Positive Information Diet, Take the Challenge

by diegocaleiro3 min read1st Mar 201310 comments

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Personal Blog

I looked for Information Diet in Lesswrong search, and found something amazing:

On Lukeprog's Q and A as the new executive director, he was asked:

What is your information diet like? (I mean other than when you engage in focused learning.) Do you regulate it, or do you just let it happen naturally?

By that I mean things like:

  • Do you have a reading schedule (e.g. X hours daily)?
  • Do you follow the news, or try to avoid information with a short shelf-life?
  • Do you significantly limit yourself with certain materials (e.g. fun stuff) to focus on higher priorities?
  • In the end, what is the makeup of the diet?
  • Etc.

To which he responded:

  • I do not regulate my information diet.
  • I do not have a reading schedule.
  • I do not follow the news.
  • I haven't read fiction in years. This is not because I'm avoiding "fun stuff," but because my brain complains when I'm reading fiction. I can't even read HPMOR. I don't need to consciously "limit" my consumption of "fun stuff" because reading scientific review articles on subjects I'm researching and writing about is the fun stuff.
  • What I'm trying to learn at this moment almost entirely dictates my reading habits.
  • The only thing beyond this scope is my RSS feed, which I skim through in about 15 minutes per day.

Whatever was the case back then, I'll bet is not anymore. No one with assistants and such a workload should be let adrift like that.

Citizen: But Lukeprog's posts are obviously brilliant, his output is great, even very focused readers like Chalmers find Luke to be very bright.

Which doesn't tell much about what they would have been were he under a more stringent diet. Another reasonable suspicion is that he was not actually modelling himself correctly, since he obviously does have an information diet

 

The Information Diet Challenge is to set yourself an information diet, explicitly, and follow it for a week.  

Many ways of countering biases have been proposed here, but I haven't found a post dealing with this specific, very low hanging fruit one. 

If you want inspiration, Ferriss has some advice here.

... but that is not the Positive Information Diet yet...

Information diets are supposed to constrain not everything you intake, but only what you intake instrumentally. If you just love reading about tensors and fairy tales, don't include them in what you won't avoid. What matters is to know that you'll avoid trying to learn programming by reading a programmer's tweet feed, avoid becoming a top researcher in psychology by reading popular magazines on it, and avoid reading random feeds on Facebook that don't relate to your goals in appropriate ways.

General form: I will Avoid spending my time reading/commenting things of kind (A)(Avoid), because I know that to reach my set of goals (G), the most productive learning time is doing (P) (Positve/Productive). 

 

So here is an attempt:

(G): Interact fruitfully with people at Oxford

(A): Facebook feeds that are not by them; News of any kind; Emails I can Postpone; Gossip; Books/articles not on Evolution of Morals, enhancement, AI; Wikidrifting; Family meal small talk; SMBC; 9gag; Tropes .... and a bunch of other stuff I don't have time or patience to list.

(P): Google scholar on the intersection between my research topic and theirs. Reading their papers by day, watching their videos by night. Re-read what I might help them with that was read before, list topics per person, write what to say about each topic.

 

What is wrong with this attempt is that (A) ends up being a negative list. A list of what what I do not want to intake. Since possibilities are infinite, this will give me ridiculous cognitive load, and that is a problem. So here is simple solution, which I used for a food diet before, and worked great:  Name not what you cannot do, but what you are allowed to do. Way fewer bits, way easier to check! 

Food example: I'll eat only plants, lean fish and chicken, nuts, fruits, whole pasta, beans and Chai Lattes.

We are better at checking for category inclusion than exclusion. There are so many available categories to exclude from that we don't feel bad that we "forgot" to check for that one. Then after you let yourself indulge in a tiny one, a small one doesn't seem that bad, and snowball effect does the rest. We sneak in connotations to make categories smaller, so our actions stay safely outside the scope of prohibition. Theoretically, we could do the reverse, but it is psychologically much harder. Just try to convince yourself that beef is "lean chicken" to see it.

 

So let us forget completely about (A). There is no kind or class of kinds to avoid. there is only G and P, and now there is also T, the time during which P is in force, since escape valves might be necessary to avoid "screw that" all-or-nothing effects.

