Maintenance Mode

What grows outside you and inside you, both need maintenance.

Maintaining yourself at 85% of your potential for an extended period requires far greater self-mastery than reaching your max potential for a short duration does. A classic mistake most of us make is not working towards being amazing versions of ourselves in all of the things that interest us. Why do we make the error of being narrow in our actions, with the result of narrow outcomes, and how should we overcome this challenge?

Knowing that nothing stays constant and that we have only limited resources, it is important that we think about how best to master Maintenance Mode. Whether it is maintaining your attractive physique and your mental peace, maintaining healthy social relationships and your long-term financial wealth or simply maintaining your fluency in a language or with your musical instruments it is best to actively think about and then execute Maintenance Mode.

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Motivational Movie
The 2 Classic Errors
Masters and Grandmasters
1234Polymaths vs The Problem of Poor Education
1234The Public Health Problem
1234The Decay Problem
Why Solve the Problem?
1234Lockdowns and Earthquakes
1234Capital Preservation
1234Response Time
Solving the Problem
1234The Primary Constraint
1234The Secondary Constraints
Pillars to Put in Place
1234Portfolio Selection
1234Philosophy of Persistent 1%
1234Time Management
When to move into Maintenance Mode
1234Professional Sports Players
1234Citizen Superwomen
Trajectory Planning
Trajectory Navigation
The 4 Dimensions of Health
1234Physical Stuff
1234Mental Stuff
1234Emotional Stuff
1234Spiritual Stuff
The Science of Driving Factors
Money and Maintenance Mode
Medication and Maintenance Mode
Mount Everest and Maintenance Mode
Portfolio Effects
High Maintenance vs High Standards
Parting Message

Motivational Movie [top]

Visualize this – a movie playing in your head. In that movie, a sequence of scenes through the span of a week, you are doing all the good things that you know you are capable of doing. In your mind’s eye, they flow past beautifully.

You wake up well-rested and don’t need caffeine to be alert. You get your morning workouts done and reach your place of work with a host of new creative ideas and solutions to current problems that make you a high performer relative to your peers. You have time for a couple of health-enhancing meals eaten in peace. You have time for music – listening or making, and you make further progress in learning another foreign language. You speak to your ageing parents and manage to get a short game of soccer with your kids. You get your daily journaling done and are fully aware of how time was invested throughout the day for a better future.

In reality, you are not doing them all, not even close to it. But now also imagine what this life would be like if this movie was something that happens in reality. Day after day, week after week, month after month. That would be a life worth living.

The 2 Classic Errors [top]

Even in my own family, I continue to witness incredible natural talent go to waste because of not keeping an important activity in Maintenance Mode. Often, we may not be interested in something that we’ve been naturally good at – and that’s OK. However, when something we actually like and have a natural ability to excel in goes into a state of decay, that’s what I call a gross injustice. Injustice against oneself and one’s creator.

The first error we make is to assume that one cannot maintain a high degree of competence or ability in many things at the same time. An assumption error.

Having sensed that we could possibly maintain a high degree of competence or ability in many things, we don’t think about and implement a plan for it. This is an Implementation Gap error.

Rather than being a master of many trades, we end up being the master of nothing other than perhaps one thing – sadly, that one thing is typically what faceless shareholders in some other corner of the globe demand from us via our boss or Board of Directors! We haven’t mastered our utility function!

Masters and Grandmasters [top]

The grandmasters of Maintenance Mode are easy to recognize when you come across one. They’re in their 9th or 10th decade of life – physically independent, mentally sharp, emotionally stable, and spiritually elevated. Without knowing anything more about them or their bank balance, you can be sure that they have a wise definition for the phrase “I am rich” that they use – translation: “I have no need for more money than I already have”.

Between where you are now today and those living grandmasters walk the masters who are also well on their way to grandmaster status.

Can you also be a master of Maintenance Mode on your way to grandmaster status? Heck, yeah! But only if you put your mind to it.

Problems [top]

Why does a problem persist? In what ways does it manifest itself? What is the basic reason why the problem exists and what can that tell us about how to solve it?

