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Finding the Optimal Solution
Our brains are trained to optimize for survival, but the optimal solution in a modern world has new constraints and requires different goals.
Good afternoon - thanks for choosing to spend some time reading and reflecting on the ideas below. Today we’re taking a closer look at our goals, the constraints that are holding us back, and how changing what we’re optimizing for can change how we live our lives.
As always, thanks for reading!
Finding the Optimal Solution
The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one's self. And the arbitrariness of the constraint serves only to obtain precision of execution.
In our lives, we’re limited by two things: time and energy.
There are countless ways we can utilize our time and energy, and how we do so defines our lives.
To utilize our time and energy well, we need to allocate it optimally, given the constraints and goals in our lives. For example, we might have a goal of making as much money as possible to support our families, but we have a constraint that we want to be home for dinner every day. Or we might have a goal of enjoying life as much as possible but a constraint to make enough money to pay the bills.
We can hold multiple goals at the same time and constraints will layer on top of each other, but no matter what the goals or constraints are, there where will always be an optimal solution that provides the best solution given our constraints.
In college, I studied operations management and we were tasked with solving similar problems.
A common assignment was maximizing profit, given the constraints of customer demand and production capacity at different factories. We would know how much product our customers wanted, how much product our factories could produce, what the margins were at each factory, and we had to find the “optimal solution” to maximize profit without overloading the factories and still delivering all of the product our customers requested.
In business school, these problems have an optimal solution that can be easily calculated, but in real life, the optimal solution is a moving target because our goals and constraints change as our lives evolve.
Looking at the big picture, we’re optimizing for a fulfilling and rewarding life, given the constraints of time and energy. Drilling deeper, we use this framework in everything we do. When we’re making dinner, we might be optimizing for taste, given the constraints of calories and cost. When we’re going to the gym, we might be optimizing for aesthetics, given the constraints of time and equipment.
We’re constantly optimizing for something, but without conscious effort, we fall into a default state. When we’re actively thinking about the worthwhile goals in our lives, we understand what we’re optimizing for, but when we stop paying attention, our default optimization after hundreds of thousands of years of evolution is survival.
Left unchecked, we optimize for survival given the constraints of our environment. If there’s danger, we leave. If there’s food, we eat it. If there’s conflict, we fight or flee.
Optimizing for survival in the modern world is the root of many problems. If we can overcome our default settings and slowly become better at optimizing for fulfillment, happiness, sustainability, and other worthwhile ends, we can train ourselves to make decisions that align with the modern world.
What have you been optimizing for, and with what constraints?
What goals should you be optimizing for, and with what constraints?
What realities or trade-offs will you have to accept when considering the goals and constraints in your life?
A short but powerful book detailing the way discipline and constraints can set us free.
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Thanks for reading! I’ll see you next Sunday.