This is the public group instrumental rationality diary for Christmas week. 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 everyone who contributes, and I hope everyone is having a nice holiday!

Previous diaryarchive of prior diaries.


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37 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 10:35 PM

I think I'm going to stop having opinions.

Well, let me explain what I mean by that; I'm using the word opinion in an idiosyncratic sense which I hope will be made clear by the following. Of course it makes sense to have beliefs about the world (let's say, e.g., "If the legislature passes the Foobar Act, then it will reduce the budget deficit and save thousands of quality-adjusted life-years"), and it makes sense to have preference orderings over states of the world (e.g., "I would prefer to live in worlds with smaller budget deficits and people living longer, healthier lives"). But the opinionated state of mind which passionately insists, "The legislature should pass the Foobar Act!" in the absence of any actual planning to bring about that outcome, is a confusion, a waste of cognition (insofar as we construe the function of thought as to select actions). The legislature has no reason to know that I exist, so why bother getting so upset about whatever they're going to do anyway, with or without my approval? Insofar as someone cares what I think, I'm happy to tell them what's on my mind, or even to argue (in the sense of offering arguments, not in the sense of trying to win). But, you know, to a first approximation, no one cares what I think. They really don't. Why pretend otherwise?

Let me preempt some potential misunderstandings. I'm not simply reiterating that politics is the mindkiller; I think the argument carries even if an ideal reasoner would agree that the Foobar Act really would be a good thing if passed. And I'm not saying that one should never participate in any collective project in which one person's effort is unlikely to make a critical difference; there are certainly reasons why someone might want to do that (e.g., timeless-decision-theoretic "I should decide as if deciding for all instances of this decision algorithm" reasoning might apply, or a small probability of a large impact might be worth it in expectation, &c.). But notice these possible reasons for participating in a collective project are not most people's actual reasons for having opinions about things they're not going to affect.

Of course, integrating this insight into my thoughts will make it even harder than it already is for me to communicate with people who haven't spent the last five years obsessing about the nature of rationality ... but the other thing I need to stop doing is expecting to be able to communicate with arbitrary people on arbitrary topics.

For the past five years, I've spent a lot of time being really upset and angry and offended and mindkilled that most people in society seem to systematically conflate schooling (enrolling in courses and obeying the commands issued by the designated teacher) and that which I would call education (learning important things by whatever means). I still judge this to be a worthy sentiment---I really would prefer to live in a world with more authenticity, and existing schools still seem really terrible in contrast to what people can do for themselves when they're really motivated---but it's only now that I'm starting to see (really see, not just dutifully mouth the words) that my behavior of being outraged all the time wasn't actually contributing to that goal, that visibly resenting the fact that other people don't care about the things that I care about is pointless: it doesn't help them, and it doesn't help me. Better that I should just learn to lie (as part of the general trend where, surprisingly, I become a better person as I become less principled), or at least, to not wear my heart on my sleeve all the damned time.

I'm really confused; I want to say that I feel as if my brain has wandered into a slightly different state of consciousness that I'm not used to. I thought this rationality stuff was cool and all, and I thought I understood it pretty well---couldn't I speak fluently about the same things everyone else was talking about?---but suddenly over the past several days, as I've tried to apply the intelligence-as-optimization viewpoint to my personal life problems (q.v. the parent and my comment on lying), it starts to feel as if I'm actually starting to sort of get it. I seem to feel reluctant to report this (notice all the hedging words: "seem," "as if," "want to say," &c.), because introspection is unreliable, and verbal self-reports are unreliable, and I seem to have this thing where I feel reluctant to endorse statements that could be construed to imply that I should have higher status, and there have certainly been occasions in the past where I thought I had a life-altering epiphany and I turned out to be mistaken. So maybe you shouldn't believe me ... but that's just the thing: this entire idea of believing or not-believing natural language propositions can't be how intelligence actually works, and maybe the reason I feel the need to use all these hedging words is because it's becoming more salient to me that I really don't know what's actually going on when I think; I'm writing these words, but I no longer feel sure what it means to believe them.

