On Mental Frameworks

(Epistemic Status:  Subjective internal experience with lack of clarity on the internal experiences of others.  Generated from a conversation with Olivia, who I credit as being invaluable in exploring things in this category)

I have recently come to suspect that my mind works a little differently than other people I know.  Of course, this is trivially true for anyone – the specific way in which it works differently, however, applies to a subset of people such that certain insights can be expressed in this frame.  I have a certain flexibility when it comes to self-definition, readily accepting arguments in favor of self-inconsistency across time, adopting subagent models, considering all states in the “category of me” to be mutable, etc.  I also tend to skirt the edges of stability frequently, experimenting with ideas that fundamentally question my perception of reality, pushing for peak experiences, actively using pathologies to achieve my goals, etc.  This flexibility is based on the ability to dissociate – to push “self” completely out of the way while still maintaining a loose idea of being a “self”.  To use the oft-criticized model of brains as biological computers, the dissociative framework is an OS that trades stability for flexibility, allowing for a wider but less safe action space.

To go up a level, mental frameworks are how mind types frame the world as well as the mind’s relation to the world.  Ways of reconciling and narrativizing experiences such that they feel ego syntonic.  I speculate that other frameworks might include a singleton framework, in which one has a perception of a completely consistent self, with a restricted action space trading for stability – they likely don’t handle out of frame experiences well, but they have strong, reliable heuristics for experiences within frame.  They don’t need to waste a lot of cognitive effort figuring out why or how, it just integrates quickly and they move on.  This kind of person is very easy to acausally trade with.  They tend to have developed deep skill at things within their frame because of the level of constancy they bring to the table.

Another plausible mental framework is one of no-self framework – the oft sought enlightenment idea where frames are not used at all – the mind is not relating to the world, it is of the world and of the same salience as the experience.  I don’t have a good model of the advantages or disadvantages of this hypothetical framework – I suspect it’s both high flexibility and high stability – the cognitive load is reduced by not running contextualization of experience all the time and optimizing for just being.

For one last example, there’s a mental framework in which connection is optimized – the distributed processing framework.  In some ways, well blended couples (or even polycules) have this, as well as deeply connected small groups.  In this framework, other people in the collective are part of the mind map to a degree that almost feels like telepathy.   You know the strengths and weaknesses of every member of the unit, and are able to transfer information with minimal bits.  This has medium flexibility, medium stability, and extremely high efficacy in the world, but takes a lot of time, effort, and luck to build.  I suspect that this framework risks codependence and difficulty accessing oneself as an individual – it is unclear whether this is a drawback.

Going back to the dissociative framework, this one is extremely dangerous technology.  The other frameworks I described are higher stability, and trading off stability can cost you years of your life on dead ends, insanity, or worse.  However, with any high-risk investment, the rewards also tend to be fairly high – the dissociative framework is probably the easiest in which to model other people while still optimizing for individuality.  Modeling other people is one of the building blocks of mastery of social reality – being able to predict behavior and combinations of behavior is a rare skill.  Another advantage of the dissociative framework is being able to break down your personality into modular units and replace parts as needed – the introspective access here is very high, which is a large part of the risk.  The ability to self-modify does take a lot of work even with a default predisposition to dissociation – I personally don’t have it down perfectly at all, but this is effectively how things like internal monologue modification work.   The dissociative framework also makes it easier to dissociate from a predominant social reality, which can provide discernment into the cracks in the narrative – when personality and self are mutable, roles become much less sticky.  The dissociative framework also tends to increase hypnotic susceptibility – this is likely due to the general experience of having a wider action space and adeptness at unusual states.  There are other advantages to the framework, but they become less legible as we go deeper.

The disadvantages to the dissociative framework are also numerous – the first is the reduced ability to make acausal trades.  Due to the high inconsistency in the framework, it’s difficult to place expectations on future versions of yourself without stronger commitment mechanisms.  It’s also difficult to access preferences – as with everything else, these are mutable as well, so it’s hard to have a core “want” when it’s merely another switch to toggle.  The difficulty of accessing preferences also can lead to stagnation and slower development because the wide action space pulls you in multiple directions.  Strong internal access also tends to create optimization loops for things that may not be worth optimizing to infinity (the wireheading problem, for example).  I suspect that the dissociative framework also makes emotions bigger, because they are one of the few S1 signals that can get past firm internal control, if only for a short time.  Another disadvantage is weaker sense of self, which can make one weaker to cults of personality, or even charisma in general.  The dissociative framework also is often cognitively expensive – more choices are made on a more minute level, which is fatiguing.  There are other disadvantages, but they also get less legible as we go deeper.

