How I practice at what I do

Following up on my post a few days ago, about the value of deliberate practice for knowledge workers, a number of you asked me what form my practice takes.  A few of you were skeptical, but it is long since established that practice improves both your writing and your memory, so surely it can do much more than that for your thinking.  Here is a partial list of some of my intellectual practice strategies:

1. I write every day.  I also write to relax.

2. Much of my writing time is devoted to laying out points of view which are not my own.  I recommend this for most of you.

3. I do serious reading every day.

4. After a talk, Q&A session, podcast — whatever — I review what I thought were my weaker answers or interventions and think about how I could improve them.  I rehearse in my mind what I should have said.  Larry Summers does something similar.

5. I spent an enormous amount of time and energy trying to crack cultural codes.  I view this as a comparative advantage, and one which few other people in my fields are trying to replicate.  For one thing, it makes me useful in a wide variety of situations where I have little background knowledge.  This also helps me invest in skills which will age relatively well, as I age.  For me, this is perhaps the most importantly novel item on this list.

6. I listen often to highly complex music, partly because I enjoy it but also in the (silly?) hope that it will forestall mental laziness.

7. I have regular interactions with very smart people who will challenge me and be very willing to disagree, including “GMU lunch.”

8. Every day I ask myself “what did I learn today?”, a question I picked up from Amihai Glazer.  I feel bad if I don’t have a clear answer, while recognizing the days without a clear answer are often the days where I am learning the most (at least in the equilibrium where I am asking myself this question).

9. One factor behind my choice of friends is what kind of approbational sway they will exercise over me.  You should want to hang around people who are good influences, including on your mental abilities.  Peer effects really are quite strong.

10. I watch very little television.  And no drugs and no alcohol should go without saying.

11. In addition to being a “product” in its own right, I also consider doing Conversations with Tyler — with many of the very smartest people out there — to be a form of practice.  It is a practice for speed, accuracy in understanding written writings, and the ability to crack the cultural codes of my guests.

12. I teach — a big one.

Physical exercise is a realm all of its own, and that is good for your mind too.  For me it is basketball, tennis, exercise bike, sometimes light weights, swimming if I am at a decent hotel with a pool.  My plan is to do more of this.

Here are a few things I don’t do:

Taking notes is a favorite with some people I know, though my penmanship and coordination and also typing are too problematic for that.

I also don’t review video or recordings of myself, for fear that will make me too self-conscious.  For many people that is probably a good idea, however.

I don’t spend time trying to improve my memory, which is either very bad or very good, depending on the kind of problem facing me.  (If I need to remember to do something, I require a visual cue, sometimes a pile on the floor, and that creates a bit of a mess.  But it works — spatial organization is information!)

I’ve never practiced trying to type on a small screen, though probably I should.

I’ll close by repeating the end of my previous post:

Recently, one of my favorite questions to bug people with has been “What is it you do to train that is comparable to a pianist practicing scales?”  If you don’t know the answer to that one, maybe you are doing something wrong or not doing enough. Or maybe you are (optimally?) not very ambitious?

Better training has brought big improvements to the quality of athletics and also chess, and many of those advances are quite recent — when is the intellectual world going to follow suit?  When are you going to follow suit?


Awesome stuff. Reading your work for the first time. Learned about you from Chris Guillebeau's article on moonshots. I'm a writer currently studying at Rhodes University in SA.

Hi everyone :) I’m relatively new to 3d printing and I have a lot of questions on the matter, so I hope you won’t get mad at me for asking here at least a few of them. I think before I’ll get seriously into modelling I should focus on the software itself, and that’s what I’d like to ask you about. Mainly, should I start with the most simple/crudest software I can find or would it be better to start on something more complex? I’m worried that I’ll get some unwanted habits while working on less complex software. My second question is about the software as well: should I look for CAD software that will allow me design and slice it in it, or should I use a different software for each of them? Will it even make a difference? Weirdly, I couldn’t find the answer to that, as it seems like most sites want to focus on the very basics (like what is 3d printing and so on), and while the answers to those questions are fine, it seems like no one wants to go into the details (it looks like some of them even plagiarise each other! I swear I’ve found the same answers to the same questions on at least 3 different articles) but I’m getting off-topic... The last question is about 3d pens. Would it be possible to somehow convert whatever I draw with a 3d pen to a 3d model in a CAD software? For example, if I’ll draw a horse with 3d pen, would it be possible to get its outline in a software? I’m not sure how that could even work, but the very idea sounds interesting to me. Anyway, I think I’ll stop here just in case no one will answer me and all of this writing will be for nothing. I’m sorry that I’m using your content to ask questions, but I hope you’ll understand and help a beginner like me. Anyway, thank you for posting. I learned something from this and that’s always appreciated. Thank you, and I hope to hear back from you very soon :)

you should be ashamed of yourself for bringing the selfish intent to the place of self improvement

'Following up on my post a few days ago'

Well, yesterday.

'When are you going to follow suit?'

Well, as a disloyal reader, the answer is basically never.

