This site is for people who want to grow exponentially; to improve their ability to improve themselves. Is this even possible?
Here's an exponential curve:
Making one positive change makes it easier to make more positive changes in future. So at first glance, it looks as though your rate of growth should keep growing, and that exponential improvements are possible.
But clearly you can't grow exponentially forever. We don't encounter people who've reached a "productivity singularity" where they can complete their daily tasks in five minutes, and spend the rest of their time reading time-management books (while jogging on a treadmill) to become even more efficient.
Many things that appear to be exponential curves in practice turn out to sigmoid curves:
Sigmoid curves tend to occur when exponential growth hits natural limits. Population growth (whether of humans or bacteria) is the classic example; populations grow exponentially until they hit the natural limits of their environment. You might be able to improve your productivity exponentially for a while, but you'll eventually hit a limit where you can't speed up or eliminate your daily tasks any further.
Negative habits are also mutually reinforcing. If you start every day by injecting heroin, for example, it will probably have a knock-on effect on other areas of your life. This means that you can also fall exponentially, though again, you'll usually bottom out at a lower plateau. This implies that there's a staircase of plateaus, maybe something like this:
This is just an example -- the actual plateaus are person- and situation-specific. There's also a lot more than three plateaus -- you can almost always fall to a lower level or climb to a higher one.
Why do plateaus exist? Why do people get stuck in ruts? I would say that plateaus are merely situations where your habits and your environment are mutually reinforcing.
Take a person who's stuck in a low-paid, dead-end job. They probably grab a sandwich for lunch and then snack to pass time during the day, and vaguely wonder why their waistline is a few inches wider than they'd like. They're not really happy with their current partner, but don't feel like they're attractive enough to find someone better. Their social circle consists of people they meet at the pub, who all like to bitch about their boring jobs, reinforcing the belief that all jobs are boring and that this is something you just have to live with.
This is an ordinary, if slightly unpleasant state -- it's also a stable state, since there aren't many internal factors that will cause it to change.
Now, imagine if this person starts going to the gym regularly -- or conversely, if they start getting drunk every night. In the first case, seeing their reflection in the mirror improve might them to start going out more and meeting new people. Their new social circle might be more successful and motivated than their old friends, inspiring them to change other areas of their life. In the second case, constantly coming into work late and bleary-eyed might start to make their manager and their partner unhappy. Both states are unstable -- things are starting to change, and things will keep changing until they reach a new stable point.
In the first case, our hero/heroine might eventually quit their job for something more fulfilling and leave their partner for someone better. In the second case, they might get fired, have their partner leave them, and decide that playing video games is easier than finding a new job and watching porn is easier than finding a new relationship. Either way, a new stable point has been reached.
It's a useful exercise to try and identify the areas in which your life is changing -- for better or worse -- and the areas which seem to be static.
Living a "normal life" is a very stable plateau -- a big, broad, well-populated plateau. "Normality" is relative, and is defined by the people you surround yourself with. If your life if indistinguishable from that of your neighbours, you'll have very little incentive to change.
The further you move from the average -- in either direction -- the less stable your plateaus become. At low levels, your harmful and dangerous habits will constantly drag you down even lower, in a downward spiral. At high levels, your increased energy, purpose and motivation will inspire you to climb even higher.
Is there a "rock bottom" plateau where you can't go any lower, or a peak plateau from which you can't climb any higher? I don't think so.
For one, the really low plateaus only end in one place. If you start injecting heroin, it will eventually kill you if you don't stop.
How about the high plateaus? Won't you eventually reach your natural limits?
Thing is, humans have been using technology to push beyond our natural limits since the stone age. And since technology grows exponentially, augmenting our abilities with technology seems to be a path to true exponential growth.
If you're alive today, you may be one of the most privileged humans that ever lived. Imagine what technologies like Google Glass, Siri or Emotiv will look like in a few decades, and how we might be able to harness them to become better, smarter and wiser human beings. If you start improving yourself today, you're taking the first steps on a very exciting road.
Still, many contemporary advances are merely improvements in our ability to satiate our primitive drives (internet porn, social media gossip), or for companies to make money from us (spam, banner ads). Google Glass excites me, but I worry that humanity is not ready for it. One of the main reasons this site exists is as a focal point for discussing how to harness these powerful advances for positive ends.
It's all about leverage.
Here's the deal: everyone, through unique life experiences, has their own unique sets of skills, strengths and talents.
But more importantly, you have a unique combination of those sets of skills.
If you find you have a talent for writing, the first thing you're going to figure is "Hey, maybe I should do something where I get paid to write!"
Congratulations, you're already a step ahead of the curve.
Thought-provoking correspondence with a very smart reader - I asked him for permission to post this, and he said yes but would prefer to be anonymous since it looks incredibly ambitious. These are great insights, I'd love to give him credit for them. I recommend you read the whole letter, thought provoking -
My goal is to "grow" exponentially. Each year I want to get X times "better" than the previous year.
Here's what I mean by that. Most people grow naturally, they get wiser, more experienced as time goes by. Some grow pretty slow, it takes them a lot of time to improve their skills and life, others seem to make huge jumps year after year. I guess most people, slow or fast, never think consciously about their "growth speed", they're satisfied with whatever comes naturally for them.
If you're, say, a talented programmer, you're pretty much cruising through jobs, technologies, and technical challenges. There's nothing much to be dissatisfied about and you feel like you're doing great. But, is this your natural growth limit? Can you grow even faster? Can you design your life for compound growth?
Here's a few things known to make you grow: reading books, spending time with interesting people, travelling, practicing your skills and profession, getting out of your comfort zone, learning a new skill, managing your time more efficiently, not watching TV, getting consistently good sleep, mentors, and so on. I'm sure you could easily quadruple this list.