Overall, I find mental frameworks to be a useful way to class efficacy of interventions – I am likely to start speculating on whether the dissociative framework is necessary for a given mindhack in the future.  If I have written about anything in the past hasn’t resonated, this might be part of it.  Over the next few weeks, I will be going into specific tools the dissociative framework gives access to – if you don’t consider yourself able to run the dissociative framework and have success with these tools, it would be helpful data for my theorizing.  The dissociative framework is very powerful when the drawbacks are corrected for, but very dangerous when used carelessly – without constant vigilance or guidance, a slip can easily undo years of effort.  I don’t know if baseline mental frameworks can be reconfigured – I suspect they are based on childhood experience and genetic predisposition, but if they can, I would recommend avoiding this configuration.

Discussion Questions – Do you feel like any of the mental frameworks described above fit you?  If so, which ones?  If not, what would you describe yours as, and what are the advantages and disadvantages?  Have you experienced issues where I’ve posted about a mindhack and it just didn’t make sense – if so, do you suspect this is one of the causes?  What would be the traits of an optimal mental framework?


On Leveling Up

On Leveling Up

(Epistemic Status:  Endorsed – Somewhat vague/abstract)

Last year, I made a decision.  I was going to get good at “the social.”  I would meet with people, talk with them, figure out what this extroversion thing was like.  This so happened to coincide with me getting invited to more parties, noticing that I didn’t seem to be very good at parties but other people were, and still going to them despite this.  This actually worked fairly well – I made an effort to actually try at parties, I’d meet interesting people, I’d talk to them one on one, I got better at conversations, things were great.  So I started optimizing more and more, putting a lot of pressure on myself to “get good at social,” kept post morteming and creating nice subjective lists of whether things were Good or Bad, and increasingly my life was about “being that weird girl obsessed with meta social things.”

Naturally I got way worse at social, people started considering me kind of manipulative, and I had to take a step back – instead of leveling up, I leveled down.  Had a kind of miserable fall and winter and moved on to other things.

A curious thing happened when I moved onto other things.  The object level thing of Get Good At Social became way less important, I had tasks that I needed to do.  I needed funding to change my life. I had to learn to program.  I had to get housing things done.  I had to strategize about having a good life and think about the future – and suddenly all that social grinding became useful because it wasn’t aimed at the object level “get good at social,” it was aimed at the object level “if I miss these steps, I will fail.

There’s a failure mode where people want to be good at something – something is usually underspecified, and the details are difficult to pin down.  More frequently, this happens with social skills like “being good to talk to” or “being able to lead people” or “being able to get dates and sex”.  This sometimes happens with things that look “cool”, like being fit, or being good at dancing.  Regardless of the type of thing, you can usually get as far as generating some way to practice; however, you often end up grinding things that might correlate with the thing you want, or just make you good at a certain subset of thing while ignoring the supporting skills.  I tried to get good at social, and the skill I ended up developing was being able to frame things in my life as interesting and direct conversational flow such that I could talk about things that I liked talking about.  It’s a useful skill, but it’s not All Social Skills Ever, and overuse of the thing I was good at made me weaker.

Leveling up is rarely about directly trying to access the thing you want to be good at – usually it takes working on projects that require the skill and being able to accept failure.  I’ve been taking courses on programming, but when it comes to trying to implement projects to make my life easier?  It’s hard to know where to start – I have to work with people and end up in a lot of dead ends, because I mostly wireheaded “being good at programming courses”.  On the flip side, I’ve had to do a lot of illegible networking things lately to do things like “create group house” or “have money to survive switching career paths.”  A lot of the social stuff I’ve done has been helpful, but if I approached this as “Oh I guess I need to Network and Have Lunches”, I’d still be at square one.  By just Doing The Things, I’ve gained a lot of valuable S1 knowledge on social dynamics that I’m still working on S2 parsing out, and in turn have accidentally gotten notably better at other social skills besides “directing conversational flow.”