The latter is evident already.


My two cents: I'd place diet and physical fitness higher on the list.


I think Tyler should be taking weights more seriously: At his age, weights should be regular (2-3 workouts/week) and they should be, I'm not going to say "heavy", but definitely more than "light". Also, some version of intermittent fasting should be in there. Finally, I would recommend taking up light drinking--1-2 drinks per day, 5 days/week.

I totally agree with you Dick Butcher

The master came to MY house?!

Get out among the common people and not on a soap box or behind a podium. Have lunch in a working class restaurant in a small-medium size factory city. Talk with people about how policies, laws and life affects them. Many will be wrong, some will be right and a few will say things you never thought about before.
Go to a popular working class bar at night (don't go alone). Drink a beer (a beer won't hurt you), talk with the people there.
Try to get a tour of a manufacturing facility preferably given by someone low on the totem pole.
Spend a few hours in a large Walmart or supermarket. Get away from the experts and peers.
Spend a day or a week at a small accounting firm during the latter part of tax season but in a small factory town or even one of the larger towns in the Midwest.
Get out where it matters.

Keep a prioritized list everyday of the most important things to you. The list could contain problems issues to solve, tasks to accomplish. Review the list everyday and take a few minutes of uninterrupted time each day to think about the top three or so. keep notes about ideas etc. Talk to others about them as well. I find that my mind works in the background to solve problems as long as I put some conscious time into thinking about the problems.

I am retired and my wife works so I have time to do things others don't. I am at Walmart everyday at 8:00. That is when the meat is marked down so I'm looking for bargains. I typically spend a minute or two with the greeter when I walk in, I know him and sometimes her by name. I look for other bargains and for anything unusual. Once I bought 40 packages of chocolate chips at $.50 a pack (what can I say I like chocolate). Meat prices tend to fall after Sunday and between the 7th and end of the month. If you are just looking for some good meat without regard to the bargain factor the last day of the month is best. Most every morning I can park within 3-6 parking spaces from the door but on the 1st the parking lot has many more cars thanks to food stamps. Interestingly all or most of those extra cars are not junkers and some are nice cars. Guess qualifying for food stamps is not what it used to be. At 8:10 everyday a school bus owned by a local church parks and lets out half a dozen or so homeless men (I live in a small town, I imagine if it was a bigger town there would be more homeless men). They have a voucher for 20 bucks. Except on the 1st of the month it is typically only me and half a dozen homeless men in the store so I can easily see what they buy. No surprises; food that doesn't need cooking, sometimes a clothing item, the only unusual thing I ever see them buy is dog food and when I see that I also see that they have a dog with them.
I always check the sale/markdown aisle. When I do I am reminded that some enterprising guy buys things at Walmart from the markdown aisle and sells them online and makes some pretty good money doing it.
I usually have a mental list of things I'm checking everyday for a better price, typically seasonal items.
I also check other retail stores and supermarkets in town daily. just the other day I got a six-pack of Klondike bars with the second six-pack for free for $4 (did I mention I like chocolate?). Usually a week or so after Christmas I can find prime rib on sale for $5/lb. A few weeks ago I got a complete set of Queen sheets and pillow cases for $4. It was such a good deal I went back the next day and bought another.

Nobody cares about your sob story. If you want to be successful in life you hang around with winners not losers. Winning, not welfare.

Thank you for your kind comment. No "sob story". Retirement is good. I travel more than Tyler and enjoy my life.

Actually this is very interesting, thank you.

+1. If we got rid of welfare and deport all the moochers, imagine how great this country will be.

Where will you deport them? They are all Americans


Thank you - great food for thought. One goal I have is to make the day better for everyone I meet because it seems to me that the psychic pain suffered by most may well be the greatest problem we share.

Thankyou Tyler, I enjoyed reading your post. One if the threads in response had veered off into welfare etc, and someone suggested deporting ‘moochers’, I am tired of the rhetoric and the lies. How do we make people look at facts? It’s not the bogeyman coming from far who is taking away your welfare, it’s not because of welfare the country isn’t greater (as the MAGApede implied). Worst of all these are above average educated people for they follow Tyler’s blog.

Training in chess has been top notch for quite a while, Fischer trained like a demon - what's new is computers, AI.

AI is just the latest advance in chess training. The biggest leap for the top players came with the advent of computers and databases. For the average player the dissemination of world class instructional materials and tools has provided the greatest advance in skills. These were mostly unknown and unavailable to a class-level player in the 1970s. Yes Fischer trained hard but the advances since those days in information and its availabilty has been astronomical.

Mostly sound like hobbies and leisure time to me. Not really training.

Are those categories mutually exclusive? My father was fond of saying that “work is play”, at least when it came to the work he did in his career. Perhaps few people can be so fortunate!

No, "rational recreation" is a thing of course.

Still it seems a bit odd to note that people who work long hours in knowledge jobs don't spend much time doing the intellectual equivalent of practicing a jump shot, then elaborate that what you actually mean is they should follow your example of being basically almost a retired person with lots of mentally active hobbies.

