Lurking Below

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There is something present in you and in me at all times and in all situations to varying degrees.

Beneath the surface whenever we meet someone new, or give a talk, or ask the boss for a raise, or fly on a plane, or cross the street, or look out of the window in a tall building, it is always there waiting to rear its ugly head.
I am, of course, speaking about fear.


Spoiler Alert: Fear could be robbing you of the ability to take really memorable pictures

I heard an interesting radio program this weekend about fear which really got me to thinking about the role that fear plays in our lives.

Some of the points that were made in this hour were the following:

  • Fear at it’s most basic level is an (unconscious) autonomic nervous system reaction that was adaptive at some point in our development.
  • Fear can allow us to escape danger with a burst of adrenaline and increased cardiac output and improved muscular strength.
  • Fear helps us to develop strong aversions to truly dangerous situations.(Once we experience true fear we subconsciously and vigorously try to avoid the stimulus that caused fear in the first place.)
  • A specific fear can be erased away with training and hard work.
  • We are the author of the stories of our own fears.
  • We are also the audience for the very same stories.
  • Acknowledging and sharing our fears with others can release us from some of their paralyzing power.
  • All fear comes from the same place, our inability to accept our own inevitable death and eventual nonexistence.

All of which got me thinking about my own obsessions, and the role that fear plays in the miles game and early retirement.

Let’s start with the miles game today.

So what are some of the fears that prevent people from taking advantage of this tremendous value added opportunity?

1. Fear of a downgraded credit score.

This is a rational fear on the surface, after all credit inquiries do temporarily lower your credit score.

But in balance it ends up being an irrational fear.

As long as you don’t have an impending large loan application (i.e. a mortgage or a mortgage refinancing) upcoming, your credit score going down by 20 or 30 points for a month or so will likely have no effect at all on your life.

Long-term your credit score will probably stay the same or even improve since your credit utilization ratio will go down.

And as I see it, right now, your excellent credit score’s chief value, if you’re not going to apply for a big loan soon, is that it enables you to play the miles game successfully.

Fear of losing money.

This fear is semi-rational. It is certainly possible to lose access to your money for short periods of time (like when gift cards get frozen and must be reactivated.)

But overall, since the miles game requires no illegal activity, or lying, the chance of you actually losing a significant amount of money is probably on the same order of magnitude as the risk of pulling cash from an ATM.

And the likelihood of you gaining significant travel value and money is large.

What’s wrong with those odds?

Fear of getting a credit card shut down.

This one’s pretty irrational.

Let’s say you buy a bunch of Visa gift cards at a drugstore and your credit card Company audits you for perk abuse and they ultimately decide to shut down your credit card account.

The worst case scenario is that you’re in the exact same position that you would have been had you never opened the credit card in the first place (and this is only if you haven’t used any of the miles yet.)

And at the level that I play the miles game (merely replacing every dollar of personal spending with credit card spending,) this ever happening is quite unlikely.

Fear of social discomfort.

This one’s actually pretty rational.

For some people, just knowing that what you’re doing is perfectly ethical and legal is not enough.

The mere social interactions at places like the drugstore and Walmart during manufactured spending missions, can inundate our hapless miles game player with uncomfortable social cues.

This can make a certain type of sensitive person feel as if he is doing bad things, despite all evidence to the contrary.

If you are such a person, then manufactured spending, and possibly even the miles game are not for you.

(Fortunately I’m an insensitive brute.)

The fear of doing a little bit of work.

It’s true that the miles game and manufactured spending require some effort. (Maybe 2-6 hours a month if you don’t write a blog about it.)

But it is actually a lot of fun once you get into the spirit of the thing.

Furthermore, even if you don’t enjoy the mechanics of it, it is extremely well-paid work.

And last I checked you probably roll out of bed every morning and go and put in a good eight hours of work for money, (and for probably a lot less money on an hourly basis.)

So if the miles game will steal hours away from oil painting, or training for a triathlon, or working on your golf game, and these pursuits really fulfill you, fair enough.

But if you’re just going to lazily sit on the couch watching the boob tube or looking at funny cat videos on YouTube, how rational is that degree of laziness?

