Competition, Discipline and the Benefit of Just Doing It
Part 2 of my conversation with writer and Brazilian jiu-jitsu gym owner Andrew Smith
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I’m back for round 2 of my Q&A withof . In part 1 of our conversation, we covered our respective backgrounds as it relates to writing and fitness (Andrew owns several Brazilian jiu-jitsu gyms in the Richmond, Virginia, area. In this second half, we’re diving more into our respective Substack routines and how we decided on our Substack topics—Andrew’s focused on tech and mine on intuitive eating and diet culture.
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We’re picking up where we left off from our original conversation and talking about exercise and how it can help get into a creative or flow state.
Here we go!
Kristi: I'm in a more gentler, less focused on exercise point of my life. Not because of the pandemic, but because I was also training a whole lot and then along the way, I picked up the mountain biking bug.
It's very similar to what you're describing, because you can get into this flow state while you're biking, and you can be in the middle of the city in a park and feel like you're a million miles from everyone else.
Andrew: You're a little kid, right? For that little time period, you’re a child playing with toys.
Kristi: And now mountain biking is my primary activity. But I do a lot of walks too and feel the same way. Ideas come all the time. You're probably doing this all the time where you're just stopping to write something down, or I've even had times where I'll go out and just do like a dictation. The entire walk will be writing thoughts as I'm walking and getting it all out.
I'm sure you feel this even more than me because you're writing every single day, which I don't know how you do that. But…I feel this… I have to turn it off deliberately. And [with] Substack, my mind is always like, well, I haven't tried this thing. I should try this thing. And you gotta turn it off or it's completely taking over your life. You have to have balance. And my background is not a place of balance. I've got that obsessive side of me, like my father.
And I know that if you want to be good at something you have to be disciplined at it. If I'm really into something, it's really hard to pull me away from it.
Andrew: Are you able to compartmentalize the time that you're focused on something? Could you focus on Substack for an hour a day and walk away from it?
Kristi: What I try to do is just start the day focused on writing because that's the quiet time where I don't have a whole bunch of interruptions. And in the morning, generally, the first hour or two is just focused on either writing or editing or polishing or whatever, get that out of the way, and then that kind of frees me for the rest of the day from that mental pressure. So, I do think having a dedicated time helps alleviate that. And then I made that the decision that I would take one day a week off.
Andrew: What's your frequency of posting right now?
Kristi: Twice a week. I'm working on getting a couple of posts in the can, so I feel less of that pressure, but generally how I do it is… the post that I'm writing for the week, I spend a day or so writing it and then I'll spend a couple of days editing and just do it in chunks. So, it's not too much pressure in terms of keeping it published, but I used to do and I still do content strategy. I work for a publishing company. And I'm not following my best practices, which would be getting much further out, having a few more posts published and ready to go in the event that something happens that takes a lot of pressure off. So, I'm working toward that, and getting more formal in this process.
It's also personal though, right?
Andrew: I guess at the end of the day it matters more about how you feel when you're writing it, when you're publishing it and stuff like that. Because how you feel, in my view, is the most important thing.
Part of the reason why I probably publish every day is just because I think it takes a lot of the pressure off, because I just say, I mean, like literally, I'm like ba ba, ba, ba ba ba speed reading through what I just wrote. I'm like, OK, let's speed read it again. Ok. That part's fine. This part needs to change, I'm like yanking text and throwing it in there quickly and I'm just like, good enough. Let's go, and like, there's no time to do anything else like there. That's it.
I have businesses that require my maintenance and my time. I'm super fortunate because I can write my own schedule most of the time. But even still, there are days when I get yanked away and I just can't be playing around with an article for more than a couple of hours. So, I have to be very confident and comfortable with… really comfortable is like just throwing it out there and being like, OK, this two hours of work that I put in today, that's enough.
You mentioned emailing yourself, too. Do you have a repository of ideas or something like that?
Kristi: I've got a list. But I think your practice is actually the much better way because I think it does force you to be like, OK, this is good enough and I'm just gonna let it go because I've got this pressure to do it every day and I've got all these other demands or whatever.
And because you're doing it every day, I think you get to that place faster where you're OK putting stuff out there.
Whereas this is one thing that I really struggled with because all of my life, all of my writing has been in service to either another business or it's been consumer-oriented content. It hasn't been personal first person.
So, I really struggled with that with the Substack and just feeling vulnerable in a way that I've never felt with my writing because it's not been personal before. And then because I'm probably a little obsessive and then I'm also an editor by profession, I don't like to let things go.
Andrew: You gotta cut it loose. It is very challenging from that perspective. I get it. I'm a creature of habit. I think that has a lot to do with it as well.
For me personally, people ask me all the time how to get good at jiu-jitsu. And most people don't really like the answer. The answer is make it into a boring routine—
I mean, you understand it because you were forced to do this with golf, and you forced yourself to do with various other things throughout your life. So, you see the results from it.
