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First Principles

First Principles

By Laura Gao

Mindsets and self improvement through the lens of first principles thinking.
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Autonomy with Nicolas Gatien - Mindset of the Week

First PrinciplesJan 03, 2021

What should teens be learning in this period of their life to thrive in the future? ft. Max Holschneider and Julia Yap
Mar 27, 202118:38
Learning in Public to Combat Fleeting Thoughts

Learning in Public to Combat Fleeting Thoughts

There aren't many things that can be lost forever. But thoughts definitely can.

This episode's speaking is unedited - I didn't cut out any stumbles or stutters. I want this podcast to be an accurate representation of my speaking abilities.

Where I currently write:

Inspired by:

How I Use Learning in Public as My Personal Knowledge Management Strategy by Samson Zhang:

David Perell's notebook:

Andy Matuschak's notes:

Postulate - an all-in-one tool for collecting and publishing your knowledge:

I also take notes as Tweets sometimes:

Mar 20, 202105:44
Open those messages
Mar 04, 202101:20
Life is a Marathon

Life is a Marathon

Here's a quick little sketch. Might make it into a vector design sometime.

You can either live life as a sequence of sprints or as a marathon. Choose wisely, my friend.

Mar 02, 202103:25
Activator with Risha Shah — Mindset of the Week

Activator with Risha Shah — Mindset of the Week

In which Risha and I talk about the importance of the activator mindset in our lives and how you can become an activator. Start activating your activator mindset ;)

Connect with Risha:

# Referenced content:

Risha's article — Detecting cardiovascular diseases using machine learning:

Do the real thing by Scott Young:

"Published writing functions as a sort of spaced repetition" — Samson Zhang:

Send me any thoughts, opinions, or roasts: @laurgao on Twitter or (or email me gaolauro AT gmail DOT com)

Thanks for listening!

# Release notes

1. This episode is the first one with episode-specific cover art! Intention: so listeners can put a face onto the voice of my guest. Inspired by cover art from Justin Kan's podcast, The Quest.

2. Also updated the podcast cover art today to include my name.

3. Time spent: 5 mins planning/setup, ≤ 1h recording, 2h editing, ≤ 1.5h cover art. Total: 4-4.5h.

4. Recorded to published within a day ;)

Feb 15, 202145:52
Happiness and why do we work hard?

Happiness and why do we work hard?

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” — Gandhi

Shoutout to my Dad, Bernice, Jessica, & Ethan for convos about this topic that inspired some of these thoughts ;)

# Referenced content

Waitbutwhy on Mundane Wednesdays:

Justin Kan Reddit AMA:

Some happiness Tweets:

Connect with me: @laurgao on Twitter and most places. Or email gaolauro AT gmail DOT com

# Release notes:

1. Surprised I was able to monologue for 30 mins. Never shall I ever fear not being able to fill an 8 min debate speech again 😂 However, I mostly planned for/expected this podcast to be 10 mins. I feared it'd be too short to be a full episode. I did not write any script, I wrote 22 lines of random thought dump bullet points setting out my intentions. Would've taken me 2 mins to recite lol. Here's what I spoke off of if you want to see:

2. Thinking 7:15/20-7:30/35, Recording 7:30-8:10pm Feb 14, editing till 8:30/35. Release notes till 8:46. More release notes/uploading/final touches Feb 15 8:40-9:10. Total time spent on this episode: ~2 hours.

3. Didn't go heavy into editing. The only edits: a few mic clicks at the beginning were manually cut out. Only altered my speaking in 2 places: 1) In the beginning after intro I had a long ass pause while deciding what point to start with, 2. Ghandi quote - cut out my keyboard typing to look up the quote + a few stutters as I was looking for the quote. Shoulda said "ima look it up rn" so I could've kept keyboard noises, like Ethan did in the first episode of QCN. Other than those 2 cuts at beginning, I did not alter the content of my speech in any way. that's my goal. I want these podcasts to be authentic to my speaking abilities.

4. A change in this episode: outro music is no longer Bensound's Little Idea but same file as glitchy intro. Main inspo was the NISP podcast episode 1 had ending music the same as its intro music, which made for nice closure. Overall, many podcasts do that which kinda their whole podcast has one "theme" or vibe to it which feels nice.

5. A change in this episode: what I say in the intro. Old: "Hello and welcome to the first principle spodcast, a show where we talk about mindsets/philo/personal growth from the perspective of FPT. I'm your host Laura..." This came from The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green. Or After On by Rob Reid? Now: "Hey, it's laura, and you're listening to first principles..." This feels more authentic mybe? Inspo is The Quest podcast by Justin Kan.

6. Yes, the mic has clicky noises. No, I have no idea the cause.

7. I did think about this topic for a while prior to this, maybe I've been thinking about this for the past month or so. I've talked to some friends about this. I wrote about some in my reflections. I was working on a spreadsheet my dad gave me to break down all the elements required for happiness. So this podcast came out spur-of-the-moment where I dumped all these thoughts in one place. To clear my head.