Polymaths vs The Problem of Poor Education [top]

With a long list of degrees and professional qualifications, I am the first to say that the modern education system sucks just about everywhere in the world. One glaring symptom is the overwhelming focus on “what knowledge to absorb” rather than “how to acquire the knowledge”. Although a practical implementation of polymathy happens from an early age in school i.e., students are naturally growing their book knowledge in, say, 11 subjects, the observation that this is possible for life is not made explicit or ingrained in the billions who have been through the system in the last 200 years. A good start in school gets worse with a specialization focus and the exclusion of breadth and the resultant narrowing of knowledge as children become adults and progress through that. Remember [sic] that you cannot continue to remember that which you do not regularly recall if there exists no demand for that recall. You have to beware of The Unholy Trinity.

The world of employment takes the pattern of narrowing focus in the education system and pushes it to the next level – hyperspecialization is rewarded financially. That in itself is not the problem, the fallout from it is. Examples abound in society. Investment banks run by superb traders with poor management skills, doctors who know so much about sickness rather than health; hospitals run by managers encouraging young doctors to serve hospital shareholders at the expense of patients, teachers who are complacent about the glaring problem that generations of children are leaving their institutes with a poor grasp of mathematics and no fluency in the additional languages they’ve been schooled in for 5 years.

The Public Health Problem [top]

Whether you look to your left or right you can see clearly that Maintenance Mode is not being maintained by most people in the population. If bank balances grow as fast as waistlines, and anti-depressant use rises while cognition declines we have a public health problem. If we cannot maintain good health at an individual level, the most basic necessity to call ourselves civilized intelligent beings, what use is anything else?

The Decay Problem [top]

The entropy of the universe is increasing at every scale. In living systems, this increasing disorder can be witnessed as decay or growth. Even the decay can be positive. For example, dead animals from aeons ago can ultimately become the petrochemicals that are in the drugs you take. On the growth side, living systems with energy input and some blueprint code will lead to larger complex systems. A simple example is you developing inside your mother as a foetus or even the increase in strength and muscle size in the 2-3 days after you push or pull against weights at the gym.

We can reverse the decline in, for example, the memory coded for your piano playing by providing energy that reinforces the relevant parts of the brain and neuromuscular function so that you can still play the pieces you enjoy that you learned years ago. That energy you provide the system to prevent decline is what you would report as “ah, that’s just my regular piano practice“.

There are a few times in your life when beneficial growth happens automatically. For example, you developed as a fetus without your mother specifically needing to do anything after conception. In general, for you to be awesome through life, you need to master Maintenance Mode so that with just the right amount of minimum effort you can keep shocking yourself to remain awesome.

Why Solve the Problem? [top]

Lockdowns and Earthquakes: Besides the Motivational Movie you played in your head becoming a reality it is good to prevent what you are interested in from moving into a state of disuse… and then loss. Those in the population who let COVID lockdowns worsen their lives could have easily avoided it if they had the right framework for living in the first place. Pandemics are rare and floods and earthquakes may not be commonplace where you live but to have mastered Maintenance Mode will mean none of these external shocks will stop you on your path of daily glory. [top]

Capital Preservation: Many people fall into the trap of being excessive in their search for external validation. From participating in ultra-endurance events to pushing their children like robots through competitive sports, music or academics. This can lead to a breakdown of internal systems. If you lose your capital, you will have nothing left to invest when external conditions are favourable. By moving in and out of Maintenance Mode for that activity you can be someone who is able to do the ultras for life (rare) rather than for a couple of seasons (extremely common). Doing ultras for a couple of seasons is not as admirable as mastering balance throughout life. [top]

Diversification is a free lunch both for your external wealth and internal wealth. If you do not master Maintenance Mode you may find that after many years of being a banker, you’re an unhealthy bore and no one really desires to be around you unless now they can extract money from you. If you are going to have a life with multidimensional experiences you are going to have to include many things every week in your portfolio of life, some of which are in Maintenance Mode. [top]

Response Time: Some things just take longer than we’d like. You cannot force nature – if you try, you will lose badly. Being appropriately patient, alternating between periods of rapid progress and Maintenance Mode is what will get you to be the master of all trades. To fly your aircraft to your destination, you need to point it in the right direction and go fast or slow based on weather conditions – that is what will allow you to travel the entire distance. [top]

Curating a result is better if the solution to the problem or the piece of work you are trying to accomplish requires creativity. Being in diffused mode thinking that happens when you have something in Maintenance Mode is often a necessary condition for that required creativity to produce what you are looking for. [top]

Solving the Problem [top]

Once you recognize that you have a natural ability just like everyone else does to master Maintenance Mode you can begin to correctly identify the constraints to work around assuming your unwillingness to do so is itself not a constraint. If you are unwilling to, even I, with near-infinite patience, will have no interest in helping you because trying to help you will be expressing a definition of foolishness.