Athletes, chess grandmasters, and musicians are performance based so they have an off-season to train with a much smaller amount of time actually performing. Doctors, lawyers, engineers, bankers, and consultants have their worked structured differently. Their practice is their performance is their daily work.

I agree these do not sound like training. There is no mention of what these activities are for. A sportsman has a clear goal in mind when they train; to win the next competition. A musician also has a clear goal in mind when they practice their scales; to play more perfectly in the next concert. But what is Tyler's goal? Without this clear how can he know if his training is helping or hindering. The clarification of goals is one of the most underrated parts of any endeavour, whether personal or for groups or countries. Many people, and I suspect Tyler is in this camp, observe goal oriented people undertaking subordinate activities to achieve their goals and get confused into thinking doing some subordinate activities is the point. It is not. To give an example NASA did a lot of subordinate activities to get to the moon. They had a clear goal, but in order to get to the moon they need to do a bunch of other stuff, some of it research, some experiments and so on. Then NASA achieved their goal, but because of this confusion over what was NASA for, they carried on doing the subordinate stuff, which was of very little use to anyone and ended up with the space shuttle and the space station which both were huge white elephants.

If Tyler were really in this mode of training, he would announce his goal (or goals) and then seek feedback on whether his performance was improving after trying various things. To give a concrete example, maybe his goal is to be a top 10 blogger. Perhaps his lunches with his colleagues are holding him back on this. He could try doing without them for a while and then see if his blogging improved.

My final point is that Tyler implicitly values hard work and intellectual analysis as good things in themselves, to the level that I doubt he can even comprehend that they might not be in others eyes. But it is absolutely OK to have values opposed to this, say wanting to spend time watching TV zoning out with your family and friends. Or drinking beer and getting buzzed at the local bar. It is only when these things interfere with your goal that you can say they are bad. But if you don't have this goal, then you should not critique them as somehow weak, or morally wrong.

What should training look like for knowledge workers? Both you and GP agree that copious amounts of reading and writing aren't the equivalent of a musician playing the scales yet for certain kinds of knowledge work isn't that exactly what it should be?

Being a "knowledge worker" isn't a goal, it is an activity or job. It is too vague. Let's say Tyler wants to write another book on a particular subject. OK that is now a goal, and perhaps lots of focused reading would be a good training to achieve this goal. But if his goal is to be a great father (say) then lots of reading might be hindering him in this goal.

Chris A, I totally agree with you, there needs to be a goal set first. My work is in photography and I constantly hear people asking me how to take better pictures. I tell them they need to first define what a better picture is exactly and then work towards that goal. Just aimlessly buying a lot of equipment, going to workshops, learning photoshop, will not improve your photography if you do not have a clear goal of the pictures you want to take and what needs to be improved on. Photographers just end up copying other styles they see on Instagram or workshops, which is fine if that is what they want, but it would be easier if from the beginning they would say they want to take a picture like this photographer took, maybe they didn't need as much gear and as many workshop classes.

The title of the post is "How I practice what I do". You don't need a goal to practice. For me, to practice something means to keep applying effort so that you keep improving your performance in the thing that you're practicing. That's why they call it a yoga practice. It acknowledges that you are never done learning or improving.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with having a goal for your practice if that's what works for you. The difference with goals is that your focus is on achieving the goal rather than continual improvement. It's a short term thing rather than long term.

> And no drugs and no alcohol should go without saying.

You know Tyler, if it's really true that you have a truly strict no drugs policy, I think it would be interesting to see what benefits you may derive from some some careful experimentation with meditation while under the influence of mild doses of psychedelics. I assume you are somewhat familiar with some of the recent studies related to the observed neurological changes of subjects while in psychedelic states (a few articles chosen at random from a quick google search):

There's nothing particularly related to the "practical usefulness" of psychedelics contained within these studies, but what they *do* do is provide a scientific basis to support the massive amount of "anecdotal" stories of the "enhanced mode of thinking" that many people (including me) claim is possible while under the influence.

I am a rather strict rationalist. I'm no fan of the various "energy fields", "powers of crystals", "we're all one, man" theories that are common in this realm. But I am absolutely 100% certain that something very, very interesting is going on here that you would be well served to at least consider looking into personally. In your normal state, you seem to have much deeper and more comprehensive insights into the nature of reality than 95% of the other talking heads I'm aware of (Scott Alexander is the only other person I know of that I'd put in your class, but then I'm far from an expert on these things). But I wonder: if you could realize the benefits I and others have experienced, what might be the ultimate outcome?

What risks are involved for you? At low, occasional doses, I am not aware of there being any risks, really. Here is some more information:

Despite the feel-good, statistical cherry-picking motivational cheer leading of people like Steven Pinker, and the massive amount of high quality, often counter-intuitive content you (and people like you) are putting out, on certain dangerous dimensions I'm not seeing a lot of forward progress. I hope you will consider this idea.

Better yet, just be cautious and don't fuck with your brain.

