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Absorb what is useful. Discard what is not.

Absorb what is useful. Discard what is not.

"Absorb what is useful. Discard what is not. Add what is uniquely your own.” -Bruce Lee

Yip Man and Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee’s fighting style used techniques from multiple martial arts and ideas from all aspects of physical training. We can take this same approach.

"Absorb what is useful"

There’s this fitness book called “The Happy Body". I hate it. The cover has an awkward family photo on it straight out of the Eighties. The book has a diet and an exercise plan, but it’s spread out all over the book in a confusing manner. The author body shames you for being too fat or too muscular based on arbitrary averages. Half of the book is wasted with amaaazing testimonials.

But “The Happy Body” still sits on my shelf. The author’s track-suit wearing family smiles, mocking me. Why keep it? Because the mobility routine is fantastic. I do it 3-5 times a week. It keeps me flexible. It makes me feel great.

Too many times I’ve thought, “I don’t like this one bit so I’ll just ignore everything else."

Absorb what is useful. Discard what is not.

Scott Adams draws the Dilbert comic, writes books, and has a controversial political blog. I think he’s gone batshit. His writings are subject to engineering woo, and I strongly disagree with his political arguments. Despite all this, I’ve picked up valuable ideas from Scott. Namely:

  • Systems are better than goals
  • Persuasion skills are vital for success
  • Becoming a master of one field is very difficult. Get great at two (or more) fields and become the best at the overlap.

What ideas are you missing out on?

"Discard what is not"

I like minimalism a lot. It’s given me a healthier relationship with ’stuff’, taught me how to use inversion in my thinking, and helped me learn more about myself (that last one sounds ridiculous). When used as a mental framework, minimalism is great.

Empty desk
Photo by Sarah Dorweiler

But sometimes, minimalism makes me feel terrible. On occasion, I’ll look at nice photos of minimal rooms online. Thoughts start popping in my head:

  • If you’re a minimalist, why is your desk such a mess!?
  • Would a real minimalist waste time doing X, Y or Z?
  • How come you still own more than 100 things? How will anyone on the internet take you seriously if you aren’t under [arbitrary limit]!?

All of these questions are counter-productive. I don’t need to compare myself to others to achieve my goals. When used as an identity, minimalism is terrible.

Too many times I’ve thought, “I agreed with this one bit so I’ll just blindly follow everything else."

Absorb what is useful. Discard what is not.

The Tao Te Ching and Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations are both full of short but high-impact lessons. I highly recommend both of these. But don’t go in thinking, “these texts are so highly revered, I must follow them 100%!” Some sections will be poignant and very relevant to your life. Others will fall flat. If you re-read it in a year, the lessons that stick out will be completely different. You’d do well to study these books, but blindly applying the lessons won’t help you.

What ideas are you blindly following?

"Add what is uniquely your own"

We collect tools in our toolbox to better equip us for life. But sometimes the right tool hasn’t been made yet, and it’s time to forge a new one. Connect ideas across domains. Try weird combinations and see if they work. Just like Bruce make Jeet Kune Do, we can go out and make something new.

Bruce Lee

Thanks Bruce.


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Further Reading

Striking Thoughts: Bruce Lee’s Wisdom for Daily Living

Paul Graham on Copying

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