Unicycle #20 - Writing and Health

As a reminder, I’m Alex Grintsvayg and you’re reading Unicycle. I welcome your feedback - hit Reply or message me anonymously. If someone forwarded you this email, subscribe here to follow along.

Happy New Year, dear friends :-)


It’s been over a month since I wrote to you. I took December off to reenergize and reflect on 2020. Last year I did’t do new years resolutions. Instead I picked a broad theme of “writing” and let that nudge my decisions throughout the year. Here are some of the concrete things that came out of that:

  • started the LBRY tech blog and wrote a dozen posts

  • took Write of Passage online writing class

  • three blog posts on my blog (two were part of the course)

  • started this Unicycle and wrote 19 emails

  • got back into Twitter and wrote a bunch of threads (I think of those as mini-posts).

  • read a bunch of books and articles, and took notes on what I read. some of these directly fueled my writing here.

All this was a big success in my book. Not big because I hit any major goals or overcame a towering obstacle. The opposite, in fact. It was the right blend of intentional and gentle. I was never in danger of failing something (except missing my 12pm deadline). I tried a few things, discarded the ones that didn't stick, and stuck with a few that felt good. I focused on what "sparks joy" about writing, what's low-friction, what's fun, what I can fully commit to without reservation. Now I have nothing to regret or shame myself over. And looking back, all the small nudges in the direction of writing made a real change in my identity.

That's not to say that it was all effortless. Sitting down to write is still an struggle. I finish fewer things than I'd like because I'm constantly tweaking them. There's always a worry that you'll think "wow that's dumb, what a waste of time" and unsubscribe, even though I've sent a bunch of these now and no one has and the feedback is all positive (but you totally should unsubscribe if you're thinking about it, link's at the bottom).

The hardest part for me, I discovered, is committing to ideas publicly. Saying "I believe this" is almost always followed by "well, most of the time, but not in these cases, and anyway it all depends on the situation because there are no absolutes, and I might be wrong or change my mind later." Logically, I know it's ok to simplify and I don't need to add these caveats. No one will hold my past writing against me. Yet if I don't include the totality of my precise beliefs, I'm not satisfied. Twitter helps remind me not to worry about perfection. So does remembering that if no one ever tells you you're wrong, you're not learning anything. In fact, the lack of unsubscribers should be telling me to be more opinionated.

Another unexpected benefit is that I have a "footprint" of stuff to look back on for this review. If you asked me what I was thinking about four years ago, I'd be hard-pressed to remember any details. All I recall are some facts: started LBRY, became a dad, played some ultimate. This year I read through my newsletters and notes, which brought back a lot of memories and hints of the thoughts I was chewing on.

My favorite part of Unicycle is connecting with people through my writing. I'm not good at staying in touch when I don't regularly interact with people in real life. With Unicycle, I kind of am talking to all of you each week. When it resonates, I love hearing from you and going deeper, or just knowing I struch a chord.

Thanks 😊


This year will be my Year of Health.

Last year was chaotic, and I lost many of the healthy habits I value. I didn’t play much sports or do anything active. My sleep was off. I didn’t spend much time outside or with friends or in solitude (away from computers and people).

In 2021, I’m looking forward to fixing this. I once again don’t have concrete goals. Instead I’ll set my compass for health and let that guide my day-to-day choices. So far I’ve started with meditating daily, eating less sugar and dairy, and working hard with my daughter to help her sleep through the night (last year’s upheaval affected her too, maybe even more than me).

I’ll also be changing the Unicycle a bit. My promise to write weekly was a core driver of my writing success last year. This year, it’s not a good fit for my health effort (which includes spending less time staring at screens). So it’s with a heavy heart that I’m dropping my commitment to writing every Friday, and also the $200 reward. Since no one claimed it, I’ll donate it to a charity instead.

What are your plans for 2021? Write to me! I want to help you make them happen if I can. At the very least, research shows that telling someone else your goals makes you more likely to follow through 😉


Unicycle #19.3

Clarification on Twitter and threads

Several people told me they couldn’t find the thread, didn’t know how Twitter or threads work, and so on.

Sorry about that y’all. The challenge of communication is often in the assumptions you make, and I made a bunch in that last email.

To clarify for anyone who was confused, do this:

  1. Click this link to open the Twitter thread

  2. The first post in the thread is this:

    summary of this paper on the top 10 strongest findings in behavioral genetics
    strap in, its fascinating stuff
    but first, a definition you need to know...

