Embracing Volalitility

A few thoughts on emotional positioning.

It recently struck me that minimalism shields us from chaos.

What I mean by that is when you only possess a few possessions and maintain a lifestyle well below your means, you have a tremendous advantage to not only survive but thrive when unexpected events inevitably disrupt your life. Nassim Taleb identifies these events as “Black Swans,” and argues that antifragility is the antidote to such events. I believe that minimalist living is an antifragile lifestyle.

Living with less protects you from a variety of threats.

The most dangerous is lifestyle inflation. That you refuse to needlessly consume as a cure for boredom or status signalling, you (hopefully) leave more money in the bank for sudden emergencies.

Another threat is job loss. Given that you have separated personal satisfaction from your personal belongings, your standard of living will likely be less affected.  

As Taleb correctly identifies, this relates to the philosophy of Stoicism. Seneca the Younger, perhaps the most famous individual associated with the philosophy, made it his lifelong mission to domesticate his emotions. Taleb writes:

Seneca’s practical method to counter such fragility was to go through mental exercises to write off possessions, so when losses occurred he would not feel the sting – a way to wrest one’s freedom from circumstances. It is similar to buying an insurance contract against losses. For instance, Seneca often started his journeys with almost the same belongings he would have if he were shipwrecked, which included a blanket to sleep on the ground, as inns were sparse at the time.

And continues:

To show how eminently modern this is, I will next reveal how I’ve applied this brand of Stoicism to wrest back psychological control of the randomness of life. I have always hated employment and the associated dependence on someone else’s arbitrary opinion, particularly when much of what’s done inside large corporations violates my sense of ethics. So I have, accordingly, except for eight years, been self-employed. But, before that, for my last job, I wrote my resignation letter before starting the new position, locked it up in a drawer, and felt free while I was there. Likewise, when I was a trader, a profession rife with a high dose of randomness, with continuous psychological harm that drills deep into one’s soul, I would go through the mental exercise of assuming every morning that the worst possible thing had actually happened – the rest of the day would be a bonus.

[…]

An intelligent life is all about such emotional positioning to eliminate the sting of harm, which as we saw is done by mentally writing off belongings so one does not feel any pain from losses. The volatility of the world no longer affects you negatively.

Part of the upside of minimalist living is that you often gain more free time since you are not online shopping, dispensing cognitive energy figuring out what to wear, and cleaning around all the clutter in your home.

I have used this extra time to diversify my income, making sure I’m not contingent on one sole employer. Instead of a single person or business who pays me, there are several hundred readers who pay me a little each month for my writing, as well as a few high-paying freelance clients every so often who pay a lot.

But the extra time should not simply be used to make more money. It is also to reconnect with the relationships in your life, including the one you have with yourself, which serve as a useful reminder to be grateful with what you have.

When volatility strikes, and it will, it is important to approach it with, at least, indifference and, at most, with enthusiasm.

You will notice that proactively living with less stuff will help you achieve that.

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Over the last two weeks, I intentionally stopped drinking from the information firehose and allowed myself to stop listening to podcasts, reading the usual op-eds, and so forth. As such, I do not have recommendations for you other than to enjoy the good weather and take time to unwind with family and friends.

See you next Tuesday.