This is the public group instrumental rationality diary for June 1-30; it's going up pretty late (sorry!) but entries for earlier in June are welcome.

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!


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Immediate past diary -- May 16-31

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23 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 4:45 PM

This Facebook thread on Scalia, which I retracted here. Remarks:

When I stated my condition of sufficient evidence to retract here:

Show me a similar lone dissent by Scalia on the recording of a factual background of no great religious or political valence, and I will withdraw my objection with apologies to Scalia and his great epistemic caution.

... I looked over what I'd written, carefully visualized being presented with that evidence in order to check that it was my True Rejection, and decided that yes, this would be sufficient and that I would in fact react in that case by changing my mind. I didn't anticipate such a piece of evidence to be offered (or I would've already had beliefs consistent with it) but I knew that it would greatly disappoint any skilled minds reading my Facebook feed if I stated such a condition and then went back on it or tried to add extra caveats.

After being presented by the evidence I'd requested here by Dan Haecker:

Often, because he thinks the court is straying from it's role and attempting to divine things like "what the law could be," Scalia joins "all but.." or parts of different opinions. For examples all last week, see

...which met my stated condition, I also knew that my community would congratulate me on making a public opinion-change and had a fair degree of, "Yay, I so rarely get to impress my friends and show off my rationality skillz by publicly changing my opinion like this!" The next immediate comment after this is my retraction so you can see that the proper motion was executed without hesitating after I checked the provided evidence.

My friends, especially including Luke and Carl who I knew would both go for it, did in fact 'Like' the retraction (there or in a later status update for greater visibility) so my expectation was confirmed.

Generalizations: Visualize in advance whether the evidence you demand would actually change your mind; expecting your friends to be disappointed in you if you add any further demands will help you visualize this. Expected reliable community support matters a lot in terms of making you feel happier about getting a chance to change your mind.

In an effort to live more luminously, I've been trying to keep tabs on circumstances surrounding unpleasant mental states. I've been doing this for a while with some success, but I have despondent, lethargic periods two or three times a month that I've been unable to account for. They tend to mess with my enthusiasm and usually herald a productivity crash.

Anyway, I think I've managed to account for them: they seem to happen when I feel like I've done hard work across multiple domains and subsequently don't feel rewarded.

This is kind of bad news, because a lot of my work and study goals should pay off really well in a few years time, but this is of no use to my short-termist brain, which wants a figurative cookie right now. Is reward fungible? If, for example, I receive gratifying compliments that show my fitness efforts are paying off, will that satisfy my reward needs in general, or is it somehow kept on a separate tally from all my other efforts?

Then have a party to celebrate your progress.

This sounds a lot like my situation, though I haven't since reading your comment managed to determine whether or not your hypothesis as to what's causing the crash periods for you matches my situation all that well. It's worth testing, at least, if we can find a means of doing so.

Most of the work I try to do is creative, or involves me convincing others to help with something creative. Enthusiastic and detailed feedback tends to help; putting most of my effort into notes and not getting any feedback as I struggle to move into the writing/programming/etc phase tends to end in a crash. I haven't put much emphasis on the feedback part before now, but I do have a decent archive of timestamped notes/comments/forum discussions/IM conversations that I can probably search for evidence in favor of or against the hypothesis. I don't know what specifically you do, so I don't know if any of my writing/programming-related observations would be much use, but something that's struck me as worth investigating while writing this comment is how I and the only other person who seems to be following what I'm working on deliberately keep spoilers at a minimum when trying to talk about our projects, which I could see fitting the "insufficient reward for broad areas of effort" hypothesis ("I took some notes, but you'll have to wait until a date that may or may not ever come when the product is ready for beta review!" Is not as much fun as "So I decided that an evil mushroom is behind everything... can you figure out how this makes sense in context? ... Or offer some more details on the Dark Lord Dragomutton in return, at least?").

