Aligned activities are those activities which I like that help me progress towards my goals.

I’ve always had this intuitive understanding of alignment. That some activities were a “waste of time” relative to others. Others would often tell me that it’s not a waste of time if I had fun which felt right some of the time but not always. It always felt like there were missing concepts I could use to describe how I felt about these things.

Reading the Incerto series by Taleb served as an antidote to the “waste of time” question. The mental model I picked up from that was that randomness is a good thing. It’s often the only way you can explore your unknown unknowns. Thus I should be engaging in these asymmetric endeavors where the downside is a limited waste of time and the upside is that I discover an activity that I can enjoy for the rest of my life. Furthermore, if I find that a certain class of activities are not for me, I should reject them completely and focus on what I enjoy or continue exploring my unknown unknowns. However, even then, not all activities felt the same. Some activities felt more right than others.

Many months ago, on a journey to Deoban, in the Himalayas, a friend and I got into a discussion on how to optimize life. Amid the discussion, he used the word alignment to describe trekking. Right then, I had an “Aha” moment. It just felt right. The idea is that you have as few goals as possible and all your activities should help direct you towards your goals. The example we were discussing on that rickety car drive was our fitness and traveling goals. How trekking was an activity which was fun, required us to be fit, and was a hobby that could be done wherever in the world we go.

Seen through the lens of alignment and asymmetric randomness, lots of things make sense to me. It formed a general strategy on how I seek out new activities. Trekking new areas, playing sports, and rock climbing are all great ways to have fun, meet new people, push my body, enjoy nature (in the case of trekking), and can be enjoyed wherever you travel to. Any activity that satisfies this checklist of having asymmetry of outcomes and that aligns with my desires and goals are worth checking out. Those that don’t, aren’t.

As I experimented with more activities, I found myself in the position of having lots of activities to pick from. This allowed me the option of pruning out those activities which align relatively less leaving me to spend time only on highly aligned activities.

On a related note, in the book So Good They Can’t Ignore You, Cal Newport talks about the alignment arising out of having a career mission. Your career takes up a lot of your active hours. Taking time to think of a career mission and aligning yourself to that is worth it to get the most out of your career. This involves figuring out the kind of impact you are driven by as well as the kind of career capital you seek.

Alignment’s been a helpful mental model for me to decide which activities I spend my time on. I’m constantly on the lookout for more such activities. Perhaps, in future posts, I’ll talk more about these.