Just get out there and make some magic happen!

After all as a famous progressive once declared….


The only thing we have to fear, is missing out on a great miles deal, itself.

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9 Responses to “Lurking Below”

  1. Robert May 28, 2014 at 7:26 am #

    Your Roosevelt caption cracked me up! ROFL! (that is short for “roling on floor laughing”…LOL. That’s OK; we cut you slack for misspellings in 12:30 a.m. posts!).

    “Fear of Discomfort” as reason not to do the mileage game. I suspect this one is a good candidate for “A specific fear can be erased away with training and hard work.” or “Acknowledging and sharing our fears with others can release us from some of their paralyzing power.”

    I think the last bullet point from the radio program has a lot of truth in it, but that fear is also unfounded. There is no eternally burning hell, for starters. But I also question the premise: don’t you think that pain may be the ultimate driver of fear in many (most) circumstances, not death? I personally fear pain and suffering more than death. To the extent death is accompanied by the former, I fear death, but I don’t fear death itself. Why fear dying in your sleep, for example? You go to bed and sleep regularly, without fear. If you should happen to not wake up, what fear would be in that?

    • Miles Dividend M.D. May 28, 2014 at 8:17 pm #


      What typo are you talking about? I went back and looked and couldn’t find it.

      In terms of the last point about the fear of death, I think you and the speaker are actually very much on the same page.

      1. You are pointing out the irrationality of the fear of death. (As opposed to the rationality of the fear of pain.)

      2. Imagine one of your fears (they are almost always irrational.) let’s say it’s the fear of a plane crash. When you conceive of this fear, isn’t it your imminent nonexistence, rather than the fear of any specific pain that sends shivers down your spine?

      3. If I can work my way through the credit Suisse yearbook report on my iPhone, can’t you as a retiree listen to the podcast? (I think you’ll like it.)


      • Robert May 29, 2014 at 10:16 am #

        As a retiree, listening to a podcast never occurred to me! (generational thing, I guess). I should do that.

        As for the typo, I was just having fun with you; no big deal! I’m sure I’ve made several of them in the comment section myself. This is what I was referring to, “about fear which really got me to thinking about the roll that fear plays in our lives.” “roll” should be “role”.

        • Miles Dividend M.D. May 29, 2014 at 8:30 pm #

          From your post I thought you were laughing at the fdr quote because there was a typo in it !


          • Robert May 30, 2014 at 8:00 pm #

            OK, I just finished listening to the podcast. Or at least, I assume the same one–interviews with 5 TED speakers, right?
            The last one, who was the one talking about fear of death, made the analogy to a book, with your life bounded by the 2 covers of birth and death. “The only think that matters is that you make it a good story.” I wonder how you even define “a good story” or the meaning of “that matters” outside the context of faith.

          • Miles Dividend M.D. May 30, 2014 at 8:38 pm #

            I agree that the statement about “making a good story” suggests some sort of a disconnected reader/god passing judgement, which is problematic.

            But I took the speakers point to be that all that is outside of the bounds of birth and death are immaterial to the human being encased within that story. And To worry about what transpires outside of our own existence is irrational, since it is both remote and inaccessible to us. Whereas to concern ourselves with the story itself has the potential for meaningful action.

            Which seems very close to your prior point about the irrationality of fearing death, versus the rationality of fearing pain/suffering.

          • Robert May 31, 2014 at 6:00 am #

            Agreed, though he comes at it from a different perspective.

  2. Sebastian May 28, 2014 at 6:31 pm #

    I am surprised and happy to know we have the same radio taste. I was listening to the same program this weekend while running. I usually hear “wait, wait, don’t tell me” but I ran out of them.The other one I love is “Planet Money” and sometimes “Radiolab”. Enjoy!!!

    • Miles Dividend M.D. May 28, 2014 at 8:20 pm #


      Great minds think alike.(As do mediocre ones!)

      I also love Radio Lab as well as planet money. Freakonomics is quite interesting too and reinforces my belief that economics is the philosophy of our time.

      But one of my favorite radio shows doesn’t fit so neatly into this genre: the Howard Stern show! I’m convinced he’s the best interviewer ever.


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