I want to say that I ought to be scared about the whole AI existential risk thing, but I'm not---and, come to think of it, as a matter of cause and effect, my being scared won't actually help except insofar as it motivates me to do something helpful. I'd really rather just not think about it at all anymore. Of course, not-thinking about a risk doesn't make it go away, but we should make a distinction between not-thinking-about something as a way of denying reality, and not-thinking-about something as a reallocation of cognitive resources: if I spend my own thinking time on fun, safe, selfish ideas, but learn how to make some money, and use some of the money to help fund people who are better at thinking than me to work on the scary confusing world-destroying problems, isn't that good enough? Isn't that morally acceptable? Of course, these ideas of "enough" and "morally acceptable" don't exist in decision theory, either, but I doubt it's psychologically realistic to function without them, and I don't think I actually want to.


I discovered a method to find if you are getting enough sleep, one that seems so trivial in hindsight it's a wonder how I never thought about it or encountered it before.

Basically, if your alarm clock wakes you up, you are sleep deprived.

P.S. Oh, and I'm new here, so hello everybody.

In retrospection, this method can't be universal. Someone pointed out that:

  1. Some people can force themselves to awake, sleep deprivation or not.

  2. Some people oversleep.

Group 1 doesn't use alarm clocks. Group 2 must use them.

I've seen that suggested a few times before; a related suggestion that I found more compelling was related to a particular old-style alarm clock. At the time it was set for the clock would make a small click, then a few seconds later, a loud buzz. The owner of the clock could tell how well-rested he was by whether the click or the buzz woke him up.

I don't think your division quite divides reality at the joints- I can get up to an alarm even if my day will be ruined by lack of sleep, but I generally will sleep long periods if I don't have an alarm set. (If by 'oversleep' you mean 'not take alarms seriously,' then why argue that group 2 must use them, when they don't use them well?)

I generally will sleep long periods if I don't have an alarm set

See here.

I agree in the general case but not the particular. Staying in bed for ten to eleven hours persists even when I've done so for months, and other tests of sleep deprivation suggest I'm fully rested. Blackout curtains seem to be a significant contributor; it's less pronounced when I use the sun as a gentle alarm.

Yes, probably. In Italy roller shutters on windows are ubiquitous, and keeping them shut all the way down will make it much easier to me to sleep until noon or even later; whereas if I go somewhere with no shutters at all it's pretty hard for me to stay asleep long after dawn (though I'll feel sleepy again in the afternoon). (But personally, no matter how dark my room is, it would be nearly impossible to sleep nine hours more than three nights in a row or so.)

Piotr Wozniak would argue that people who oversleep were sleep-deprived to begin with -- you couldn't sleep 11 hours a day arbitrarily long, eventually you will have fully paid back your sleep debt, and from that point on you'll only sleep about 7 or 8 hours a day. (My experience mostly agrees, though in my case at least physical energy seems to matter more than mental energy in determining whether I'll fall asleep.)


This clashes with my experience. I generally get >8 hours of sleep, and I will oversleep like mad if I don't have some special reason to get up. (it takes me a while to get to sleep though. How does this affect things?)

I notice that I only have a proper day if I get up when I'm first awake. I'd be interested to know how the causality goes on that.

Also some people can't fall asleep easily. I'd like a sleep cycle where I go to bed at 9 PM and wake up at 6 AM, but more often than not going to bed at 9 PM leaves me lying awake for an hour, after which I get bored and get back up.

I'd like a sleep cycle where I go to bed at 9 PM and wake up at 6 AM

Why? For adults, 9 hours a day is generally a lot (though YMMV). Do you usually have trouble waking up at 6?

