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Modern Wisdom

#653 - George Mack - 16 Life-Changing Ideas You’ve Never Heard Of

Thu Jul 13 2023
OptimismCynicismHigh AgencyPerspectiveAuthenticityCreativityDecision-MakingPeace of MindUnderstanding OthersCultural MemesSelf-ReflectionCultural HeroesPerception and Decision-MakingAdapting to AdulthoodMental Health


This episode covers a wide range of topics including optimism, cynicism, high agency, perspective, authenticity, perception, creativity, decision-making, peace of mind, understanding others, cultural memes, self-reflection, cultural heroes, perception and decision-making, adapting to adulthood, mental health, and more. The episode offers valuable insights that can help listeners reframe their worldview and improve their quality of life.


Optimism is about improving 1% every day and being more likely to spot opportunities.

Optimism, when paired with high agency, can lead to valuable outcomes.

Studying history and gaining different perspectives can enhance one's understanding of the world.

Rudolph Verber's story highlights the importance of studying history and the impact of high agency.

Creativity requires seeking different inputs and avoiding productivity-focused mindsets.

Taking breaks and exploring unconventional ideas can lead to future success.

Peace of mind is a hidden metric that everyone should strive for.

Metrics like money may not always align with true peace of mind.

Understanding different perspectives and finding alignment between work and personal values can lead to greater peace of mind.

Finding balance and authenticity in one's life is crucial for achieving peace of mind.

Being mean to your face but nice behind your back can indicate someone who is genuinely nice.

Authenticity can be observed through actions rather than words.

The decline of cultural heroes raises questions about societal values and celebration.

Without agreed-upon cultural icons, it becomes difficult to rally around common causes.

Constant exposure to outrages in the digital age can distract us from our goals.

Swimming upstream against negativity bias is important for personal growth.

People struggle to adapt after being in a structured environment for a long time.

Creating regular milestones and maintaining social connections can help combat depressive feelings.

Americans and Brits have different ways of complimenting each other.

There is much to learn from cultural differences in communication styles.


  1. Introduction
  2. Optimism and Cynicism
  3. High Agency and Perspective
  4. Rudolph Verba's Escape from Auschwitz
  5. High Agency and Individuality
  6. Authenticity and Perception
  7. Creativity and Decision-Making
  8. Peace of Mind and Metrics
  9. Perspective and Empathy
  10. Understanding Others and Cultural Memes
  11. Perception and Decision-Making
  12. Self-Reflection and Cultural Heroes
  13. Cultural Shifts and Future Trends
  14. Lessons from Aviation and Cultural Icons
  15. Adapting to Adulthood and Mental Health


00:00 - 07:08

  • George Mack is a writer, business owner, and entrepreneur.
  • The podcast will cover 16 of the best ideas discovered by the host and George since their last conversation three years ago.
  • Some of the topics to be discussed include whether optimism is a scam, the appeal of cynicism, the value of high agency people in one's life, and the most interesting question of all time.
  • The difference between treadmill friends and sofa friends will also be explored.
  • George has been an important part of the host's life for five years and currently lives in Dubai while running an agency.
  • The episode offers valuable insights that can help listeners reframe their worldview and improve their quality of life.

Optimism and Cynicism

06:42 - 19:29

  • Optimism has been oversold as a product, but it can be appealing to skeptics by using the language of the placebo effect.
  • The placebo effect is powerful and can be used to argue for optimism.
  • Optimism is about improving 1% every day and being more likely to spot opportunities.
  • There is a problem with optimism being sold alongside delusional thinking and wishy quotes.
  • Society is getting better, so optimism is actually realism.
  • Optimism paired with high agency is valuable.
  • Steve Jobs' email reminds us of our dependence on others and helps reframe pessimistic thoughts.
  • To avoid falling into cynicism and pessimism, focus on fixing the hardware through breathing exercises, sauna, exercise, and eating well.
  • Fix hardware before trying to fix software
  • Surround yourself with positive influences and study history
  • Cynicism is a trendy response that protects against disappointment
  • Cynics avoid pain by not trying and framing hope as pathetic
  • Cynicism leads to confirmation bias and dark rabbit holes
  • Relaxation can change interactions with others
  • Optimism is important for collaboration and positive-sum games
  • Pessimism may protect emotionally from failure but sets low expectations
  • Holding both pessimistic and optimistic frames can be valuable