Exactly. As Brazil's President Captain Bolsonaro points out, people should not use drugs, children should not use crack.

You seem to be a little lacking in the epistemic humility department.

a good rule of thumb is
don't believe anonymous teenagers on the internet
when they tell you to take acid!


Do you have a rule of thumb for what has actually happened here?

a) I'm not a teenager

b) "tell you to take acid!" isn't exactly an accurate representation of what I've said.

I'm actually quite surprised at the apparent lack of knowledge, perhaps the community here has very narrow fields of interest.

teemaxx sorta looks like teen max
figured you just misspelled it!

Not really.

So, is there a rule of thumb for what has actually happened here?

> how much graduate level pharmacology training do you have?

None. Do you realize that reality exists entirely independently of my or other human's understanding of it?

Research was stopped in its tracks in 1967 when the government made all psychedelics Schedule 1.

> ur first article link suggests one of lsds effects is "disintegration of information processing within cortico–striato–thalamo-cortical (CSTC) feedback loops." how sure are you that this is a good thing?

I'm not sure at all, which is why I haven't said anything of the kind.

It would be interesting to see what you would learn about yourself if you were try them.

are you thinking about my nose!
you said/asked "do you realize that reality exists entirely independently of my or other human's understanding of it?
actually that is not how pharmacology works because its a science!
your second link is about meditation not psychedelics and is pretty weird.
your third link is to a journalist/populizer (jarvard) who may not have any graduate level training in pharmacology or science for that matter.
how did you come to your conclusion that " At low, occasional doses, I am not aware of there being any risks?

> you said/asked "do you realize that reality exists entirely independently of my or other human's understanding of it? actually that is not how pharmacology works because its a science!

I am talking about reality. Psychedelics have an effect on the human mind. That is a fact.

Your agreement and pharmacological understanding is not required. The effects of psychedelics on the mind are in no way affected by people's opinions or knowledge.

> your second link is about meditation not psychedelics and is pretty weird.

There are similarities between the two. If you do some reading on the topic, you will learn this and much more.

> your third link is to a journalist/populizer (jarvard) who may not have any graduate level training in pharmacology or science for that matter.

Once again: The effects of psychedelics on the mind are in no way affected by people's opinions or knowledge.

> how did you come to your conclusion that " At low, occasional doses, I am not aware of there being any risks?

Extensive reading, much on people who have expertise in the field, and who specifically studied negative effects. I am very confident that there is currently no evidence that in any way suggests low, occasional doses are risky. I would be happy to consider any evidence to the contrary that you can find.

you sed "The effects of psychedelics on the mind are in no way affected by people's opinions or knowledge."
otoh- peoples "opinions" & "knowledge" about psychedelics seem often to be formed by best seller nonfiction books by authors with no pharmacological training
based on your extensive reading who exactly makes the claim
lsd is risk free?

-very few if any psycho pharmacologics are harmless (without risk)
5-6 years ago the rebranded amphetamines as cognitive enhancers for college students - it didn't work out as well as they

Please, let's keep the discussion to traditional psychedelics typically used for these purposes: Psilocybin, LSD, ayahuasca.

No one has said there *is* *no* risk. I have said I am aware of no known risk, and I say this after substantial reading. If you are able to find some evidence of risk under the conditions of "low, occasional doses", please post it here so we can all learn.

Poor advice on behalf of the NYT related to a different topic is orthogonal to this discussion.

It seems like several comments in this thread have gone missing - does someone moderate and censor these forums?

try looking at it from another angle!
the deep surveillance state = squeamish about big noses
its not orthogonal to the argument that both sociologists & journalist almost always conflate
"no known risk" with "risk" in a framework where there is a predictable likelihood of unknown risks.

> its not orthogonal to the argument that both sociologists & journalist almost always conflate "no known risk" with "risk" in a framework where there is a predictable likelihood of unknown risks.

Yes it is. The actions and opinions of sociologists & have absolutely no effect on the actual real world safety of psychedelics. Human opinions can alter human behavior, but they do not change biology.

> where there is a predictable likelihood of unknown risks

Is there? Then please, post some details of predictions specifically related to psychedelics.

teemax(smithcollege?), me amigo/a clandestine!
you sed
"please, post some details of predictions specifically related to psychedelics.
one fairly predictable and known risk of occasional low dose lsd is that you get the dose wrong and take a too high dose!
now grab your yoga goat and quid pro quo consider
cnn + yale medical schools best exorcist+ Ms. Joy Villa
in the orange bowl on a hot august night
its time to empirically test the exorcism model!

1!me amigo/a clandestine

would we be correct in reckoning that
big nose kate (more than doc holidays woman)
just asked teemax out on a date

But, hey, we are all one, man!

Teaching, whether in reality or just as a mental exercise, can be very helpful in improving your knowledge. You may think you know something, but when you try to lay it out in a manner to teach someone else, you find a lot of holes in your knowledge that you can then plug. Can you really explain that concept in a simplified way? If you are just repeating what you were taught or what comes from the textbook, you don't really know it. You only know about it.