Several people I know would like to go on dates and have sex.  Several other people I know want to be better at mindhacking and fix all their EF problems.  Others I know want to save the world.  They work on these things and talk a lot about the failure modes and the things they’ve done – it’s honestly impressive.  But…somehow, 6 months to a year down the line, they still haven’t succeeded (at least, to their satisfaction) at the task they set out to do.  In some ways, they’ve become worse – the potential never actuated.  For awhile I wasn’t sure why this was happening – in the same way I wasn’t really sure why I seemed to be stagnating socially and not actually accomplishing anything anymore.  I suspect this is why – the thing in and of itself is not a reasonable goal – it’s unbounded.  Suddenly, though, when concrete things need to be accomplished that require a set of skills, those skills start to come to the fore – and if you’re missing something, you realize what you’re missing in a hurry because your approach is not working.  This post is partially to the people I notice getting stuck in undesireable loops – it’s also partially to me.  I feel like I got way more powerful at the things I wanted to be good at over the past month or two – and it wasn’t by thinking about “ok I gotta do the thing to be better at leadership/social/conversation.”  It was by having problems that I needed to solve or else.  I realize not everyone can get into a situation like that, and it’s hard to let go of the optimization value. However…

True levelling up doesn’t come from directly going at a Thing – it comes from doing a variety of things that aren’t strictly connected to your Thing and discovering in retrospect that all your training suggested routes that are unique to you and provides a lot of real world training data on your skills and what you want to do.

Overall, I think it’s good to want to become stronger.  However, I think wanting to get stronger becomes a shibboleth in many people – they do train and do things that sorta work for improvement, but they end up in a state of constant striving because the things they’re doing aren’t aligned with running headfirst into reality.  The goal of becoming stronger caps your potential and leveling up resumes mostly when doing stuff becomes the priority – not just doing stuff because “becoming stronger” is the incorrect way to become stronger – doing stuff because you need that money or your plan falls apart.  Not just doing stuff to “level up”, doing stuff because you are there and the stuff needs doing.  Not just doing stuff because you’re “supposed to” – doing stuff because you have actual goals besides “getting good at Thing.”  Realizing your potential is scary and hard – figure out how your world is inconvenient and fix that instead.

Discussion questions – Have you noticed this pattern in your life at all?  Have you ever gotten caught building a skill for the sake of having skills and having trouble implementing it?  Do you think this is just limited to social things, or does it extend to anything that has a form of “get good at X”?  Several concepts kind of intermix in this post – how would you split them out to apply the advice to your life best?

Metapost – Missing Updates

(Epistemic status:  Metapost)

I’ve been a little bit weird/inconsistent/flaky lately – I’ve had a lot going on and like, the majority of my productivity flows have broken and I’ve either been deeply hypomanic or deeply depressed for most of the past month or so – I’ve astonishingly still been getting SOME stuff done, courtesy hypomania being Literally The Best, but I’m going to be working on regulation today and probably for the next couple days. 
I’ve missed 2 Sunday posts – one two weeks ago and one two days ago – I expect those will stay missed, but I will be back on schedule this Sunday.  This blog isn’t dying or anything, times have just been a bit weirder than usual – I actually have about 6 outlines for posts and several other insights I’m quite looking forward to sharing :).
I apologize if I’ve worried anyone, but fortunately I have all this wonderful documentation on how to fix my productivity flows and should be back to my usual level of function within a few days :).

On Prediction, Control, and Trading

(Epistemic status:  Mostly endorsed – does have the qualia of feeling like hitting the insight button without strictly suggesting a course of action)

Have you ever felt disappointed or fearful when someone finishes your sentences?  How about when someone makes it clear they expected a certain behavior from you?  Have you felt good or accomplished when you have done something (ideally positive) that surprised someone?  I don’t think these are universal qualia – but I think for those that do get these things, there is an implicit paradigm at play.  Prediction feels bad because it is a vector of control.

On the flip side, if the above questions didn’t resonate – if the idea of someone having those experiences is kind of weird, you might be running a different paradigm – a paradigm in which prediction feels good because it increases ability to reliably trade decision theoretically, and general be an agent people can cooperate with.

Both these paradigms hold true to some extent.  The more predictable you are, the easier it is to constrain your action space – this is part of why predictability is a valued trait in corporations.  The more predictable you are, the easier it is to interact with you and make positive sum trades – this is part of why predictability is a valued trait in communities.

Overall, I think that there is a tradeoff between consistency and agency, but that some consistency is important for coordination.  Being highly predictable likely ends up being a prison of habits and a series of easy levers for people to control one with.  Being unpredictable makes it difficult to make credible commitments with other people.

Discussion Questions:  Do you model predictability as control or cooperation?  Have you made tradeoffs between coordination and agency as corrections for previous experiences?  Are there complex strategies this model suggests to you?