I feel like I might have missed the point entirely and gone off in an annoying direction. I do this often (I can think of 5 examples on LW rather quickly). So it'd help to know if I botched this up or not (Judging by the karma for those 5 examples, karma isn't a very good indicator of whether or not I communication fail.).

For deontological reasons, I've been vegetarian for about a year and a half. I recently decided to make up inaccurate numbers to see if the decision makes sense on utilitarian grounds. The sources I trust seem to agree that eating meat will improve my health, so on one side of the equation I had [extra lifespan] [expected earnings per time] [fraction of earnings I currently donate] [lives saved per dollar donated]. On the other side of the equation, [expected years of life] * [amount of meat an average American eats per year] / [usable meat per animal].

Conclusion: I don't care about animals that much, compared to humans. The result was two orders of magnitude away from even being a difficult decision, so even my horrible made-up numbers were persuasive. I've been eating meat for a couple of weeks, now.

I was publicly vegetarian for a while, so I was afraid of telling people; it felt like admitting I'd been wrong. Nothing embarrassing happened. I'll remember this next time I fear looking foolish for changing my mind.

Found out intimate relationships are a part of my life in which I feel I could do better. Found out it is overlooked in x-rationality groups. Bought The textbook on it. Am learning it.

Sorry if this is a noob question, but what is "the textbook" in this case?

Intimate relationships by Miller/Perlman/Brehm

I have quite a lot of "life infrastructure", (calendars, routines, to-do lists, etc.), but I've found there's a lot it doesn't capture. I've started using Workflowy as an all-purpose receptacle for recording things I don't have a sensible tool for. For example, I have a page for logging my study habits, and while it's not the ideal tool for it, it's better than nothing in the absence of that ideal.

tree structures are useful for their ability to create junk drawers that don't clutter up the rest of your lists (among many other benefits of course). tangent: I have to thank LW user fiddlemath for pointing out during an argument mapping talk that you can maintain strict tree structure with more complex structures involving cross-connections simply via repetition. I'm now using tree structures for more organization.

I mentioned a few months ago that I was going to record what I accomplish each day for 100 days. I managed to turn it into a habit (big deal for me- I find habit forming difficult) and started my second spreadsheet (I changed the way I "grade" my achievements, and made various upgrades to the system) and am about halfway into it! :D That combined with journaling every night gives me an estimation of why I get into depressive spirals where I don't do any work, and helped me figure out what gets me out of them (where I end up completing a lot of work.)

It's also gratifying to see a high score after doing several hours of work.

I've been using HabitRPG for around a month now to increase the amount of exercise I do and decrease the amount of chocolate I consume. It's caused successful habit formation—I've reduced the motivation needed to do unpleasant strength exercises and 3+ mile runs, even on days where I get no points for completing them. I have little success with decreasing my chocolate consumption, partly because I eat first and pay for it with the game-gold later. I'll keep using this system.

HabitRPG may work for me because I have freakishly great self-motivation and this helps me channel it. It's also my to-do list, though the site crashes with annoying frequency.

I've been using HabitRPG for a couple of months and I don't have freakishly great self-motivation (although I do have a friend who's in my party, so there is some peer pressure/accountability to keep me on track). So far I've found that it's good for habit formation for the kinds of things that are more about remembering to do them than about negative motivation. It's also reasonably good in a GTD sort of way, in the sense that I'll put a big task on my to-do list, and then when it comes time to actually start on the task I break it up into much smaller subtasks to provide myself with incremental rewards towards completion.

If you don't know, I would like to point out that you can run a server locally without almost any effort (there are detailed instructions on the site), thus avoiding crashing problems and allowing you to access it offline.

I've tried using HabitRPG before, but didn't stick with it. I've started using Lift, working out every day following the Somehow the expectation of checking off habits for today keep me going through the motions, and the automated timer reduces friction of changing into the mental state appropriate for exercising.

High Intensity Interval Training (H.I.T.T.) may have the same benefits as running and is a more efficient use of time:

Read the linked journal article.

