7 min read

Defaults > Exceptions: How the Perfect Brownie Contains the Ultimate Wisdom

Defaults > Exceptions: 
How the Perfect Brownie Contains the Ultimate Wisdom

This is a brownie.

It has 3 notable components -

  1. The brownie
  2. The walnuts
  3. The frosting

I can take away the walnuts and I'm still left with a frosted brownie.

I can take away the frosting and I'm left with a brownie with walnuts.

In fact, I can take away the frosting and the walnuts and I'm still left with a brownie.

But if I take away the brownie itself - I'm left with a late-night binge food for someone that’s drunk and fresh out of options.

So here's a question -

I'm going to eat these brownies weekly for the next 10 years of my life. If I want to make them better every time, where am I going to invest my effort?

The frosting?
The nuts?
Or the brownies?

It's obvious.

If I perfect my core brownie recipe, it doesn't matter if I mess up my frosting with garlic powder instead of sugar. I'll take one bite and realize what I've done. I'll wipe off the disgusting topping and still have an enjoyable treat - with a suboptimal aftertaste.

But if I bake garlic into the brownies themselves, no amount of frosting will save my culinary abomination.

So why do we put so much effort into frosting?

Why aren't we putting it into perfecting the brownies themselves?

Why will we read a book on a 1 week cleanse instead of seeking a diet that we're happy with 52 weeks a year?

Why will we dive into a 30-day bootcamp instead of pursuing activity to enjoy the other 11 months?

Why will we put out new fires every morning when we haven't installed a high-performing morning routine?

Why will we solve the same dispute between different colleagues when we haven't defined the cultural framework by which all such issues can be handled?

Why will we give a talented person just enough direction to complete a single task and not the principles, models and context to develop the judgment to succeed in projects to come?

Why will we explain the same thing 100 times instead of documenting it and making sure everyone is aware of the resource?

Why will we spend days/weeks researching an investment to only deploy 1% of our net worth without a gameplan for the 99% that's sitting in a savings account, losing value against inflation?

Why will we give a grandiose birthday gift to someone we have dysfunctional communication with?

Why will we attend networking events to meet "new people" only to ignore the most important people already in our lives? Why will we keep swiping right, filling our evenings with "good enough for now" without considering what "good enough" may actually look like?

Why will we act as occasional heroes instead of a reliable pros?

Why will we obsess over the next thing to give us a dopamine dump without seeking peace/satisfaction in our daily lives?

Because frosting is easy.

The perfect intervention.
A simple recipe to be whipped up quickly, no matter how badly we mess up the underlying good.

By contrast, working on our brownies requires us to understand recipes, individual ingredients and how they interact.

We make batch after batch, paying attention to how alterations affect outcomes.

Many suck, just as much as our current ones.

But differently.

And gradually, we eliminate those causes.

This may be above our culinary pay-grade. We may have to research recipes, watch youtube videos and possibly reach out to professionals.  

Or not.

Maybe we just realize that we've been adding garlic instead of sugar this whole time - an easy problem to fix. Anyone could've told us, but they wanted to be "nice." We could've figured it out, but we weren't paying attention.

We may be able to improve our brownies with little to no heavy lifting.

We can't know until we try - or care to do so.

For those that haven't gotten alergic to this metaphor, you're probably thinking "oh, great philosturbator, spinner of long tales, won't you bless us with some practical takeaways?"

Sure. No problem.

The brownies of your life are your Defaults.

Your starting point.
Where you come home at night.

You can always come home.
Because you will always come home.

There's nowhere else to go.

The Choice to Default is The Choice to be Happy.

Happiness is really a default state. Happiness is there when you remove the sense of something missing in your life. - Naval Ravikant, "Happiness is Learned"

Our current societal default is to look for a life to love.

Keep scrolling Amazon for a thing to buy.
Keep swiping Tinder for a person to date.
Keep browsing InstaTwitterTok for something to fill the silence.

What stops us from saying, "this is the shit that I like."
And then enjoying it.
Over and over again.

Am I proposing the death of exploration and optionality?
Not at all.

I'm proposing freedom from exploration and optionality.

By embracing defaults, we can choose to stray from our chosen paths. Often, we just won't want to. We'll have found/created lives that we already love.

Our weekdays and weekends, mornings and evenings, work days and meals.

We get to ask, "what would a beautiful version of this look like?"
Then test, refine and enjoy.

To keep "exploring" and never arriving at defaults is like scrolling Netflix, but never watching anything. Every day. For the rest of your life.

What for?

Let's give ourselves the gift of defaults.

What Defaults Look Like in Life.

As a baseline, defaults are habits, rather than individual actions.

