Author: lukefreeman

Stay The Heck Home (feat. Virtual Choir)

Stay The Heck Home (feat. Virtual Choir)

These are crazy times with COVID19 and the health, work and daily life impact that’s had – and it’s still only early days.

We all process this it in different ways.

For me it turns out that music has been one of those ways.

Thank you to everyone who sent videos and audio tracks. The sound of your voices and sight of your faces warms my heart, picks me up, gives me hope.

I hope this song does that for you and helps us feel like we’re together in this, even when physically apart.

Special thanks:

  • Elizabeth (Lead Vocals)
  • Lisa (Lead Vocals)
  • Serene (Tenor Ukulele Solo)
  • Adam (Soprano Ukulele)
  • Brent (Sax)
  • Josien (Backing Vocals)
  • James, Kerrie, Elizabeth, Imogen (lyric feedback)
  • Mark, Levi, Trish, Gregory, Eliot Ainsley, August, Rufus, Szun, Neil, David, Walter & Judy, Jesse, Kira, Sarah, Imogen, Adam, Chelsea, Hugh, Sally, Bella (my wonderful virtual choir)
Why and how to do an “Attends” or “Goes To” event for your community group

Why and how to do an “Attends” or “Goes To” event for your community group

Communities often demand a constant source of nurturing for healthy maintenance and growth.

Meet-up events are a great way to do this but organising such events can be exhausting and time consuming. Especially, the complex ones that need preparation and a hired venue – speaker events, presentations and discussion groups, for instance.

A great strategy for relieving stress on the organisers, while maintaining the momentum and growth of your community, is to organise “attends” or “goes to” events.

These events don’t need you to curate the core content because someone else has already done the hard work.

Think of all the benefits:

  • Low amount of effort to organise.
  • Grow your community by mixing as a group with other people that are like you.
  • Frequent events help in keeping the momentum up.
  • You could come across partners for future events. Such as other local groups who’d want to run “attends” events to bring their community to your events.
  • Reduce costs by getting group discounts, traveling together and avoiding the need to hire venue or equipment for your events.
  • You can encourage other groups to attend your events by officially attending their events. A great way to cross-pollinate.

1. Find relevant events

Your community probably has a lot of overlap with other communities and things going on in your local area – or even ones you can travel to.

a) Attend regional or national events

If your group is (officially or unofficially) part of a bigger network of groups (e.g. a club, society, social movement) there’s likely bigger events being held in your city or in another city that your group could “officially” attend together.

You can save on hotels and transfers by sharing stay, travel and booking expenses.

b) Attend talks, discussions or conferences by other groups

Often there are adjacent groups to yours that have similar overlapping interests and topics.

You can easily find them on sites like Meetup, Eventbrite or Facebook.

If you get in touch there’s often an opportunity to partner with them or arrange for a group discount.

c) Films, shows, festivals

These are often much bigger than your own group and require little other than sometimes booking ahead, picking a time and showing up.

You can find them on listing sites that have choices from local government, cinemas, venues or chambers of commerce

This works the best when you have a central meeting point. You can use it to meet with your group for food and drinks before or after the central event.

d) Take part as a team in a sporting event, volunteering or a fundraiser

Find them by searching online or asking your community about the ongoing campaigns that they are already involved with.

2. Confirm a core group of people who will be able to attend the event

Use existing channels to post the event details such as Facebook, Meetup or email, tailored for your community.

Make sure to mention that this would be an externally organised event. Provide the details for booking tickets, travelling logistics, significance of the event to your community, who is the community point of contact and where will all the members meet before the official start time.

3. Show up, find each other, and enjoy it!

The hard easy work is done, and all you need to do is have fun!

 Later you can review the whole event. You could talk on how to improve the experience, and if such events could work out for your community in the future.


A quick Google search can show you how other groups are doing such kinds of events:

Now, over to you…

So, will you organise such an event? Why or why not? If you do already, how do you do it? Share your thoughts, questions and experiences in the comments.

Dear Citizens, we can do better

Dear Citizens, we can do better

As the Australian political landscape continues to race to the bottom, remember this: we have options. Especially because in our country your vote can go a lot further with a preferential ballot (and a proportional senate).

A redefining of the political spectrum and a switch to a conversation around policy instead of personality and a focus on optimism instead of division is possible if we speak up with our votes and our voices.