On Task Objects and People Objects

(Epistemic status: Complaining about western civilization.)

Think about your typical day.

You wake up, you get ready for work.  If you’re in one of the tech hub cities, maybe you call an Uber.  You talk to the driver, or not – it doesn’t really matter, you both are just trying to get to a place.  You go to a Starbucks or other coffee shop, have the socially mandated small talk while you order your overpriced coffee.  You start work, interacting with people mostly on a meeting basis – you have to account for all those hours, after all, and talking to anyone on company time is thievery.  You finish your day, and maybe you’ve scheduled dinner with someone for networking reasons.  You’ll be sure to talk for exactly the allotted two hours or whatever and part ways – after all, people have busy lives.  Honestly, after one hour you’re pretty sure there’s not a lot more to say, but you allocated two hours to this and you’ll darn well use them.  You head home, spend the socially mandated togetherness time with your roommates/family.  You maybe relax a bit doing something else, and then finally go to bed.  The day went well – everything was just as scheduled.

Of course, this doesn’t really describe anyone’s life exactly – it is meant to highlight a certain outlook that I’ve seen in myself and others in the name of being a productive member of society.  There’s a sense in which every minute of our time needs to be legible, accountable, and productive in some way to be valid.  Scheduling and sectioning off our days such that we accomplish tasks is a vital productivity skill.  In terms of conceptual interactions, much of our world is task objects – things that are meant to be done; they are outcome oriented, constrained by time, meant to be forgotten once they’re complete.

On the other hand, the way we relate to people is supposed to be different.  With people, relationships are intended to be continuous, unbounded, and generally exploratory.  Getting closer to someone, in some senses, is removing constraints rather than adding them.  Conceptually, this is what make a person object.  Unfortunately, it’s become increasingly unusual to treat our relationships in this fashion – frequently, we end up relegated the people around us to being task objects. We constrain our time with them, we bind them in specifications and legibility, and we consider the goal of interaction to be accomplishment.

In modern society, the response to increasing complexity has largely been increasing legibility and specifications and spending more and more of our time on task objects, because there is supposedly more work to be done than there are hours in the day.  Constraining our interpersonal time to task objects is an attempt to reduce the complexity of our lives (the complexity which is artificially increased by modern societal norms).  This is part of why it’s difficult to find real friends anymore.

I don’t have a good recommendation for countering this trend – it’s difficult to break out of the task mindset.  Every attempt to allow people to be person objects tends to start feeling like I’m “wasting time.”  I suspect that past a certain point, the curve starts to be in favor of person objects, but there’s a dip when you’re making the transition over.

Overall, modern society has damaged our ability to relate to each other by turning time and attention into products rather than experiences.  We are trained to think in terms of tasks, not people, and this is an unnatural state.  Undoing that training is a difficult task, but recognition of the division is one of the first steps to resolving it.

Discussion questions:  Do you notice yourself treating people as tasks?  What does this dichotomy suggest in terms of actions for you?  How would you approach reconciling the need to produce and the need to socialize?




On Internal Monologue Modification

(Epistemic Status:  Endorsed, lightly tested, light kink cw)

My thoughts are most frequently words.  When I think about thinking, I see a stream of descriptions, explanations, sentence fragments, etc.  I ask my internal monologue how I feel about things.  Words are an extremely natural filter for me to see the world through.  It turns out, I can change that filter to some extent.

One night, I found myself looking at my partner – we were just chatting casually about something or other, but there was a sense in which she was positioning herself lower than me.  A lot of her body language was reading as wanting to move on to something that involved less talking.  Well, I wasn’t really in the mood – a lot of my internal monologue was thinking about the topic and about her as someone to look up to in terms of knowledge about the world.  Once I noticed this, I decided to try something – I switched my internal monologue to something more intimate.  I started cycling different words to describe her than I was before, as well as different words to describe myself.  Very shortly after, something strange happened – I started changing my position in my chair.  I seemed bigger, like I was taking up more physical and social space.  She got quieter, she found herself less able to look away from my eyes.  I felt myself getting more aligned with what she desired and my next actions started flowing much more smoothly.  Suffice it to say we had a very good night afterwards.

Now, this tool has uses outside the somewhat suggestive one above – essentially, any situation where you feel you’re not interacting with it in a way that serves your needs (or the needs of others), any situation that might feel uncomfortable, any situation that seems difficult can be changed depending on how you think about it.

