Aggressive Novelty

This is a fun piece about a new life philosophy that I’ve developed for myself called ‘Aggressive Novelty.’ All it involves is a) developing awareness of my interests and habits and then b) systematically introducing new influences, preferably those that are very different from my current set

Some advise exercise, and others, repose. Some counsel travel, and others, retreat. Some praise solitude, and others, gaiety. No doubt all these may play their part according to the individual temperament. But the element which is constant and common in all of them is Change.

Change is the master key. A man can wear out a particular part of his mind by continually using it and tiring it, just int he same way he can wear out the elbows of his coat. There is, however, this difference between the living cells of the brain and inanimate articles:… the tired parts of the mind can be rested and strengthened, not merely by rest, but by using other parts. It is not enough merely to switch off the lights which play upon the main and ordinary field of interest; a new field of interest must be illuminated.

It is no use saying to the tired ‘mental muscles’… ‘I will lie down and think of nothing.’ The mind keeps busy just the same. If it has been weighing and measuring, it goes on weighing and measuring. If it has been worrying, it goes on worrying. It is only when new cells are called into activity, when new starts become the lord of the ascendant, that relief, repose, refreshment are afforded.
— Winston Churchill

There are two schools of thought on what form the new influences should take. One is a form of sampling. The other is to choose less things but really let them move into your heart. Although I like sampling a lot, I prefer the latter. Part of my reasoning relates to my experience lifting weights. For several years I had the ambition of getting a bigger body but it was only after I completely immersed myself in the culture that I found I became consistent at getting myself to the gym. Part of that process for me was, willingly, watching endless hours of body building documentaries. Listening and absorbing the mindsets of top body builders like Kai Greene and Ronnie Coleman, even just watching them train is more than just a burst of short-term inspiration, it’s a long-run change in who I am as a person.

Whilst at Tsinghua, a friend and I made our own body building documentary of my Chinese friend Tung, who is probably one of the biggest guys I have ever seen in my life. I asked him what he felt was important for a beginner and he said that the type of person who trains say three times a week for forty-five minutes, something that is more than sufficient in the long-run, is fundamentally a completely different person to the guy just starting out. Therefore if you try to as a beginner to immediately go straight to the 3x a week you will fail. Why? Because you are not that person yet. So Tung’s suggestion is to for three months make lifting/body building your life. Go to the gym five/six times a week, don’t just get in and out but talk to the other guys and absorb their mindsights, watch documentaries, even buy fancy gym clothes so you look good when you go. The objective here is not temporary short-term gains of a quick six pack but instead shocking your mind and body into a whole new way of thinking and living.



So anyway these are list of categories that I think pretty comprehensively cover my interests and current habits.

This include: types of friends, languages, music taste, favourite TV shows, favourite films, habitual thinking, style of thinking, my main ideas/pet theories, favourite sports to both watch, do and play, favourite thinkers and favourite books.

As an example right now my favourite music genre wise is probably

  • Korean Hip Hop – esp. Jay Park (박재범), Verbal Jint (버벌진트), Bumkey (범키), Swings (스윙스)
  • CPOP – esp. Jay Chou (周杰伦), Rainie Yang (杨丞琳)
  • American Hip Hop – esp. Drake
  • KPOP – esp. Rain (비), Ballads like Baek Ji Young’s (백지영), KPOP girl groups like SNSD (소녀시대), AOA (에이오에이), Red Velvet (레드벨벳)

In the future I want to pro-actively get into music that isn’t East Asian or American mainstream like house music or maybe music from Arabia or India.

Another example might be currently a lot of my thinking is influenced by Silicon Valley culture and in particular the ‘disrupt’ mindsight. Exposing myself to how artists thing about similar problems of doing something new I think might be really interesting.


I think there are three main benefits of the ‘Aggressive Novelty’ approach to life.

1 Greater creativity

As outlined in Steven Johnson’s book ‘Where Good Ideas Come From’ creativity can be thought of as a the simple result of diverse influence bashing together. By pro-actively and periodically introducing new influences I will become more creative!

2 Transfer

There are so many things in life that are beyond our control. I think many old people get worn down by their particular culture’s societal hierarchy, what is deemed high status and what is not. And perhaps most pervasive is the sense of what is possible and what is not. In my own small way, as a recent university graduate I’ve noticed a seismic difference in the feeling of possibility that other graduates friends and I have compared to first year students that I’ve become friends with. I find the more I hang out around them the more I stay hopeful and full of possibilities.

I think that is why immigrants in all societies tend to do much better. They are not constrained by the collective cultural memory of what is possible and not possible to achieve. As an example, I was recently discussing with a friend how I would be very willing to live in the poorest areas of Beijing (a city I don’t know very well) but very unwilling to live in a similar part of London (a city I have lived in all my life). With London I would feel that I would be forever shackled by the feeling that I am not going to escape this place whereas in Beijing I would feel a sense of adventure and not such feeling of being trapped. Although there are lots of universals across different cultures the differences can still feel liberating.

For example I used to think that East Asian men could never have an amazing body but people like Youtube star Mike Chang and Frank Yang have forced me to change my assumptions.

‘Running an ultramarathon can’t be good for you. I can’t imagine how it’s possibly good for your body,’ I said. I wasn’t biting on endurance. Running wasn’t my thing and it never has been. Brian MacKenzie laughed: ‘Good for you physically? No. But you’ll recover. And I assure you: if you run 50K or 100 miles, when you finish,you won’t be the same person who started.’ I thought for a minute and that’s when I bit. I’d seen a strange ripple effect dozens of times in the world of strength but for some reasons I’d never connected the dots with endurance. Perhaps just as you haven’t connected the dots with some subjects in this book. After all, in a knowledge economy, what’s the value of deadlifting more or losing 2% body fat? Or hitting a home run? In a word: transfer. The physical changes were incredible, but the curious side effects (the mental improvements) were the strongest incentives to continue… This book is a Trojan Horse full of unexpected transfers.’ Tim Ferriss

3 Life extension

Finally, I noticed that the year I was in Beijing the first month felt much longer, and my brain is packed with emotionally-charged memories, however I remember the final three or four months all sort of merged into one, one week indistinguishable from the next. My basic idea then is if I can consistently introduce ‘aggressive novelty’ then I in effect (although of course not literally) extend my life. As Einstein said, ‘time is relative!’ Of course this can get pretty exhausting so right now I’ve settled on one new thing every 3 months or so. My latest new habits include joining a Sci-Fi book club, starting to watch DOTA and LOL competitions as well as starting to meditate. The latter is something I’ve wanted to try for a long time but doing it consistently is really difficult so right now I am just doing 3 minutes a day after I shower to build the habit and then once that is established I’ll slowly increase the amount of time. .

Also it’s fun!

Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light