High Agency and Perspective

19:10 - 25:09

  • Pessimism and optimism are both valuable mindsets to have
  • High agency is the ability to enact change and have a sense of control over one's life
  • Asking questions and leaving open loops can lead to better insights and ideas
  • Rudolph Verber, a prisoner during the Holocaust, demonstrated high agency by helping Jews escape from trains despite the risks
  • Verber's story highlights the importance of studying history to gain a different perspective
  • Verber's escape with Alfred Wetzler involved hiding under barrels of wood and using gasoline and tobacco to mask their scent from Nazi dogs

Rudolph Verba's Escape from Auschwitz

24:42 - 31:08

  • During World War II, a man named Rudolph Verba escaped from Auschwitz concentration camp.
  • Verba and his friend hid under barrels of wood to avoid detection by the Nazis and their dogs.
  • They covered themselves in gasoline and tobacco to mask their scent from the dogs.
  • After three days, they escaped and ran through Slovakia in their concentration camp uniforms.
  • Verba later joined the Slovakia army and was given a machine gun for his bravery.
  • Initially, people did not believe Verba's account of Auschwitz until Churchill and the Pope received his report.
  • Verba is estimated to have saved around two hundred thousand lives through his actions.
  • After the war, Verba lived in America as a lecturer but few people knew about his escape from Auschwitz.
  • Verba dressed extravagantly to celebrate his freedom and there is little awareness of his story today.

High Agency and Individuality

30:40 - 37:07

  • Energy transferance is a key factor when high-agency individuals enter a room.
  • Having weird teenage hobbies can be a good sign of high agency, as it shows the ability to swim against the tide and be independent.
  • The music listened to between the ages of 11 and 15 can have a lasting impact on one's preferences.
  • The golden question of who someone would call if they were stuck in a difficult situation can reveal their level of agency.
  • Immigrants often exhibit high agency due to their willingness to make bold moves and start from scratch.
  • Being unable to predict someone's opinions is an indicator of high agency.
  • Holding a suite of beliefs that don't fit typical stereotypes suggests independent thinking and authenticity.

Authenticity and Perception

36:39 - 43:00

  • The price someone pays to hold their views is a reliable signal of authenticity.
  • Favorite people to hang around are those who have thought things through and update their beliefs.
  • Being mean to your face but nice behind your back can indicate someone who is genuinely nice.
  • Gossiping tells you as much about the person gossiping as it does about the person being talked about.
  • Creativity requires seeking different inputs rather than regurgitating the same thing harder.
  • Looking for niche content and unconventional ideas can lead to future success.
  • The work environment plays a role in generating creative ideas.
  • The obsession with productivity often hinders creativity.
  • Sometimes, taking a break or going for a walk can help generate new ideas.
  • The education system was designed for factory work and may limit creativity.
  • Productivity-focused mindset can prevent seeing simple solutions.

Creativity and Decision-Making

42:39 - 49:22

  • Classes externalize motivation and provide structure for training
  • Using a spinning wheel app to collect great questions for idea generation
  • The practice of Sakoko in Japan led to the development of a unique culture
  • Time alone and idea camps with smart people can foster creativity
  • The brain can only run one program at a time, leading to opportunity costs for thoughts
  • Avoiding dramatic people and pruning bullshit thoughts can improve peace of mind
  • Inaction has a price and thinking cost is the unseen price of inaction