The Primary Constraint [top]

We tend to recognize the truth of time being our primary constraint when we need a reason or an excuse for some good work not done or duty not performed. If you have wizened up, you now realize that money is rarely a constraint, but time almost always is.

The Secondary Constraints [top]

The secondary constraints, be they skills, knowledge, or planning ability – are all very real, but they all become very minor with the right management of time. Managing yourself well with the primary constraint, time, the secondary constraints can be made to disappear.

Pillars to Put in Place [top]

You need a philosophy that you can live such that with the resources you have you can execute processes that will produce the outcomes you desire for the portfolio you want to construct. You can monitor both the processes and the outcomes. All this will work beautifully the more mindful you are. Let us briefly touch upon all 5 pillars.

Portfolio Selection [top]

You become the sum total of your habits. Your current habits may not be what you want yourself to become. You need to start with your desired endpoint and ask yourself what needs to then be in your ideal portfolio. If it includes many things or very many things, you need to list those out and decide what needs to be in Maintenance Mode and what needs action for growth. This portfolio rebalancing needs to happen on a regular basis.

Philosophy of Persistent 1% [top]

Internalizing the philosophy of the daily 1% and consistently doing what is required is a critical pillar. Rome was not built in a day. Even today, the glory of Rome is maintained on a daily basis.

[“daily” here does not mean once a day – see half-life below]

Time Management [top]

If you are someone who is good with time management you will have already sensed that you are an unstoppable machine. If you know you’re someone who doesn’t manage their time well, then the following combination will work in your favour. During the process of becoming conscious of the value you are gaining from trying to master Maintenance Mode, you automatically become an expert at time management. On the other hand, only being good with time management does not automatically make you a master of Maintenance Mode. Like with money, you have to know how to invest your time.

You will continue to develop your own Recipes for Bigger ROTIs even when you have mastered Maintenance Mode.

Tracking [top]

Just as it is with your financial portfolio, so it is with your Maintenance Mode mastery. In order to ensure you have the right exposure for the right return, you need to keep track of things. If you cannot tell me where you’ve been and where you are now, how can you tell me what your next moves will be to get to where you want to get to?

Mindfulness [top]

As with Time Management, your Mindfulness will improve and is required for mastering Maintenance Mode.

When to move into Maintenance Mode [top]

Broadly speaking you will move something into Maintenance Mode when you have

  • Reached a level you are satisfied with
  • Not yet reached a level you are satisfied with but have to give higher priority to something else

Professional Sports Players will move into Maintenance Mode for their sport during their off-season and out of it when it is time to ramp up again for the next competition phase. They don’t stop practising their craft during those months when you don’t see them on TV. [top]

Citizen Superwomen and supermen like you will be in Maintenance Mode for many things at any given time. Even if you are required to be a hyperspecialist for putting bread, butter and jam on the table, you will not lose your focus from being the polymath you were naturally designed to be. A large number of Nobel Prize winners have been highly proficient in a large number of interests that are vastly different from the domain in which they were awarded the Nobel Prize. [top]

Trajectory Planning [top]

What path should you expect to follow when something is in Maintenance Mode?

When you enter Maintenance Mode you will be at some distance from your Genetic Potential Fitness in that endeavour e.g., playing the flute, baking gluten-free vegan cakes, or doing a headstand.

You could plan to move within a band around that level of ability while in Maintenance Mode. If you notice a trend down gently over time, you can always course-correct. If you find that you are actually trending upwards, because some things can automatically get better even with remaining in what seems to be “just cruising” in Maintenance Mode, that’s great!

