Systematic Lucky Breaks

Many people can point to significant events that improved their lives in a positive way. They often refer to these as "lucky breaks", and take it for granted that such events are rare. But most of the time "lucky breaks" don't need to be uncommon-you can often reverse engineer the reasons behind them and cause them to happen more frequently. So when a one-off event ends up contributing a lot of value, you should systematically make it part of your life.

 

Example 1: in June the Less Wrong - Cambridge community held a mega-meetup with several people arriving from out of state. Since several of us had to stay up until 2AM+ in order to meet with people, we decided to have a game night that evening, which I held at my place. The game night was excellent-plenty of people showed up, we all had a lot of fun, and it was a great way to socialize with several people. Since it went so well, I started hosting game nights regularly, eventually converging on one game night every two weeks. This was a phenomenal move in many ways-it let me meet a lot of interesting people, deepen my connections with my friends, quickly integrate with the Less Wrong community, and just in general have a lot of fun, simply by taking one thing that worked well and making it systematic.

 

Example 2: a while back I was given an assignment to set up a scalable analytic architecture to allow data scientists to iterate faster-a project where I had no idea what to do or how to start. In desperation, I reached out to several people on LinkedIn who had experience with similar projects. Some of them responded, and the advice I got was incredibly valuable, easily shaving months off of my learning curve. But there is no reason for me to only do this when I am completely desperate. Thus I’ve continued to reach out to experts when I have new projects, and this has allowed me to avoid mistakes and solve new problems much more quickly. This has significantly improved my learning speed and made a qualitative difference in how I work. I no longer dismiss potential ideas simply because I have no idea how to implement them-instead, I now talk to experts and figure out roughly how difficult those ideas are, which has allowed me to solve several problems I would have dismissed as unfeasibly difficult before.

 

Example 3: a few years back some of my friends in the tech industry mentioned that Machine Learning was becoming a trend, so I took two weeks to learn the basics. A few months later the "Big Data" boom exploded, and I was able to get a job as a Data Scientist at a significantly higher salary doing more interesting work. Even though my Machine Learning knowledge was pretty rudimentary, I was able to get the job because demand completely exceeded supply at that point. In short, this was a lucky break that greatly advanced my career. To systematize this I simply continued to keep an eye out on big trends in technology. I've read Hacker News (which is generally half a year or more ahead of the mainstream), kept in touch with my friends on the applied side of academia (which feeds useful techniques into the industry), and just generally kept talking to a lot of people in order to keep up-to-date. This has been useful again and again, allowing me to focus my learning on the most valuable skills right as there was market demand.

 

In short, one of the fastest ways to improve your life is to look at things that already made a big difference before, and cause more of them to happen.

64 comments, sorted by
magical algorithm
Highlighting new comments since Today at 6:32 AM
Select new highlight date
Moderation Guidelinesexpand_more

Okay, let's try it. One event that improved my life in a positive way was learning to dance. It allowed me to have fun and impress girls by my skills in various social situations. So I guess I should dance more, or learn other forms of dance (square dance?), or more meta... are there other skills similar to dancing that I should learn? Not sure what exactly those skills would be: playing a musical instrument? singing?

Other positive improvements in my life were caused by having specific people as my friends. So I guess I should make more friends, and perhaps more friends of the kind that is most helpful to me now. (Because some friends only provide an opportunity to pleasantly waste time.) The helpful friends are those who have the "tsuyoku naritai" trait. Good places to find them would be some NGOs (although there are also tons of mindkilling sometimes), competitions, or hobby clubs.

Martial arts: Like dancing it teaches you to be better at coordinating your body. It also helps you with your confidence when you are interacting with males. If you know in the back of your mind that you could beat the other people up you are going to be more confident. Evolutionary psychology suggests that we should have more confidence when dealing with people we can beat up and less if they would beat us up. One of the effects is that tall people make more money and many US presidents are really tall people

I don't know enough about martial arts to tell you which one is best. My evaluation criteria in order of importance:

  • Low risk of serious injuries
  • It includes fights, that trigger evolutionary fears and allow you to overcome them as a form of exposure therapy
  • It increases your ability to coordinate your own body.
  • It's useful for actually defending yourself
  • It's sport for cardiovascular purposes
  • It builds muscles

Body work: It gives you more awareness of your body.