Good stuff, but is that "practice"? Or at your age (and my age) is it time to cut down on practicing and concentrate on producing?

I guess I might say that commenting at Marginal Revolution is my form of practice, which I use to generate ideas for production.

Yeah this stuff isn’t really what most people mean by ‘training’. Certainly not equivalent to practicing scales.

I guess this is what is sometimes called ‘on the job training’—ie training is a side-benefit of tasks that are primarily undertaken for other reasons

Nice list, Tyler. Now let's hear from Alex on this. I want to learn from the masters.

Better training has also produced better musicians.

I spent 10000 hours watching Fox News. I'm an expert in politics.

Maybe it’s just me rationalizing my laziness, but I feel that most of my most productive business ideas came from letting my mind wandering around, for example just putting myself in the shoes of my customers or competitors. Also, reading randomly. I have a few things I check regularly, like this blog, but I also surf quite a bit, just following what look like interesting links.

Tyler does not mention multiple language study or reading, which is a sort of intellectual training that allows a much broader opportunity to crack the cultural codes that he finds important to engage. Come to think of it, MR rarely has content on foreign language study or its impact.

His earlier post that he linked to mentioned that he learned German and Spanish as an adult.

Yes, he has studied languages. I study languages, and I use, among other aids, Duolingo Plus, Memrise, and Mango, all apps on my iPad. Each one is different. Duolingo gives you progressive lessons, Memrise gives you modules connected to particular textbooks you would buy separately, and Mango uses the study of particular texts to learn from progressively. There are lots of apps to learn alphabets, verbs, phrases, etc. It really is amazing. I wish people would realize you don't need a lot of time a day or to get anywhere like fluent to benefit from studying a foreign language. There are also tapes, etc., more traditional methods, of course. I used Pimsleur many moons ago, and it wasn't too bad.

Sacred languages are generally very difficult, but they have one advantage...a limited vocabulary.

People who had reached the highest levels of accomplishments in their fields of endeavor are outliers and there is no reason to think that what they did will enable people within the normal average range of most of humanity to do the same. It might not even be helpful at all because the factors of production, as it were, are not comparable. Moreover, chance (luck, God’s will etc), are always non-negligible factors.
But, speaking as a normal, average person, who has achieved in three fields of endeavor (artistic, academic, and sports) levels of output that almost anyone in those fields would regard as a respectable, I used the same general methods to “improve” my capabilities. (I didn’t try to do that at the time, but looking back that’s what I did). I will share now.
1. Identify people similar to me who have successfully accomplished what I am aiming at. Do what they did (circumstances permitting).
2. Identify people who tried, but failed and don’t do what they did (such as taking useless supplements, over-training, etc).
3. Find people who know what they are talking about. Listen to them. That is usually successful coaches, and teachers more so than practitioners, although that is a case by case call. Consider seriously doing what they advise you to do (circumstances permitting and unless you have a good reason otherwise).
4. Concentrate on quality of drilling, practice, etc, rather than quantity. Take periodic breaks. Keep a definite and regular practice (reading, writing) schedule.
5. Don’t practice mistakes or things that are already dialed-in. Make sure what you are practicing is fundamentally correct, and reach a little beyond where you current are at.
6. Keep ear, eyes, and mind open.
7. Have reasonable and concrete goals. Reasonable, relative to your assets and resources and level of commitment, or willingness to sacrifice. Concrete in the sense that you can say when you have done it.
Scales: I can pretty confidently say musicians don’t spend a lot of time practicing scales, after they have learned (dialed them in). Although some do them as a way to warm up. But you aren’t going to get extremely good by playing scales.
Just my opinions, obviously.
Yes, teaching is good method. Rather, being required to teach forces you, in some cases, to learn better and faster.

"Much of my writing time is devoted to laying out points of view which are not my own."
Reading should definitely be at the top of the list, but the above-quoted item was my favorite one.

TBH I'm not even sure what that means (Tyler's comment)

Cowen's no. 1 exercise is writing, writing every day. I agree. I write for a living so I don't have a choice, but writing helps me think. I don't know about others, but I think in words, and writing words to form sentences and paragraphs helps me to think the same way, in sentences and paragraphs. I think so I can write, I write so I can think. I suspect that the best thinkers and writers think in sentences and paragraphs. Cowen is an excellent public speaker, which is likely attributable to his no. 1 exercise, writing. Sure, Cowen was likely born with the talent to speak, but writing has made him a better speaker, as well as a better thinker.

How do you like to write--by hand or typing?

Typing. Initially I would write by hand on legal sized pads. Then I got used to dictation. And finally typing, on a desk top PC. I do almost all of my own typing; my assistant composes short letters and such, but otherwise I do it. As for writing by hand, I can't do it any more: my handwriting has gotten terrible, so terrible I have trouble reading it. There's something about the pace of typing that works for me: not too fast, not too slow. My fingers seem to work about as fast as my brain. I learned to type in high school (forever ago). I am an okay typist, not hunt and peck but I do look at the keys while I am typing. I don't have anything to look at anyway, since I am typing what's in my head not what's already on paper. I also prefer to read on the computer rather than on paper. That's partly because as I have aged my vision has gotten worse, and with the computer I can change the font as needed.