As flawed as it may be, we live in a democracy still. Now is the perfect time to be a good citizen and engage with our future, the future of our communities, and the future of the rest of live on this planet.

As it’s been said:

If not now, then when? If not us, then who?

If we’re not moving forward, we’re falling back.

My request for action goes way beyond simply the way that we vote, it goes to the very heart of how we conduct ourselves and what we expect of each other. Therefore…

  • I dare you to choose optimism over apathy.
  • I beg you to choose open-mindedness over ideology.
  • I call you to choose cosmopolitanism over parochialism.
  • I ask you choose compassion over heartlessness.
  • I challenge you to choose nuance over sensationalism.
  • I encourage you to choose conversations over mocking.
  • I implore you to choose self-awareness over self-righteousness.
  • I hope you will choose change over stagnation.

As the adage goes:

We can’t keep doing the same things and expecting different results.

The carrot and the stick: behaviours based on negative and positive emotions

The carrot and the stick: behaviours based on negative and positive emotions

A lot of our human behaviour is motivated by negative emotions, or “sticks”, such as guilt, fear, shame, or entitlement.
These behaviours wouldn’t exist if they weren’t “useful” (in an evolutionary psychology sense), just like many other heuristics (or “biases” in the negative sense).
However, just because things may be useful (instrumental in achieving specific goals) it doesn’t meant that they’re necessarily optimal for human flourishing.
If you’ve trained an animal in recent years you’ll probably have noticed that many animal behaviorist focus on carrots more than sticks.
Instead of removing these emotions entirely I’ve tried to “hack” some of them to use them as tools. One example is my Beeminder goals which I use my fear of losing money and shame of failure to force my future self to do things that it won’t necessarily feel like doing in the moment but will like having had done later (such as writing this as part of my 50 words a day commitment).
I wonder if it’s possible to optimize for the flourishing of sentient beings without using negative emotions as one of the tools?
I hope so. It’s worth trying to use them less at least.
Thanks to Malcolm Ocean for sparking this line of thought in our conversation the other day. Also, go read his blog.
What an amazing third EAGxAustralia!

What an amazing third EAGxAustralia!

Everything has wrapped up with EAGxAustralia thanks to the help of my organising team and volunteers!

All up we had 330 people attending the keynote, 180 participants across the weekend, 32 speakers, 30 volunteers, and a further 20 people at the retreat – but more important than those numbers was the 88% of feedback survey respondents who made a change in their plans and expect to have an increased impact due to that change.


The clear winner for participant satisfaction was the satisfaction with the other participants! Plus, one of the most common take aways was that participants want to be more involved with a community of like-minded people who are interested in effectively doing good and keen to focus on the importance of many different ideas.

Participant Feedback


With all that excitement for community and learning in mind we strongly recommend getting involved with your local group, joining the Effective Altruists Facebook group, signing up to the Effective Altruism Newsletter (as well as your local group newsletter) and the 80,000 Hours newsletter.


A common question that came up is where to donate money. Effective Altruism is about asking the question “how can I do the most good with the time and resources I have” and there are many different answers to that, many of which are dependent on our values. However, many people in the EA community have spent a lot of time thinking about this and there are some good suggestions out there by GiveWell and the Centre for Effective Altruism.

Effective Altruism Australia also enables Australian donors to support effective, transparent and evidence-based poverty alleviation. Profits from EAGxAustralia 2017 will be donated to EAA and will support the work of organisations such as Evidence Action, GiveDirectly and Schistosomiasis Control Initiative.

If EAGxAustralia influenced your donations in any way please let us know.

Videos & Slides

The videos were all streamed live and are available on Facebook. If you’re after the slides from the presentations you can find them at


We’ve uploaded photos to the Facebook Page – please add any photos to the Facebook Event or email them to [email protected] and we’ll add them to the album.

What’s Next?

If you’re interested in being involved in another EAGxAustralia conference in 2018 please let us know here!

Learning from history so that we don’t repeat it

Learning from history so that we don’t repeat it

I was sorting through some Europe photos and had a queasy moment when I got to Dachau in light of the last 18 months but especially the last week.