  • Feldenkrais Method,
  • Alexander Method
  • Somato-Psychoeducation (unfortunately there not much English material published about the last one, most of the material is in French and a little bit translated into German). The three I mentions are 20th century methods. I would recommend them over something like Yoga. The reasons for that recommendation are complex, so I don't want to enumerate them all at this point.

Communcation frameworks:

  • Nonviolent communcation is a framework that can help you communicate about your needs with other people.
  • Improv Comedy is a activity that teaches you to be more spontanously fun and being able to make quick jokes.
  • NLP is a mental framework for changing mental patterns. It's full of people with the "tsuyoku naritai" trait.
  • Somato-Psychoeducation

The fact that Julia Galef lately wrote that she found within her CFAR work that emotions are more important for rationality than she previously thought should encourage you further to engage into any of the activities I listed.

Unfortunately none of the area that I mentioned have a strong scientifically backed theoretic framework. They are the result of tinkering. People tried different things and looked at the results. I think that's okay. In some sense the same goes for CFAR. Hopefully CFAR will publish evidence that their approach works in the future but at the moment it doesn't exist. On the other hand the techniques that I listed have a longer history and people invested more time into tinkering with them and optimizing them.

As you are dancing, doing any kind of body work will have a payoff of being a better dancer.

Feldenkrais Method

One thing that Feldenkrais would stress that many of his practicioners do not is your relationship with gravity. To be unbalanced and afraid to fall is fundamentally to be out of control and insecure.

Feldenkrais was accomplished in Judo, and wrote multiple books on it. I see that his last Judo book, Higher Judo, is now back in print and for sale at Amazon.

As you are dancing, doing any kind of body work will have a payoff of being a better dancer.

Obsessively dance theorizing was how I got into more general movement theory. I'd recommend some dance movement theorists as well - Mabel Todd and Lulu Sweigard.

As for dance, ballroom in particular seems to count as body work in itself. A lot of people have their posture and presentation transformed by 6 months of ballroom to a degree that years of swing or salsa usually fails to achieve.

As for dance, ballroom in particular seems to count as body work in itself. A lot of people have their posture and presentation transformed by 6 months of ballroom to a degree that years of swing or salsa usually fails to achieve.

Ballroom teaches people to take a certain controlled posture. For me that's not the goal of body work. I think that 5 rythms qualifies more as body work than your average ballroom class.

It teaches people to control their posture, but I wouldn't say it aims at a posture, as the different dances are not identical in technique and the particular movements they teach.

I know piddley about the 5 rhythms, so I have no frame of reference. Do you see fairly consistent improvement in posture and presentation by those who practice 5 rhythms?

Unfortunately it took me some time to notice this comment. Still more unfortunate, I don't have enough data to answer the question.

The "which martial art is best"for self-defense" is ongoing argument, to the point that people are often mindkilled by it. However, for purposes of self-confidence in dealing with other males it shouldn't/doesn't matter. I have a black belt in judo, and I can anecdotally confirm that there is a strong influence on self-confidence. But this is about perception of relative prowess, not measurement of actual prowess. You will know the level of your own martial training; you likely won't know whether other men have had more or less training, so your heuristic is still going to be mostly on the appearance of strength (maybe a little bit on fluidity of motion if you know what you're looking for). If you saw me and my teachers on the street, you would guess that I was the most dangerous -- I'm both taller than they are and visibly extremely strong. But you would be wrong; either of them could tear me apart in seconds.

However, for purposes of self-confidence in dealing with other males it shouldn't/doesn't matter.

I'm not so sure whether Aikido which doesn't includes competitive fighting is as good at creating confidence as something like Krav Maga which does.

I think it does.

Moreover, I think that most martial arts as taught and practiced in the West instill a false sense of confidence since most fighting is limited sparring with strict rules. People are trained to pull their punches and not make contact or make a very light contact (this is worse in striking arts and better in grappling arts). People get completely used to the idea that some body areas (e.g. throat) should never be attacked in sparring. People do not have experience of being hit or having to fight through pain.

So, confidence, yes. Practical fighting skills, not so much.

That doesn't seem to be relevant, as krav maga exactly teaches you things like targeting the throat (or groin).