I often feel more alert when I do manage to wake and stay up early in the morning, but I tend to oversleep most of the time. My recent attempts at getting a sleep cycle going where I wake up early and sleep only 8 hours a night have ended up with me oversleeping, so either I really need the 9 hours of sleep or my brain really wants to sleep through the early morning.

I like to use a sunrise alarm, that fades up a light over half an hour, so I can have daylight start whenever I want year round.

I also find that if I set my washing machine to start a load at 5am (to take advantage of cheaper electricity), I will wake up while it's running, although it isn't loud. The idea is that the fainter sensations inform the body it's time to wake itself up, instead of bludgeoning it awake with a bell. I only do the latter when it's really important to be up in time for something.


I might try using one of these instead of what I currently use (a cheap radio alarm set to static white noise); I've noticed that sunlight on my face seems to be a strong factor in consistently waking me up.


Have you ever fallen asleep in the sun? ie. does this apply to just mornings after a good sleep, or does sunlight block sleep for you?


I'm not sure if sunlight blocks sleep completely, because it's also correlated with warmth which does help with sleeping. It's probably more to do with circadian rhythm.

For two years in college, my bed and window were positioned just so, that sunlight would target my pillow at around 10-11 am, and I found I consistently woke up around then in the absence of an alarm, independent of how long I slept (within reason.) These days I still seem to have a harder time waking up if it's overcast rather than sunny. But to answer your question, I can't recall any instances when I fell asleep in the sun; I might even have a habit of closing the blinds to sleep, if it's still light out.

I tried a sunrise alarm - it didn't seem to help / work well. (My brain kept wondering whether the alarm would go off. Possible I could've done better with more habituation.)

My brain kept wondering whether the alarm would go off.

Similar stuff has happened to me (not with sunrise alarms, though -- never tried one). The solution is setting a loud, reliable, ‘back-up’ alarm at the latest time at which you could possibly get up in time.


I've also discovered an alternate solution: try challenging yourself to wake up before the alarm goes off. Works even better if you tricked yourself into thinking the alarm was ever actually turned on.

That's a simplified version of what Piotr Wozniak says.

I've started a 'don't break the chain' style of habit formation for 3 habits I'm trying to work on - taking various supplerments every morning rather than haphazardly whenever I remember, exercising, and going outside every day. A tick in the relevant box indicates that I did the task, a blank indicates not doing the task, a line indicates I did the bare minimum that could technically qualify as doing the task (eg. if I forgot to exercise and so spent 5 minutes in bed doing ankle strengthening exercises before going to sleep, I haven't really exercised in the meaning I originally intended but it's better than nothing). So far I've noticed that it makes me a lot more conscious both of whether I've done the tasks but also how I feel about the task. For example, I'm considering removing or modifying 'go outside' because it turns out that I don't really care very much about whether I get it done or not, whereas with the other two I get warm fuzzies from ticking the boxes.

This sort of routine monitoring sounds like a good idea! I'm doing something similar myself.

For example, I'm considering removing or modifying 'go outside' because it turns out that I don't really care very much about whether I get it done or not, whereas with the other two I get warm fuzzies from ticking the boxes.

That may not be a very wise move with respect to your energy levels -- in my experience, not going outside for more than 2 or 3 days in a row makes me feel very groggy and dulled down, and there's not much you can do about it indoors (a quick shower, drinking coffee, exercising -- all of these only have a very slight effect).

That's a good point - I've noticed a similar effect. I just need to work on making the idea of going outside as attractive as actually doing it. Sounds like it's time for some positive reinforcement!

I'm on a computer all day at work and the bulk of my activities at home are computer-based as well. I've been able to get into a nice habit of taking daily walks, usually right when I get home from work (before even going in the door). It's quite enjoyable and sometimes I end up wandering around for miles/hours before some other motivation urges me home. Just being in a place where things can be >100 feet away feels novel most of the time. Computer usage is bizarrely user-centric, compared with the outside world; a contrast that shouldn't feel as profound as it does.