Don't do HITT with low available glucose (blood and liver); your body will eat through what's present quickly, won't have enough time to prepare more, and will break down skeletal muscles for energy instead. I doubt this should prove problematic, but omitting this caveat is simply irresponsible.

Thanks! The 7-minute workout sounds reasonable and I might consider adding elements of it into my 4-minute abs workout I have already. It wouldn't replace running altogether since 1) I enjoy running, so it is not time lost and 2) I'm training for 5k cross country races.

What does the caveat mean? Should I avoid doing HITT first thing in the morning, after not having eaten? (note that I'm polyphasic at present, so unless I get some sort of fasting habit going, I may have eaten as recently as 4h prior)

The caveat mainly targets those on some low-carb dietary regimen. If you were to break a fast (can't give a specific fast length, sorry) with exercise then maybe have a banana 15-30 minutes or so before starting, depending upon your metabolic speed.

Does this apply to you? If a highly confident no, then have at it at your own liability!

Do you have a citation for 15-30 minutes being a reasonable time for blood glucose levels changing in response to consuming a banana? I remember reading that it takes significantly longer than that, up to 150 minutes, but I can't find a proper source at the moment. The closest I can find is the 4-hour body, and I don't know how trustworthy it is. It also says that fructose may lower blood glucose levels.

I don't, actually. I ran a year long informal experiment on myself, trying to measure my metabolic rate / caloric need per hour, and have a recollection of reading that ingesting a banana before a workout should provide enough glucose for an hour (I don't think it specified for what activity; I found that the banana lasted for the first forty-five minutes of a treadmill 10k run at a pace fluctuating between ~4:30 and ~6:00 minutes per kilometre*) - both probably inform that 15-30 minute figure. Your metabolic speed will vary, and not necessarily within that range.

*By "last", I mean a subjective sense of being energized and having enough fuel. I realise now that may not be a reliable indicator.

So I spent today getting work done. The majority of 11 hours, at least. As a rough estimate, it's probably closer to 8, once you take out the breaks and the eating and such.

I had no idea why, and my models of how to fight Akrasia feel a bit weaker...

But I realized something peculiar about the day before that I hadn't really considered potentially positive: I had done a little more than I had been lately (I threw together a song and recorded a few others with better instruments), but most of my progress for the day was halted when I decided to look at a forum that I'd been avoiding for several months--since October 2012, in fact. I wouldn't call it an incredible mood-lift, or anything; I wound up trying to speed through a 75-page thread (20 posts per page); I only got 26 or so pages in before I bailed and watched a 30 minute video on Youtube.

What I didn't realize until halfway through writing this is that my productivity took a nosedive after October 2012, and it's been very difficult to get it back up to something vaguely resembling passable--I had a random burst of enthusiasm for a spontaneous project one week in February, and managed maybe a month of modest output after I read the Motivation Hacker, but it feels considerably weaker compared to the same time period in previous years.

The observation "Spends a lot of time and mental energy on forum on day X" -> "Spends most of day X+1 working" does not intuitively seem to imply a causal relationship. My observations about my mental state by the end of yesterday did not make me feel all that confident that today would turn out productive. Yet, I'm now wondering what the graph of time spent on this forum vs work done looks like. (Well, how the two graphs would compare, rather.) I don't know how possible it is to actually gather said data (I could check the frequency of my posts and search for references from IM conversations to said forum, for what it's worth?).

The perplexing part is more that, if it turns out that there is a strong enough correlation between time spent foruming and work done, then I'll need to seriously rethink my model of how I'm motivated; avoiding it felt more like removing a source of mental energy drain/procrastination/distraction opportunity, without any significant happiness or idea cost. I have taken that same forum into consideration when trying to figure out how to combat Akrasia in the past, but mostly I came up with "I do better when happier, and occasionally something pleasant enough comes of this that it helps". But I'm starting to question the happiness part.

Tentative hypothesis: You were in a low energy state since October, and reading the forum was an indication that you were beginning an upswing rather than specifically a cause of more energy.

If I'm right, then it makes sense to look back a little farther to see what might have started the upswing.

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