Peace of Mind and Metrics

48:58 - 55:13

  • Peace of mind is a hidden metric that everyone should strive for.
  • Metrics are important, and money is a popular metric because it's like a video game where you compete against others.
  • Hidden metrics become more apparent when we experience moments of anxiety or dissatisfaction.
  • The Instagram model example illustrates the discrepancy between visible metrics and hidden metrics in relationships.
  • The Rick and Morty scene represents the realization that life becomes unpredictable after turning 25.
  • Religion can be useful, but the simulation hypothesis offers an alternative perspective on life as a video game.
  • Video game designers understand human psychology well, making video games an interesting subject for study.
  • Depersonalizing aspects of life can lead to better decision-making and personal growth.
  • Gamification and clear metrics can drive behavior, but they need to be balanced with opposing metrics to avoid negative consequences.
  • Visualizing peace of mind as a daily dashboard could have a significant impact on people's lives.
  • Some individuals find peace of mind through pursuing financial success, but this may not be true for everyone.
  • Understanding different perspectives and finding alignment between work and personal values can lead to greater peace of mind.

Perspective and Empathy

54:47 - 1:00:55

  • Most people can't understand the perspective of someone like Alex or Mosey who believe that not having kids and focusing on their work is a smarter idea for serving the world.
  • People often struggle to empathize with others who engage in activities purely for the sake of doing them, such as playing addictive video games or pursuing personal hobbies.
  • Starting a podcast requires enjoying the process because it takes a long time to gain traction and build an audience.
  • Pricing in difficulty and having low expectations of success can help manage expectations when starting new endeavors.
  • Taking up new activities, like eFoiling or YouTube, requires recognizing that there will be a learning curve and accepting that failure is part of the process.
  • Breaking down tasks into manageable levels and focusing on progress rather than immediate success can help maintain motivation.
  • Combining optimism, agency, and playing infinite games for the sake of playing them is key to long-term success.
  • Front-loading tasks in the morning helps reduce wasted thinking cost or anxiety cost throughout the day.
  • Assuming half of what someone brags about their success or happiness and doubling what they downplay can provide a more accurate understanding of their situation.

Understanding Others and Cultural Memes

1:06:35 - 1:12:59

  • Bragging razor: Assume someone's bragged success or happiness is half what they claim, and downplayed success or happiness is double what they claim.
  • Wealth signaling: Super rich hide wealth, while those who try to overtly signal it may be compensating for something.
  • Bragging suggests low status and a low reliability signal of authenticity compared to hard signals like bank balance or capacity.
  • Introducing others at parties allows bypassing the bragging razor as friends reliably mention achievements.
  • Instagram razor: Assume there were 99 worse variations of an attractive influencer photo you haven't seen.
  • Everything on Instagram is edited and not true; assume it's the best option out of what everyone had.
  • Metagame study is important to learn from actions rather than words or appearances.
  • Narcissism razor: Study how people carry themselves and their actions rather than what they say.
  • Studying meta games in marketing is important, focusing on what people do rather than what they say.
  • Don't worry about other people's opinions, as they are too busy worrying about their own.
  • Envy can be useful to realize that others may not view you as highly as you think.
  • We are often our own worst enemy and see the world as adversarial, but the world is indifferent to us.
  • Personifying the world as an enemy is misguided; we should turn inward and recognize our own weaknesses.
  • Ideas are more important than individuals, and they can provide a sense of something bigger than ourselves.
  • Cummings Razor suggests that confusion in politics is often due to a lack of strategy or design rather than malice.
  • The idea of sinister elites controlling everything is comforting compared to the truth that even leaders don't know what they're doing.