I started off just thinking of walking as a simple cure for fogginess/tunnel vision/vague anxiety, but it's grown into a subconscious urge. Also, I recommend avoiding music or other audio media.

I started doing the same thing a few days ago, in an attempt to get back my habit of waking early (polyphasic experimenting got my sleep schedule out of whack). Something I did differently was, I write in the same box twice - once before I go to bed, something like committing to waking up early, and once after I get up. This solved my problem of getting up, making up some reason to postpone the habit-formation process (or even cancel it to start anew later), and going back to bed. My symbols are a bit more complex, so that I can mark a failure on top of the commitment mark as well, but it would be something like writing the left part of the tick just as I'm going to bed - and no sooner - and completing it when I get up (or crossing it out if I fail).

I think I'll do the same thing for exercising. It's been great so far!

My mom wanted to run a small Christmas errand, but didn't want to even turn onto the relevant road, since it was likely to be really crowded, and she hates traffic. So I recommended we precommit to a time limit on the errand, after which we would bail out of the road and the task, even if we were getting close, so she had a guarantee the suffering would be limited. That was enough to head out, and it turned out there was no traffic at all.


Someone once mentioned at a LW meetup that he had stopped hiccups by physically paying his SO one dollar each time he hiccuped, as a disincentive. The other day, I may have successfully hacked this to only imagine myself giving away money to nobody in particular; the hiccups stopped after only two instances. I'll have to try this some more to see if it works consistently...


We found it stopped working after a few different occasions, sadly =/

Despite having previously thought that (given total time spent) I should try optimizing toothbrushing, and even flossing specifically, it's only today that the thought occurred to me that I spend way too much time and mental energy trying to floss in a way that conserves floss, compared to a brief search online to find cheap floss that I don't mind wasting.


The floss holder seems relevant for economic reasons and convenience.

Alternatively, floss with water.

Does that work? How do you know?

So, I can't provide much evidence about personal impact, because oral health is long-term and also diet dependent. I can attest to the lower psychological cost of flossing with water than flossing with nylon or silk.

Most of the studies on the subject are produced by the people that make the product, like this 2009 review by their PR manager, and so there's a serious risk of systematic error in the reports (I'm under the impression that this is the case for most dental research). That said, the reports claim it is more effective than flossing manually at reducing gingivitis and bleeding. Removing plaque is mostly the toothbrush's job; while flossing is generally intended to remove interdental plaque, it's not clear silk or nylon does a good job, and it's not clear that those reductions actually result in less caries.

If your primary reason to floss is to remove interdental plaque, then my first-principles guess is that the alternating compression and decompression of a high-frequency jet is better than just rubbing silk or nylon along it, by analogy to powered toothbrushes outperforming manual toothbrushes, but I would not consider that position conclusive.


My dryer has three settings: more dry, less dry, and optimum dry. I can't...I can't bring myself to use any setting but 'optimum'.


I'm a relatively new LWer, so still working on the basics. Mostly, I keep catching myself rationalising impulsive decisions. It's startling just how frequently I do this.

This morning I decided to go buy new hiking boots, changing my mind from doing it in the afternoon after I'd worked on an overdue essay. Having made my decision, I justified it saying that it was an important purchase to get right and I should do it while I'm freshest - this thought occurring after the decision was made. I hardly need spell out what the true motivation was.

Well, it's one thing to catch myself rationalising and acknowledge a problem, but it's a harder step to honestly reevaluate the options and choose rationally. That's what I need to work on now. Tsuyoku Naritai.

For the past few weeks I've been doing at least 15 minutes a day of some sort of exercise, and I've only missed a few days.

"Some sort of exercise" means tai chi, qi gong and/or the five tibetans (the most energetic of the bunch-- it's a cross between yoga and calisthenics).

A couple of times I've wanted a second 15 minutes later in the day, and I've done it.

I think part of why this is working is that it's more than I've been doing, but less than I fantasize that I ought to do.