The first step is deciding how you want the situation to be.  This is a fuzzy and difficult – the example was me wanting to respond in an aligned way to my partner and feel good about it.  However, sometimes it’s harder to tell – something going poorly makes it difficult get out of your internal perspective enough to see how a stance could change.  Essentially, it’s noticing that a situation would benefit from change and the thoughts that flow from there.

The second step is noticing your internal monologue – this might be nontrivial depending on how you think.  That’s ok.  For me, I ask myself what I’m thinking about a situation.  As I sit here writing, I’m hearing the words I’m typing in my head, but also rewriting and rephrasing, thinking about how the presentation looks (“Is this too personal?  Am I explaining the thing well?  Can this be adapted to people who don’t think like me?  Am I just reinventing NLP?”), thinking about how I feel about my blog (“I’ve kept this running for a year, huh.  I think my latest posts aren’t as good as some of my earlier posts.  I’m really happy people read the things I write.  I feel good right now”), etc.  That was slower than I would normally do it, so there’s some filtering going on, but that’s what you’re tapping into.

The third step is considering salient things to the situation.  Most frequently, this is a person you are with – it can also be an environment or an object.  Notice what you think about that object – an example of another time I used this technique was when I was extremely hungry and was completely impatient with everything, while in a restaurant.  I noticed both my hunger and the prospect of future food – I had a sense of anticipation for the food, but it had this entitlement attached to it.  The internal mantra was something like “I’m so hungry right now, why is this food taking so long, why is it so loud in here, why is this person talking about such stupid shit doesn’t she realize food should have happened a long time ago, ugh I can’t focus, I kind of hate everything.”  I’m sure this isn’t hard to emulate.

The fourth step is realizing the most natural way to shift the situation into something more desirable – in the case with the restaurant, the anticipation of food was important to keep; however, it could be treated positively.  Rather than “I’m so hungry it’s taking so long”, I could think “I ordered some really tasty food, I’m very curious about what it’s going to taste like.  I think they’re probably taking a lot of care in preparing it.”  Letting that line of thought perpetuate suddenly completely changed the mood at the table.  I was more interested in what my friend was saying, I felt a lot of compassion for the restaurant staff, I was just generally happy to be there.  In the first example with my partner, the shift to thinking about her in a way she wanted to be thought about echoed throughout my body language – my entire demeanor changed, naturally leading to a better situation for both of us.

Overall, changing the internal monologue in some senses is holding an intention to make things better on some metric – from emotions come thoughts, from thoughts come mannerism, from mannerism come behavior and script.  It’s something that is not only helpful to internally try to notice and apply, but to give to other people – sometimes being externally asked what your internal monologue is doing can be the trigger you need to shift into a mode that feels better.  I will caution that the point isn’t always to feel better though – sometimes, you want to change your internal monologue to create negative affect around something.  The point isn’t to be a Stepford wife happybot through system 2 coercion, the point is to make more options in action space available.  When the internal monologue becomes modifiable, so too does your level of abstraction from a situation.

Discussion questions:  Do you have an internal monologue?  Have you ever used the internal monologue to redefine a situation or your role in a situation?  What mental motions do the steps above suggest?  What other ways do you interact with your internal monologue?

On Ritual and Reorientation

(Epistemic Status:  A continuation of the Todo List concept)

I’ve discovered that todo lists are like snowballs.  As you use them, they start to accumulate more and more mass until they are too big to really manage.  This is a problem – if you have a lot of tasks on your todo list that keep getting pushed forward, you end up creating downstream distortion of your outcomes.  Your weekly todo list starts getting bigger as you push things off.  Your monthly todo list gets bigger because the weekly lists are harder to manage.  You only get some part of the way to who you want to be by the time you reach the deadline you set yourself.  This isn’t ideal.  Fortunately, there are ways to correct this.

My rituals are mostly on the daily and weekly level – every night, I have a short 15 minute wind down ritual where I recount the day.  I write down what I managed to accomplish, and I write down the thing I was proudest of accomplishing that day.  I also consider what items are left from my todo list for the day and if propagating them forward is worth it.  Sometimes things get stuck on there that you have no intention of doing – other times, it’s a sign that you find a task aversive and need to find another strategy for accomplishing it.  The key here is being able to honestly look at what is happening with your approach and reorient to reality.  The last thing I do is write my todo list for the next day, and then review it over breakfast to make sure that I’m linking together temporal version of myself.

