CliffsNotes: Rules, Laws, etc.
Turning the information you have into the information you need
I do not take an instruction manual with me when I venture into the mountains. I only bring what I can carry in my head; and I can only use the information that comes to my mind at the moment I need it, or the information is useless. Fortunately, I find that a self-evident truth, a fundamental principle, a rule of conduct, or a funny-but-true saying will come to mind when needed. I have taken to writing down the rules, laws, etc. that come to me or are given to me (with credit noted) that I find useful.
Here are the first two Rules, which set the stage for the list:
The Rationality Myth: thinking, feeling, understanding, and judgment arise from a poorly illuminated ‘stew’ of instincts, memories, perceptions and projections. As a result, no one can trust themselves to be ‘rational’ in a stressful moment of decision-making. Use rules, laws, etc. as a rationality compass to get pointed in the right general direction.
Rule of Unapparent Obviousness: The obvious is not always apparent. When overwhelmed by information, we tend to only ‘see’ what we are looking for. Use rules, laws, etc. as a guide for what to look for when you must see what is there to see.
Below are my ‘CliffsNotes‘ …I’ve organized them into nine categories that made sense to me back when I started my list. Perhaps some of these “rules” will be useful to you as well.
- A “Yield and Overcome” mindset → a collection of philosophical perspectives intended to support safe success atop the high peaks
- Preparing for Success → notes for planning ahead to achieve safe success
- Dealing with Setbacks → notes for adjusting to the inevitable mistakes and variation from expected facts and conditions
- Staying Found → a set of notes to support not getting lost and dealing with the inevitable mistakes and bad luck
- Hiking Speed Management → notes for maximizing speed, which is central to safe success
- Water: The Lifeblood → notes to support proper hydration
- Fellowship of the High Peaks → notes to support teamwork based adventuring
- On Lightning Alert → notes to support lightning safety
- Learning from Mistake & Learning to ‘Feel it’→ notes to support effective use of experience
A “Yield and Overcome” mindset
- Rule of Sometimes: Sometimes you have to take what is offered, and that has to be enough. Sometimes.
- Rational Exuberance Axiom #1: success can’t make you happy; but happiness will lead to success. Do what you love to find the persistence to be your best. ”Whatever you are, be a good one.” A. Lincoln
- Rational Exuberance Axiom #2: “…all that we need to make us happy is something to be enthusiastic about.” Einstein “Life’s greatest gift is the opportunity to work hard at work worth doing.” Teddy Roosevelt
- Rule of Adventure: being ‘too smart’ to take a chance is no excuse for missing out on life; it is only impossible until it isn’t. You are not your thoughts; you are what you do in life. “Beware the barrenness of a busy life.” — Socrates
- Pride’s Lever: take pride in hard-won accomplishments, and use pride to win them. ”Winners never quit and Quitters never win” Vince Lombardi
- Rule of Spurious Pride: never take a foolish gamble for pride. Think about having to explain to St. Peter or your mother how you died. If you don’t like the way it sounds, don’t risk it.
- Error of the False Proxy: don’t confuse measurements of ‘success’ (e.g., tick lists) with your true goals (e.g., happiness, fitness, adventure, full life).
- Crazy Brave Axiom: listen to your fear; but, manage the disabling symptoms of fear with knowledge and experience-based confidence. Crazy brave = dead
- Death by Stupid Maxim: be situationally aware: unlikely terrible consequences close at hand can combine with very unlikely mundane bad luck to get us. Risks that can be controlled should be controlled; don’t die of stupidity. If you are alone, multiply this risk by 1,000.
- Reward Rule: personal rewards are maximized by seeking an aggressive goal that matches the most optimistic assessment of your willingness to suffer; the right goal allows both success and satisfaction.
- Misery Axiom: never turn back because of mental misery. More mental suffering (e.g., boredom, frustration, irritation, disappointment) leads to greater personal rewards, if overcome.
- Bella’s Rule: you are not your limitations; you are only limited by how hard you are willing to work. Named in honor of my wife’s basset hound, Bella, who had small legs and a huge heart.
