Expense of Looking Cool

There I was, sitting in my car parked at Central Park in Topeka. I gazed out at the track with a goal to begin a habit of doing sprints every 7-10 days. There were a few people walking around the park that would notice me. What the hell was I doing out here, anyway? I’m a 43 year old man. Do I really need to be taking the advice of Mark Sisson in his book Primal Endurance and his blog Mark’s Daily Apple, and push the limits from time to time?

Shut up lower-level me! Does it have long term benefits? Will I become a better person after sticking with these workouts for a while? Does this help me get closer to achieving my goals?

Thank you higher-level me, for chiming in with some better questions. Now, let’s get to work!


  • Your Image vs. Your Goals
  • Improving Upon a Habit
  • Flipping my way to freedom: the solution to last week’s Riddler

Photo by Scott Umstattd on Unsplash

Your Image vs. Your Goals

One of my biggest role models is Josh Waitzkin. He cares little for the limelight and very much about his goals. You won’t find him on social media (which is why many of you may not have heard of him). The reason that he is a very big role model is that he embodies so much of what I would like to become and who I already am.

He is a chess player (a prodigy as a child), a world champion in Taiji Push Hands, and the first black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu under world phenom Marcelo Garcia. According to his most recent interview with his friend Tim Ferriss, he has recently taken up foiling. In this interview he specifically describes the difficult process (lot of falling and not looking cool) of learning to navigate through “boils”.

Normally, one may be concerned with how you look as you fall down time after time. This isn’t the case with Waitzkin.

…the way I think about taking on these arts, it’s understanding what are the component parts and doing lots of reps in them so that you’re comfortable with them, then putting them all together. So my learning process won’t look great in the first couple of days or couple of weeks. And I’m not concerned about that. I think that one of the interesting parts of it, I think that a lot of what’s happening in surf culture and foil culture is people have these Instagram accounts, and they’re always posting videos of what they’re doing, and they have to look cool.

But for example, putting on a helmet, putting on an impact vest, those things don’t look cool on Instagram. And so you can’t do those things if you’re going to be posting on Instagram every day, right?

Josh Waitzkin during an interview with Tim Ferriss

Maybe we’re not concerned with our image on Instagram so much as just our image in general. There have been several times in the past where I have just stayed at home instead of going out to look stupid sprinting around a track. On several occasions when I’m visiting others while traveling, I skip a morning breathing/meditation routine because of how I think it may look.

As Ray Dalio put it in the Life Principles section of his book Principles: Life & Work, Don’t worry about looking good; worry about achieving your goal. Listening to Josh Waitzkin and reading these words from Ray Dalio have helped me throw that concern aside. Last week, I went for my third set of sprints since building this habit. My progress was starting to show. For those first two outings, I’m sure I looked pathetic running around that track only able to do six 100 meter sprints. Although I probably still look somewhat pathetic, I was able to knock out eight this time and not feel completely spent for the 1 mile cool down run home.

You may be asking why sprinting? I’ll let Mark Sisson describe why.

Brief, explosive all-out sprints are the single best activity to promote rapid reduction of excess body fat, achieve fitness breakthroughs, flood the bloodstream with anti-aging hormones like testosterone and human growth hormone, and boost neuron function in the brain.

Mark Sisson on his blog Mark’s Daily Apple

You may not look that great as you pursue your goals. Will you let your ego get in the way and let that stop you? Or, are you willing to set your ego aside and get after it?

Improving Upon a Habit

My dishwasher duty is that I unload and put the dishes away. My wife’s duty is to load the dishes into the dishwasher. We use a magnet on the dishwasher that when flipped one way, says “WTF the dishes are dirty”, and when flipped the other way, it says “OMG! the dishes are clean.” But then there were the non-dishwasher safe dishes, and the really big pots, pans, and crock pot that don’t fit well into the dishwasher with other dishes. We have an agreement to split that duty. Sometimes she takes care of them, sometimes I take care of them.

Let’s admit, doing dishes sucks. It sucks so much that when you’re growing up as a kid it is the first chore your parents teach you how to do because they hate it so much and it is worth paying their kids to do it for them. In fact, subconsciously, it is why I think most people finally make the decision to have kids. They just don’t want to admit it and keep it shoved down there in their deep unconscious region.

The system we had, although it worked OK, it didn’t work great. The big dishes and crystal would begin to stack up, and we would sometimes argue over whose turn it was. I finally came to the realization that this wouldn’t have to be an issue if I could develop a better kitchen duty habit.

As Erin loves to cook and does nearly all of our cooking, I attributed finishing my dinner as the cue for my new habit. Dinner wasn’t over until the dishes were done. By trying to build this new habit, I’ve noticed a few remarkable things. (This is supposed to happen if a habit is going to stick at all.)

  • There is never a huge stack of dishes to wash, only the few that were used to cook the latest meal.
  • The kitchen is always clean.
  • My wife, when she walks into the kitchen now to prepare a meal, is less likely to throw her hands up in despair (from seeing dishes she needs to wash first before fixing dinner) and order out.

