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#12: How to get the most out of your new year

#12: How to get the most out of your new year

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Welcome friends, to another Motherf*ckin’ Monday email, the only newsletter that promises to cure your New Year’s hangover, and then tricks you into drinking all over again. We’re kicking off 2020 with three important topics: 1) What are the most useful skills to develop in life? 2) how the perception of hostility online may be fake news, and of course, 3) my main man, Friedrich Nietzsche, laying it all out and educating us about monsters. 

Let’s get it. 

1. What Are The Most Useful Skills to Develop in 2020? – In habit research, there are certain activities that are known as “keystone habits.” Keystone habits are habits that make it easier to develop other healthy habits. The most common example is exercise. When you exercise, it increases energy, improves mood and executive function, and reduces cravings, making it easier to make good decisions and develop other habits. 

I’ve written quite a bit in previous years about the importance of pursuing habits rather than goals. But today, I actually want to talk about the habit’s close cousin: skills. 

Some skills are pretty fucking useless. As a teenager, I spent years perfecting my aim in video games such as Counter Strike and Unreal Tournament. Has that served me at all in the last 15 years? Not really. 

But some skills make other skills much easier to adopt and develop. In that sense, they are keystone skills. Last week I talked about the importance of “learning to learn better” in the coming year. Well, keystone skills are, err, key to that endeavor. They are the skills that help you learn other skills. Therefore, they are the conduit to our ability to learn how to learn. If keystone skills accelerate the adoption of other skills, then that means keystone skills are the most useful areas to focus our attention and energy. 

Obviously, there are likely a bunch of keystone skills. But since everything in this newsletter comes in threes, here I’ll discuss three of the more obvious ones. 

The first one? Reading. The better reader you become, the more you’re able to read to gain knowledge and insights into other skills. Learning to read faster and retain more also prepares you by creating a foundation of knowledge that will follow you in whatever you pursue. 

(I wrote a member’s article a few years ago on how to read faster and retain more.) 

Another keystone skill is communication. Developing good conversational habits, personal charisma, social confidence, and the ability to tell a story well will help you in every area of your life—in business, relationships, parenting, negotiation, and especially when you’re trying to impress that hottie at the local donut shop. 

Another keystone skill is the ability to take risks—that is, the skill to act in the face of fear of failure. The more you’re willing to take risks (intelligent risks, that is), the bigger wins you’ll score—but you’ll also accumulate more failures to learn from. So while everyone else is nervously standing around the dance floor, waiting for the music play, you’ll be moonwalking to your own tune. 

Keystone skills are more worthy of eating up your attention and focus than most other things. This is why I created some courses around a few of them: overcoming your anxiety for one, conversation skills is another—you can find these as bonus courses in The Subtle Art School. But if you are at a complete loss of what to pursue in the new year, perhaps the course on finding some direction and purpose would suit you better.

(Note: these courses are available for School subscribers only. Learn more about The Subtle Art School.

Okay, okay. Enough of the sales pitches, let’s talk about how everyone’s an asshole… 

2. Online Hostility is (Mostly) Imagined  Many years ago, I wrote an article explaining why everyone on the internet appears to be an asshole—basically, mass anonymity and lack of face-to-face communication causes people to feel freer to act like jackasses because there are no social consequences. 

But, it appears I might be wrong. An interesting new study was published a few weeks ago that challenges my assumptions with some fairly convincing data. The study says that people are not more hostile online than they are in person. We’re just exposed to far more assholes online than we are in person, therefore we incorrectly assume that the internet makes people mean. 

One of the strongest human biases is called the Negativity Bias. The Negativity Bias is our tendency to mentally weigh negative events and feelings as being more significant than positive ones. It means that a single insult feels worse than 3-4 compliments combined. It means one failure hurts more than the satisfaction of a half dozen victories. It means one awful news story will upset you far more than five happy endings. The Negativity Bias sucks. But we must live with it. 

The study basically says that our perception that people suck more on the internet is the result of our Negativity Bias. For example: 

  • Let’s say that 1 out of 50 people are raging dickfaces.
  • Let’s also say that going about your day-to-day life, you only encounter about 10 people per day, on average.
  • That means that you only have to experience a raging dickface roughly once every five days, or roughly half a dozen times per month.
  • But online, you encounter hundreds, if not thousands, of people each day. Thus, you’re now you’re overflowing in dickfaces.
  • Due to our Negativity Bias, we naturally overlook the hundreds of positive or neutral interactions we experience while the occasional hostile person sticks out like a puss-filled pimple on the ass of our internet experience. Once encountered, it’s hard to ignore and/or forget what we’ve seen.
  • QED: After a few hours of internet usage, we lose all faith in humanity.


This suggests a few things. 1) As I proposed in my Attention Diet, we must learn to be ruthless in choosing to whom we give our time and attention. 2) Quantity of experience is definitely not quality of experience. The more we’re exposed to negative experiences, the more the Negativity Bias kicks in and causes us to lose hope. And 3) the platforms we use (Facebook, Twitter, Google, et al.) certainly play a role in our perception of everyone sucking. Negativity triggers more reactions, therefore it spreads further and easier, giving us a skewed perception of the world and everyone in it. 

News media, of course, has been guilty of fostering this same misperception long before we had even heard of a modem, much less an internet. But I’ll be giving news media the full, thorough treatment it deserves in an article either next week or the week after. 

3. Gazing into the Abyss – Finally, I’d like to set the tone for the decade with one of my favorite quotes: 

“Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster… for when you gaze long enough into the abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.”
Anyone who read my most recent book will know that I’m an unabashed Nietzsche fanboy. All of Chapter 5 was practically an ode to him. 

Here, he offers us an important reminder in these socially contentious days that what we often perceive as resisting evil is merely a slow and subtle conversion into evil—that meeting hate with hate only makes use indistinguishable from what we oppose. And this is almost always a bad thing. 

Until next week, stay frosty. 

Mark