In the CFAR Handbook they have the following process instructions for Murphyjitsu:

  1. Select a goal. A habit you want to install, or a plan you’d like to execute, or a project you want to complete.
  2. Outline your plan. Be sure to list next actions, concrete steps, and specific deadlines or benchmarks. It’s important that you can actually visualize yourself moving through your plan, rather than having something vague like work out more.
  3. Surprise-o-meter. It’s been months, and you’ve made little or no progress! Where are you, on the scale from yeah, that sounds right to I literally don’t understand what happened? If you’re completely shocked—good job, your inner sim endorses your plan! If you’re not, though, go to Step 4.
  4. Pre-hindsight. Try to construct a plausible narrative for what kept you from succeeding. Remember to look at both internal and external factors.
  5. Bulletproofing. What actions can you take to prevent these hypothetical failure modes? Visualize taking those preemptive actions and then ask your inner sim “What comes next?” Have you successfully defused the danger?
  6. Iterate steps 3-5. That’s right—it’s not over yet! Even with your new failsafes, your plan still failed. Are you shocked? If so, victory! If not—keep going.

It seems like this process presumes that mitigations are low-cost and that the project you are trying to achieve is fundamentally achievable according to your inner sim. Most of this is presumption is contained in step 3. I've been thinking about how to apply this process to projects in a professional context (rather than a "self-help" context I guess) and in many cases you face costly tradeoffs regarding derisking mitigations. Also, sometimes your project may just be a big bet.

How do you change Murphyjitsu to work in such situations? Also, if people have experiences using Murphyjitsu in projects (e.g. a 1-3 month project involving a small team people), I'd be interested in learning how it's different.

New to LessWrong?

New Answer
New Comment

3 Answers sorted by


Jun 23, 2020

I've been thinking about how to apply this process to projects in a professional context (rather than a "self-help" context I guess) and in many cases you face costly tradeoffs regarding derisking mitigations. Also, sometimes your project may just be a big bet.

This is true (or should be) for personal improvements as well as professional - many require sacrifice (of time, often of activities with friends or other desirable experiences), and many have uncertain returns. At most companies, professional goal-seeking requires coordination with more people, and sometimes handling misalignment of beliefs by changing the framing of the steps for different audiences, so _is_ more complex than personal goals.

But you really don't change the high-level process. You _do_ iterate faster - figure out sub-goals and measurements that will get you to step 3 every week, not every few months. (just considered now: maybe it's a constant of 3 person-months of review). And every 3-10 iterations, start from 1 rather than 3: ensure it's still the right goal, and tweak (or abandon) your overall plan.

When it comes to problems that are primarily related to motivation, the cost-benefit is so far weighted that the cost of implementing the plan probably doesn't seem relevant to consider, but this is a good point.

I like the idea of using Murphyjitsu for modeling shorter iterations, that's probably generally applicable.

Matt Goldenberg

Jun 24, 2020


There are actually 3 steps if you're feeling pressured/disempowered.

First you have to just have to permit yourself to consider other possibilities.  Sometimes just recognizing that you have a choice is enough.

Then, if your'e still feeling disempowered, you may want to produce new possibilities. CFAR refers to this as murphyjitsu.

Finally, if you can't fully derisk, you have to actually process the possibility your left with, accept the possibility of failure.  CFAR calls this the "Onion Technique".  The full process to get rid of pressure/disempowerment looks like this.

The Prevent Pressure Process

Now, at this point you may STILL be feeling fear of failure - at this point, you should be planning for what happens if you fail, and then, once you've done that, decide if acting is worth. .  I believe CFAR calls this Negative Visualization - if you want something you can find online that talks about it, look up the talk on "Fear Setting" by Tim Ferriss.

That process looks like this:

Fixing Fear of Failure

Point being, Murphyjitsu is just one tool in the process. You need to use the right tool for the situation.

That seems mostly about the emotional content of a particular plan, while I see Murphyjitsu as a tool for avoiding the planning fallacy, forcing yourself to fully think through the implications of a plan, or getting more realistic predictions from System 1. I haven't viewed it much as an emotional tool, but maybe other people do find it useful for that.

2Matt Goldenberg4y
I try to lool at this with my whole body: Rationally, do I see problems with the plan(head) Emotionally, do I have problems with the plan(heart) Intuitively, do I have problems with the plan (gut) Only when a plan passes all three checks does it move forward, and I use these tools with all three   If you're just doing logically, I'd include the heart and gut as well, that's where murphyjitsu shines, as often your gut and heart pick up problems with your plan your mind does not.
2Matt Goldenberg4y
To expand on this, because I realize it wasn't clear. When processing for instance, fear of failure, what are we actually doing from a logical point of view? We're checking if the juice is worth the squeeze, if the problems are worth the effort.  We're seeing if it's worth it to continue. We should check in 3 ways - logically, what would happen if we fail, how likely is it? Emotionally, what are we scared of in failing, how likely is it? Intuitively, what do we we intuit will happen if we fail? How likely is it? Then, we go through the process  -  first, what would we do if we in fact do fail?  This is an important part of the process, because we can't get a full sense of how bad failure will be unless we in fact note how we'll mitigate the failure. Only then do we compare our failure to our success, and make an informed choice.


Jun 23, 2020


You won't be able to change Murphyjitsu such that it eliminates these problems. But if you can identify the tradeoffs then you should be able to make the best decision among them, and when the project is a big bet you should be able to confirm whether you can afford to lose.