Olympic Swimming is Dumb, Habits, and Billboards
More Every Week is a collection of surprising stories and counter-intuitive ideas.
If you missed the previous issues, you can find the greatest hits here.
If this email was forwarded to you, you can subscribe here.
More Hatred of Billboards
Pollution comes in many forms. In 2006, Sao Paulo decided that the levels of visual pollution had gotten too high. Billboards and advertisements littered the city, and the citizens had enough.
They passed a law, the Lei Cidade Limpa, that prohibited outdoor advertising. As a result 15,000 billboards were taken down.
There was an immediate positive impact. The beautiful vistas of Sao Paulo which had previously been obstructed by billboards were revealed in all their glory. The citizenry was no longer inundated with advertisements, and their daily life became a bit nicer.
But there was also an unintended side effect.
Suddenly, without billboards on the road side, the poverty of the favelas was visible to all. Suddenly, without billboards blocking the sides of factories, people noticed that many workers were working in extremely dangerous conditions. Suddenly, the wealth disparity of Sao Paulo was laid bare for all to see.
I wish I could say that after 2006, Sao Paulo became a paragon of equality. That the citizens were unable to stomach what they saw and immediately fixed all the social ills of the city. But life doesn't always work that way. There have been real improvements in quality of life in favelas (particularly in regards to access to clean water), but income inequality has actually increased slightly across Brazil since 2006.
Rather, I like this story because it's such a potent metaphor. If you remove the trimmings of a capitalism - the fancy photography, the glamorous models, etc - you can begin to see the human costs of the system.
Of course, capitalism is not solely to blame here. A history of colonialism, foreign interference, and domestic corruption all play a significant part in the woes of Sao Paulo and Brazil more generally. But this story is a perfect real world example of the way that consumer-culture makes it easy for us to avoid acknowledging - or literally seeing - the parts of our world that need our help the most.
More Likely to Stick to Habits
James Clear is the undisputed king of habit building. His book is Atomic Habits is like pornography for productivity nerds like myself.
In a recent interview with Polina Pompliano, he made a key point that is under-appreciated about habit formation:
"I think true behavior change is really identity change. And what I mean by that is that if you look at yourself in a certain way, you're not really trying to change your behavior anymore. The goal is not to run a marathon. The goal is to look at yourself and consider yourself to be a runner."
The natural impulse for people who want to start a new habit (e.g. dieting, meditating, reading, etc) is to focus on the systems and goals. That takes the form of "I'll only buy healthy ingredients" or "I'll read the 20 minutes before bed" or "I want to meditate 4 days this week".
In other words, we focus almost exclusively on tactics. And while tactics are essential, without a grander strategy of identity change, the tactics are unlikely to produce long term change.
Don't just buy healthy ingredients, tell yourself you are a healthy person. Don't just read before bed, tell yourself you are a person who likes to read. Don't just meditate, tell yourself you are the kind of person who lives in the present.
Fake it until you make it, then make sure you never stop reminding yourself that you've made it.
More Irritated by Olympic Swimming
There are too many swimming competitions at the Olympics.
Don't get me wrong - I love a good race as much as anyone. But as Sean Clements put it, "It’s insane that there are multiple swimming strokes in the olympics. If people ran around the track backwards to see who was the fastest backwards runner we’d think it was stupid."
Swimming is the only sport in the Olympics where athletes purposefully do the actively inefficiently, and then get rewarded if they are the best at being inefficient. It doesn't make any sense!
On the bright side, the US typically does very well in swimming events, and we stack up dozens of medals in the variety of (silly) swimming events like backstroke, etc. Conspiracy theory?
"Focusing is about saying no." – Steve Jobs
Like This? You'll probably like my newsletter too
Every week, I send out a newsletter with thought provoking articles, videos, and quotes to make your weekend more interesting. It's free and takes 5 minutes to read - sign up below.