- Inspiration Maxim: inspiration is fleeting and often attacked by others; don’t let your credo be, “I could have … if I tried a little harder”. Everything is impossible until it isn’t.
- Rule of Priority: select a risk level you accept, a 10%….1%….one-in-a-thousand chance of not returning home, and avoid risk-tolerance creep (unintended increases) by holding in your mind at least one unforgettable reason why you want to make it home after every trip (e.g., kids, family, ambitions, future adventures)
- Fortitude Tenet: Think: survive to persevere. The mountain will still be there tomorrow and whenever you are ready to try again. ”He conquers who endures.” Persius
- Rule of Repeats: you can never truly repeat a hike or climb…the mountain is never the same and you are not the same. (Heraclitus)
Preparing for Success
- Ben Franklin’s Rule of Shared Information: “Believe none of what you hear and half of what you see.” Benjamin Franklin
- Rule of True Lies: beware the partially true myth (a lie that everyone repeats); seemingly easy to confirm, while still foolishly or dangerously wrong.
- Law of Momentum: on any long and hard venture, start with the easy things to make a lot of initial progress.
- Planning Maxim: make your plan so simple that there are obviously no oversights, not so complex that there are no obvious oversights. “Perfect is the enemy of good” ~Voltaire
- Rule of Intellectual Honesty: be honest to plan well. Focus planning on variables you can control. Beware ‘positive illusion bias’ (Shelley Taylor, Ph.D.) which lead us to overestimate our ability to control outcomes that have an element of chance. Make your own ‘luck’.
- Climber’s Luck Maxim: luck is not an attribute, but rather a symptom of preparation (with a nod to Branch Rickey); good preparation plus determination = good luck plus success
- Rule of Planning Clarity: be clear about goals in order to accomplish them (e.g., exercise, adventure, summits). Corollary to Lewis Carroll’s, “If you don’t know [or care] where you are going, any road will get you there.”
- Focus Pocus: have a plan you believe in, but never stop looking for more information. The limits of understanding do not change what is true; and the illusion of ‘knowing’ can be fatal. Thomas Bayes would say: Initial Belief + New Objective Data = New, Improved Belief
- Two-Leap Dictum: “the most dangerous strategy is to jump a chasm in two leaps” [Disraeli]. Always consider the unpleasant what-ifs; think it all the way through, until you get home. “Don’t just do something, sit there.”
- Rule of Mountain Apathy: the mountain doesn’t care, it just enforces its rules relentlessly and without mercy (e.g., gravity, loose rock, bad weather, sunset, look-alike features, no ‘bird’s eye view’).
- “Time is Money” Axiom: time is the medium of exchange for decision-making atop the high peaks
- Rule of Spurious Accuracy: never plan with more precision than exists in the available information. John Von Neuman said, “There’s no sense in being precise when you don’t even know what you’re talking about.”
- Early Bird Tenet: early starters get the best parking spots, the best trail and snow conditions, the most comfortable temperatures for exercising hard, the least lightning, and the highest success rates
- Rule of Sleep: it doesn’t matter how badly you’ve slept, the sleep you were getting just as the alarm went off was great. As my Mom used to say every morning, “rise and shine!”
- Gear Need Precept: when in doubt, leave it out
- Pack Law of Gravity: a half-full large pack attracts more useless gear than a full small pack
- Pack Weight Rule of Thumb: with proper distribution of weight in a pack, you can carry, uncomfortably, half your body weight, or comfortably, one-fourth your body weight.
- Law of Hiking Time: the hiking time will lengthen to fill time available (corollary to Parkinson’s Law). Hint: have a deadline.
- Brian’s Fork: if there are two ways to go and one of them is much harder and more dangerous, somebody will want to go that way (corollary to Murphy’s Law, and named in honor of my climbing partner, Brian, who is always looking to make life interesting). The best adventures come from these choices, but they are called ‘epics’.
- Worrier’s Folly: try not to worry about too much; start small and learn as you go. Mark Twain said, “I have know a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.”