In business, defaults may take the form of

  • Standard operating procedures
  • Company culture and values
  • Company mission and vision

In relationships, they may take the form of

  • Baseline ethics & morals
  • Boundaries you uphold for and will tolerate from others
  • Personal standards for behavior towards and contribution to others
  • Emotional intelligence and communication skills
  • Baseline vibe (e.g. outgoing and friendly, quiet and reserved, suspicious and skeptical, annoyed and disinterested, takes a while to warm up, never met a stranger, etc.)

In daily life, they may take the form of

  • Morning routine (personal, prework)
  • Starting ritual at work
  • Daily/weekly schedule and dedicated activity blocks
  • End of work ritual
  • Eating & cooking accommodations
  • Pre-sleep wind down ritual
  • Sleep and wake time + related hygiene
  • Dedicated rest and recovery time
  • Allowances for flexibility and requirements for structure
  • Relationship with and allowance for technology and devices throughout all of the above
  • Dedicated alone time vs available time for others

In fitness and health

  • Baseline diet
  • Baseline physical activities + activity level
  • Baseline sleep habits
  • Baseline mental/spiritual health practices
  • Relationships (see above)

In investing and finance

  • Core investing principles and standards (e.g. I invest X amount in opportunities that meet Y criteria)
  • Macro-economic convictions
  • Capital deployment systems (e.g. automated DCA vs market timing, passive vs active picking, buy & sell vs buy and hold forever, allocations, etc.)
  • Treatment of cash/cash-like vehicles (e.g. what does your money do by default before you’ve found an investment for it?)
  • Attitude/standards for acceptable/desirable spending behavior

Psychology & spirituality

  • World view/faith/religion
  • Mental models and core principles
  • Attitudes towards personal growth, education and exploration
  • Requirements for exploration vs execution
  • Core mentors, authors and voices of influence

In each of these categories, books can and have been written.

We won’t rewrite them here.

Instead, the key takeaway is that we have the opportunity to pursue our perfect brownies, wherever we determine it makes sense for us to do so. We don’t have to settle for optimizing frosting due to inertia or ego.

And if we overcook a batch or accidentally use garlic instead of sugar? All good. We can take comfort in knowing that we’ve defaulted to investing in a recipe that we love. The next batch will be great.

You can always come home.

Some Recipes I Feel Strongly About

I'll leave you with a few of my favorite recipes that I've installed as defaults in my life.

Steal them, as I have done from others.

  • Happiness is the default state. It is the state where nothing is missing. Develop the ability to see and revisit this truth at all times, in all things. (Naval)
  • Take breaks from focus for distraction. Don't take breaks from distraction for focus. (Cal Newport)
  • Push the limits of how much you can and are willing to give without expecting anything in return and be curious about what happens. (Gary Varynerchuk)
  • Pursue a life of leverage. If you can create leverage or merely take action, create leverage. Pursue mastery of leverage in all of its forms (read the Navalmanack for clarification).
  • In all pursuits, seek long term, compounding value over short term, linear value. (Naval)
  • Realize that none of this is deserved. It's all a gift. Seek to be worthy of it.
  • Say “grace” (aka. perform a gratitude ritual) before meals.
  • Prioritize my most valuable relationships and invest as much as I can in them. Be open to new relationships, but be clear about who my “tribe” is and give them everything I can.
  • Before holding expectations or making demands of others,  ask "am I contributing what's needed of me?"
  • Saturdays are Shabbat (a day of rest, free of devices)
  • Sundays are for hiking.
  • Want “to do,” not "to be" or "to get." To say that we have "control" of ourselves is an overstatement. At best, we have influence over our own behavior. By extension, we have even less influence over the world outside of us and absolutely *no* control over it. Therefore, the default desire should be to behave in ways we're happy with at every juncture, not to get any particular outcome returned to us. To desire of the world is to be its slave - to render yourself either blessed or cursed by its gifts or witholdings. To desire of your own behavior is to live as the hero of your own story.
  • When the urge to check social media strikes, take 1 deep breath and see what happens.
  • Be good to yourself. Love yourself. Thank yourself. Nobody can do it for you.

Sold on Defaults? Here's what's next.

A lifelong devotee of optionality and it's supposed freedom, I first became curious about defaults in 2021 and published the thread below.

Since then, defaults have become an obsession. As I write this, I'm on the journey to default my life.

If you want to join me on this journey, follow me on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Writing essays takes a long time. Making short videos or tweets doesn't. I'll be sharing my investigations and findings as I stumble upon them on social media.

(I'll obviously share my more produced work too.)

Most importantly, subscribe to my newsletter where I'll streamline and deliver you my best stuff and save you the fluff.


Talk Default to Me.

Where do you struggle to default?

Where have you succeeded?

If you have winning recipes, I can guarantee you at least 1 eyeball.

Post in the comments below.