  3. Below that text is a picture of a journal. Scroll past that picture. You can click it if you want to read the full paper I’m summarizing.

  4. The next tweet in the thread starts with “a crucial word in 🧬 context is heritability”. Keep reading there.

This brings up a more general question about Twitter content: should I continue to link out to Twitter for the threads I write, or copy the text into the newsletter itself?

Some of you don’t use Twitter, and would prefer the threads inlined. Others do, and want to see the threads in their natural habitat (which includes quoted tweets, pics and videos, replies from others, and so on). Of course, I could also do both.

Sounds like its time for a vote! Click your choice below:

A. Only link to Twitter threads (but I don’t mind if you also copy the text into the email)

B. Only link to Twitter threads (and I actively don’t want the text in the email)

C. Don’t link, just copy the thread directly into the email

D. Both! Copy text into email and link to Twitter

E. Neither! Keep your tweeting and your newsletter separate

Cheers and sorry for all the emails,


Unicycle #19 - Happy Holidays

As a reminder, I’m Alex Grintsvayg and you’re reading Unicycle. I welcome your feedback - hit Reply or message me anonymously. If someone forwarded you this email, subscribe here to follow along.

This is a short newsletter because I was working on a review of the top findings in behavioral genetics that I hoped to include, but I didn’t quite finish in time. I’ll send it out later today. Sorry 😬😬😬. Enjoy the rest!

What We Behold

The simulacra lens on reality has been an interesting perspective to learn about. One piece I did not understand was how exactly we move from reality to simulation to hyperreality. How does reality disappear from underneath our signs? This week I stumbled on a fun game that neatly shows how this process happens. It only takes ten minutes to play the whole thing, so check it out:

December Break

I’m taking a break from the Unicycle for the rest of the year. The holiday season is a good time to recharge and refocus. My release ratio is low, and the obligation to write has become more annoying than fun.

The next Unicycle will arrive on January 8th.

I leave you with this:

Cheers and happy holidays,

This newsletter goes out every Friday by 12pm ET. If I’m late, I’ll pay $200 to the first person who emails me about it. Got this after noon? Hit Reply and make me pay! Thanks for keeping me accountable.

Unicycle #18 - Monkeysphere

As a reminder, I’m Alex Grintsvayg and you’re reading Unicycle. I welcome your feedback - hit Reply or message me anonymously. If someone forwarded you this email, subscribe here to follow along.

Hello dear friends, and happy Thanksgiving :-)

The Monkeysphere

You may have heard of Dunbar’s number. Robert Dunbar theorized that our brains can’t keep track of more than 150 or so stable relationships — relationships where you know roughly what the other person is about and how they relate to everyone else you know. The people in your group are your “monkeysphere”.

Why monkeysphere? The name comes from a story in this article. Pretend you have a pet monkey. Visualize your pet in detail — name it, dress it, take it to the park with you for a game of tag. When the monkey falls down the slide, you empathize with his pain. Now imagine you have five monkeys. Try naming and seeing them all in your mind. Now do it for a hundred monkeys. Starts to get exhausting, doesn’t it? You’re hitting the limit of your monkeysphere.

When someone’s in your monkeysphere, you see them as an individual. You care about them. And since your monkeysphere is limited, there’s only so many people you can actually care about. If a neighbor drop a $20 bill on the ground, we give it back to them. An extra box of paper towels from Amazon? We just keep it. Because Amazon is not in our monkeysphere, and we just don’t care (even if our neighbor works there and is indirectly affected).

I’m still chewing on this idea. It might be mundane and obvious to you, or it might help explain some of our social phenomena. Some implications:

  • stereotyping is a way to reduce a group of people to a single generic “relationship” so it fits into your mind

  • similarly, we think of “the government” or “the company” as people who have intentions and take actions, even though we know they are really just made of individuals.

  • loving-kindness meditation trains you to expand your empathy, or maybe to see each person directly so you can place them into your monkeysphere as you think of them.

  • western religion is a different strategy: bulid a relationship with God, place him firmly in your sphere, then see everyone as an extension of him

What do you think?

Song of the Week

Mashups were huge about a decade ago. Xaphoon’s one of the underrated greats.

This newsletter goes out every Friday by 12pm ET. If I’m late, I’ll pay $200 to the first person who emails me about it. Got this after noon? Hit Reply and make me pay! Thanks for keeping me accountable.

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