Trajectory Navigation [top]

Whether it is maintaining the garden outside your bedroom or the one inside your mind and body, you will have variables related to the activity to prescribe to yourself. The type, frequency, duration, and intensity of each activity will be what you prescribe to yourself to ensure you stay on track within the desired band.

The 4 Dimensions of Health [top]

You engage most with the physical dimension, so making sure that is done properly sets you up for success in the other areas. If you or your child has ADHD, improving your lifestyle is going to solve your problems – not taking drugs for it! If you find yourself in low moods and depressed, it’s not anti-depressants that are going to give you a cure – not ever! Your spiritual health won’t rise because you queued for hours to get into a temple for 20 seconds in front of a stone idol. (Note though that queueing patiently for hours is a good way to improve your emotional health if you can make time for it regularly.)

Physical Stuff [top]

If you understand the health-based measures of physical fitness and the skills-based measures of physical fitness then you will be able to think of creative ways to keep them all on track with minimum to no additional time invested. Remember, you need not run and running is but one method for good cardiorespiratory health – don’t make the mistake of thinking that running a long distance itself should be an ultimate goal. No one else cares about your Ultra – focus on your ROTI.

Mental Stuff [top]

Unlike our physical bodies which have only 3 dimensions they can move about in regardless of mental abilities, our minds are capable of so much more. Of course, our minds and bodies are highly connected – my fingers move on this keyboard because of what starts off in my brain. That brain sends signals out whether my finger is to press the keys on this laptop or on a piano. It is up to me to decide whether the signals to my lips are being sent so that I speak Arabic or to kiss my father.

If you can see that most of your mental machinery is being used just for increasing shareholder profitability, it is time to pause and think about what other things you would like to do with your brain and how you could include them in your life’s current portfolio.

Emotional Stuff [top]

If you have good control over your emotions you will already see yourself on a path towards a life of multiple successes. A high EQ helps push that rate of success higher as you deal with and get the most out of your interactions with other humans. To the extent that we all could do with better emotional health, mindfulness in all that we do on our own (e.g., the last miles on a long run in the sun) or with others (e.g., negotiating with a tough counterparty) are a great way to keep maintaining emotional fitness.

Spiritual Stuff [top]

With the privilege provided by my chosen lifestyle, I am able to step back and high enough to conclude that spiritual growth is impossible without appropriate physical actions. Only reading religious books, books on philosophy or books on spirituality do not move the needle much at all on your spiritual scale unless you follow it up with action in the physical dimension.

I have no way to provide hard proof yet but, intuitively, I know, that the very process of mastering Maintenance Mode will likely lead to greater spiritual health. The simple principle of Balance is True Mastery when internalized along with using Maintenance Mode to always be Everest Ready ought to automatically lead you on the path of spiritual enlightenment.

Learning [top]

So much of what you like to do is about gaining knowledge of new topics or improving your understanding of familiar topics. Learning how to learn is key to being able to master Maintenance Mode so that you can keep many domains of interest growing in depth and expertise. Implementing practices like spaced learning, spaced repetition, and interleaving will help increase your ROTI.

At a meta-level, you are also learning about Maintenance Mode – getting to mastery and grandmastery!

Half-Life [top]

To measure the duration of decay of any process you can think of a half-life – the length of time it takes to reach half of its current level. So, if you wait for twice the half-life you will have reached half-of-half i.e. one-quarter of the original level. In natural systems, this will vary depending on what you are considering. Here are a few common examples.

  • If someone provides you with some new material to be held in memory, your short-term memory is fine for a few seconds or a few minutes. Reviewing it at appropriate intervals is then essential for transferring it to long-term memory which has a much longer half-life.
  • If you are a regular at the gym, the incremental gain you had from the last visit will decline to half its value over the half-life of that biological system.
  • You will notice that the stimulation from any good or bad news dies away over a certain period

There are 2 basic facts to bear in mind about the half-life:

  1. It will vary depending on the details of the system or process. For example, the increase in your leg strength may decay at a slower rate than the increase in your arm strength from their last hormetic shocks at the gym.
  2. The half-life itself will change slowly over time (typically getting shorter as you age)

The power tip to use is the idea that you can be smart about various parts of your lifestyle to increase the half-life of decay. That will mean you can reach greater heights with ease for the same level of effort. An example of a pleasurable yet powerful protocol at any age is ensuring that you have good restorative sleep daily, including taking short-duration restorative power naps when necessary.

