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Book Excerpt: Understand nature’s practical lessons

I have found understanding how nature and evolution work helpful in a number of ways. Most importantly, it has helped me deal with my realities more effectively and make difficult choices. When I began to look at reality through the perspective of figuring out how it really works, instead of thinking things should be different, I realized that most everything that at first seemed “bad” to me—like rainy days, weaknesses, and even death—was because I held preconceived notions of what I personally wanted. With time, I learned that my initial reaction was because I hadn’t put whatever I was reacting to in the context of the fact that reality is built to optimize for the whole rather than for me.
 
a. Maximize your evolution.
 
Earlier, I mentioned that the unique abilities of thinking logically, abstractly, and from a higher level are carried out in structures located in the neocortex. These parts of the brain are more developed in humans and allow us to reflect on ourselves and direct our own evolution. Because we are capable of conscious, memory-based learning, we can evolve further and faster than any other species, changing not just across generations but within our own lifetimes.
 
This constant drive toward learning and improvement makes getting better innately enjoyable and getting better fast exhilarating. Though most people think that they are striving to get the things (toys, bigger houses, money, status, etc.) that will make them happy, for most people those things don’t supply anywhere near the long-term satisfaction that getting better at something does. 
 
Once we get the things we are striving for, we rarely remain satisfied with them. These things are just the bait. Chasing after them forces us to evolve, and it is the evolution and not the rewards themselves that matters to us and to those around us. This means that for most people success is struggling and evolving as effectively as possible, i.e., learning rapidly about oneself and one’s environment, and then changing to improve.
 
It is natural that it should be this way because of the law of diminishing returns. Consider what acquiring money is like. People who earn so much that they derive little or no marginal gains from it will experience negative consequences, as with any other form of excess, like gluttony. If they are intellectually healthy, they will begin seeking something new or seeking new depths in something old—and they will get stronger in the process. As Freud put it, “Love and work are the cornerstones of our humanness.”
 
The work doesn’t necessarily have to be a job, though I believe it’s generally better if it is a job. It can be any kind of long-term challenge that leads to personal improvement. As you might have guessed, I believe that the need to have meaningful work is connected to man’s innate desire to improve. And relationships are the natural connections to others that make us relevant to each other and to society more broadly.
 
b. Remember “no pain, no gain.”
 
Realizing that we innately want to evolve — and that the other stuff we are going after, while nice, won’t sustain our happiness —has helped me focus on my goals of evolving and contributing to evolution in my own infinitely small way. While we don’t like pain, everything that nature made has a purpose, so nature gave us pain for a purpose. So what is its purpose? It alerts us and helps direct us.
 
c. It is a fundamental law of nature that in order to gain strength one has to push one’s limits, which is painful.
 
As Carl Jung put it, “Man needs difficulties. They are necessary for health.” Yet most people instinctively avoid pain. This is true whether we are talking about building the body (e.g., weight lifting) or the mind (e.g., frustration, mental struggle, embarrassment, shame)—and especially true when people confront the harsh reality of their own imperfections.
 
(Source: Principles by Ray Dalio)
 

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