(A sensible post by rayward! Will wonders never cease!)

A couple of decades ago, I was drinking and conversing with the well-known SF author Larry Niven; we were talking about aspects of writing, and he said that he thought he wrote differently in longhand vs typing, and speculated that it might be related to using both hands (and by extension, both sides of the brain) when typing. I don’t know how one would do a blind test on this hypothesis, but I thought it was interesting.

When I was doing newspaper layout I'd usually draw tiny versions on post-it notes before starting the actual page on the computer screen.

I did some newspaper layout work in high school, for the local paper. It was done by sketching in the layout with a blue pencil, then actually laying out and glueing down columns of text and photo prints on a larger than page size piece of paper (the printer would eventually photograph the pages and make printing plates).

Art for ads came from a big book of pictures of happy shoppers, cars, etc., which you clipped out from the book and glued in place.

Photos were cut to fit the available space after the text went in.

Xacto knife and glue stick technology, but it provided a very concrete understanding of the process of designing a page.

My son didn't really take to swimming, but diving, the higher the dive, the better. We would go to places with very high diving platforms so he could dive from them. I'm afraid of heights, so I never understood the appeal of falling (my sensation). Years later my brother observed that my son prefers to be off the ground. And he does. He has worked as a tree trimmer (in Colorado where trimming trees is very important), working on the exterior of high rise buildings, a career as a roofing contractor, etc. Off the ground. I don't know if mixed dominance has anything to do with it, but I prefer to be on the ground.

Left brain, right brain has always interested me. A long time ago, when my son was an adolescent, he was having difficulty in school, etc. We sent him to a local but nationally-known therapist (actually, a brain researcher). His diagnosis: mixed dominance. His treatment: swimming. According to him, the swimming motion, with the left side stroke followed by the right side stroke, would cure the mixed dominance. This was in the early-1980s. I thought the man bonkers. Typing, like swimming, requires both hands (arms). Makes sense to me. The man wasn't bonkers. children are both on the autism spectrum (diagnosed by nationally-recognized experts, not by some random GP), and both were helped extensively by swimming - each swam competitively from about six to eighteen years old. I hadn’t connected that to mixed dominance, but it does make sense - it’s a common issue with ASD.

Re: complex music: can you list some of your most recent examples, favorites, etc.? Wondering if you mean something like JS Bach or instead something like Elliot Carter, or both! Thanks.

He means Jean Michel Jarre & Corporate Avenger

Complex, right, he's probably rockin' with Dokken. By the way experts have suggested that metal is the most structurally complex rock genre

Training in arts and letters means that I am regularly brushing up on the fundamentals. Like reviewing the dictionary for spelling, pronunciation, and meaning. Also the rules of grammar. English is a vast language. I also find it useful to go back and re-read some fundamental books. Maybe I forgot or misremembered some concept. Or maybe now I will see the concept in a different light or a different agreement.

Tyler, would you say that as you've gotten older, you've taken on more managerial and administrative responsibilities in your career? If so, couldn't you say that all the book you read in the general category of "real-world case studies in management," whether of rock groups or basketball teams, etc., is a form of deliberate practice? It's basically the same thing MBA students of management do...


You seem to engage mostly in elaboration, self-explanation and a loose form of spaced retrieval practice. Do you forget stuff?

You lost me at "no alcohol." I would have stopped reading if you said to avoid coffee!

"no alcohol" -as in no alcohol at all - is a good idea for many people from ethnicities where toleration for alcohol is not long ingrained in the culture.
Even if alcohol is not harmful for them on the individual level, it is a good idea for such people to significantly refrain from alcohol to set a good example for their friends and relatives of the same ethnicity.

A corollary of the Lindy effect.

No alcohol would be a pretty good idea for many who currently drink it as well. While I believe it is a net positive to society, I'm certainly OK who those who don't drink.

Interesting list, appreciate the willingness to share it.

My approach was to think through and establish lifetime and annual goals - personal (run a marathon, read 50 books a year) and professional (learn a new skill, or work related, e.g. ship a particular product).

One of the benefits of always having articulated goals is that it functions as a proactive filter; making it more likely you will recognize when an idea or information you run across is useful.

well, TC of course is successful in academic fame & fortune -- but initial reading of his post here also instantly indicated IMO a relatively high level of "Ego".

and: "Much of my writing time is devoted to laying out points of view which are not my own."

... the problem to readers of this blog is that TC is highly inconsistent in identifying " points of view which are not my own".
Readers seeking TC's expertise are constantly in doubt about his view of the cherry-picked articles here,

Is TC merely writing for himself here or actually trying to clearly communicate substance to a wider and diverse audience?

"What is it you do to train that is comparable
to a pianist practicing scales?"
we reckon we mostly read MR & practice scales

7. I have regular interactions with very smart people who will challenge me and be very willing to disagree, including “GMU lunch.”

