This is the public group instrumental rationality diary for July 1-15. 

It's a place to record and chat about it if you have done, or are actively doing, things like: 

  • Established a useful new habit
  • Obtained new evidence that made you change your mind about some belief
  • Decided to behave in a different way in some set of situations
  • Optimized some part of a common routine or cached behavior
  • Consciously changed your emotions or affect with respect to something
  • Consciously pursued new valuable information about something that could make a big difference in your life
  • Learned something new about your beliefs, behavior, or life that surprised you
  • Tried doing any of the above and failed

Or anything else interesting which you want to share, so that other people can think about it, and perhaps be inspired to take action themselves. Try to include enough details so that everyone can use each other's experiences to learn about what tends to work out, and what doesn't tend to work out.

Thanks to cata for starting the Group Rationality Diary posts, and to commenters for participating.

Previous diary: June 16-30

Next diary: July 16-31

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13 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 3:59 PM

I've noticed a pattern, so I'll make a prediction and test it:

I've been consistently able to accomplish things on Tuesdays since roughly mid April. Only Tuesdays. Other than one recent Tuesday, which was just as blah as most days that aren't Tuesday.

I've been consistently eating bigger, more complicated meals on the weekends over the same timeframe, other than the weekend before the recent blah Tuesday.

Hypothesis: it takes somewhere in the neighborhood of 24-36 hours for the powerup to get from the food to my brain, but flooding my body with loads of food diverts resources to metabolism and reduces the impact (hence, 2011 wasn't all sparkles and sunshine even though I was actively trying to eat better in general that year).

Experiment: When possible (so the end of August), try rearranging the schedule (live on nuts and juice on weekends, feast on Mondays/Wednesdays/Fridays, etc), to determine if the effect is still in the 24-36 hour range. If it works, I have a means of increasing productivity by 250%. If it fails, update and try something different.

I'd like to coin some terminology: anti-lists.

Having a well-constructed list helps you get things done. Every action on the list has an immediate successor, so you don't have to think about the next actionable step required to complete your overall goal. If the goal is "clean my home" or "pack for my trip abroad", this is very useful. If the goal is "enjoyably waste time", it can cause some problems.

An annoying number of time-wasting activities are very good at giving you the next actionable step in wasting your time. In some cases this is deliberate, such as websites that provide you with lists of related articles once you've finished reading them. In some cases it's presumably accidental but still very effective. Heavily cross-referenced websites such as Wikipedia, TVTropes or Less Wrong can create a tab explosion, and once you've finished reading this tab, the obvious successor to that action is reading the next tab. Once you've watched an episode of a TV series, there is generally an obvious successor to that episode, and if you have immediate and easy access to that successor, watching it becomes a strong candidate for your next action.

I have recently started thinking in terms of "anti-listing" activities that are conducive to this sort of behaviour. To anti-list an activity is to take action to disrupt the line of succession. In the case of the series of Robot Chicken I just downloaded, this is literally a case of removing the list of files from my immediate environment. This seems like a fairly robust way of thinking about my activity management.

I find the term slightly confusing, in that it seems like "anti-list" could just as well be a name for the system which is wasting time as opposed to the act of avoiding it.

(In particular, a list of the first kind is an ordering of subtasks to complete some goal, which form a tree or directed graph with a single final node (often not itself on the list). A time-wasting activity of the sort you describe is a an ordering of nodes in a directed graph with a chosen initial node, and is thus opposite-but-analogous.)

I am convinced of the term being sufficiently confusing to warrant changing. Alternative suggestions would be welcome.

Also, I've heard the term "anti to-do list" used to mean a list you make of what you've actually accomplished, instead of what you planned to accomplish (and it's a very useful tool). So I got that term mixed up with your term.

I like your concept of trying to break the flow of time-wasting activities; it sounds like a situation for some sort of pre-commitment device. "Okay, I've got an implicit list of not-so-good activities putting itself together here...I'd better break the chain and commit to read only two more articles..." Or something. I realize that doesn't really solve your terminological difficulty!

I've heard those described as "to-done lists", and yes, they're very useful.

I've found pre-commitment to n more indulgences generally fails if the cost to one more indulgence is sufficiently low. The only workable solution I've found is forcible pre-commitment to zero more indulgences. In the case of a directory filled with Robot Chicken episodes, closing the window on that directory when I resolve to not watch any more has proven to be very effective.

