Are you a sucker for low food chain thinking? Why models are the most important thing you don’t have.

 

Here's a thought experiment that'll blow your mind (premise of which comes from Tony Robbins):

Instead of thinking things happen to you, think instead things happening for you.

Sitting in traffic? Girlfriend dumps you? Break a bone? Stuck in your wife's dutch oven? These things happen for you, not to you.

…which isn't necessarily to coast into “everything happens for a reason” fairy tale land. Things don't always happen for a reason. But you can always learn and grow from the things that do happen.

I'd ask you make this thought experiment an actual experiement in this thing called, you know, real life. But it's not easy. The Dark Side of your biology wants you to be a selfish sourpuss.

But if you're able to suppress the Dark Side and walk through life this way, everything changes because the model changes.

Making a modeler

The word model isn't all that spicy and may seem a bit foreign, but you use hundreds of models every second of every day. They anchor your expectations, help you make decisions, and serve as your compass when navigating the world.

I'll steal the fancy pants definition of a model from from Peter Bevelin's book, Seeking Wisdom, which is one of those books you tell yourself you're going to re-read every year. But when you crack it open, you wonder what kind of mischief is going down in Lee Child's seven millionth Jack Reacher book, even though you really don't want to read another Jack Reacher book.

You decide to read one page of Seeking Wisdom per day, all the while thinking that maybe, just maybe, there's a series of satirical stories that can be written about the same information, making it easier to digest than the current bowl of sawdust you're shoving into your mouth.

But then you remember the difference between EQ and IQ and, oh snap!, realize you're the finest producer of sawdust in the galaxy.

Ahem…

A model is an idea that helps us better understand how the world works. Models illustrate consequences and answer questions like ‘why' and ‘how'.

Models help us avoid problems. Assume that we are told that the earth consists of infinite resources. By knowing the idea about limits, we know the statement is false. Someone gives us an investment proposal about a project that contradicts the laws of physics. How much misery can be avoided by staying away from whatever doesn't make scientific sense?

-Peter Bevelin, Seeking Wisdom: From Darwin to Munger

Perhaps a more practical definition: a belief system of how something is supposed to work that shapes how you interpret (and react to) events and solve (and approach) problems.

Models and worldly wisdom

My farts smell like a dead animal. Whatever. Farts smell bad. If my farts smelled like peaches, you'd be all sorts of confused because the models around flatulence you have don't allow for fruity farting.

When talking flatulence, models seem silly. But the greatest breakthroughs throughout human history are nothing more than model makeovers.

The earth is round, not flat. Sail around the world! Time and space aren't constant. Wormholes and time travel! All people are pink and squishy on the inside. Slavery might not have been a great idea after all!

Should I have used an exclamation point for that last sentence! I know I shouldn't have for the last one, it was a question, which makes this paragraph terribly confusing! My ego is running amok! What's happening! All your base are belong to me!

Everything changes when the model changes, which is why models are a bigger deal than Ron Burgundy. As Charlie Munger said in his famous USC Business School speech, they are the key to worldly wisdom.

You've got to have models in your head. And you've got to array your experience—both vicarious and direct—on this latticework of models. You may have noticed students who just try to remember and pound back what is remembered. Well, they fail in school and in life. You've got to hang experience on a latticework of models in your head.

-Charlie Munger, USC Business School speech

Given that everything is at the mercy of models, what I'm about to say is particularly problematic:

Most of the models we have about the process of physical transformations are busted. And the models somewhat intact are still crooked enough to cause concern…sort of like the taste buds of the folks that drink IPAs.

Models and mayhem

Here's a story to show you the mayhem that (potentially) ensues when you're guided by models that are muy malo.


I am sixteen years old. I am eating breakfast. Two eggs over medium, home fries, three pieces of bacon, wheat toast, and pancakes.

I wonder why I am skinny-fat. Fuck. At least Sunday morning breakfast replaced Sunday morning church. I don't sit through an hour of existential mayhem anymore, I develop body image issues on account of grandiose breakfast feasts. Is it worth? You betcha.

I take a sip of my chocolate milk. And then I realize something.

You poop out your body fat.

The solid mass of fat stays solid. It oozes out of the belly pouch and love handles. It slithers through the body. It's gone with the rest of my waste.

It makes so much sense. It has to be true.


Luckily, when I reached this Nobel Prize realization, I was sitting high on the philosophologist's throne. (SOME THINGS NEVER CHANGE, LOL.)

Because if I would have ran with my idea, I would have had the runs. Indeed, nothing would have said Success! quite like me shitting out my intestines.

Given my miraculous scientific discovery, I could have outlined my strategy. Alright, poop is the key. So I need to poop more. Cool. And then my tactics would have followed. Chug TurboLax in coffee. Sprinkle psyllium husk on everything. Schedule routine enemas.

And I could have made this list right after I bought invisibility pills, played the lottery, and bowed my head in prayer.

The thinking food chain

Strategies and tactics are at the mercy of the the model. So bad models make for bad strategies make for bad tactics. This is why models are high food chain thinking, where as tactics are low food chain thinking.

Too bad you're (usually) suckered into creaming over the tactics, tips, tricks, hacks, shortcuts, next low food chain thinking buzzword of the month without considering the model.

A tactics first focus sounds good. Your time is valuable. A most precious commodity. Keeping Up with the Kardashians is one of the most popular shows on TV. Makes total sense.