9. One factor behind my choice of friends is what kind of approbational sway they will exercise over me. You should want to hang around people who are good influences, including on your mental abilities. Peer effects really are quite strong.

Maybe the two most important items on your list, although they are really not "practice" but instead what should be a generality in life. Hanging around with the unintelligent, or, really, the incurious and thoughtless, seriously degrades your own life. An important benefit of adulthood is the ability to select your own friends. One should choose wisely.

This all sounds very admirable, and like a lot of hard work.

I wonder if I am just lazy (or shirking) to think that wisdom, as a goal, requires strenuous pursuit?

This is probably at least half my lazy ego defending itself, but I think there are a lot of simple truths in life that are accessable from a moderate amount of life experience. Read some books, travel a bit, meet some people. And if you are open to it, you're golden(?)

It might even be a protection against the human propensity to outsmart oneself. Okay, that last bit might be laziness talking, again.

"requires less strenuous"

Hamsters spinning in a wheel - the whole lot of you!

actually, after pancakes & a nap
today we gonna practice swimming with girls in bikinis
and sperm whales

Playing/practicing music, especially with other people does interesting things to the brain. And writers who are also musicians (not even good musicians) seem to reap a benefit.

I think something like dance, martial arts, flexibility training, yoga. Anything that requires you to master your body in a new way would also seem to develop the brain. Sports are great, but don't always build a somatic understanding. Also, is anybody going to be playing basketball in their 80s?

Exercise promotes neurogenesis.

.. and a plug for nature


Interesting that, other than you just now, nobody on this blog ever mentions nature. I wonder why. Perhaps because people who are hell bent on economic growth and the expansion of densely populated cities have no regard for nature - it is not in the equation.


yeah, you do have an interesting point there

'Nothing is more wasteful than doing well ... what should not be done at all'

What is the end result of all TC's professional & personal efforts over many decades? How has the world improved, or even the very narrow discipline of economics improved?

Reminds me of all those tens of thousands of earnest Olympic athletes spending the best yers of their lives in ultra intense training -- for what?
Most never make the OLympics and most that do lose; tiny percentage of winners get trinket medals and a smaterring of celebrity.
The world remains unchanged.

'The world remains unchanged', which is good, because 'nothing is more wasteful than doing well ... what should not be done at all'.

My favorite method is to try to look at the other side of the coin because that’s the best way to ascertain how strong an argument or a method really is, and to be able to pose questions like:

Why do regulators, with the risk weighted capital requirements, think that what is perceived as risky by bankers is more dangerous to our bank system than what bankers perceive as safe?

Are there any objective ways in which you measure your practice? Or more broadly, how do you know that you progress in your practice?

I wonder re "no alcohol." We know TC loves to sample the cuisines of myriad cultures and countries. Would re really have a meal in France without wine? A formal dinner in China without a toast employing that rocket fuel they drink? An informal dinner in Prague in the autumn, without a beer? No judgment here, just wondering about banning alcohol not just as a stand-alone drink, but as part of a culture's cuisine.

One thing I did a couple of years ago was to learn a computer programming interface (in this case, vim). It made me much more productive at writing computer code, and I think it's the closest thing I could do to "locking myself in a gym for the summer to develop new post moves" like many NBA players do.

Recently I also learned how to use dictation software which I think has been a net productivity plus, though the jury is still out.

I have muscle memory for a workable set of old vi commands. This expanded them for a time, and was kinda fun:

vim plus tmux are good for a certain kind of text wrangling, in a certain style of use

Emacs all the way, brah.

Either is fine, it's just the way you come up. I don't think there is a strong reason to switch either way.

As someone who spent a fair amount of time on customer machines, it was nice that vi was already there .. Solaris, HP-UX, AIX .. and now still on more newfangled things.

A very long lived tech, since 1976.

"6. I listen often to highly complex music, partly because I enjoy it but also in the (silly?) hope that it will forestall mental laziness."

Have you tried taking whatever random pop song has mysteriously taken possession of your brain, and inventing new lyrics for it about your cat? It needn't even be a song you like or most of whose actual lyrics you know (so you fulfill that "opposite day" Turing test thing): yesterday, for me, it was "Lido Shuffle."

Physical exercise?

Drop & give me twenty.

no alcohol should go without saying.

I am a teetotaller myself, but this "should go without saying" is puzzling.

Note that reading blogs and making snarky comments on them is NOT on his list...

My friend Bob Krull pointed out that the reference to "a pianist practicing scales" is beside the point. Bob's right.

Scales are the musical equivalent of practicing arithmetic calculation, conjugating verbs, practicing kanji characters, memorizing dates, state capitals, the periodic table, that kind of thing. Necessary, yes. But it doesn't take you very far.

Sure, a good pianist will have spent hours practicing scales; trumpeters too (my instrument). They're basic. But once you've gotten to a middling level they become secondary. Though, come to think of it, I doubt that any good musician ever treated them as anything other than secondary. Necessary, yes. But secondary to music. Even at the beginning level.

