Habits and Happiness 17: Obliquity and Getting into the Swim of Things

John Kay is a fabulous thinker who also happens to be a top economist. In my view if he was an American he would be much more famous and highly regarded than he is. Unlike many economists he doesn’t think the world is full of rationally maximising satisfaction units reading market signals coherently. Like Paul Ormerod another brilliant British economic thinker Kay believes the world we live in is humanly messy.

In his new book entitled Obliquity (admittedly the title won’t pick up the casual Jordan biography browser with an economics exam in the offing), Kay explains with real evidence how goals can sometimes turn out to be a straightjacket. By seeking to do something we can undermine the actual achievement of it. For example a company wanting to increase shareholder value might do better by looking at other stuff like the environment, employee engagement and the like. A person who wants to be rich might get there by doing what they love rather than what seems to make money. Lesson’s aplenty there for companies such as banks. So laser focused were banks on profitability and market share they ended up being unprofitable and owned by the government.

As always the books I read relate to my life. I have not been doing that well in losing weight but I have now started to care less and am now making some progress. I damaged my back in may on CIPD business in the Gulf. That means I cannot run without possibly re-igniting the old lumbar trouble. however, I wasn’t making very much progress anyway. I was excusing myself from all exercise when my brilliant colleague and exercise maven and Gaylin Jee suggested a little swim now and again. Gaylin’s own regular regime includes running and swimming after riding bikes. Every weekend she has some exacting exercise event, yet unlike so many such people she doesn’t make you feel like a waddling slob because you don’t do what she does. Gaylin’s advice is always good on everything. So on her advice I resumed my half hearted swimming and now I have as good as got into the routine of a morning swim 3 times a week.

This has made me feel better and less inclined to eat too much and drink too many pints, though I am not living a Trappist existence yet. Anyway I have lost a steady amount each week and feel better. That’s also because I stopped weighing myself and focusing on the goal of weight loss and more on the goal of feeling good and energised. That is a real result and that’s obliquity!

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