On the weekly level, I do a more involved ritual that takes roughly an hour.  I put on music that I associate with slowing down, closing things out, and debriefing.  I review what I accomplished over the week, sometimes consulting my daily lists.  I then consider what three lessons I learned from the week – about myself, about others, about accomplishing things, etc.  After that, I determine if I developed any new techniques over the week – any refinements to things I already do or new ideas to make my future weeks better.  After that, I figure out my proudest moment for the week and make a note of that, spending a couple moments to relive the feeling a bit – it’s important to avoid being constantly critical of yourself.  I then assess what didn’t get done in the past week and why that didn’t happen, and then I plan out the next week.  I try to make sure I’m adding a novel goal each week – a lot of my week level things are “go further with this thing you’re already doing”, which is useful but can lead to getting in ruts where I’m not exploring enough.  From here, I go into my wind down ritual for the day, moving from the higher level of the week to the lower level of the day.  The last part of the ritual is spending some time doing something fun – mostly to separate out the ritual time from the rest of the week and keep me fresh for the next week.

Overall, it’s important to be able to reorient – it’s easy to plan out more tasks than you realistically want to accomplish, and the only way to develop good heuristics for this is practice.  Practice becomes much harder if you keep pushing things downstream – the systems start feeling ineffective and a little bit aversive.  Preventing this from happening is an exercise in consistently updating your approach – it can be a little hard at first, but in the long run increases your effectiveness exponentially and makes your productivity systems more robust.  Being able to use ritual effectively is a way to organize the mind – and an organized mind leads to a more organized life.

Discussion questions – What rituals do you use in your daily life?  How often do you find you need to change your approaches to things?  How do you reward yourself for accomplishments?  What sorts of productivity systems do you use?

On Value and Lifespan

(Epistemic status:  A reframe of how one prioritizes their time – if you understand how long 2 hours out of a day is in the macro sense already and find bigger numbers don’t have as much impact, this probably isn’t going to be helpful.)

How do you decide how you spend your time?  Think about that problem for a minute.

Is it entirely legible to you?  Can you define all the variables that go into deciding how each block of time in your life is spent?  Likely not – you’re doing a lot of illegible automatic calculation based on habits, values, and other factors to eventually decide on a course of action.  This is generally reasonable – you might have some dissonance between what you believe you prioritize and what you actually prioritize, but you can extrapolate useful information about yourself by how you actually spend your days.

Still, that autocalculation sometimes isn’t as outcome oriented as we might like – in the cases where you desire outcomes that your system 1 may not necessarily be on board for, it can be helpful to recontextualize the problem.  In that vein, I propose a ritual:

Take a moment to breathe.  Focus yourself for this task, breathing slowly, relaxing, getting comfortable for deep consideration.

Now, consider an activity you enjoy doing.  Imagine doing that activity, the benefits you get from it, the costs it imposes – see the activity in full.  If it helps, write down these benefits and drawbacks, both immediate and downstream.  For example, if I enjoyed  going to the gym for an hour daily – I might write how it’s good for my attractiveness, discipline, health, etc.  I’d write down how it might be too much stress on my joints, or maybe it’s inconvenient and stressful to get to my gym.

Now, consider how long you spend doing that – and consider how long (on average) you are going to live.  Use actuarial tables if you must.  Figure out how much time you would be investing in an activity if you had a habit of doing it every day for the rest of your life – in this case, I’d be going to the gym, 1 hour a day, for the rest of my life.  I’m probably going to live about 50 years longer – that’s 18,250 hours, or around 761 days.  A little over two years.

Now, consider how you’d feel if your life just were that amount of time shorter.  Instead of living 50 years, I live 48 years in the gym example.  This is life with the activity.

Lastly, compare your regular lifespan without the activity to your implicitly shortened lifespan with the activity – does that seem like a worthwhile trade?  Even if the activity itself might not seem worth it, the benefits might be.

If you do this calculus and find yourself shocked at how much of your life would be spent on a habit that never changes, then it might be a good time to change how you allocate your time with regard to that habit.

Now, the point of all this is to reframe how you prioritize your time.  Another, likely common example:  If 8 hours of work daily (and all the benefits and drawbacks thereof) is not with 8+ hours of your life daily (technically, a 40 hour work week is roughly 5.7 hours a day but you probably have a commute too – do the math!)…

You might want to quit your job.

Now, that’s an extreme example of how this analysis might change your life – more likely, it’ll shift around a few habits that don’t seem as aligned with your values – or at least, what you perceive your values to be.  The risk with this approach is that it is using S2 to warp an S1 calculation, and S2 tends not to be the most informed on what your monkeybrain really wants out of life.  Sometimes this is fine, S2 can guide you to being a better person for some value of better – but sometimes you end up breaking something vital to yourself in pursuit of externally imposed goals.