As for advanced players, sure, you run through scales to warm up, but you devote more of your practice to repertoire and etudes. Of course you have to play the whole thing through without stopping in order to get the shape, the "long line" as it is sometimes called. But you'll spend time on specific passages, maybe 16 bars, 8, 4, even a phrase or two if it's troublesome. You go over it time and again, first by itself, then integrating it into longer sections.

You grow by expanding your repertoire. Depending on this and that, that may require some technical exercises. Maybe you'll even make some up.

Re: "Maybe you'll even make some up."

Bach's "The Well-Tempered Clavier" (BMB 846-893) are technical piano excercises that just happened to be the greatest works of music ever created. But, of course, we're talking about Bach noodling around to come up with such masterwork out of exercise.

If your job is to write papers, training is, well, writing those papers.

Are the papers the actual end product (e.g. commentary on Poe's poetry), or a method to record/communicate the results of some actual underlying work (e.g. a physics experiment), or a means to an end such as influencing a decision (e.g. advocating for more bike lanes)?

Well as long as we are laying everything out.......I try and get laid every day.

"Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try.” - Master Yoda

no sex and no masturbation should go without saying

In a way Tyler is describing a strategy to continue to do the job he is paid to do well. What characterizes an academic is teaching and research. There is enormous freedom within that structure to follow your inclinations. Theoretically you get the position because you are capable intellectually and able to self motivate. The job is to think about things, dig and poke around.

I'd suggest that most other knowledge worker endeavors have far more structure and discipline built in. The practice of medicine by a conscientious doctor is to maintain a good pattern of self checking and basic clinical habits, try to keep up with new knowledge and some life structure that keeps you fit and sharp so as to be able to do it consistently over time.

I would suggest the challenges for most are external. Managing mental and emotional health so as to be able to maintain a high level of performance. One example comes to mind. A doctor said that after med school he didn't pick up a book for a few years. The was so much high intensity reading in school that the it became a burden and chore.

Burnout is a bigger problem.

Many thanks for this unexpected and extremely helpful advice, and for your blog itself, which I read every day with pleasure and profit

Preparing to interview highly accomplished people in their area of expertise -- areas I'd never really thought much about until I needed to -- was probably the best mental workout for me. And then of course carrying out an intelligent 90-minute conversation all while frantically scribbling notes.

Why do you think "no drugs and no alcohol should go without saying"? Of course there are major downsides to D&A use, and it'd be stupid to discount them. But my most creative research questions, including the topic of my dissertation, were a direct result of mind-altering and relaxation-inducing substances like marijuana. D&A use can create connections that a sober mind suppresses. As a self-identified music aficionado, I'm surprised you're such a hardliner.

Clearly the most important item on the list is having Larry Summers as a role model, :-).

I read the piece on cracking cultural codes and don't get it.

I would also suggest mindfulness training for focus and awareness.

Being able to be aware of your physical, mental and emotional state is key to success in highly attention demanding work.

The question is fun and I admire the list you've put together. I suspect exercise and a healthful diet play an under appreciated role. For me, I find putting myself in the role of a student useful--if I can feel my mind struggling to the point that it is helpful to have a guide, I'm doing it right. If you were to follow this post, I'd invite you to write about "do" and "don't" guidelines for thinking. For example, one of mine is to take care against automating thought, analysis, and argument. Another is to develop a skepticism of initial reactions. Good luck.

I would recommend that anyone who works in the upper levels of industry to dedicate time to experiencing that industry at the bottom. If you are a manager, spend more time on the factory floor. If you are an academic writing articles about how to improve or regulate an industry, spend time IN that industry. Ask if you can do a 'ride-along' on the factory floor of a company in the industry you are talking about. Talk to line workers, floor managers, office executives, and anyone else you can, and ask them what their biggest frustrations are, what their impediments to growth and quality are, etc.

You will be very surprised by the answers. I guarantee it. There's a good reason why Ford and other companies have made their executives start on the factory floor. The same logic applies to economists.

It would be good to know what you do to relax to prevent burnout, but perhaps you enjoy all these activities so much that you will not burn out.

I never read what I have once written for the same fear as you (what you said about videos) :)

According to David Epstein in his excellent new book Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, it's a good idea to develop as many interests and hobbies in as many diverse areas as possible, even if they appear to have no direct utility in your specialism. A sort of Daoist, less utilitarian approach.

I'd agree with 'Anon' that getting out and meeting ordinary people, with different perspectives is good.

No booze, sure, but no red wine in your boeuf bourguignon? Crackers, surely?

I don't think most of this list is in the spirit of a pianist practicing scales. This is basically a list of what you do for a living, plus some mental and physical calisthenics. Calling writing and exercise practice akin to doing scales is not very accurate. Most or all of these things are no doubt beneficial, but almost none of them are the sword-sharpening type of exercise implied by the original quote.

What is you are so well trained that you are ready to spring in to action at a moment's notice? Like a fireman lounging at the fire station, at the ready all the time?

Not one of you spend any time taking care of your children?

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