8. I was going to write a blog post about this topic, but talking is 10x faster than writing at delivering your message across. So I monologued about it instead. (Original:

Feb 15, 202136:13
Antifragility with Ammielle Wambo Becker — Mindset of the Week

Antifragility with Ammielle Wambo Becker — Mindset of the Week

The best thing most young people should do is a lot more mistakes. — @orangebook_ on Twitter

# Referenced content:

Sticky notes with failure quotes on my wall: >:)

# Further reading:

Antifragility and the Growth Mindset by Sigil Wen:

Nassim Taleb: A Definition of Antifragile and its Implications:

Stop Thinking About Failure. It Doesn’t Exist by Emaan Amin:

Compilation of Ammielle's resources:

# Connect with Ammielle!



Release Notes:

I talk similarly to whatever podcast I happen to be listening to. I've been listening to some After On recently, and boy does Rob Reid talk a lot in the shows that he hosts (at least the 3 recent episodes he does). I talked way more in this episode than the recent 2 mindset ones. Looking at the audio waveform, Ammielle and I talked for about roughly equal amounts of time.

In the past few mindset episodes, I've been focusing on asking good questions and hearing what ideas the guests have. I think I did this decently in episodes 3 & 5  — in those episodes, I basically only asked questions and did not share any of my ideas at all. The audio waveform shows that essentially >90% of the time is the guest talking. This episode, I did share some of my ideas.

Not sure what format I'll lean towards next time. For now, I'm still experimenting and going with the flow of conversations.


I used to edit these episodes with the intention that no one would listen to them. There are so many podcasts in the world, who would listen to this new one where teens dump their crazy ideas and probably have no idea what they're talking about?

Like I told Alexandra this morning, I started this podcast as a medium to get my thoughts published without extensive editing. When I write articles, for example, each sentence is meticulously crafted to enhance the reader experience. I found that my high quality standards were stifling — I wrote fewer articles than I would've written if I could just publish the first draft.

The entirety of the release notes does not fit into the limited space inside the podcast description. To read more:

Connect with me: or @laurgao on Twitter

Feb 06, 202101:17:04
Stoicism with Emaan Amin — Mindset of the Week
Jan 27, 202101:35:06
Is TKS worth it if everything you learn is self-taught? - Review of The Knowledge Society [1/3]

Is TKS worth it if everything you learn is self-taught? - Review of The Knowledge Society [1/3]

Conclusion: TKS saves you time.

Applications are open! Apply to TKS: (use code LAGA0610 for $200 off your tuition)

Connect with Amy:


TKS is a scam Reddit post:

Release Notes:

Release notes are where I write about the decision making process behind episodes. You can think of it as a small behind-the-scenes.

I used to put links and release notes on a separate website (, but it's more work for not much improvement to content. As of now, I can fit all the links into the description. It's probably more convenient this way for listeners as well.

Editing: Jan 24 1-5:30pm, with a few breaks in between (~3.5-4 hours)

This podcast was originally a 3 hour long discussion with Amy. I was planning to release the full thing as one episode, but then I got some great feedback from Ethan Hansen to keep episodes under an hour. Now, I decided I'm going to release the content from the conversation in a 3 part series. (Ethan's the host of Quantum Computing Now - check out his podcast:

I changed how I plan to organize this series soooo many times in the span of 4 hours. Here is the full list of changes:

  1. One single 3 hour episode [Don't cut out any sections]
  2. Three episodes, each with one main idea [Don't cut out any sections]
  3. One single episode of "highlights," where I compile the most interesting insights throughout the discussion. [Cut everything except for the best]
  4. Highlights split into many 10 minute chunks, and publish each 10 minute chunk as an episode [Cut everything except for the best]
  5. Four episodes - 3 main "reviews of TKS", 1 episode explaining what TKS is [Cut out sections that don't add value]

I did not cut out any "um"s, "like"s, "so"s, other filler words, stumbles, or speaking mistakes. Partly because the opportunity cost is too high: it'll double my time spent editing, time that I could be working on my animation ;) The harms outweigh the benefits - stuttering in conversational podcasts don't decrease the listener experience too much, and besides, what listeners? (+ it may benefit the listener experience as it adds authenticity.) And partly because I want a layer of authenticity for myself; I don't want to present my speaking abilities as better than they are.

Going forward, I will not be deleting any filler words.

In past episodes, I didn't cut out any sections of the conversations. Why not? I didn't trust my judgement. What if a section that I don't consider valuable is helpful for someone else? What if I consider some sections unhelpful only because I disagree with what the other person is saying? This episode was the first time that I cut out some chunks. Framing it as "highlights" helped me: instead of "deleting sections that don't add value," I looked at it as "keeping only the most valuable sections."

For future episodes, I'm leaning towards preserving the entire conversation except for places that are certainly unhelpful. I still don't trust my judgement very much.

Jan 25, 202116:59
Autonomy with Nicolas Gatien - Mindset of the Week
Jan 03, 202101:00:22
Appreciation with Uma Darbha and Jessica Song - Mindset of the Week

Appreciation with Uma Darbha and Jessica Song - Mindset of the Week

Appreciation is a simple way to make your brain a happier place. As CGP Grey says, taking 2 minutes per day to write one thing you're grateful for is "frustratingly effective."

Appreciate the little things in life, and one day you'll look back and realize they were big things ~



Dec 28, 202044:53
Seek Understanding with Amy Li - Mindset of the Week

Seek Understanding with Amy Li - Mindset of the Week

How do you know you're an independent thinker in a world where sheep mentality is the norm? Amy and Laura discuss the first principles of morality, associating beliefs with your identity, authentic feedback, and Paul Graham's essay on thinking for yourself. 

Thinking unconventionally doesn't equal to thinking independently. Are you following TKS ideology with sheep mentality?



Dec 22, 202002:12:23