Overall, this technique is a way of recasting the way you prioritize the things you do.  For me, it really brings home how much time I might be wasting on something that I don’t really want, like, or need – 1 hour a day might seem trivial, but 2 years of my remaining life is much bigger and sobering.  For some people, the big number doesn’t have as much weight as just realizing that they spent one of their 24 hours in a day on something that wasn’t serving them.  There are a lot of ways to cast this – you can also pick a time horizon that’s much shorter than your life, for more time limited activities.  The point is to slow down how you are processing your prioritizing and inject new information.

Discussion questions:  How did the ritual affect your perspective on how you spend your life?  What values do you consciously try to optimize for?  What is the meaning of an hour for you?  A day?  A year?



On Human Behavior

(Epistemic status: Probably not universal, maybe not fully endorsed. Incomplete model.)

If you know me in real life, you know I have several catchphrases, especially when I’m talking about how to get what you want. One of those catchphrases is particularly salient when it comes to predicting how people will act. Quite simple, “Humans will generally do what is easiest.” This statement seems simple, trivial even. It also doesn’t seem quite 100% accurate. However, within those 7 words a deep secret is held. Habits can be changed with condition manipulation.

To see how this works, we must first break down what easiest means. Easy tends to exist on several dimensions. Broadly speaking, you have physical impediments, social impediments, value impediments, mental impediments, and temporal impediments. Physical impediments are the easiest to understand – it’s unlikely you will find the easiest path to work to be driving in a straight line – you’ll run into walls and all sorts of mischief if you do that. By designing a system of roads, the state makes it easiest for you to get to work by following a somewhat confusing series of twists and turns.   After that series of twists and turns, though, you make it to work!

Let’s keep going through this hypothetical day – it’s unlikely you’ll find it easiest to sit down and play video games all day at work (depending on the workplace). What’s stopping you though? If you’re working at a computer, it should be trivial to find something interesting to do, better than whatever irrelevant thing you’re typing away to accomplish for some distant boss. In this case, several impediments raise the cost of the “play video games” action – social impediments are highly salient – you can’t be seen slacking off so overtly by your coworkers because you’ll be sold out. It’s easier to work than to navigate being backstabbed. Value impediments also come into play here – it’s wrong to take money and not provide value (for most value systems); value is an illegible metric, but something having Wrong valence increases the difficulty of the task by a surprising amount.

Well, I guess you actually worked at work today. Easier than doing something useful or fun, right? Speaking of fun, though, it’s time to head home – you’ve been meaning to try the new Stellaris expansion, right? Oh, no? It’s too hard? We run into a mental impediment – it turns out, a hard day typing away at work takes a lot of concentration. Something that should be very easy, such as playing a video game, has increased cost due to the mental impediment of having spent the day concentrating. Much easier to sit back and watch something passively, so you do that. Mental impediments can also take the form of anxiety or other mental illness – something that should be very easy can sometimes be almost impossible if you’re anxious about it, or feel guilty about what you’ve done with your day thus far.

It’s getting late, you start to think maybe you’ve watched enough Netflix – but then the call comes. Sounds like your partner is feeling lonely! Sounds like something very easy to do, doesn’t it? Oh, but it’s 2300, and you’re getting up for work at 0600 the next day. You’ve run into a temporal impediment – the time it takes to…visit your partner is not time you have available. It’s easier to go to bed so you’re fresh for the next day. This one’s a bit tricky – some people might well choose their partner because their temporal impediment is more against going to bed.

Now, that was a very quick illustration of how you might choose things that aren’t aligned with what you want to do due to various impediments making the “easiest” thing harder – the issue is it mostly goes in broad strokes. The real importance of the maxim is that your day’s flow is largely overdetermined by easiness on the moment to moment level – and as such, if you want to change your habits, you need to change the calculation for your moment to moment. This can take many forms – maybe you discover a new macro at work that lets you automate things such that your moment to moment flow is easier to handle, which reduces the mental impediment of playing video games later. Maybe you get rid of your video games so you aren’t thinking about them so much and do something else you value more – take up parkour or something. Maybe you decide the company you work for is getting way more value than it should out of you, and shift your values so that you steal a few moments checking on a browser game or doing your shopping or peeking at social media. There are a lot of ways to reframe or change things so that a previously existing impediment no longer holds for you, and a desirable action becomes easiest.

