The Doc Brown Guide To Self Improvement

The Doc Brown Guide To Self Improvement

This morning I made a borderline witty comment on one of my friend’s Facebook status updates.

He said he had just seen a steam train arrive at his station and wondered what century he had woken up in.

My response: “That wasn’t a steam train. After I found myself trapped in 1885 I had to improvise a time machine based on the technology of the period to get myself back home… Wait. I don’t think that was me.”

And then, like any mention of Back To The Future, This caused me to mentally list all the time periods I would visit if I did have a flying, time-travelling steam train. They are always historic periods… Never ones from the future.

Which is perfectly normal. Our brains are built to look backwards rather than forwards because it it easier and -for the most part- gives us an evolutionary advantage. (Remembering that you found water under a particular kind of tree in the desert will naturally lead you to look for these trees from that point on.)

The trouble is… This kind of thinking is just not very good for personal or spiritual growth.

Be your own future wizard

Unless the office bitch is a lot meaner than you realise, you are probably your own worst critic. But you are also the person you listen to more than anyone else. (This is still true even if it turns out that you are the office bitch.)

Most of the time, you give yourself very bad counsel. And that’s because you give yourself counsel based on inductive logic. For example: Every swan I have seen is white. Therefore all swans are white. Except they aren’t.

A more relevant example: “I’ll just carry on doing this job and maybe I will get promoted or maybe something will come up.” Or “I’ll quit smoking next month.” You extrapolate from past results into the future. This is extremely limiting and inaccurate.

Whenever you feel trapped with backwards thinking, here’s a little trick.

  • Visualise a crackle of lightning and a sharp gust of wind.
  • You from five years in the future appears. You will either be naked (because clothes can’t travel through time in the Terminator universe even though flesh can for some reason) or Michael J Fox.
  • Future/naked you starts dispensing advice.

What would you say?

Thing is, I know you know what you’d say. Because it was that easy for me too. And it’s all the things I’m not doing well enough. But it also made me realise I have to get better at these things because five years is not a long time. (Besides, future me looks awful. No more drinking during the week!)

On the off chance you’re having difficulty with this… Picture yourself going back five years to give advice to previous you. What would you say to that person to make sure present-you is living the life you want.

Visit yourself often

This isn’t an instant cure.

There isn’t an instant cure. Your brain spent two million years building itself into an excellent backwards-looking, false-conclusion-drawing, pattern-recognising machine.

Even my current favourite person, Nassim Taleb, the creator of Black Swan Theory, has to hire people to be around him at work to stop him falling into inductive traps because thinking outside your familiar patterns is extremely hard. Get introduced to him here in this amazing article by one of my other favourite people.

An updated version of the article in a book I am reading recounts who the author met Taleb again at a conference last year -which is obviously after the recent global financial armageddon. He said “we now have billions under management. We still don’t know what we’re doing.”

The point is: Think from a future perspective, not from a past one. Or as Doug Ivester put it:

“Never let your memories be greater than your dreams.”


Add yours
  1. 2

    whereas i have no interest in visiting the past. the future has me curious…& i want to dimension hop. i’m sure there are quite a few i would enjoy exploring.

  2. 3
    On Selfishness :

    […] has an interesting post entitled The Doc Brown School of Self-Improvement which you should read, about the dangers of inductive reasoning and gives an interesting method of […]

  3. 4

    I’m about a month late commentin’ here but anyway. There’s something to be said for inductive reasoning.

    First, if you’re a Pyrrhonic skeptic like, uh, some people (such was the first philosopher to show the epistemological problems with induction, but that was just part of showing how every epistemological effort, at least ones more important than 2+2=, uh, 4 was futile, like “Resistance is futile” sort-of-thing) you doubt the existence of all “knowledge” not just the inducted kind, then proceed to doubt your doubt, recursively.

    Second, without induction you couldn’t assemble a million details into *potential* (key word) Big Pictures. You don’t *know*, but you’ve now got mighty useful alternative possiblities about WTF is going on, and that’s A Good Thing(TM). You’ve read novels: think of the spymaster’s job. Or something less sinister (why though?). It’s useful.

    Third, it’s the only kinda logic I test high on, so the others must suck. Stands to reason.


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