The three I mentions are 20th century methods. I would recommend them over something like Yoga. The reasons for that recommendation are complex, so I don't want to enumerate them all at this point.

I for one would be interested in your argument.

I don't know enough about martial arts to tell you which one is best.

I'll give you my perspective, I have experience in judo, ju-jitsu and tae kwon do.

My evaluation criteria in order of importance:

•Low risk of serious injuries

Judo is best, ju-jitsu by far the worst.

•It includes fights, that trigger evolutionary fears and allow you to overcome them as a form of exposure therapy

Judo is best, it is the only one where you can actually exert yourself to the limit without risk of injuring your partner.

•It increases your ability to coordinate your own body.

All are good.

•It's useful for actually defending yourself

Ju-jitsu is the best, but anything is much better than nothing.

•It's sport for cardiovascular purposes

None are brilliant, play soccer instead.

•It builds muscles

None are brilliant, but judo is best.

There is one other criterion, in which tkd excells - it is the only one of the three which you can seriously usefully practice on your own.

Martial arts: Like dancing it teaches you to be better at coordinating your body. It also helps you with your confidence when you are interacting with males.

Isn't it more cost-effective to just avoid interacting with the kind of males in the kind of situations where that matters in the first place (which are rarer than one may think), or, if you live in the kind of place where that's hard to avoid, to carry pepper spray or something? I don't think I've ever seriously risked getting in a serious physical fight,¹ and as far as I can tell it's not like I've missed out something important because of that.

many US presidents are really tall people

That sounds like a myth.

Low risk of serious injuries It's useful for actually defending yourself

IANAMA,² but I think these are incompatible goals: IIRC most traditional martial arts are nearly useless in real-world situations and stuff like MMA is quite dangerous.


  1. Okay, admittedly it might because people incorrectly guess that I'm dangerous because of my size and so try to avoid that -- but I appear to have a fair amount of nice guy privilege so that sounds unlikely, unless I come across as dangerous to males but not to females for some reason.

  2. I mean... I did took up capoeira once, but I quitted a few months later because I was pretty much useless at it!

IIRC most traditional martial arts are nearly useless in real-world situations

Most traditional martial arts as taught by suburban-mall schools are nearly useless.

But back then when the tradition started presumably they were useful or they wouldn't have survived.

And yet homoeopathy has survived to this day. :rolleyes:

If a 10th Dan karateka from the whateverth century was brought to the present and set against any modern MMA professional I know where my money would be.

Nitpicking a bit here, but there wasn't even a such thing as a 10th dan in karate before the 20th century.

If we're talking literally any professional MMA fighter, even in an MMA rules fight in their weight class, I'd absolutely take that bet. Modern MMA may be very well adapted for its ruleset, but I wouldn't give the average MMA pro, who works another job to support himself and never makes the big scene, much of a chance against, say, Mas Oyama.

Some of the old time karate masters were no joke. In modern martial arts, MMA may offer the most stringent feedback we can (legally) get, but some karate notables (such as Choki Motobu or Chotoko Kyan) were well known in their day for treating "go to bad neighborhoods, find people who think they're tough, and beat the shit out of them" as a viable training method.

Doctors throughout the ages have been able to get paid whether their patients survived or not, and the effectiveness of any treatment can usually only be observed statistically in aggregate, but when you get in a fight, it's usually easy to tell if you've won or lost. It's not as if we invented the practice of taking fighting seriously in the last century.

the average MMA pro, who works another job to support himself

I guess we have different meanings in mind for “professional” -- doesn't it mean ‘someone who does something for a living’?

Well, the professional leagues are separated from the amateur leagues by the fact that the competitors receive money in the professional leagues. The majority of those who compete in professional leagues don't make enough money at it to live on.

By common usage, the same is true of most "professional" boxers.

(And here I am revealed as one who hardly knows shit about any sport whatsoever.)

I would bet against you :-)

Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be a way to settle that particular bet...

Well, I wouldn't suppose that the traditional martial artists who get the crap beaten out of them by MMAists in the videos I've seen on the internet were all taught by suburban-mall schools, but then again I know next to nothing about this kind of stuff.