These are simple things, I agree, but the rewards are recognizable and relevant. Building a new habit, or improving upon an old one will generally improve your life. Even if it is incremental, it is worth it.

Flipping My Way To Freedom

On Friday last week, we were given an interesting prisoner’s dilemma. Four logicians have been imprisoned and are to be executed. For what, we do not know. However, they are being given a chance for freedom. They are each given a coin and told that they can either flip it or not. If all of the coins that are flipped (if any) come up heads, then the prisoners will be released. If any coin that is flipped comes up tails or if no coins are flipped at all, the prisoners will be executed.

Although they have no way of communicating with each other, they do know that there are exactly four of them that have been imprisoned, and they are granted access to a random number generator which can generate numbers between 0 and 1.

The Riddler asks, “What is the probability of their release?”

Each logician must think through this dilemma and come up with a strategy that will maximize their chances of getting released, and then trust that each of the other logicians will arrive at that same strategy.

The optimal situation would be for just one of the logicians to flip the coin. If they could somehow ensure that situation, then their chances of being released would be 50%! However, there is no way to ensure that only one logician will flip the coin since they cannot communicate. This is where the random number generator will come in.

Here is how to use a random number generator. Let’s say the prisoner’s wanted a situation in which there was a 37% chance that they flip the coin. One way to do that would be to let the random number generator generate a number, and if that number is less than or equal to 0.37 than they flip the coin, and if it is greater than 0.37 then they do not flip the coin.

I just made that 37% up. The logicians want to find the probability that will maximize their chance of release. So, we’ll need a variable for that. Let’s call it p.

I’ll continue to work with the 37% since working with numbers is easier to follow than variables. If there is a 37% chance that a logician will flip the coin, then there would be a 63% chance that an individual logician does not flip the coin. To find probabilities of what all the logicians do will require a multiplication principle.

The probability that none of the logicians flip a coin will be (0.63)^4 \approx .1575, or about 15.75%. Generally speaking, this would be (1-p)^4. The probability that prisoner #1 will be the only prisoner to flip the coin will be (0.37)(0.63)^3 \approx 0.0925. That happens to be the same probability that prisoner #2, #3, and #4 will be the only prisoner to flip the coin as well, so we get a probability of 4(0.37)(0.63)^3 \approx 0.3701. More generally, this would be 4p(1-p)^3.

If you analyze this in the same way for the chances of exactly 2 prisoners will flip the coin, then 3, and finally all 4, you get the following summary.

  • 0 prisoners flip: (1-p)^4
  • 1 prisoner flips: 4p(1-p)^3
  • 2 prisoners flip: 6p^2(1-p)^2
  • 3 prisoners flip: 4p^3(1-p)
  • 4 prisoners flip: p^4

We now go back to explore what their chances of release are in each of the above cases.

If none of the prisoners flip, then there is a 0% chance of their release.

If only one prisoner flips the coin, then there is a 50% chance of their release.

If two prisoners flip the coin, then by the multiplication principle, there is a (0.5)(0.5) = 0.25, or 25% chance that both coins come up heads and they get released.

If three prisoners flip the coin, then there is a (0.5)^3 = .125, or 12.5% chance of their release.

Finally, if all four prisoners flip the coin, there is a (0.5)^4 = 0.0625, or 6.25% chance of their release.

The Big Equation

Although I was able to set up the problem, I had to resort to a solver to obtain the solution. Putting everything together from above, and using the multiplication principle within cases and then the addition principle between cases, we get the probability of their escape to be

0 \times (1-p)^4 + 0.5\times 4p(1-p)^3 + 0.25\times 6p^2(1-p)^2 + 0.125 \times 4p^3(1-p) + 0.0625\times p^4

That is quite the mess. I’m going to label this f(p) and call f(p) the probability of their release function. With a lot of patience, you can simplify the above mess down to

f(p) = -\frac{15}{16}p^4+\frac{7}{2}p^3-\frac{9}{2}p^2+2p.

Remember, p is the probability that each individual prisoner flips a coin. By plugging this into this function, we get the probability of their release. Let’s try a few values: f(0)=0, f(0.25)=.2698, f(0.3)=.2819, f(.35) = .2847, f(.4)=.28, f(1)=.0625.

Using the above vales, we can see the probability each logician should use to flip the coin is close to 0.35. However, they want to maximize their chances, so they want an exact value. Being logicians, they know they should use calculus and take a derivative and set it equal to zero. The derivative is

f'(p) = -\frac{15}{4}p^3+\frac{21}{2}p^2-9p+2.

Finally, the big equation to solve will be

-\frac{15}{4}p^3+\frac{21}{2}p^2-9p+2 = 0.

Plugging this into WolframAlpha.com, we get three solutions. Two of them are imaginary, and one is between 0 and 1. The real solution is 0.34203. When we plug this into our original function, we get

f(0.34203) = 0.28484.

Thus, the best that these logicians can hope for is to be released with a 28.48% chance.

Featured photo by Rémi Jacquaint on Unsplash

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