right after doing something or finishing the last 1-2 hours of the day being kinda sleepy and not wanting to do anything.
- meditation practices
- laptop if want to have many thoughts & get them out of my head
- no laptop if want to recurse on one thought & just resolve it or do something else
- feelings diagrams
- be specific. what does “i feel bad” actually mean?
- don’t judge feelings
- keep asking why
- if feel stuck/weird - close eyes and ask yourself what’s going on
- some things will make sense, some won’t - it’s ok! some you don’t even believe and they are what a 15 year old you believes