Are there many martial arts which are actually particularly old? At least in anything like their current form? My impression was that in past times when hand to hand combat was more common and important, and more frequently involved people genuinely trying to hurt one another, nearly all forms that people bothered to train and study emphasized weapons.

Well, the Chinese martial arts are pretty old. It is true, though, that the contemporary forms of most currently popular martial arts arose in the XIX and the XX century.

Another point is that traditional martial arts, even if focused on hand-to-hand fighting, often include weapons training. Tai Chi, for example, has sword and spear forms.

Isn't it more cost-effective to just avoid interacting with the kind of males in the kind of situations where that matters in the first place (which are rarer than one may think), or, if you live in the kind of place where that's hard to avoid, to carry pepper spray or something?

You can't avoid situations where confidence matters. In most type of negotiations confidence matters.

10,000 years ago, if you made an really unreasonable request in a negotiation you risked getting in a physical fight. Your brain has not adepted in the last 10,000 years to remove the effect.

Carrying pepper spray into a salary negotiation won't make you more confident to ask for a raise. The brain doesn't work that way that it can integrate the infomration on that level.

That sounds like a myth.

According to that page the only US president in the 20th/21th century that's under average US male height is Harry S. Truman. Truman also happens to have become president not because he won an election as president directly but because he was vice president.

Saying the US presidents are all really tall might exaggerate the effect but the effect is certainly there.

10,000 years ago, if you made an really unreasonable request in a negotiation you risked getting in a physical fight. Your brain has not adepted in the last 10,000 years to remove the effect.

[citation needed]. I don't feel anywhere near the same level of anxiety when haggling over a price or something as when (say) walking alone at night in a city I'm not familiar with with high crime rates, or driving on a heavily trafficked motorway, or taking an exam (though for some reason that doesn't happen with all exams), or even noticing the red inbox icon on Less Wrong for that matter.

Stuff like (say) this can take much less than 10,000 years to happen. See also this.

I think it's one of the better explanations for the fact that tall people become presidents and get payed more in business.

Stuff like (say) this can take much less than 10,000 years to happen.

It's like saying that you can make everyone on earth black within one generation. You just kill every nonblack person.

I don't feel anywhere near the same level of anxiety when haggling over a price or something

Given that you claim to have nice guy privilege I would assume that's because you don't make strong demands of other people.

Of course you might feel no anxiety when trying to negotiate a price for a new car. You don't lose anything when you just walk out of the dealership.

I would predict with high confidence that you would feel anxiety if you would go to your boss and ask for a 20% raise or you quit.

It's like saying that you can make everyone on earth black within one generation. You just kill every nonblack person.

(Indeed, many of the attempts to use evolutionary psychology as prescriptive rather than descriptive come across to me like ‘people have dark skin, because they evolved in Africa where there was lots of sunshine, so you should spend plenty of time in the sunshine or you will get vitamin D deficiency’ when nowadays there are plenty of people who have pale skin and would get sunburns as a result of following that advice -- and can digest lactose so they can get the vitamin D they need from dairy products. And then when a fair-skinned person would point out that they've never got vitamin D deficiency and they've got quite a few sunburns, they are accused of lying, or of being inferior mutants rather than Real People. See e.g. some of the comments on Yvain's blog post about polyamory.)

Are you claiming vitamin D deficiency is not common?

No.

EDIT: Do you mean literal vitamin D deficiency, or what vitamin D deficiency is a metaphor for in my comment?

I mean literal vitamin D deficiency, because I had thought vitamin D deficiency was one of the best examples of the evolutionary heuristic.

Given that you claim to have nice guy privilege I would assume that's because you don't make strong demands of other people.

Indeed I don't. I usually prefer to swerve in the game of chicken, unless I'm damn sure the other player is going to swerve -- I may lose one util but I sure won't lose ten. I have seen what happens when two people both go straight and, suffice it to say, I don't envy them at all.

I would predict with high confidence that you would feel anxiety if you would go to your boss and ask for a 20% raise or you quit.

Of course being about to take an action with a non-trivial probability of making me unemployed would make me anxious. That's a feature, not a bug. (And even when it isn't, I don't think that martial arts would help with that much more than something much cheaper such as a rehearsal, or alcohol.)

(This assuming there's an individual who decides how much money I get -- right now, I'm living on a PhD grant whose amount is fixed on a nation-wide basis.)

