The root of it all
I love efficiency. For me, optimizing every little thing that I do brings me a lot of joy. I optimize for time and effort. I optimize to bring out the best from my life and cut out the worst. I save time and make my life more fulfilling. And with time I start to gain more and more appreciation for the time I spent doing it.
But before I can tell you just how far this rabbit hole can go, we need to understand what does efficiency and optimization actually mean? What is the end goal here?
Efficiency = the ratio of the output to the input of any system
In other words, given the same input, we want to produce more value from it. This definition is very powerful because it can be applied to any kind of domain. Very often it is used in relation to programming. You can ‘optimize your program’ or ‘optimize the compiler’. When talking about optimization in this context, it means using less memory or less computational resources to achieve the same task. Many times, you have to trade something else to achieve your end goal, like using more memory to save computational resources but often you can just straight up have a better solution and thus increase this ratio of input to the output of your system.
As I have said before, this definition of efficiency applies to a broad range of domains. You can optimize your writing by saying more with less words. Often this is done by knowing what it is that you want to say. What is your message that you are trying to deliver?
You can also optimize your learning. Again it is crucial to know what it is that you want to learn first. It is also very helpful to always look at the definitions of things. In this case, looking at the definition of learning.
learning = the cognitive process of acquiring skill or knowledge
If you want to optimize learning and thus learn a lot more for the same time spent. Then looking at this definition can show you that fundamentally, learning is a cognitive process. Thus to understand how you can optimize such a task, you need to look into cognition. What does actually happen when you ‘learn’ things. What different methods can you use to learn things? If learning is a cognitive process that requires understanding and retention of knowledge, then what is retention? How can I optimize retention? How can I improve my memory?
There is a limit with how far you can go with this. In the example of learning for example, I personally find that, yes indeed learning is a cognitive process that requires understanding and retention. Retention is fundamentally your ability to process information and storing it in your short or long term memory, preferably long term. By studying how our brain stores and uses memory, which for me is a very fascinating topic, we can see that memory is one of the prime functions that our brain performs. And since our brain is part of our body, it follows that if we want to improve this or any other function of our brain, we have to improve the health of our body and in particular, our brain. It then raises questions as to what is considered a healthy body and what can we do to improve this health? Fortunately we are not discovering these things in the dark. There were a lot of people that have asked these same questions and they have spent their time studying and trying to find answers to each of these questions. Thus for example, coming to conclusion that our learning ability is dependent on the state of our health, we can refocus. We can start optimizing our health. Another beautiful thing about this approach of refocusing on optimizing the roots of our problems, is that by optimizing and improving the roots, we by definition optimize every other part that stems from this root. In our case, this root, being health. There are many processes that we do that rely on health. Like optimizing your running speed or optimizing your strength. Which when you start optimizing them, similar to ‘learning’, will lead you down this same path.
This is the mental framework that I have found to work most efficiently at attempting to optimize any task or process that I am interested in optimizing.
You may have observed that with all this branching out and finding the root of things, it seems that we are essentially optimizing certain nodes in a tree. If you are not familiar with what a tree is in the context of data structures, here is picture of a tree:
By definition, a tree is a structure with a root node. A node being one of these points here:
A node can have children that go below it and are connected with lines, as can be seen here:
A node can also have a parent, that is it can have a node directly above it like in this example below:
We have said that all trees have a root node. A root node being a node that has no parent, that is there is no node directly above it connecting to it. It is the great parent of all of the nodes.
Finally, a leaf is a node that has no children, and thus it is often located at the bottom parts of this tree structure.
Understanding of this definition and this structure is very important because in my opinion knowledge and information is fundamentally this structure. Everything is connected. Everything has a dependency and it is these dependencies that you want to find if you want to optimize anything efficiently.
An interesting question you may ask, is what is at the root of it all then? From my experience, I have observed, playing this game of finding the root of things, is that fundamentally, the root of it all is awareness. It often is the bottleneck of optimization. Yes, you can learn that sugar is bad for you and negatively impacts your health and thus doesn’t help with your goals of optimizing learning. However you still eat sugar. Why? The reason for it is addiction and habits. But when you look into the definitions of addiction and habits, you come to realize that a habit is fundamentally your brain’s method of optimizing its computational capabilities. It allows you to do things subconsciously so as to not spend energy doing repetitive tasks. You are thus not aware of doing these tasks and when you are met with some kind of a cue for any kind of habit that you have, your brain locks out your awareness of doing this certain task. Very often you do things out of habit whether you want to do them or not. Thus in my opinion, if you want to improve the balance and health of this tree of life, you have to start with awareness.
Here are a few things that I am optimizing myself right now, for your inspiration.