Perception and Decision-Making

1:12:30 - 1:19:01

  • Lack of strategy and design in decision-making
  • Compensatory control - reintroducing order in response to uncertainty
  • Belief in grand plans of malign scientists as a way to personify chaos
  • Understanding the perspective of others and the power of conviction
  • The Regina method for investigative questioning
  • Approaching conversations with curiosity instead of judgment
  • Reflecting on past beliefs and making necessary changes now
  • The pattern of recurring mistakes and the need for self-awareness
  • The idea of turning a guided meditation into a new project

Self-Reflection and Cultural Heroes

1:18:47 - 1:25:12

  • Alone time can be both great and bad.
  • As an atheist or agnostic, prayer is not an alternative, so a guided meditation could be helpful.
  • The idea of imagining oneself in a care home at the end of life can be a powerful exercise.
  • Visualizing the best version of oneself and feeling envy for that version can be motivating.
  • Thinking in longer time horizons and playing long-term games can lead to compounding success.
  • Being early on trends found on platforms like Reddit and Twitter can provide an advantage.
  • Receiving messages from parents about certain topics indicates mainstream significance.
  • "The Sovereign Individual" predicts future trends and discusses the fall of empires.

Cultural Shifts and Future Trends

1:43:16 - 1:49:38

  • China is about to overtake the G7 in terms of economic size.
  • Population collapse is a significant concern, but often ignored or disincentivized by the media.
  • AI risk is still seen as less important by the public compared to other issues.
  • YouTube has become a major platform for young people, with many spending a significant amount of time on it.
  • YouTube's decentralized nature may allow it to surpass traditional media platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime.
  • TikTok usage is increasing rapidly, especially among younger age groups.
  • The amount of time people spend on online platforms has increased significantly, potentially impacting mental health and discourse.
  • The smartphone paradox presents two extremes: phone addicts and phoneless Luddites. There needs to be a middle ground approach.
  • The idea of having separate phones for different purposes can help reset one's baseline and prevent addiction.
  • Using different smartphones with different features can reset one's baseline and make them bored of certain technologies.
  • Taking control of your own technology is important, as it can be a consistent challenge to maintain discipline.
  • Having a separate phone for social media allows for the benefits of having a smartphone without the distractions.
  • Pharmaceutical advertising is prevalent in the US, but there is a lack of investment in exercise campaigns.
  • The UK government's proposed salary for the head of cyber security raises concerns about potential vulnerabilities.
  • Studying different cultures and history can reveal gaps in governance and societal systems.
  • Modern aviation is often taken for granted, despite its safety record compared to car accidents.
  • Negativity bias is ingrained in humans, but it's important to swim upstream against it.
  • The aviation industry provides valuable lessons that should be applied to other sectors, such as healthcare.

Lessons from Aviation and Cultural Icons

1:55:32 - 2:02:45

  • The book 'Black Box Thinking' compares the aviation industry to hospitals and explores why airline deaths have decreased while hospital deaths have increased.
  • Lessons from the aviation industry should be applied everywhere.
  • The decline of ticker tape parades, which used to celebrate great individuals, raises questions about cultural heroes and their recognition.
  • There is a lack of agreement on cultural heroes in today's society.
  • People consume music from the past but only consume content from the last 24 hours on social media.
  • Music provides a vibe and emotional state, making it more timeless than other types of content.
  • The paradox of abundance exists where there is an overwhelming amount of both relevant and irrelevant information available.
  • Constant exposure to outrages in the digital age can distract us from our goals and make us easily controlled by emotional manipulators.
  • Without cultural icons that everyone can agree on as heroes, it becomes difficult to rally around a common cause or celebration.
  • Many people feel that milestones become less frequent after turning twenty-five due to lack of support groups and institutionalization.
  • Time spent with family, friends, and coworkers tends to decrease as people get older.

Adapting to Adulthood and Mental Health

2:02:19 - 2:05:34

  • People struggle to adapt after being in a structured environment for a long time and then suddenly being thrown into the wild
  • Adults often lack support groups and their time spent with family, friends, and co-workers decreases
  • The switch from being cared for to becoming a caregiver can be challenging
  • Creating regular milestones and reflecting on them can help combat depressive feelings
  • Scheduling regular meetings with friends, family, and colleagues is important
  • Religion can provide regular rituals that are bigger than oneself
  • Taking sabbaths or fasting can be beneficial
  • George Mac's writing can be found at along with a weekly newsletter
  • Americans and Brits have different ways of complimenting each other but there is much to learn from each other