The German guide (pictured on left) we had was very good at explaining the context of the time and even read some newspaper quotes from editorials of Jews at the time who were defending most Germans as good people and saying that the worst would never happen and taking it on themselves to make it better by being good citizens. We came away feeling a lot of empathy, compassion for everyone involved but also an aching awareness of the train wreck that can happen when things start to snowball out of control and we as human beings do things to others that we would never have imagined.

I’m humbled to be living in the context that I am in.

As many monuments all across Europe say, forgive but never forget.

No person and certainly no society is infallible and incapable of falling.

Our greatest lessons come from history and we must know it, warts and all.

I admire the way the German people have learned this better than most and are now often more of a shining light than the former allied nations.

History is how you get where you are, it’s not who you are.

Inside Dachau
Inside Dachau

I hope those in the USA who are protesting the removal of confederate statues know that where they’ve come from isn’t who they are, it isn’t their identity and it shouldn’t determine who they will be.

History, especially the ugly parts, is something to be remembered but not revered. It’s irrational and unhelpful to take pride in the ugliest parts.

If we’re going to be the flourishing species that we truly can be then we have to be a species of progress not regress. We need to be a species that values compassion and critical thinking. We need to be a species that recognises it’s part of a global (or galactic) community, we are the stewards of our planet and our future is in our hands.

Let’s remember the past while we walk, or run, forward into a better future.

What I’ve learned about habits while living on less

What I’ve learned about habits while living on less

As promised, here’s the next instalment of what I’ve learned living on less.

If you haven’t yet read the prequels this may make very little sense to you. Go read them first. I’ll wait.

The power of habit

While doing this challenge I re-read one of my all-time favourite books, The Power of Habit. The timing couldn’t have been better reminding myself how habits work really helped me get through the first two weeks especially.

Part of the reason living on less than $2 was so hard for the first few days was that so many of my habits were working against me.

I’m sure you can empathise – just imagine these scenarios and see if they’re at all familiar:

  • Every morning after my ride… I crave a coffee.
  • Having friends over for a BBQ… I crave a beer.
  • After 40km on the bike or at 3pm in the office… I crave a snack.

habit-loopUsing the ideas covered in ‘The Power of Habit’ I was thrilled to find ways of replacing the routine part of the habit loop that were within my budget.

For these three habits I managed to use about 1-2 tea cheap tea bags per day to replace both coffee and beer (iced tea!). Making a large thermos or jug helped my sanity enormously for only a couple of cents of ingredients. For snacking I introduced peanut button on white bread – not the healthiest but I would be in serious calorie deficit without substituting my snacking with something half-decent.

Fortunately I was already equipped better than some people to take on this challenge because of the habits I already formed prior to starting it.

I’m already a very frugal guy, I do a lot of mental maths and love my spreadsheets as well as things like packing my lunches, cooking in bulk, traveling by bike and drinking less alcohol. I also have a daily practice of gratitude, journaling and mindfulness that helped me keep my brain in the right place for this (reminding myself daily what I am doing, why I am doing it and what actions I need to take).

Restricting my spend would have been much harder had I not found ways replace various routines in the habit loop with sufficient replacements and started with a few helpful habits already.

What about you?

Do you have any stories of habits you’ve changed – or any ones you’re struggling with?

Let me know in the comments below and I’ll send one of my favourite books to the author of my favourite comment.

Shameless plug

Please donate to help end poverty, read about what I’m doing, check out the other blog posts, and share if you haven’t yet.

What I’ve learned living on less

What I’ve learned living on less

It’s day 20 of my living on less challenge and so far I’ve averaged $1.79 per day for my food, taken 3 train trips and been a passenger in a car four times. I’ve raised an AUD equivalent of ~$1,140 to support some of the most effective charities helping to improve the lives of people in poverty.

It’s not been a walk in the park by any means but I’ve certainly learned a lot.

When I started writing this post I thought it’d be a few quick lessons – turns out I was very wrong. I’ve decided to break it up into what I’ve learned about people, food, poverty, fundraising and habits.

[Updated on Feb 25]

Here each of the articles I’ve published about what I’ve learned while living on less:

My final article will sum up the final results and discuss what’s next. Please subscribe to get the updates right to your inbox, donate to help end poverty, read about what I’m doing, and share with your friends.

How to define ‘good’?

How to define ‘good’?

Every morning I remind myself of my personal life goal, my purpose as I currently define it.