Dealing with Setbacks
- Black and White Fallacy: seeing a situation as ‘black and white’ is a simplification error intended (even if unconsciously to make for an easy decision. Single-mindedness is a poor tool for multifaceted problems. Use simplification to gain perspective, but look at problems from all sides.
- Law of Disintegration: large problems are made up of many little questions; solve large, complex problems in pieces by resolving small, simple questions
- Role of Intuition: trust intuition to tell us when something is wrong; do not trust intuition to tell us when something is right
- Rule of Rational Skepticism: do not rely on any unofficial marker or person on the trail.
- Peril of Assumption: assume nothing is 100% certain; maintain situational awareness to make good, timely decisions. Survival is the product of mindfulness of effort times know-how times random chance. ”Life is the art of drawing sufficient conclusions from insufficient premises.” –Samuel Butler
- The Error of the ‘Big Fix‘: it isn’t the accumulation of little mistakes that causes all the trouble; it is the big mistake we make trying to correct them all at once that does us in
- Delayed Risk Preference Fallacy: the tendency to prefer solutions that seem to eliminate a likelihood of a bad outcome now in exchange for a much worse outcome later (otherwise known as the ‘slippery slope’). This present bias is caused by exaggerated discounting of future rewards and/or future risks.
- Silver Lining Maxim: sometimes, good things come from setbacks, if you let them. ”When it gets dark enough, you can see the stars” (Salk). “Adversity reveals genius, prosperity conceals it” (Horace) also known as “Necessity is the mother of invention”.
- Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There: when tempted to act rashly, pause. The lure of immediacy is hardwired into all of us as a desire for instant gratification. The antidote is to wait a bit and force yourself to consider the consequences of acting in a way you already know you shouldn’t.
- Rule of ‘Premature Optimization‘: avoid the unnecessary, untried short-cut. While trails are not optimized for speed, route-finding gambles for speed are a bad bet. [a nod to Donald Knuth]. “Cleverness is not wisdom.” — Euripides
- Rule of Electronic Excuses: if your electronic device fails you, it is your fault
- Turn ‘Round to Stay Found Rule: avoid losing the trailhead by turning around periodically to see what the trail looks like behind you
- Mental Map Maxim: periodically look around to figure out where you are relative to your map, your destination, and your way home.
- Rule of Small Errors: a small wayfinding mistake can go a long way in the mountains; make no casual route choices.
- Evidence Axiom: a cairn is only a pile of rocks and the guy ahead of you might not know he is lost
- Rule of Multiple Sources: always use two independent sources of route information; but if two disagree, then use three.
- The ‘Path Less Traveled‘ Axiom: finding your own path or using a seldom used, less well known route adds to the adventure and can get you into some serious trouble.
- Route-finding Rule of Fun: good route-finding skills & information AND enough time = fun adventure; missing either equals disaster.
Hiking Speed Management
- Hiking Pace Maxim: hike at your own pace or slower: each of us has a sustainable pace based on our conditioning, our physical mechanics, and the situation; going too fast means to risk illness (mountain sickness, deydration, bonking), injury (falls, twisted ankle) and loss of situational awareness (concentrating too much on footing). The fastest pace is a steady pace.
- 1000 Feet per Hour Rule: roughly estimate hours of non-technical climbing by dividing the elevation gain in feet by 1,000.
- 10-15 Degree Rule: maximize speed of elevation gain by using 10-15 degree slopes (avoid unnecessary flats; use switchbacks)
- Hiking Pace Rule: aim for 1-2 steps per breath
- Good Boots Maxim: good (proper) footwear makes for good (tolerable) terrain.
- Step Up Rule: when stepping up, two small steps are easier than one big step.
- Injury Prevention Rule #1: never step on what you can step over, but never step over what you can walk around
- Injury Prevention Rule #2:when descending, move smoothly to avoid injury and wasted energy. “Flow” down the trail: focus on footing, take smaller steps, bend the knees, and loosen the whole body to absorb variations in the trail.
- Shortest Line Rule: the shortest line between two points gains the least altitude
- Rule of Resting: Rest by slowing down, or even better, use a pace of hiking you can sustain without rests. DO NOT SIT DOWN.