I suggest you to look into YNAB methodology. You don’t necessarily need the application but the ideology and this way of thinking about your money is very powerful. In short, you allocate your money to specific budgets. You have a budget for food, a budget for traveling, a budget for saving your money. This way you always have a job for each cent of your financial account and you never have to worry and wonder where your money went or how much you have. It is a very proactive way of dealing with money rather than a more passive alternative of just tracking your expenditure and analyzing that. But once again, you need awareness, to follow through and actually follow your budgets and set the budget targets correctly. But that will come with time.
One of the children of health and is your only way to get the resources needed to improve your well being. You can start by studying why exactly is sugar bad for you. Study insulin resistance. I advise you to read ‘How not to Die’ by Michael Greger. In short, cut out refined food from your diet. More specifically cut out refined sugar. Look into the definition of what refined food actually is and why is such food, stripped from all of the essential macro and micro nutrients is harmful to your body. Study macro and micro nutrients. Which foods have the most of them. Which foods do you like from this list? What recipes exist that you can make from this food? Look intro alternatives to carbohydrates.
Closely related to nutrition is fitness and exercise. You can optimize it by looking into what actually happens when you exercise? Look into how your body repairs tissues broken down by exercise and why that makes you stronger. Look into what crucial nutrients are needed for repairing of your body. Look into proteins and what foods contain the most protein. Look into vitamins and minerals. Look into what kind of exercise you can actually do. Ask yourself what your goals are for exercising. Do you want to lose weight? Then it is best to focus on your nutrition as that has a more immediate impact on your weight. If you are looking to improve your stamina, then look into running or bicycling. Look into interesting podcasts or books you can listen too whilst you are running to enjoy going running. Do you want to gain strength and build muscle? Look into what beginner programs are out there that are focused on gaining strength. Get your muscles accustomed to exercise first and then play the game of upping the weight and hitting bigger and bigger milestones. Do not expect to see immediate feedback for anything that you do. It takes time. If you are interested, study why it takes such a long time and how you can improve this time, preferably naturally.
Since you are reading this article and got this far, you already know one language that you can use to communicate your ideas and share them with other people. Language is an amazing tool that solves one of the biggest problems in our lives. Communication. If you want to optimize communication, that is, you want to optimize the clarity and efficiency with which you can construct your ideas and your understanding in a way that will make sense for other people, you have to start with language. English language is the preferred language to start with as most useful information is being delivered in this language. Learning a language may sound boring, perhaps, but language is immensely fascinating.
Language is not something you learn but more something you join.
So it makes sense to actually use the language as often as possible to express yourself. Write. Start a journal. Write about your life as if speaking to yourself. Start a blog. Share your knowledge and experience with the world. Write to get things off your chest and clear up your mind. Speak. Don’t be afraid to share your ideas in person. You may feel very vulnerable, sharing your discoveries. Sharing things that you are genuinely passionate about and thinking that you will not be understood or even be hated for it. Learn what is fear. Learn that you can’t suppress your fear but you can observe it. Learn to be comfortable with your emotions. Do not try to suppress your feelings and emotions because they will come back. Learn that thoughts are like clouds in the sky and that you don’t have a lot of control over them. You can only observe the thoughts you like and dismiss the ones that you dislike. Learn and practice how to not live inside your head and be conscious of your actions and feelings. Practice compassion and awareness every day and see how every process and every part of your life will improve with time because of this effort.
Ability to put your logic inside a computer to make things work for you is immensely, immensely powerful. More and more people start to realize just how powerful this ability really is. It is a playground of imagination and creativity. Learn what programming is and how it is not limited to programming computers but is a natural part of our natural world. You and your amazing gift of self awareness come from years and years of evolution which is a process of self correction based on the environment exposed to it. Your brain reprograms and readjusts itself every night. Learn how you can help its job of easing and improving your life. Learn how you can translate your logic and mathematics into a program that is understood by the computer. Don’t get distracted by abstractions that are ruling our world. Find the roots of the problem and always try to find the truth. Writing
in Python and seeing hello world appear on your screen may feel like magic at first but realize just how much is abstracted away behind this one simple line. Learn how to deal with abstractions. That is, learn how to navigate this huge tree of dependencies I talked about before and always try to find the root of whatever it is you are looking into.
And the most important thing I am attempting to optimize is focus. Focus is the ability to say no to things. Focus is the ability to look at the big picture of it all, see what real tangible problems that exist out there right now and choose to solve them. Focus brings clarity to what you do and allows you to give your everything to what you are doing at every single moment in time.
Your time on this planet is limited. Maybe. It is of vital importance that you focus it on things that bring pleasure to you and fulfill your own personal goals and aspirations.
I want to close this off with a quote as always. A friend of mine said it when asked to comment on a little project I am doing to organize my notes.
As much as you want to learn everything there is to know — remember your resources are finite.
Spend your time in ways that genuinely benefit you, and avoid things that waste your time.
It’s a life long balancing act.