There's no question that doing something a little bit every day is sort of the way to get good at it. But nobody wants to hear that.
Kristi: I feel like it's just putting in the time and the repetition. I think about this a lot with mountain biking because you get a lot of these weekend warriors who only ride one day a week, and your fitness isn't gonna come from one day a week. Your technique is not gonna come from one day a week. You gotta put the time in.
I think you're probably this way, you probably have an endless number of things that you would want to put your time into.
Kristi: But you have to be very disciplined and decide here's the thing I'm gonna put my time into.
Andrew: That's something that I have struggled with over the years. In fact, my, one of my goals for this year is to deliberately make a practice of doing fewer things of greater consequence and not so many things that matter less. So, if I do two things this year, that matter, that's better than 20 things that kind of don’t.
Kristi: That's a good way of looking at it.
Andrew: It's not in my nature though.
Kristi: For sure. I have to be very deliberate in what I'm doing. For example, for years I've been like, I wanna try Brazilian jui-jitsu, but I know that if I try it, I will wanna go all in. And it's like, do I have the time to go all in? I don't have the time to go all in right now. It's been really, really hard in the last few years being very deliberate and [deciding] here's where I'm gonna focus my time and my energy.
Andrew: Well, it's one thing to dabble in a lot of things, but if you wanna have an impact on the world, if you want to maximize the impact that you can have, it certainly makes sense to become very good at a small handful of things.
And because the small handful of things you can amplify and if you're an actual expert in them, you can get information out there much quicker, you can influence people much quicker.
You can make a difference in the world if you focus on a small handful of things. That's pretty much the bottom line for me. And I guess I would like to make a positive, some kind of a positive nudge in the world. I think we share that too. We know that we want to have some kind of a small nudge in the right direction. —Andrew Smith
Kristi: Yeah, that motivates me too. So how did you, decide on your topic for your Substack?
Andrew: I've always been interested in physics, but my interest kind of amplified in my twenties when I started reading physics textbooks on my own and just kind of trying to educate myself a little bit. And toward the end of my twenties, I actually got to the point where you could see stuff on the internet that were like early physics lectures.
And so, I was able to spend evenings learning physics and just reading, I read some weird nonfiction books over the years. Physics textbooks are not something that you would think would be fun. But one of them was from the seventies and it was about particle physics, and particle physics in the seventies was cutting edge, right? And that means that like 90% of the stuff in there is wrong. It's not wrong, but like they had ideas that were sort of based not in reality and based in… they kind of speculated and stuff. So, I like looking back and going through a time capsule and learning about that kind of stuff for.
And I read a book by Ray Kurzweil called The Singularity Is Near. So, right at the tail end of this sort of obsession with physics, which never has left. It's fascinating to think about how different the universe is than we think it is, how we're always learning new stuff about it, how we don't know jack, but we still know more than we used to, or at least we think we do. All of that stuff is fascinating.
So, I had enough of a physics understanding to kind of get what was possible.
I think that's the biggest thing, I kind of understood the power of exponential acceleration of compounding of layering. There are concepts in physics, like as you know, the phrase astronomical number or whatever, it's because it's a ridiculous number. But if you think in terms of ridiculous numbers all the time, it's easier when you have another ridiculous thing that you're trying to understand.
And I think exponential acceleration is one of those things like the technological acceleration that we experience here. It's not linear, it looks linear from our perspective, just like gravity looks like Newton describes it perfectly from our perspective. That's because we don't move close to the speed of light and we don't weigh this the weight of black holes, and so Newton is a great approximation for that and linear acceleration.
Our ancestors, let's say a million years ago, somebody had to come up with hand ax. It's probably more like 3 million years ago. They got a rock and they start beating at the rock and the rock turned into some kind of an arrow, maybe this was an accident. But then after that, after the hand ax was made, you know, you could make other tools with the hand ax, you could start smashing them and stuff like that. Right?
And eventually after like, maybe hundreds of thousands of years of this, like somebody comes up with a tool that they made with the hand ax and this new tool can now then be used to make different tools or to do some different thing that you couldn’t do before. You can't see this crap up close. Nobody lives thousands of years. We're not wired to understand this stuff.
And I think for me, it was understanding how things can accelerate and how it's different than it looks to us, that sort of analogy about Newton and Einstein, fast forward to, from the agriculture all the way up to the industrial revolution, where all these seeds were sort of laid along the way and stuff starts picking up a little bit, like around, let's say, 1800. We get steam starting to power things. We start to build railroads because the railroads connect the country from one side to the other. Information is spread more rapidly.
At the same time, you've got a growing world population with more and more people liberated to think about stuff and do science and make discoveries and things like that. And it just gets faster and faster and faster. But nobody can see it's getting faster and faster and faster because we're just living through it, because we just have this on the ground kind of perspective of things.