The concept of a "not-to-do list" seems useful here; instead of things that you want to do to check off, they're habits or actions that you do not want to do. "Do not watch the next episode of a TV series without getting up and moving around" could prevent you from launching an unintentional marathon, by giving you an opportunity to change what you're doing with every episode.

I don't quite understand what goal you're going for here. As you say, if the goal is "enjoyably waste time", some activities are set up to encourage the next step automatically. If you do in fact have the goal "enjoyably waste time for an hour" or something, this seems like useful behaviour? Or is it the case that your actual goal is "perform this particular enjoyable waste of time that I have selected and then stop"? It seems like this would be the reason you might want to do this anti-listing thing, but at no point do you describe something other than "enjoyably waste time" as your goal. What did I miss?

I'm talking about akrasia, not about literally possessing the explicit goal "enjoyably waste time". This is unlikely to be a goal anyone needs help achieving, and yet there exist a wide variety of lists to help people achieve it nonetheless.

What I'm getting at is that lists facilitate getting things done. If that thing is an explicit goal we have, the goal is more likely to be achieved. In these cases, where no lists (or poor lists) exist, we want to create or improve them.

Some things which aren't our explicit goals automatically produce their own lists which don't work in our best interests. In these cases, we want to disrupt those lists.

Makes sense. So the goal is something else entirely, you end up on the self-list-producing activity by mistake, and then it's hard to escape from. The anti-listing idea is a way of escaping from the mistake.

This week in Hamland:

  • I'm moving. I notice I am being very uncurious about what my other options are besides following my parents to their new house. Still haven't mustered up the motivation to explore those, ho hum.
  • I have quit reading through this psychology textbook I have. Mostly because it's been packed into a box, and I don't feel like ruffling through the box to get it back out. Examining my feelings, it's also partially because I think I'm being more meticulously thorough going through an old textbook than I should be. I'll reconsider the habit once I'm moved into the new house.
  • Two of my coursera courses are close to being finished. I already started a new MOOC on medical statistics. I like learning, but I am dreading school. I've consistently gone into breakdown about a semester into school, for multiple colleges and some of high school.
  • I FINALLY started murphy-proofing my habit system. About time, I've been saying I would on here for weeks.
  • Now writing down accomplishments daily, since I dropped the daily gratitude writing a while back. I like it.
  • Also, I got my hands on some noopept. Trying out 10 mg approximately daily, sometimes twice.
  • I'm sporadically taking melatonin as well, it shaves off some time spent sleeping and gives me really interesting dreams.

Update 0: Set up a password manager at last. Removed lots of newsletter subscriptions that were cluttering up my inbox, because I never read them. Finished reading How To Actually Change Your Mind, but have not started making notes on it, so the value I can get out of the sequence is not yet maximal. So far I think most of what happens in that sequence is "obvious" but doesn't actually come to mind, especially when I want to work on problems. For that I am eternally grateful. Possibly the best piece of advice I have gleaned from the sequence is to Hold Off On Proposing Solutions


Consciously changed emotions: I have, for eight years, considered writing to be "the thing I should do." I possessed an idea of myself as a Writer (with a capital W) even though I did not want to pursue it as a career and often had trouble keeping it up as a habit. I've never questioned (or wanted to question) what writing is to me as a value, a contribution to society, or as a worthwhile endeavor. As I grew older, writing became a defining feature of my mental landscape, making it that much harder to question.

Having recently finished school and begun work, I ran out of my classic excuses for why I do not write as much as I'd like. So, I stood up and outlined the terminal and instrumental values of writing and the excuses I often found myself using when I did not write.

The first effect this had was to reduce Writing to writing: making the activity a simple one rather than a sacred one. Second, I found that one driving motivation that has kept me thinking about Writing, rather than writing, is envy: I compared myself to past writers I enjoyed and felt I should publish at as young an age as them, in as large a quantity, as often, be recognized as much etc. So, my motivation was not for personal enjoyment or art's sake, but for envy. Seeing this, I took steps to cut out that envy, to reduce it and see how much my drive to write remained. This, finally, helped me reshape writing from a defining feature of my mental landscape into a tool in my tool box. Or at least to a project in my portfolio.

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