On Bodybuilding and Learning

i. bodybuilding

Last year I spent a lot of my free time learning about natural bodybuilding (all future mentions of bodybuilding in this post refers to natural bodybuilding). Aside from the two obvious pillars of a well designed training program and proper nutrition, the third pillar that was key if you wanted to make any real progress was to pay attention to recovery. Having a plan for your off days and getting enough quality sleep after a heavy training day were essential components to effectively building muscle. One of the most satisfying aspects of bodybuilding is that you can see the results of your system in the mirror with your own eyes.

ii. learning (“mindbuilding”)

I’ve spent a large portion of the COVID-19 lockdown learning. Books, courses, articles, projects, 6 hour Wikipedia binges–the further I went, the further I wanted to go. After the first five years of an increasingly demanding and time consuming programming career, I suddenly found myself with the time and space to return to a mindset I hadn’t occupied since graduating from school. Something I quickly realized was that deep, compulsive learning is mentally exhausting. Unlike bodybuilding, the results of learning are not as easy to see in the mirror.

iii. connections

After struggling for a few weeks with the daily frustration of “still having the appetite to keep reading or problem solving when my brain couldn’t handle it anymore”, I was reminded of a period last Spring when I was frustrated that I couldn’t be in the gym every day. I’d been about three months into my disciplined bodybuilding system, and I was finally starting to see the beginning of some results. This made me want to double down on the gym, and work harder to improve more quickly. But I knew that the literature was clear on the importance of recovery, and I was eventually able to put that emotion away and allow myself to correctly feel that doing nothing was actually an important and structured part of my larger goal of doing something.

Two of the heuristics I use to look at the world from a systems perspective are: 1) Nature is an unparalleled system designer; 2) Natural systems are reused across domains and scales.

iv. conclusion

All of this to say: we can probably think of “mindbuilding” in many of the same ways as bodybuilding.

The internet is so full of garbage these days that it’s difficult to search to see if anyone is doing work in developing systems for “managing the recovery for the mind during intense periods of learning” in similar ways that the bodybuilding community has done in the last decade. “Learning to learn” has been a phrase I’ve seen floating around (I’m even reading a 1996 book with that subtitle by Richard Hamming at the moment), but I haven’t been able to find a community or approach that looks at it in quite the same way as the modern online bodybuilding community. As far as I can tell, it is looked at from a scientific lens, such as cognitive/behavioral science, or from a BuzzFeed listicle lens (drink water and take breaks! {insert sitcom gif}). I’d love to find some critical mass of people applying the current science in real world scenarios to develop systems for best practices on targeted and effective “mental recovery”. It might be a good idea to look into groups of people who could be thought of as “mental athletes”.


A Sign Post

From my perspective, the world is a strange and divided place right now. It seems that facts have given way to factionalism, and it’s hard to see a path towards a future where true collaboration and compromise are possible. This website is a place for me to think these things through in public, with the primary goal of sharpening my ideas using others’ perspectives, and a secondary goal of spreading those sharpened ideas to anyone that they might resonate with.

This post is short because its purpose is to put a sign post in the ground and point it in the direction I want to move. With a reference point now drawn on the map, I can begin to explore.