Tradeoffs | Brian MacKenzie

Issue #35


In the last 15 years podcasting has gained serious momentum. This is roughly the time frame I’ve been associated with the medium. In the last 15 years I have probably done close to 200 podcast interviews. I even started one called the Inception Lab (you’ll find a couple popular folks early on in their careers there). This choice to be interviewed this much comes with circumstances that many don’t see, namely being interviewed by people who think they care about something, but ultimately are just trying to push content to provide others with information. All of this in a world where the vast majority of us fail to absorb and understand the information being communicated; we do however feel empowered with knowledge by listening to this new or novel information. It is quite literally an impossibility to listen to something new that most of the time requires some sort of behavior change each week. And here is why…


Think about learning to walk. This is our bodies making a behavioral change. We go from crawling and dependency on many things to working our tail off to become bipedal and more independent. It requires the one thing many of us are giving up everytime we chase something new and novel or we pick up our phones; attention. When a child is working to stand and walk for the first time it is all or nothing. It is determination, creativity and art all sewn together. It requires all of their attention, and every bit of their nervous system and physiology to lay the tracks for our ability to rarely ever have to think about walking again. 


Imagine for a moment each week being given the task of learning to walk. This is the current paradigm in which we live and we got here because we demanded it. We are obsessed with knowledge and information. Open Netflix, and compare that to going to Blockbuster 20 years ago, and compare that to going to the movies. Wrap your head around the fact that if you own a smartphone and engage in the internet you are in front of close to 32 movies of information per day if statistics have held since 2012!!! This means in 2012 the average American consumed 12 hours of information per day. 


This inability to absorb information comes with an interesting tradeoff. This tradeoff looks like this: our nervous system takes in the information in front of us quickly, once we get a feeling of we’ve learned something (there are neurotransmitters and hormones that play roles here that I’m going to leave out) or that it feels like enough, we then jump to something new and repeat this process a few times or many more times until we feel exhausted. This process repeats itself many times throughout the day. 


The tradeoff here is we can jump from one thing to the next very quickly, and we feel rewarded or gratified for this. Our nervous systems can function at high rates and we essentially feel like we have accomplished many things in a day. On the other side of the tradeoff is this, we now have a nervous system that struggles to slow down or calm down. We have not fully accomplished or finished any one thing or we’ve done it in a manner that has us struggling to respond to the stress we’ve been in front of. After some time our sleep beings to deteriorate, our ability to absorb and understand information diminishes to the point that our memory starts to falter because essentially we have hit our storage limit a long time ago. It’s the equivalent of bambi walking on ice our entire lives while trying to keep up with every new thing because we don’t have the time to learn how to walk. 


It all comes with tradeoffs, and when I decided to say yes to all those podcasts I decided to play a part in this game for the sake of getting the information I cared about into the world. I started paying attention to my attention and if I was getting bored or not. Turns out I was getting really bored because it was the same questions from essentially the same person each week. Here’s the interesting thing about people putting out new information every week. This too comes with a tradeoff. That tradeoff is keeping up with the Joneses’ type of behavior. It has the person putting out the information working to have the knowledge of an expert in everything but essentially lacks the wisdom or understanding of how impossible it is to keep up with this cycle. 


I listen to podcasts every once in a while now. One particular podcastor I’m fascinated with is Dan Carlin who is the man behind Hardcore History. Hardcore history puts out some of the most detailed historical information you could want. Guess how many episodes per year Dan publishes? I let you look into that and absorb what I have shared so far. 


Dan reminds me of S.C. Gwynne, arguably the greatest writer of our time, and ironically a history buff. Gwynne has written a number of books, two of which I highly recommend; Empire of the Summer Moon and Hymns of the Republic. Gwynne writes non-fiction history like it is fiction, he is an artist and shows a history nobody I’ve witnessed has ever taught. If you’ve not read him and think you understand the civil war, Lincoln or American History and Indigenous cultures in the 1700’s and 1800’s your mind will blow. Hell, I was able to piece together a historian Gynne uses in Empire as the man who wrote Shut your Mouth and Save Your Life of which at the same time Gwynne sites this man he was seeing and writing about how the natives of North and South America primarily were breathing through their noses. A phenomenon civilized culture was not doing. 


Take the time to absorb what it is you care about! There is no way I could have done the research I have on the topics I care about – like my example above – if I was functioning in the state I had been when trying to do it all. 


While I have been a participant in the information crisis, I have learned a few lessons along the way. Hence why I write here, and why I’ve yet to come back to podcasting. Not only have I turned down offers to do my own podcast, I turn down just about every offer I get to interview me. I have shared plenty, and honestly since slowing down like this EVERYTHING has become clearer. I care more about what I do, I care more about how I am sharing, I care more about people close to me, and I am acutely aware of when someone is in the information trap and how to politely keep them at a distance. 


Just to tie this one up with what we do at SH//FT, it has become more and more apparent how many of the people I come in contact with lack the ability to have a real practice in place. We provide daily programming, and many people I’ve spoken to simply follow that programming verbatim without taking the time to understand they may not be ready to follow it verbatim that day and how many fail to add the suggestive walking, breathe and move, or the cooling down elements. It’s wild to me, but apparently we’ve not communicated this stuff enough, and so that will be our goal in the coming months is to start to tie this stuff together in a way that helps people take the time to want to understand while we can jump into an intense training session quickly without cooling down, not prepping the body or taking the time to bring it back to a homeostatic level does come with the same type of tradeoff I explained above. It gets harder and harder to walk with grace and not having to think about it all the time.