Of course being about to take an action with a non-trivial probability of making me unemployed would make me anxious. That's a feature, not a bug.

Being anxious is not a good state for rationally thinking about a situation.

You confuse an assessment or whether something is dangerous as equal to anxiety.

Anxiety produces near thinking when far thinking would be far more useful for a situation. Anxiety produces fight/flight/freeze responses.

The martial arts black belt is less likely to actually become involved in a fight because he can remain calm.

Surpressing emotions isn't good and that's not what I'm advocating.

The martial arts black belt is less likely to actually become involved in a fight because he can remain calm.

Less likely than who? (For most instantiations of 'less likely' I expect this claim to be false.)

The same person before they went through the training.

The same person before they went through the training.

For this instantiation I would bet that this commonly stated truism is false. I expect the other factors to dominate the comparatively small influence of increased calm. (And, incidentally, they also should so dominate. The expected payoff for engaging in unarmed combat changed excessively in the direction of "less extremely bad".)

The proper comparison would be the same person now if counterfactually they hadn't gone through the training. I'd expect most people to get less fighty with age after their teens no matter what.

The martial arts black belt is less likely to actually become involved in a fight because he can remain calm.

Prob'ly, but how likely is a non-black belt to become involved in a fight as a result of asking the boss for a rise? That sounds like the kind of thing that gets on the news when it happens.

(And I'm not that convinced that more anxious people are more likely to get into fights -- compare e.g. the stereotypical female with the stereotypical male, or the stereotypical nerd with the stereotypical jock. I mean, the more afraid you are of something the less likely you are to seek it, aren't you?)

how likely is a non-black belt to become involved in a fight as a result of asking the boss for a rise? That sounds like the kind of thing that gets on the news when it happens.

That's not what I'm arguing. Emotions don't come through rational analysis of a situation.

I don't know what's the relevance of that. I don't have to do a rational analysis of the situation to know that the boss is not going to beat me up.

I mean, a reasonable-looking middle-aged person whom I've know for a while wearing a pullover in the office during the day sounds like the least likely person to possibly come across as dangerous, don't they? Compare with (say) an aggressive-looking twentysomething total stranger with short hair and tattoos and a tight-fitting T-shirt outside a night club during the night. I can see why martial arts training would make me less nervous near the latter (given that the smaller they are the less they scare me), but not near the former (given that I don't even notice their size unless it's extreme or I pay conscious attention to it).

I don't know what's the relevance of that. I don't have to do a rational analysis of the situation to know that the boss is not going to beat me up.

That doesn't change that you will feel different emotions and weaker when you face a boss that smaller than you as when you face a physically fit boss that's taller than you.

In the US you don't become president by beating up other people yourself with your bare hands. All the presidents are still over average height. Height matters for political fights as it has physical effects.

I have added a second paragraph to my comment after the first submission; have you read it?

That doesn't change that you will feel different emotions and weaker when you face a boss that smaller than you as when you face a physically fit boss that's taller than you.

I. Fucking. Don't. Maybe I would if I had beaten up regularly when growing up, or if I witnessed people beating each other up all the time (in meatspace or on the TV), but I haven't, and I don't. The emotions I feel when facing superiors feel like admiration for such a smart person or incredulity that such a stupid person would get that position, not nervousness because they are bigger or smugness because they are smaller. I wouldn't be able to tell how tall my doctoral advisor is to within better than a few inches from memory.

Please stop claiming that you know what I feel like better than myself.

In the US you don't become president by beating up other people yourself with your bare hands. All the presidents are still over average height. Height matters for political fights as it has physical effects.

Yeah, and there are totally no possible confounds there. Also, my set of emotional responses is totally representative of that of most American voters. Yeah. (As for height, I'm 1.87 m (6'2") and I more often wish that I was shorter than that I was taller. And the average 20-year-old man could still probably beat the crap out of me if he wanted to, though probably he doesn't know that.)

Also, there was some comment somewhere on LW where someone had looked up the heights of all the top-class 20th century scientists they could think of, and the tallest was Tesla at 6'2" and all but a couple were less than 6'. And I'd sure consider them much more of a role model than the POTUSes.