The Science of Driving Factors [top]

You must educate yourself about the factors that drive success and failure in the activity under consideration. The refusal to think is evil and if your actions are not in line with your end goals then you are being foolish too. Remember, the money is in the detail.

Mindset [top]

The twin sister of excelling in time management is the requirement to develop great patience to benefit from the power of the 1%. Distinguishing patience from paralysis is important. Perfection can become the enemy of progress. Take years or even decades if you need to for amazing output, but don’t stop it from leaving through the front door regularly. Keep producing and releasing better versions of it. Life is about constant upgrades – never mind the status-symbol iPhone or German car – focus on internal upgrades to your body, mind and spirit. You can always buy the latest iPhone or Audi, you cannot buy another body, mind or soul.

Money and Maintenance Mode [top]

Money is neither good nor bad. Money can be the root of all good if you have a healthy relationship with it. If all the things you love to do earn you money, great – you can run that portfolio joyfully – hopefully, beyond the age of 100. It makes no sense to give up life to gain excessive cash in the bank that you cannot take to your grave. If you can become or stay super-wealthy while being disease-free at 95, now that really is a beautiful life and no one can fault you.

Medication and Maintenance Mode [top]

If you have developed some ill health after crossing the age of 9, it’s quite likely that the right lifestyle will cure it. If you are treating it with pharmaceutical products rather than curing it with the right manner of living you might have noticed that the dose of medication you took on day 1 is much lower than what you’re having to take today. Clearly, you have never truly been in Maintenance Mode despite the doctors telling you that you have. All you’ve done is maintained yourself as a customer of pharmaceutical companies, doctors and hospitals. Do not expect your government to fix that status quo.

Mount Everest and Maintenance Mode [top]

Because it’s there” is the most foolish thing that someone like George Mallory could have said when asked why he wanted to climb Mt Everest. I have already recommended you have a wiser approach to the challenges you think exist in the world when Being Everest Ready.

Portfolio Effects [top]

I have met hyperspecialists who make boring conversation at dinner parties because they have experienced or know so little about matters outside their area of specialization. It would be best to layer hyperspecialization on top of Maintenance Mode so that one’s area of specialization also benefits from learning from other domains.

At a physical level, there is some transfer of ability from one area to another. My super-expensive yoga-teacher friend was confident I could do a headstand on my first attempt simply because of what she saw I was capable of in other areas.

Similarly, if you decide to learn the piano after being proficient on the guitar, the Maintenance Mode time invested in the guitar can be less because piano learning will support the guitar maintenance.

High Maintenance vs High Standards [top]

Whether it is your boss or your girlfriend who thinks that you are high maintenance you’ve probably not aligned yourself with the right place, people or processes. Hold yourself to the highest standards without being someone who is high maintenance.

Parenting [top]

As a parent, you have an opportunity to lead and teach by example. If your child sees that you take care of your physical health, your hobbies, your family and friends, they will do so too eventually without you having to lecture them about it. When I see an urban adult in the 21st century who seems to do not much but work to put yet more money on the table, I simply look at the apple tree they fell from to see their father who did the same.

Parting Message [top]

It is so much easier to maintain good dental health than to reverse tooth decay. In fact, it’s almost impossible to reverse tooth decay, only to halt further decay.

When you are in your 90s and still physically active, independent of others, mentally sharp and knowledgeable about many topics, emotionally a joy to be with and spiritually so elevated that nothing can touch the real you, you will be glad you were in Maintenance Mode for so many things in life that truly mattered to you.

If everything you do is consistent with your core beliefs and desires, then a long and healthy life of joy is pretty much guaranteed to be yours. If you want to be guided in detail, you know how to reach me, and if you found this useful, please do share it with others.



Dr Purnendu Nath spends his waking hours focusing on helping individuals and organizations reach their goals, to make the world a better place. He speaks, writes and advises on topics such as finance, investment management, discipline, education, self-improvement, exercise, nutrition, health and fitness, leadership and parenting.

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