So far I have only shared this goal with a few select people.

When I have shared it there always seems to be a follow-up question. A question that is just as important to me as the goal.

For the first time publicly I’m sharing both my goal and my answer to that common followup question.


I want to be a force for good in the world


Okay, that sounds great… but how do you define ‘good’?


Good is something experienced by sentient beings when their flourishing is increased, suffering is reduced¹, rights protected and their agency balanced with the deterministic aspects of life. This is often achieved through a practice of virtuous behaviours and universal rules. It is ‘good’ to balance the competing goals of ‘goodness’ using rationality and critical inquiry. We experience ‘good’ as we engage with the richness of life in all it’s complexity, happiness, hardship and joy.

There is a lot packed into that definition and ‘being a force for good’ with that definition is an incredibly challenging goal that I’ll only ever be taking small steps towards – but it’s the kind of goal that keeps me honest.

The links in the definition are the best ones I can find right now, I plan to update them as time goes on. All of the aspects of ‘good’ packed into this statement are major premises that I would always love to talk about or be challenged on. To define them best I think I’ll need to write about what they mean to me and unpack it in further detail – for the sake of myself and for others.

This is my ‘draft’, my working definition. I look forward to its continuous development and seeing how it changes over time as I grow and as I am challenged.


  1. I linked to two articles on Utilitarianism when talking about flourishing and suffering, while I think maximising the former and minimising the latter is ultimately ‘better’ I only hold the weaker goal of increasing and reducing as something that’s feasible and required for ‘good’.
10 lessons for living life to the fullest

10 lessons for living life to the fullest

I’ve spent my entire life over-committed, to a fault actually. It came to a crunch a few years ago when the exhaustion hit me.

Fast forward to now and I’ve got my priorities in much better order. I’ve picked up a bunch of useful techniques to help me try and get the most out of my limited time on this planet so I thought I could share some of my life hacking and productivity tips… put my inner-nerd to good use.

On that note, let me introduce the 10 things I’m learning about taking control of my life to live it to the fullest (disclaimer: I’m certainly no expert, these are just anecdotes, but I hope they can be helpful for some people).

1. Sorting out our priorities is the first step to taking life by the reins

First and foremost, before I could do much of what I’m about to tell you successfully I needed to sort out my priorities. For a very long time I had gone along with life just assuming that I was living life in a way that was in line with my priorities. It just made intuitive sense to me that it couldn’t be any other way. I would think to myself, “if I’m doing X instead of Y then X must be a higher priority to me.” For a long time I didn’t realise that some things might just be more urgent, easier to think of, or maybe just more enjoyable in that moment.

As time has gone on I have started to be more intentional about my life. Ultimately I seek to have not just a life that I could look back on and be proud of but also one that was full of joy along the way.

I’ve come to know that the things that are a priority for me are happiness (both ‘hedonic’ and ‘eudaimonic’), a sense of purpose (can be defined subjectively), continual growth and learning, developing and maintaining good relationships, maximising my experiences, living in an ethical way and, most importantly, seeing the lives of others improved.

I could write an essay on each of these “meta-priorities” (in fact I hope to at some point), but these priorities have helped in deciding on more tangible goals and categorical priorities.

A good example of a categorical priority is keeping in good health, as it is integral to many of these. If I’m not in good health then I become a burden to others, I’m less happy, it’s harder to think, it puts strains on relationships, it limits my experiences and impacts my meta-priorities negatively.

Other categorical priorities can include things like health, career, relationships or creative endeavours. These priorities can translate into specific goals like entering into a sporting competition, presenting at a conference, going out for dinner with my wife or booking a gig to play music. The specific goals are things that are much more open to change — life gets in the way. Things falling to the back-burner or getting completely reassessed is not just absolutely okay, it’s to be expected.

2. Understanding our psychology is incredibly empowering

The more I read about our psychology (from trained professionals, not so-called “self-help gurus”) the more I understand how to account for basic human tendencies and develop techniques to not just compensate for them but to leverage them to my advantage.

An important lesson is that we are almost entirely creatures of habit. Most of our brainpower, energy and time is spent on following our habits. We rarely stop to question why we do things and we often fail to make changes in our lives because we’re entrenched in many habits that are hard to change. This knowledge was very empowering because it taught me that forming one good habit at a time is the way to get to where I want to be, and not to feel like I’ve failed for just being human.