I don't know if "black belts" are really that much better in an actual fight than a similarly fit/strong untrained person. You need some sort of feedback mechanism (like UFC folks get).

My post made no assertion that black belts are better in an actual fight.

I happen to believe that's true but it's a separate issue.

Depends on how they train. I've seen my fair share of McDojos and their students before, but I've also met some black belts who're legitimately outstanding in a fight, way beyond the level of any untrained people I've encountered at any fitness level.

You can't avoid situations where confidence matters. In most type of negotiations confidence matters.

And how would a lack of confidence due to not doing martial arts manifest itself?

As far as I can tell, about the only things in life (after high school, at least) I ever wanted that I didn't get but would have if I had been more confident probably were hookups with drunken bimbos in night clubs (which now that I'm in a relationship is a moot point), and even there being more confident would also have increased the number of times the bouncers threw my ass out of the club.

Looking at how people more confident (IIUC what you mean) than me (controlling for age, intelligence, socio-economic status of parents, and the like) fare in life, I'm under the impression that more confidence would just make me come across as arrogant and make everybody important dislike me. I know people who got into lots of trouble because of that.

Carrying pepper spray into a salary negotiation won't make you more confident to ask for a raise.

And knowing martial arts doesn't change the fact that if you demand too much they'll hire someone cheaper than you. (And in many kinds of jobs the wage is fixed beforehand and they decide whom to hire based on a competitive examination.)

Low risk of serious injuries It's useful for actually defending yourself

IANAMA,² but I think these are incompatible goals: IIRC most traditional martial arts are nearly useless in real-world situations and stuff like MMA is quite dangerous.

Designing a martial art that's good at both goals is a hard problem. I don't know whether anyone solved that problem. I don't think it's insolvable in principle.

Scott Sonnon has put a lot of work into combining effective martial arts with low risk of injury. I don't know how successful he's been.

The website that the link leads to may have been hacked -- there are a bunch of very suspicious vietnamese-looking links at the bottom.

Other than that, I saw a fitness/training system there, not a martial art.

Fair point-- Sonnon has a substantial martial arts background, but I hadn't registered that he might not be teaching martial arts. On the the hand, he's selling martial arts DVDs.

Some more ideas:

  • One great way to meet more awesome people is to explicitly mention this goal to your existing awesome friends and ask them to introduce you to other growth-oriented people.

  • Figure out what situations led you to the good friendships you have, and recreate those. In my case I found that nearly all my great friendships started with interactions/events of two hours or more. There are several reasons why this might be true (familiarity, more time to find common interests, people engaged in long conversations will have more time to socialize), but the application was to structure my socializing more around a few longer events (e.g. game nights) and less around short social events.

  • Do you feel like you're dancing enough to get the fun & social benefits? If not, it's probably worth setting up a system that lets you dance more, e.g. by going to dance events.

  • It sounds like the criterion for useful skills is "impress people in social situations". There are a wide class of skills that could address this, such as juggling, martial arts, public speaking, improv, hosting events, and telling jokes/comedy. Since you've already shown facility with kinesthetic skills, juggling or martial arts may be a good way to proceed.

Okay, let's try it. One event that improved my life in a positive way was learning to dance. It allowed me to have fun and impress girls by my skills in various social situations. So I guess I should dance more, or learn other forms of dance (square dance?), or more meta... are there other skills similar to dancing that I should learn? Not sure what exactly those skills would be: playing a musical instrument? singing?

People can't reliably tell levels far above their own apart, so once you are a couple standard deviations above the mean (of the population you want to impress) in a given skill you'll hit diminishing returns in terms of impressiveness and you'd better divert the effort expenditure to a different skill. (Also, being awesome at several different skills is itself impressive, whereas being awesome at only one of them is more likely to be dismissed as just having too much time on your hands and probably spending five hours a day practising.)

What do the examples have to do with "luck"? Each example seems to be more about paying attention to the circumstances in your present situation and then making a choice. If those choices yield good results, maybe you make them again. If those choices have less than good results, stop making them.

My understanding of luck is a situation where the circumstances "break" in your favor regardless of your attention or intention, or even in opposition to most likely outcome. (e.g. I was lucky not to get injured when X happened and many poeple around me were injured.)

What I see described in this post is something much closer to my concept of "common sense".

...