And here we are in what I think is about to be something akin to one of those revolutions for humanity, like agricultural, industrial, artificial intelligence or something to that effect, where we're about to change the way that we live forever. But instead of thousands of years for this to shake out like happened with the industrial or the agricultural revolution or maybe decades for the industrial revolution, I'm afraid we're gonna see so much change in the next couple of years, that our brains are just not at all prepared for. And it's gonna be more significant than anything else that we've lived through. I think we already see signs of that.
I'm compelled to tell people about this change, because I think that the only way that we could do anything about it that makes any sense is if smart people are thinking about what's happening. And the only way I know how to get more smart people thinking about what's happening is to tell them about it and to tell stories that engage people, get people interested, hook them, get them in the loop, get them in the conversation. And I don't just want to preach at them. I want them to talk to me and I want to hear from them. I wanna hear what they're thinking about this stuff. —Andrew Smith
And they're gonna say, an AI girlfriend, that really freaks me out. That's disgusting. That's gross. Nobody will ever have an AI girlfriend.
I think things like, well never is a really long time, first of all, and I don't think that most people have quite the perception of this acceleration of change. And nothing is off the table right now, and in fact, time frames aren't even off the table like very, very fast and rapidly accelerating time horizons, this thing could take off so quickly if AI can improve itself, which I think we're knocking on the door of right now. That's artificial general intelligence that can do just about anything a human can do. And then maybe even artificial super intelligence, where it's smarter than we are. I mean, it's smarter than we are at math or chess or like one domain at composing essays in the matter of a blink of an eye, right? It can do that now, right? They're not necessarily good essays, but they're essays.
I’m not convinced at all that those things are not going to be replaced one by one during my lifetime. And so maybe even sooner than my lifetime, it's hard to say, if it really starts improving itself. That's the real thing that really drives me to wanna get this word out there, not to mention, I love it. It's so much fun, it's just so much fun writing compared to what else I could be doing with my time.
Kristi: Do you feel like you're swimming upstream though? Because I mean, you've got the mainstream that is very kind of locked in their ways and then there's this level of, I'm looking for the word, complacency. But there are people that are actively, at the highest levels trying to shape AI so that it won't destroy the world.
I think the vast majority of people are like, it's inevitable or I can't make it change. So, I'm just gonna keep doing what I'm doing, head down.
Andrew: Well, I think you hit the nail on the head, the vast majority feel that way. And the people who don't feel that way who don't feel like they have no agency, no ability to make the change, they are the very ones who are gonna make the change. So, in a weird perverse sort of way, in spite of all the headwinds, I'm kind of encouraged by the fact that there's not very many people like me who are trying to do this. And I think that the people like me that are trying to do it are gonna have an outsized impact because of that.
The people who are gonna change the world are the people who believe they can change the world. That's the truth of it. And not everybody who thinks they're gonna change the world is gonna change the world, that's for sure. But if you're sure you're not gonna change the world, then you're right. And so, I'm trying not to fall into that trap. —Andrew Smith
And you must be motivated as well by that altruistic side because you're sharing very personal stuff that is gonna conceivably… a lot of people are afraid that there's the stigma around it and all this kind of stuff. So, I'm sure that must be a big motivating factor for you as well.
Kristi: Definitely. And this is where I struggle a little bit because it doesn't just involve me. This is probably the hardest part of what I'm doing, and I don't know if you know this, but two of my three kids have had anorexia. With [one] child, it was a very bad situation, and I really had to just stop everything in my life in order to stabilize her and get her to add weight. Basically, we were in a life and death situation, and that was the point where I realized, I have to address my own issues [with food] because I'm asking my child to do things that I'm not comfortable doing.
And Substack in a way feels like a little too exposed for me to just talk from this perspective. I could talk about being a parent and having to make all these humongous changes and what we went through. But it feels like that would probably be a little too personal of a space to share that. So, I'm really trying to focus more on my experience and my changes and where I'm coming from.
But I also just think fundamentally the way society is so focused right now on being thin and fatness is viewed as a health issue on its own.
And it's creating this situation where since the pandemic, there's been an explosion of eating disorders, and that trend just continues. And eating disorders are the most deadly mental health issue out there. Anorexia is the most deadly eating disorder out there. And I think we're just gonna create more of these situations because of this emphasis.
Once you go into this space, you realize there's so many wider implications. I thought it was just I’m not gonna diet anymore and focus on me and fixing my issues with my body. But the thing is, it's like a societal issue, a societal reason why I have this relationship to my body, and why so many people have these struggles.
So, it's like, well, why is that? And then you find out there are these multiple systems of oppression creating these feelings.
A year ago, I felt very differently than I feel right now about these subjects because I just didn't have the knowledge that I have now.
Kristi: So, I think that's the other piece of it. I'm learning and growing, and it's a reflection of where I am at this point in time.
Andrew: I think that's cool. That's another personal way to peel back the onion, letting people see that you're vulnerable in terms of, you know, I'm learning about this stuff as I go along too.
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