In this post, we’re going to look at what Elon Musk can teach us about alcohol addiction.
This post might be a little bit different from the rest of the posts on the Soberclear website.
Actually, it’s going to be totally different. But, at the same time, probably the most insightful and enlightening.
Instead of giving you specific advice, we’re going to explore a different way to think.
If you can understand how to think about alcohol, it can radically transform the way you look at it.
The way people think about alcohol dictates the actions that they take.
Therefore, if they are able to remove all the conditioning and see alcohol addiction/ethanol for what it is, choosing not to drink becomes a logical decision.
This post won’t just be relevant if you’re trying to stop drinking. It will be relevant in every single area of your life. It’s an entirely different way to approach any problem.
And what we will be discussing today, is first principles thinking.
When you use first principles thinking, you are able to break down any complex difficulty and generate original solutions.
We’ll be discussing the origin of first principles thinking, how it relates to alcohol, and how to start using this first principle thinking on your own journey.
The Origin of First Principles Thinking
First-principles thinking was first proposed as a problem-solving technique in ancient Greece by the philosopher Aristotle.
Aristotle explains that “in the science of nature as elsewhere, we should try first to determine questions about the first principles” because the “proper direction of our road is from things better known and clear to us to things that are clearer and better known by nature; for the things known to us are not the same as the things known unconditionally” (Irwin, 1988).
Aristotle is saying that when a problem-solver is trying to solve a problem, we should not accept common knowledge without questioning it first.
Other great thinkers also discussed First Principles thinking, including Descartes, Kant, and Hegel.
And today, many great entrepreneurs also accredit first principles thinking to the way they handle challenges. Notable people that have mentioned first principles thinking include Jeff Bezos, Reed Hastings, and Peter Thiel.
Someone that brought the most attention to this style of thinking, is Elon Musk.
Elon Musk and First Principles Thinking
Elon Musk is a serial entrepreneur, who founded Tesla and SpaceX. His work ethic is widely known. He has said to work 100 hour weeks, only recently cutting down to 85.
However, it wasn’t sheer work ethic that got Musk to where he is.
A large part of his genius creativity boils down to his ability to think critically about situations and challenges. And, you guessed it, he uses first principles thinking.
During an interview with TED curator Chris Anderson, Musk said this:
Musk: “Well, I do think there’s a good framework for thinking. It is physics. You know, the sort of first principles reasoning. Generally I think there are — what I mean by that is, boil things down to their fundamental truths and reason up from there, as opposed to reasoning by analogy.
Through most of our life, we get through life by reasoning by analogy, which essentially means copying what other people do with slight variations.”
In other words, first principles thinking is questioning everything you think you ‘know’ about a given subject, problem or scenario instead of copying others.
Elon Musk, SpaceX and First Principles in Action
Musk used first principles thinking to form SpaceX.
Musk began his quest to Mars in 2002. He soon discovered that a rocket costs $60 million+ to build.
Instead of immediately accepting this, he began to think critically about the situation.
He used first principles thinking to break down what a rocket is made up of – Aerospace-grade aluminum alloys, titanium, copper and carbon fiber. He discovered that the value of those materials is around two percent of the typical rocket price.
So, Musk then created his own company to build the rockets – and SpaceX was born.
If Musk had reasoned by analogy, he would have accepted a rocket that costs $60 million+ to build.
Instead, he questioned it. He broke down the problem to its fundamentals and created a solution using first principles thinking.
How Does First Principles Relate To Alcohol Addiction?
This is essentially the framework I, and many others used, to stop drinking alcohol easily.
When you are able to boil down alcohol to its fundamental truths, you understand it for what it is – a highly addictive poison that has zero benefits (other than being used as a fuel, a detergent, and a mild anaesthetic.)
Musk said that we are able to get through most of our life reasoning by analogy – and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that.
Reasoning by analogy is very similar to using “heuristics” – which are mental shortcuts humans take to solve problems and then take action based on these solutions.