Note:

This post reminds me of aspects of a recent discussion on LW.

I'm confused as to why people are voting it up. It is a nice reminder to do stuff you enjoy, ask for help and pay attention to trends, and I'm not disagreeing with it's rating per se... but I'm sincerely interested as to why, at the time of my comment, this post has drawn the apparent acclaim that it has compared to say, this post or this one (the latter post I also think is rather nice-but-obvious).

Do people at LW know and really like the author of this post?

Is there some very valuable and novel aspect to the content I am overlooking?

Are people upvoting because they simply say, "This is generally true"?

Anyway, the post is a nice reminder to reach out to an expert so I am going to try do do that today. (Because the "systematic luck" I've observed in my life comes from not simply reading good advice, but incorporating it by actually doing.)

But I do think this post is a good example of the gaps created by the current "like/don't like" rating format and inferential slience that exists in the comment system.

I'm confused as to why people are voting it up.

Speaking for myself: It is a simple actionable advice, and although it seems obvious in hindsight, people like me don't follow it automatically.

I am not sure, maybe some people are doing this automatically, but for me it is not a usual way of thinking to 1) list the good things in my life, 2) find the situations that created them, and 3) try to replicate those situations. Sometimes, very rarely, I do the first part, and maybe with one very specific situation I tried the second and the third parts. Okay, the third part may be difficult, if the situation was exceptional. But the first two parts you can do any moment you have five minutes of free time.

The discussion moved to specific topics (martial arts), because I gave a specific example of my life and asked for ideas how to apply this advice. (The further discussion about martial arts is going away from the original topic.) I think it would be nice if other people who upvoted would give specific examples from their lives that the article resonated with (assuming they upvoted for similar reasons).

I'm not sure how a "game night" qualifies as an "unexpected positive event". Surely game makers are aware that games are positive experiences for people...

For a person who is not an organizer and not a part of regularly-meeting community, the unexpected thing could be that they were invited. Imagine that you were invited to a game night, and you liked it. But for whatever reasons you don't get invited again (for example the original organizers stopped doing it). Most people would just say: "oh, it was so good, too bad it doesn't happen anymore". But the recommended reaction would be to organize another game yourself (or manipulate someone else to do so).

Another unexpected aspect could be that you go to the game night, and you just expect to spend a few nice hours without further consequences. But what may really happen is that you find good friends who later give you a lot of value even outside of the gaming context. In that case, most people would just say: "I was lucky to find this friend". But the recommended reaction would be to re-classify game night from "amusement" category to "opportunity to meet good friends" category.

What do the examples have to do with "luck"?

At least 2 of the initial occurrences-the game night working so well and happening to hear about an important market trend-were not caused by any deliberate action on my part. They were basically random and unexpected. Systematizing them and making them continue to happen was not luck, but that's the point of the post.

My understanding of luck is a situation where the circumstances "break" in your favor regardless of your attention or intention, or even in opposition to most likely outcome. (e.g. I was lucky not to get injured when X happened and many poeple around me were injured.)

People frequently refer to one-off positive events as "lucky breaks", which is why I used that phrase. But I don't care about the word luck specifically. The point of the post is to take one-off positive events or things that worked unexpectedly well and make them happen repeatedly and automatically.

What I see described in this post is something much closer to my concept of "common sense". Is there some very valuable and novel aspect to the content I am overlooking?

Most people don't respond to positive events by setting them up to happen automatically and repeatedly in their lives. The lesson is not "do things you enjoy", it's "take something that worked really well and set it up so that it happens consistently without conscious effort on your part."

Very few people respond to an unexpected positive event with "now I'll set up a system to make this happen repeatedly." Humans are generally good at repeatedly doing things that they intentionally tried and worked well, but not good at spotting the things that happened without effort on their part, but which could be copied and repeated. The game night is again a good example-I didn't set up the initial game night, somebody else did. But I noticed that I enjoyed the game night a lot and got a lot of value out of it, so I set up a repeating game night at my apartment every two weeks.

I encourage people to focus on the "lucky breaks", because those are common blind spots. Another important factor was taking a systematic approach ("let's set up a repeating biweekly game night") as opposed to an effortful approach ("I should attend more game nights.")