An Improved attempt:

G: Interact fruitfully with people in Oxford

P: Google scholar on the intersection between my research topic and theirs. Reading their papers by day, watching their videos by night. Re-read what I might help them with that was read before, list topics per person, write what to say about each topic. Only Facebook them. 

T: 02:00-23:59 daily.

 

This is only for "computer use", where I'm most likely to do the wrong thing.

Now there is a simple to check list of things I want to do, I could be doing, and I'll try to do until G arrives. I can only do those. If x doesn't belong, don't do it, that simple. I'm free from midnight to two to do whatever, thus I don't feel enslaved by my past self.  No heavy cognitive load is burning my willpower candle (Shawn Achor 2010) by trying set theory gimmicks to get me to do the wrong thing. 

 

So please, take the:

          Positive Information Diet Challenge

Write your G's (goals) P's (positives) and T's (times), and forget about your A's (Avoids)  

 

 


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10 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 9:20 AM
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If you feel like your Facebook feed is not a good source of information, you have options other than eliminating it entirely: namely, you can modify what people's content you see on it. Aggressively unfollowing people can work wonders, as can aggressively following interesting people. Unfollowing doesn't mean unfriending, so you don't have to feel like you're snubbing a friend who happens to post largely uninteresting content.

Alternatively, to wean yourself off Facebook, unfollow 5-10 interesting people every time you log on.

Whatever was the case back then, I'll bet is not anymore. No one with assistants and such a workload should be let adrift like that.

The quote immediately preceding this describes a remarkably impressive information diet, the emulation of which is beyond the scope of what you could possibly hope to achieve in this kind of 'Challenge'. This being presented as the thing to be avoided is utterly bizarre.

I suspect 1 and 2 were what was being objected to. Still, it is misleading.

I think most plans like this fail because people have limited willpower. It only takes one willpower failure for you to break your rules and have them become less meaningful. That's why I recommend explicitly identifying "safe" break activities to engage in when you have limited willpower. (At first, doing your "safe" break activities will feel like work 'cause you're making yourself choose them, but over time they will feel like fun like they're supposed to feel like.) To preserve your attention span, you can require yourself to wait 1 minute before switching from work activities to break activities, and choose break activities that aren't addictive variable reinforcers (e.g. checking the reddit homepage is a terrible break activity). Laughter is supposed to counter ego depletion, so The Daily Show and other funny TV shows could be good. (TV is also long-form, so it won't kill your attention span the way clicking around the internet might.)

Lately I've been checking variable reinforcers like Less Wrong once per day in the evening (any time after 11 PM), with a one-minute delay first. (I also let myself read Less Wrong at other times, but I only make intentional visits, e.g. it's OK to search the LW archive for something and also click something else that looks interesting, but no visiting just to see what's up, except after 11 PM.) This is working better than anything else I've tried... I do want to know what's happening on Less Wrong, but I don't want to have it as an option to interrupt whatever I might be concentrating on at any time.

You might find this post of mine a useful framework for self-experimentation along these lines. IMO, a steady stream of experimental tweaks to policies you have laid out for yourself works better an inspired day of self-improvement every few months.

Thanks for the 1 minute hack, brilliant idea. Could have been the stopper for me being here right now (I'm here because the tab was open, so I figured I could take a look) I'll read the post at midnight, seems great.

But most importantly, Harvard's Shawn Achor deals extensively with willpower in his "happiness advantage" book. I do recommend strongly that people think that (as a matter of experimental fact) they have, for all things, just one candle of willpower. If you try too much at the same time, it burns out and you are doomed in many dimensions. Which is why there is a good rate for building new habits, which are set aside from the category of "demanding willpower" to "I already do this, this is part of me".

What is wrong with this attempt is that (A) ends up being a negative list. A list of what what I do not want to intake. Since possibilities are infinite, this will give me ridiculous cognitive load, and that is a problem. So here is simple solution, which I used for a food diet before, and worked great: Name not what you cannot do, but what you are allowed to do. Way fewer bits, way easier to check!

Related keywords: blacklist vs whitelist

Food example: I'll eat only plants, lean fish and chicken, nuts, fruits, whole pasta, beans and Chai Lattes.

My compressibility sense is tingling. Considering that this was the example of a short list...

"Plants" was short for above-ground-vegetables there. Perhaps a Portuguese-Enghilsh false cognate if the metonymy is obviously unfeasible for a native English speaker.

...

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