From biology right through to psychology it’s pretty darn obvious that we’re not perfect. We’re products of evolution and that means that we have traits that were advantageous in some circumstances but not others and we have some traits that are just vestigial (may have once been useful but no longer are). For example, we naturally gravitate to eating sugar and fat; this is quite likely due to spending most of our existence chasing calories to stay alive (note: while this example fairly straightforward, be careful of evolutionary psychological explanations as they can have issues).

Knowing this is empowering because I don’t have to feel that I’m a failure for seeking out these things that are naturally pleasurable. However, I can use other psychological tools to combat this. The book “Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think” is fantastic for understanding the psychology of food — not just to help in finding ways to eat less but to also in understanding ways to get more enjoyment out of our interacting with food.

Understanding our basic tendencies, biases and heuristics can help in leveraging them to our advantage.

On this point I also strongly recommend reading Thinking, Fast and Slow, The Happiness Hypothesis and 59 Seconds.

This simple video by Richard Wiseman demonstrates how you can leverage knowledge of our psychology to change your eating habits.

3. There is no substitute for good planning

This really point kind of speaks for itself. My whole life I’ve found it pretty consistent that if I don’t plan for many things they won’t happen. However, this doesn’t mean that if I do plan for things they will happen, planning just makes things much more likely.

Setting aside ample time to plan is incredibly important whether it is budgeting finances, planning a trip overseas, getting a project done or putting together a training program.

4. Following a good productivity system will help with getting things done

This doesn’t mean entirely follow a system that someone else has developed, we each have to figure out what works for us.

In 2002 when David Allen first published Getting Things Done (GTD) many people would have been pretty well placed to follow his advice down to the smallest detail. However it was pretty quickly out of date as email and smartphones became the norm. I recommend reading Getting Things Done but the system that seems to be working for me is The Secret Weapon (TSW) which is based on GTD but uses a system of email, diary and Evernote.

When I first started following the GTD methodology I couldn’t believe how much more stuff I got done. This is certainly one of the most useful techniques I’ve learned for getting the most out of life and clearing my head. Anything that is floating around in our heads instead of written down is just clogging up our brains and stopping it doing the stuff that brains do well — thinking!

5. Filtering out distractions helps with focusing on what’s important

We are bombarded with things stimulating and distracting us everyday. We cannot possibly absorb everything and it makes it incredibly hard to focus and hard to get things done. We really don’t have an option, our brain IS going to filter things out (it does it all the time) so we need to make sure that we focus on which things we filter and which things we focus on.

Personally I’ve found it helpful to turn off all social media notifications, only check things when I have the time to and use a variety of tools to help surface things that are of high quality instead of wasting time sifting through things which don’t give much value to my life.

From a technological perspective I’ve found using things like email filters/rules,, Gmail Tabs and many other tools incredibly useful in making sure that I only see what I need to see but I do continue to see new things that challenge me. I structure serendipity into my life (by using digests such as Nuzzel and HASO) in a way that reduces procrastination.

Filtering also applies to our head space and our priorities. We shouldn’t get distracted by baseless hype or worrying about things that are incredibly unlikely (e.g. worrying about wind turbine syndrome). All this does is distract us, it doesn’t do any good. Instead I’ve found it helps to focus on reality and on what really matters. If we care intimately about the well-being of other people we shouldn’t go campaigning against wind turbines (little scientific basis, low likelihood of success, mentally exhausting) but instead donate money or time to help people get out of poverty (using proven ways of actually helping people). We’re better off focusing on what’s effective, focusing on reality and filtering out the rest.

6. Wait… because patience pays off

As someone who naturally operates at a thousand miles (1,609 kilometres) an hour, taking things slowly doesn’t come naturally to me. I’ve had to learn to be patient the hard way.

I find I get less distracted if I write down all my ideas when they come to me and then come back to them later instead of starting on them straight away. Waiting actually helps with filtering and also with sorting out priorities.

Daniel Kahneman (psychologist, author and winner of Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics) wrote a great book called Thinking, Fast and Slow which emphasises the value of thinking slowly (using what he calls “system 1”) to reduce falling into the traps of our biases and heuristics. Waiting helps us to withhold judgment where possible and to give ourselves the time to think about things properly. The bonus of waiting is it also allows our subconscious to have a go while we’re doing other things or quite literally “sleeping on it”.