Heuristics can also be described as taking an “educated guess” or using “common sense”. Using this approach, we are often able to come up with good solutions, quickly and efficiently.
However, sometimes these mental shortcuts come up with incorrect solutions.
This is known as a “cognitive bias”.
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How To Use First Principles Thinking To Get Control Of Your Drinking
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From an evolutionary psychology perspective, cognitive biases have helped humans survive.
Thousands of years ago, we would have used cognitive bias to make decisions about noises that we presume to be predators. Whilst those decisions may have been incorrect, they could have saved our lives.
The vast majority of people reason by analogy when it comes to alcohol. They don’t critically think about what they are putting in their body.
They don’t question everything they think they know about alcohol. They are conditioned through society to think of alcohol in a certain way.
Combine that with many types of cognitive biases, and you now have distorted thinking around alcohol.
How To Use First Principles Thinking On Your Journey
So, how can you use first principles thinking on your journey? Well, I want to share a 3-step framework with you that you can apply in any situation.
1. Identify Assumptions
The first step to using first principles thinking is to identify the assumption you have. In Musk’s example, his assumption may have been that the only way to build a rocket is to pay $65 mil+.
Another assumption might be that you like the taste of alcohol.
Whatever problem you are currently facing, you can write down your current assumptions.
2. Break it down to its principles
The next step is to break down the assumption into its principles.
An example of this is in an interview Musk did with Kevin Rose (source):
Somebody could say, “Battery packs are really expensive and that’s just the way they will always be… Historically, it has cost $600 per kilowatt hour. It’s not going to be much better than that in the future.”
With first principles, you say, “What are the material constituents of the batteries? What is the stock market value of the material constituents?”
It’s got cobalt, nickel, aluminum, carbon, some polymers for separation and a seal can. Break that down on a material basis and say, “If we bought that on the London Metal Exchange what would each of those things cost?”
It’s like $80 per kilowatt hour. So clearly you just need to think of clever ways to take those materials and combine them into the shape of a battery cell and you can have batteries that are much, much cheaper than anyone realizes.”
This is first principles thinking in action.
Another example could come from someone saying they like the taste of alcohol.
With first principles, you say to yourself:
“Well, is it the alcohol that makes drinks taste nice? Have I ever tasted 100% neat alcohol? What other ingredients make up a drink that I like the taste of? Are there chemicals, sugars, or flavourings?
3. Create A New Solution
Once you have identified the assumption and broken it down to its principles, you are able to create new solutions.
For example, when we look at the taste of alcohol, we have identified that there are many other ingredients other than the alcohol in a drink.
The drinks are laced with sugars and flavourings. When we break it down, we can see that the actual taste of alcohol is foul.
We have masked the taste of alcohol with other ingredients.
So What Does This Mean If You’re Stopping Drinking?
Most of the time, we can get away with reasoning by analogy. For most problems, it works fine.
However, when we have a pressing problem that is difficult to solve, reasoning from first principles can prove an extremely valuable tool. This is especially relevant when trying to stop drinking.
There are a few things you can do now.
One is to take a program, work with a coach, or read books to dismantle your current beliefs around alcohol. A lot of the programs work by doing exactly this.
The other thing is to systematically dismantle all of the assumptions you have around alcohol yourself.
You can write down the reasons why you drink, and start breaking them down one-by-one.
Either way, you should arrive at the same conclusion that I did…
That there are absolutely zero benefits to drinking alcohol. It’s an addictive drug and stopping drinking is not difficult. It’s enjoyable, fun and can be effortless.
First-principles is a mental framework that we can use to overcome challenges in our life.
It has been around for thousands of years but was recently made popular by Elon Musk.
Using first-principles thinking is critical when it comes to understanding alcohol addiction.
You can either do this yourself, dismantling all the reasons you drink, or you can hire a coach, take a program, or read books.