Discover more from Unknown Unknowns
🤯Unknown Unknowns #117 - Embrace Uncertainty
My arms were crossed, my right hand on Carl’s1 left collar and my left hand on his right shoulder. I squeezed my hands together but he kept struggling, getting closer to breaking my grip. I remembered to bring my elbows in and I saw the shock in his eyes as he realized blood wasn’t getting to his brain. When I let him go, he said "That was awesome!"
No, this wasn't an underground sadism club, it was Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) and it was Carl's second class.
BJJ is magic. The techniques allow you to manipulate your opponent’s body. When you “roll” against a more experienced opponent, you’re at the ends of a marionette string.
While size and strength are still an advantage, technique levels the playing field. I get a massive adrenaline rush when I roll with someone bigger and stronger and I’m able to fend off all of his attacks. Very few of us encounter a fight-or-flight response and the ability to control ourselves in these situations is addicting.
It’s like in The Matrix, when Neo realizes that he can handle anything Agent Smith throws at him. (There have been plenty of times when I was wrong and about to get my butt kicked, but the feeling in the moment was still satisfying.)
But the most interesting thing for me about BJJ is how it’s a metaphor for life. Just like life, in BJJ you think you can reason and make rational decisions, but you’re caught up in constant chaos.
“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” - Mike Tyson
When I was a kid, life was easy. You go to school, you go to college, you get a job, you get married, you retire, happily ever after. And at some point, you figure things out. After decades of waiting for that moment of epiphany, I finally realized that you never figure things out. And no one else has or will either. We’re all slogging through life without a map.
In BJJ, you learn a series of moves for each technique. And while you’re drilling, it’s easy. If you remember the sequence, the technique works. But when you go live, Murphy’s Law comes calling. What, your opponent isn’t going to lie there and let you do whatever you want? His response creates a cascading set of problems for you to work through.
In both life and BJJ, there are infinite variations, too many to plan for. You think you can reason and plan through situations. But when you’re in the situation, it changes faster than you can adjust. You have to embrace the uncertainty and trust that you can handle it. In BJJ you have the option of tapping and resetting. Unfortunately in real life, that’s harder to come by.
2️⃣ There’s a lot of debate between street smart and book smart. Morgan Housel calls it intelligent vs smart and says that smart people, by understanding how the world actually works, are able to understand other people better.
If you have to choose between understanding how the world should work in theory vs. how it actually works in practice, lean towards the latter. It’s like historian Will Durant once said: “Logic is an invention of man and may be ignored by the universe.”
Accepting that people who have lived different lives than you want different things and will see the world differently. What looks like debates are often just people with different lived experiences talking over each other.
An awareness that being nice doesn’t mean being weak – it’s actually a selfish strategy for gaining cooperation over time.
True independent thinking is rare because most people would rather be comfortable than right, and there is comfort in knowing you are a good-standing member of your tribe.
But poet Rudyard Kipling writes, “If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, Or walk with Kings, nor lose the common touch,” you’re on your way to greatness. One way to test that is whether there are people who you agree with on some topics but not others. If there is someone whose views you agree with on every topic, be careful. If there is someone whose views you disagree with on every topic, be even more careful.
3️⃣ Nat Eliason summarizes Schopenhauer on learning
What he's saying is that you should go out and perceive and experience and try to figure things out. And then read and learn stuff to try to explain the things that you've already seen and tried. If you're just stuffing your head with ideas without any experience to tie them to you're not going to remember or learn anything.
Writing of the Week:
I’ve been writing unpolished, around 100 word mini-essays. Just reflections on ideas from podcasts or things on the news. Here are the latest:
Quote of the Week:
"The quality of your life is directly proportional to the amount of uncertainty you can comfortably live with” - Tony Robbins
You can find more of my writing at chr.iswong.com.
Questions, suggestions, complaints? Email me at [email protected].
If you enjoyed this newsletter, please share it with a friend or two. And feel free to send anything you find interesting to me!
Leaving you in peace,
Not his real name