People frequently refer to one-off positive events as "lucky breaks", which is why I used that phrase. But I don't care about the word luck specifically. The point of the post is to take one-off positive events or things that worked unexpectedly well and make them happen repeatedly and automatically.

Noted.

Very few people respond to an unexpected positive event with "now I'll set up a system to make this happen repeatedly."

I'm not sure how a "game night" qualifies as an "unexpected positive event". Surely game makers are aware that games are positive experiences for people...

Humans are generally good at repeatedly doing things that they intentionally tried and worked well, but not good at spotting the things that happened without effort on their part, but which could be copied and repeated.

...and I don't know that this is the case. Can you give an example of how people are "generally not good at this"?

It seems to me people (pretty commonly) intentionally incorporate things that work into their lives, and do so on an recurring schedule. You happen (luckily or not) upon something you enjoy/is helpful/is profitable/just works and you make it a part of your life.

Isn't that the basis for how most people spend their time? Isn't that just called "learning" and putting what you learn into practice? If not, can you explain the difference between what you are proposing and learning what works and then doing what you learn?

Thanks for raising these points.

...and I don't know that this is the case. Can you give an example of how people are "generally not good at this"?

You gave one yourself in your previous comment-you mentioned that you should talk to experts more. That suggests to me that you have not set up a system to repeatedly ensure that you talk to experts when it would be helpful.

Anyway, the post is a nice reminder to reach out to an expert so I am going to try do do that today.

The approach I suggest would be to set up a system to do this repeatedly, not just once. For example, you could set up a Beeminder task or calendar reminder to reach out to an expert every week.

Isn't that the basis for how most people spend their time? Isn't that just called "learning" and putting what you learn into practice? If not, can you explain the difference between what you are proposing and learning what works and then doing what you learn?

Learning what works and doing what you learn is an obviously good thing, my approach is one way of implementing that. Focusing on "lucky breaks" redirects your attention to things that have worked for you before which you haven't already systematized-in your case, reaching out to experts. Focusing on making them systematic places the burden to do those things outside yourself, e.g. by using motivational tools such as Beeminder.

Suggestion for new post title: Beeminder (or StickK) Can Help You

The post doesn't seem to be about lucky breaks. And it apparently isn't specifically about learning.

The crux seems to be that a systematic approach to incorporating things that work can improve your life. I concur.

The responses I've received suggest that the phrase "systematic lucky breaks" resonates with a lot of people. But I think it would be helpful if you were to take the Beeminder/StickK idea and write a post specifically on that topic. And it would probably resonate with a segment of Less Wrong for whom my post doesn't work.

Perhaps... though I'm not sure if another Beeminder post would be helpful at LW. I guess I'd need to look through what has already been written and see if there is anything I might be able to add. We'll see.

And I'm not sure if the title or the article resonates with LW at all. It may, but it depends on what you mean by "resonates" and what the comments and votes mean.

As I mentioned in my first comment, I'm unclear on what X upvotes means at LW. Most of the commentary seems to be a discussion about martial arts... or our discussion about the merits and focus of the article.

If there is some rationale for a threshold for upvotes above which we can confidently say that an article is good/useful/novel/clear/appropriately-titled, then I'm certainly willing to take that into consideration. As it stands, I frankly have little clue what X upvotes and Y total comments indicates about an article's ability to map the territory.

In any case, I'll vote it up one more right now for providing the catalyst to an interesting discussion with you. :) (I'm not sure if that's a valid reason to use the thumb's up button, but it seems as good as any...)

Also, I should clarify on my suggestion for a title -- Since, upon our further discussion, it seems your point was implementing a systematic approach to "doing things that work", I meant to suggest you rename the post and add some clarifying language in the post about using accountability/akrasia-fighting tools like commitment contracts via Beeminder or StickK. Renaming the post without adding the requisite language in the post would be kinda silly.

Conformed in The Luck Factor by Dr. Richard Wiseman from 2004. Here is an authorized four page free summary...

http://richardwiseman.files.wordpress.com/2011/09/the_luck_factor.pdf

Agree that this is similar. Wiseman focuses on the idea that keeping an open mind and noticing good opportunities is a major part of what people see as luck. I'd like to take that one step further and get people to actually systematize these good opportunities, so they can experience them repeatedly.