The real question is what actions do you want to make easiest? This requires you to work from outcomes – what outcomes do you want in your life? If you want to get enough money to retire early, maybe you shouldn’t hack your values to reduce the impediment to slacking off. If you want to reserve your mental energy for living a full life outside of work and have a lot of good experiences, making some social deals at work to cover each other’s slacking might be easiest, even if it seems harder in the moment (you’re countering a social impediment with a value impediment towards other actions.) If you don’t start from outcomes, however, any intervention you do to adjust your “easy action” calculus is effectively noise.

Overall, I try to live by the assumption in myself that I will do whatever is easiest – my productivity workflow depends on this being true. There are implications for how this can affect your behavior towards other people and setting up situations such that desirable outcomes for you are easiest for them – I will likely visit this in a future post.

Discussion Questions: Does this way of viewing behavior make sense to you? What sorts of impediments do you notice in your life that get in the way of your desired outcomes? How would you rearrange impediments such that you are more aligned with the person you want to be?

On The Todo List

(Epistemic status: Endorsed, a thing I actually do. Reframing of a common, basic productivity tool)

I hate todo lists.

I don’t mean that I hate todo lists because I have to do things on them – I love doing things on a todo list. What I mean is I hate the platonic ideal of todo lists. They’re backwards. You’re trying to move towards a goal by frontloading day by day without considering the bigger picture. The minute I realized this, I reinvented how I tried to arrange my days. It turns out, when you align to outcome, life becomes a lot easier to figure out.

The best todo list is the one that writes itself. How do you have a todo list that writes itself? You have a clear strategic vision and trickle down from there. If you get too caught up in the tactical view, you’re going to miss the bigger picture – worse still, you’re going to fool yourself into feeling like you’ve been Productive the entire time. You’ll find yourself a few months down the line confused as to why nothing seemed to happen that you expected, despite having cutting edge productivity technology. Therefore, the first question you ask when writing a todo list is not “what do I want to accomplish tomorrow?” The first question you ask is “What kind of person do I want to be by [timescale]?” What [timescale] means for you is something you have to ask yourself as well. The question I personally have to ask myself is “What kind of person do I want to be by August 31?” The answer to this question is your Mission – this is the overarching intention of your productivity toolset.

Next question you ask is “To be that person, what do I need to accomplish?” This is your strategic view. You want to give broad descriptions of measurable outcomes. In my situation, it’s what skills have I acquired to what level. I’d likely measure this in terms of “what am I capable of in a given skill” – for parkour, maybe I want to be able to handle advanced classes. For hypnosis, maybe I want to have a certain amount of experience under my belt. For programming, working knowledge of Python and JS syntax might be the benchmark. That’s the strategic view, being too specific is bad – you want the shape of the thing.

Next question is “What would I need to achieve in the next month to move towards this goal?” This is where your tactical view should be. At this point, you know the general idea of what you want, so you can start being more specific. In my case, I’m looking to accomplish a certain programming project within a month – maybe I also want to take 4 parkour classes and regularly practice at the local parkour gym – maybe I also want to make sure I take on at least four hypnosis sessions to practice fundamentals. This is where you start getting to nitty gritty.

Next question is “What would I need to achieve in the next week to move towards my monthly goals?” You’ll notice, the list starts writing itself here – you’ve reached operational view. Obviously, I need to have 25% of the project done – I need to have taken a parkour class – I need to get in at least 1 hypnosis session. You have numbers and specific measures, it’s just math from here.

Last question is, “What would I need to achieve tomorrow to move towards my weekly goals?” The breakdown is automatic here, you prioritize what you’ve done the least of, respecting time constraints around some activities. The resolution at this level is so sharp that you could probably write my todo list for me from the information I’ve given – that’s what I mean when I say the todo list writes itself.

Overall, this isn’t new technology – businesses run on a mission, with views at the strategic, tactical, and operational level. People who play strategy games at a high level also understand this. When you start from your day, you aren’t moving in a consistent direction – when you start from an outcome, the path writes itself. I do a few other things with my todo lists for accountability, but this is the basic framework. The traditional todo list is obedience to your past self – a proper todo list is obedience to your future self.

Discussion questions: Have you ever stopped using todo lists because you didn’t seem to be getting anywhere? Have you ever been trapped by using productivity tools that weren’t serving a specific outcome? How does this reframing affect your approach to outcome orientation?