Water: The Lifeblood
- Rule of Uncapped Inevitability: a bottle set down with the opening unsecured will spill
- Water Needs Rule: drink water before, during, and after the hike or climb totaling 1 liter for each hour of uphill hiking plus 1/4 liter for each hour on return
- Heavy Water Axiom: water is heavy; find as much water as possible on the trail
- The Watched Iodine Tablet Rule: the watched tablet will not dissolve; plan ahead
- Rule of Unnecessary Water Waste: de-layer BEFORE the sweat starts (e.g., if you are not cold when you start hiking, you will be wasting water soon).
Fellowship of the High Peaks
- Friendship Axiom: friends are made, not found
- Rule of Peer Pressure: if “friends” provide friction against good judgment, get new friends.
- Leadership Rule: in groups with unequal levels of experience, the most experienced person leads the group and is responsible for the safety of everyone in the group until released by the group.
- Turnaround Call Rule: any person in the group can call for a turnaround. Do not adventure with anyone from whom you cannot respect such as request, whether reasonable or not.
- Group Fragmentation Rule: experienced group members cannot abandon inexperienced members.
- The Necessary Evil Fallacy: necessary evils are generally more evil than necessary. Do the right thing, besides, “Time Wounds All Heels”. Mark Twain said, “Always do right–this will gratify some and astonish the rest.”
- Rule of Giving Advice: in friendship, as in marriage, only offer advice when requested. Give people room to vent and tell stories without fear of judgment. The friendship is more important than your need to feel good about yourself or your desire to reinforce your learning of your own rules or philosophies.
- Rule of Passing Judgment: suspend judgment of your fellows to maintain fellowship. While incompatible with fellowship, it is natural to feel that anyone who is less committed to your ideals than you is weak and foolish, and anyone more committed has a desperate need for order and symmetry. Focus on understanding your own inability to let it go.
- The Error of Negotiation: when faced with a serious problem, focus on solving the problem. Negotiating a compromise solution is a dangerous waste of time. Either resolve the differences in understanding of the variables, followed by a review of the upside/downside of advocated solutions, or settle on a small next step to collect more information. Work on your ego somewhere else, and don’t die for the sake of fellowship or pride. This is also why larger groups need a leader.
- The Rule of Hate: hate makes for fine inspiration, e.g., “To the last, I grapple with thee; From Hell’s heart, I stab at thee; For hate’s sake, I spit my last breath at thee.” (Herman Melville) but poor fellowship.
On Lightning Alert
- 30 second Flash-Bang Rule: when the lightning and thunder are separated by 30 seconds or less, there is immediate danger of lightning strike
- The Lightning Safety Rule: where there is lightning, there is no safety; get to the car or accept the risk of lightning strike
- Turnaround Approximation: without reliable weather information (e.g., reports, view of sky), never turnaround later than noon
Learning from Mistake & Learning to ‘Feel it’
- The Law of Experience: Success comes from good judgement; good judgment comes from experience; experience comes from bad judgment. At-bats are a good thing, even if you strike out. Fail forward.
- Learning Keystone: it is better to learn from the mistakes of others, but much harder.
- The Veil of Learning: it is hard to know which mistakes you made
- Ignorance Curse: it is hard to know how much you don’t know
- Accountability Maxim: never attribute to bad luck what can be adequately explained by poor judgment (corollary to Hanlon’s Razor)
- Rule of Unselfconsciousness: to improve performance, stop thinking about it (feel it)
- Know Thyself Axiom: remember that what works for me may not work for you. To make my Rules of Thumb work for you, try them on for size…and tailor accordingly.
To paraphrase a famous koan, ‘Even though it is true, if you do not know it yourself, it does you no good.’ For these or any rules, laws, etc. to become meaningful to you and have a positive impact on your decision-making in the ‘heat of battle’, you must use them to write the software into your head. Start by reflecting on your own personal experiences and see whether any rule or law is true for you, and then try it out. And by doing so, you will create the network of memory connections needed for the information to find its way out of your brain when you need it.
Please stay on the lookout for guides for turning the information you have into the information you need. Let me know what I am missing.