Another great book on waiting is Frank Partnoy’s Wait: The Art and Science of Delay which talks about waiting long enough (but not too long) to get the best decision or result.

7. Money is (just) a tool

I’m an incredibly frugal person but I like to be frugal for two main reasons: (1) it allows me to be generous to others which I find more fulfilling; and (2) it allows me enough money to use strategically.

Although the competitive side of me will want to get as much as possible and social norms will pressure me in all sorts of ways, it works when I remember this:
Money is (just) a tool

I’m hesitant to spend money if it’s unnecessary; but I don’t hesitate for a second if it is. I apply the above strategies of prioritising, understanding psychology (e.g. how much happiness can I “buy” for $10), planning, creating lists, filtering and waiting in my money management.

8. Automate it, delegate it, outsource it or crowdsource it

For this point the main lesson is to stop doing anything that doesn’t make sense for you to do — whether it’s using technology to automate a monotonous task, delegating work to other people (where appropriate), asking people directly for help, employing a virtual assistant or putting a request out on Facebook for travel recommendations.

We’re not good at everything, not everything is of equal importance and we just don’t have enough time to do everything ourselves. Some things are worth our time, some things are worth our money, some things we don’t need to do at all and some things we enjoy doing even though it’s not worth our time from a financial perspective (I get intrinsic value from brewing beer).

I use a lot of apps and services like ANZ Money Manager, Auto TextExpander, Automator, Buffer, Canned Responses, FollowUpThen, Freelancer, Hootsuite, IFTTT, keyboard shortcuts, LastPass, MS Excel, PhraseExpress (just to list a few that come to mind) and if all else fails a little bit of programming skills will help! If there is something that you do regularly try googling ways to make your process more efficient.

If I have to do something myself that is time consuming or monotonous then I at least try and multi-task (e.g. cooking whilst listening to audiobooks/podcasts) or to do it in bulk (e.g. cooking large batches) so that I can squeeze out a bit more efficiency.

9. Failure is always an option

Failure is always an option
Failure is always an option

As the legendary team over at Mythbusters like to remind us “failure is always an option”. I’ve got enough silver and bronze medals sitting in my sock draw from all my years of rowing to know that I can’t always win. In fact some of those medals are from experiences that I treasure much more than any gold medal.

Furthermore, something I’ve learned about our psychology is that the one route towards guaranteed failure is to try and do everything at once! Instead, it’s better to take things one step at a time and have the discipline and confidence to start again… and again… and again.

Sometimes we have to just cut our losses, move on and come back to it later. That’s completely okay.

I’m not perfect and us humans can never have perfect information, that’s why we can’t be too hard on ourselves, we need to be nimble and bounce back.

Fear of failure is much more debilitating than failure itself.

Failing teaches us a lot, strengthens our character and gives us direction.

10. Reassess, rinse and repeat

One great thing I find about writing down priorities, plans and systems is that it makes it really easy to go back to look at them and reassess if they are right for me.

Something that I’ve found useful on that front (that I am however currently failing at) is journaling. Picking regular intervals to reflect, muse and reassess can help cut through the drudgery, give a sense of purpose and increase satisfaction.

It also helps to seek external feedback both indirectly (through things like reading books and assessing people’s body language) and directly (by asking others for their feedback). When I ask other people I try to have specific questions that they are well-placed to answer (e.g. asking my boss what I could be doing better to help the organisation meet its core goals).

These steps are not things to I do once and move on, they’re things that I try to integrate into my daily routines, my thought process and my personality.

Final Thoughts

I’ve written this in the first person because this is just my personal anecdote (albeit with links to some more objective reference material).

I know that people’s experiences vary and while some things are fairly universal, other things come down to personal preference, personality and biology (for example, #9 is difficult if you have clinical anxiety or depression).

From my perspective, I’m aware of how limited my life is and I want to use it well. My goal is to get the most personal fulfilment and while doing as much as I can to help others. Objectively I am certainly going to fail at this goal, but I want to have at least given it a red hot go.

I hope someone finds this useful… especially if they’ve read the whole way through!

[Photo Credit: Samantha Macabulos]