So don't tell me to paint no fence or wax no car. Don't nobody gat time fo ‘dat filosofikal drivel, Mr. Miyagi. 

But when you plop this atop a bad model, you're in for a world of hurt. And if pooping out your body fat seems a little far fetched, did you know, well, that, perhaps, just, maybe you're not fat, MAYBE YOU'RE JUST BLOATED!

Bad tactics and fitness

Bad tactics aren't Mewtwo rare when you're stomping through the McFitness PlayPlace. Ahem. P90X. Toning. Jillian Fucking Michaels. All the pre and post-workout supplement garbage. The ShakeWeight.

Jim: I got an idea, guys. What if we make a plastic dumbbell you have to shake like this?

shakeweight mcfitness

Bob: I don’t know Jim. That looks a lot like how a guy masturbates. Don’t you think guys will have enough experience to know doing this every day won’t make them ripped because, if it did, they’d already be ripped?

Jim: No, Bob. You don’t understand. These idiots don’t think in models. And apparently you don’t either. You’re fired.

I wanted one of those blue ab wheel contraptions so bad when I was in middle school. I wanted it to melt the fat off my belly. But I also thought supersetting sets of mechanized ab wheel rollouts with eating stuffed crust DiGiorno pepperoni pizza was my golden ticket.

My model of fat loss didn't include food because, uhh, the commercial didn't say anything about food. Or maybe it did in one pixel font at the bottom of the screen.

McFitness often implores you to gaze into the yonder at the beautiful foliage, the setting sun, and the pot of gold at the end of the glistening rainbow.

“You need to take the first step forward, and all of it can be yours,” they say.

Sounds good, until you realize you're standing on the edge of the Empire State building, where the first step forward puts you on the human silly putty express.

Compounding model problems

Ready for the double whammy?

Humans are storytelling machines. You see people doing x, y, z on the television. You try x, y, z. You don't get the same results. You conclude you're broken, different, damaged, deranged, and other d words with negative connotations because alliteration is fun.

All because of the model.

Meaning you can self-identify your way into a corner that isn't True. You try to poop out your fat, it doesn't work, so you conclude you must be someone that can't lose fat.

No bueno.

Compounding model problems (again)

The triple whammy?

If you continue on the low food chain tactical scavenger hunt, you'll forego the high food chain thinking needed to fix the sinking ship.

As long as my models tell me that pooping is the magic fat loss solution, I'm going to look for ways to poop more.

TurboLax doesn't work? Well. I mean. It works. My butthole is one fire. But it didn't melt my body fat. Alright. What else can make my poop more? Habanero peppers? Psyllium husk? Colonoscopy? What's the magic tactic?

But don't let me fool you. I'm a walking contradiction. (My new job title?) I don't always have hemorrhoids, but when I do, I prefer Dos Equis. Wait. No. That's not what was supposed to come out.

If I had hemorrhoids, I wouldn't want someone to drag me through a Mr. Miyagi inspired “paint the fence” cure. Just give me the salve, mandingo.

Thanks to modern day beauty culture, the body is just another hemorrhoid. It's unsightly. It’s uncomfortable. It’s embarrassing. It’s a problem that needs fixed as quickly as possible.

Biology doesn't help. Humans are conservation machines. Why drown yourself in a river of philosophy when you can just take a pill?

kaneda pill jacket

We're wired to gobble up low food chain thinking, and it's not uncommon to fight fire with fire.

“Do this, not that.”

But that's a temporary solution to a permanent problem. Because even with Good tactics, you still might not do well without a robust model in your back pocket because you'd be a indecisive mess.

If you didn't believe that gravity existed, it wouldn't matter if you knew how to throw a ball.

Model makeovers

 

 

So the real answer? To avoid tactical-go-round, and, instead, evaluate the model upon which the tactics stick.

To use better models so that the right tactics become undeniable and the wrong tactics become sensible only if you’re an Oompa Loompa living in Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.

To which now you're surely wondering how we've come so far without mentioning one single Good model.

Do I just I love spitting sawdust into the ether to test your attention span (or maybe I just suck at communicating)? Partly. But I really do want to give you the One Model to Rule Them All and be done with this model business (trust me, I've rewritten this like twelve billion times).

But there is no such thing as the One Model to Rule Them All.

As Munger said in the same speech referenced above, you need to have a variety of models.

Well, the first rule is that you've got to have multiple models—because if you just have one or two that you're using, the nature of human psychology is such that you'll torture reality so that it fits your models, or at least you'll think it does. You become the equivalent of a chiropractor who, of course, is the great boob in medicine.

-Charlie Munger, USC Business School speech

If you stick around my website long enough (and survive the sawdust) you'll learn many of the models I use because that's my modus operandi.

Models and mystery

Imagine not believing in gravity and getting upset when things fall to the ground. You'd live life as a frustrated and confused mess. Most people trying to look better (naked) and move better (athletically) are, in some sense, walking around as if gravity didn't exist.

When you fix models, the world becomes less mysterious and more predictable. Decisions become self-evident. You trust the process. You cope with situations. <Insert another vague sentence that goes down smooth, yet has no substance here.>

So although I can't give you the One Model to Rule Them All, the high food chain thinking toolbox I gave you is more valuable than any one single model.

You just can't be afraid to open it up and get to work. As Daniel Kahneman said in Thinking, Fast and Slow:

Questioning what we believe and want is difficult at the best of times, and especially difficult when we most need to do it…

-Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow