is derren brown a mustachian badass?
I’ve been a big fan of Derren Brown since I first saw some of his early shows on Channel 4, and have admired him ever more as I read a few of his books and saw more shows. I really liked how he would debunk all of the scammy things such as psychics and magical thinking, despite being a “magician” himself. A pretty clever way of going about it and he’d never reveal too much on how exactly he was doing things, but revealed enough to let you know it was definitely a trick and he’s not really reading your mind or talking to dead people. I always knew deep down that sort of shit wasn’t real but it’s nice to have someone as charismatic and intelligent as Mr Brown to confirm this sort of thing for you.
So it was with great pleasure after seeing his latest show – called No Tricks – to see that he is also into many of the principals of the Financial Independence community, is essentially a stoic badass and possibly a closet Mustachian to boot. I even suspect he may invest in Vanguard Index funds although the show never got round to talking about that 😉
Here are some of the main ideas he presented during the show, the general theme of which was “Happiness”, or “Hah-penis” as he pronounced it to much giggling of the audience 1 and the reasons why I think that Derren is a Mustachian badass…
he knows that more money does not equal more happiness
I know it’s easy for someone relatively rich and famous to say this but he points to many of the studies that most of us are already well aware of that reveal past a certain point more money does not make us more happy – turns out that Sam Walton of Wal-Mart fame agrees with him if you wanted a view from the very extreme end of the wealth spectrum! He also points out that fame and celebrity, which is fast becoming the number one thing kids want to be when they grow up (WTF?) is not the silver bullet for happiness and he obviously has more experience than most of us on this point. He clearly gets the concept of “enough” that is for certain.
he’s into stoicism
He introduced a few basic concepts of Stoicism to the audience such as:
Happiness is the difference between expectations and reality. You can’t change reality (in most cases) so just lower your expectations!
This is a quick and easy one to internalise and I even heard a very middle class middle aged lady remark to her friend at the interval “When I go out to somewhere and spend a lot of money I always tend to come home feeling unhappy, because my expectations were so high and it never tends to live up to it”. Definitely a feather in the cap for the FI community there, who have all worked out this fact long ago I think 😉
Circles of control – Most things people worry about totally out of their control. Next time you find yourself worrying about something stop and think, am I in control of this or not, and if not then stop worrying about it. Admittedly, easy to say but a little bit harder to do in practice. A good example of this is at work, there is normally all sorts of shit going on around you that really you have little control over, and the best way to perform well is to ignore all of that and crack on. Likewise when playing a sport, you can’t control what your opponent does or the result of the game, so don’t focus on that, focus on your own game and playing to the best of your abilities and overall you will find you end up with better results anyway. I’ve read a bit about sports or golf psychology and they seem to agree with that, so it’s interesting to link that up to a 2000+ year old philosophy!
Another good example which came up though was worrying about what other think about you. You can’t control what they say or think but you can control your own thoughts and actions, so just concentrate on doing what you think is right and forget about the rest of it. An audience member also brought up a brilliant quote on this subject:
“You’ll worry less about what people think about you when you realise how seldom they do” – David Foster Wallace 2
As an aside here are some more great quotes on how to stop worrying about this sort of thing.
He did miss out a few stoic gems which I find useful such as negative visualisation. This is where you shut your eyes and think (or meditate if you want to sound wanky about it) for a few minutes and for example, imagine that you are blind. When you finally open your eyes you are now wondrously thankful . Other things that work well here are imagining that you live in a third world country or in a war zone (or both) or imagining that you live 200, 500 or 10000 years ago and imagining how hard your life might be compared to how insanely easy it is now.
he practices the low info diet
He revealed in the Q&A section after that he practices the low information diet which basically means he doesn’t watch or read the news. This links into the circles of control idea above. What is the point in reading lots of bad news and opening yourself up to the likelihood of worrying about a whole bunch of stuff you can’t do anything about? He also pointed out the obvious thing in that any really big news filters its way through to you pretty quickly anyway, in case you are worried about “missing out” on anything important.
he likes a good analogy or two
He realises that most people relate to stories rather than just telling you to do stuff. This is clearly why his TV shows often have such a great narrative to them and are so dramatic! He came up with a few decent analogies I thought:
Don’t obsess about climbing the ladder – Or as he put it, try living your life horizontally rather than vertically. He actually used two good analogies to illustrate this point, the first of which was simply the “climbing the ladder” one, which is a common meme in our culture. He points out that it has it’s roots in religion – “ascending to the kingdom of god” and all that. But now we are not so religious it still exists in many forms including climbing the greasy poll at a corporation of any size. He suggests that we try to get away from this mindset because:
“You can spend your whole life trying to climb the ladder, but when you get to the top you might realise it was against the wrong wall” – paraphrased from a quote generally attributed to Thomas Merton 3
You are a frog – To think of a more horizontal way of life, he used the analogy of a frog on a lily pad. You chill out in the sun on one lily pad doing your thing for a while, and then when/if you bored you just hop over to another lily pad and check out what’s going down on that one. I quite like this and it definitely relates to the FI mindset and one of trying out many things or the classic vision of a renaissance man which many of us aspire to.
You are a rock – Going back to the stoic stuff, they recommended thinking of yourself as a rock, immovable and with internal strength, and stuff that happens in life that is out of your control is just like waves that lap against you or go over you. Derren added his own spin by saying he didn’t really think this encompassed the thought of empathy, caring for others and so on in this analogy so he reckons we should think of ourselves as a porous rock, with the waves going through us rather than straight around us. Only a slight difference but one I quite liked as Stoicism does sometimes come across as “oh that happened? Fucks given = zero” when actually it is not like that at all. They were all about doing things that were important to you so if you want to spend your time working to make the world a better place then thats all good but it’s about trying not to get too caught up (i.e. depressed for want of a better word?) in the outcomes, most of which you have no control over.
Traffic lights – One other really good analogy is kind of a mixture of East and West thinking and the key point is that our goal is not to eliminate all forms of worry or anxiety. I mean for a start that is practically impossible, and if it is then it must take years of practice and to live in some buddhist monk temple on top of a secluded mountain somewhere (and even then you must get pretty lonely!). So that’s no good advice for beginners thinking about this sort of shit. So this thought exercise says to think of your emotions as cars passing in traffic. You acknowledge they are there but think of them as something that just happened to you rather than something that is actually part of you. If you externalise the feelings somewhat then they don’t have as much impact on you. So if you get angry about something someone said to you at work you can just think:
“There’s a feeling of anger coming towards me. Oh look now it’s passing. See ya later Mr Anger in the Audi TT 4”
death, it’s not so bad
Up till now I had thoroughly enjoyed the talk but it was kind of covering a lot of ground I’d already read extensively on but he ended with a bit about how we think about death, which was definitely new on me and I found very interesting. He says consider this:
Without death life has no meaning – Imagine if you lived forever, you would end up trying out every job, every hobby, see everything in the world and just become bored, probably way sooner than you’d actually ticked off all of the things on that list. You would also fall in and out of love so many times that love itself would become meaningless as well. Not good. You could also have unlimited amounts of children so the joy of parenthood would become all a bit “meh” as well. Bad times at Eternal Youth Towers.
The fact that we only have a limited time here and one shot at it means we have to massively prioritise our time and only do things that are very important to us, and on top of that most of the things we are doing are for the first (and possibly only) time and therefore are very exciting to us!
We care about the death of our species more than the death of ourselves – Most people if you asked them would say and indeed even act like they are far more concerned about their own life (and therefore death) than the lives and deaths of everyone else on Earth but he thinks about it another way. Imagine if we knew humanity was about to be wiped out in say 3 months. How would people act? It would render 99% of human culture and activity meaningless. From your own small actions like taking photos of your loved ones and backing them up onto a hard drive, to huge cultural things like libraries and preservation of old buildings and historical sites, it’s all a waste of time if there’s no one left in the future left to see it. So all of these things we do to preserve our culture is because we do care about the future and the continuation of the species. It’s a simple logical thought but one that I’ve never thought of like that before, and I found it rather profound and heartening. It puts things like climate change into perspective and makes me think maybe we have got a chance with that after all.
and on that bombshell…
Derren covered quite a lot of other stuff in the short time but that’s all I could remember and had made very brief notes on, but I think I got most of the best of it.
I really wish I had the balls to stand up in the Q&A and ask if he was a Mustachian, that would be have been fun and interesting (or really embarrassing when the crowd went silent and no one knew what the hell I was talking about!)
Derren if you are reading this can you answer our question for us please!? 🙂
How about you readers, do you know of any other people in the public eye you suspect to be of the FI mindset? Let me know what you think and what your evidence is! Thanks!
Image copyright/source from Derren Brown
- Sorry Derren, for giving away all of your best gags here! 🙂 ↩
- Although the original quote was apparently attributed to Olin Miller. Read here if you want to geek out some more about this quote ↩
- Again there are apparently many others who have said something similar here. Quoting quotes is confusing and hard work!!! ↩
- Haven’t you noticed how most Audi drivers seem to be very angry!? Weird 🙂 ↩