Help! All this new found rationality and room for improvement is causing me to burn out

by tetsuo551 min read15th Aug 201129 comments


Personal Blog

I have been on the quest for winning at life for a long time. But nothing could prepare me for a run-in with a lesswrongian.

My life has been turned upside-down, it turns out that every aspect of my life can be considerably improved or upgraded, but there is so much to do that I'm completely overwhelmed by all there is to do.

The improvement to-do list is a mile long and I've currently reached the point where I'd rather wallow in self-pity than actually get up and do something...


I have trouble sleeping because I worry about all the things I'm not doing, and then when I'm awake I'm stuck on sites like lesswrong pressing F5 all day long in the hopes that a new post will save me...


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One thing to keep in mind is that you have limited mental resources and can really only do a couple things effectively at a time. Thus you are hardly a bad person for concentrating on a couple of areas at once and ignoring other areas as they are for the time being.

To figure out what you want to concentrate on, you might sit down with someone make a list of all the different things you could try, and figure out which 1-3 seem the most promising and then make a plan to try those. Then, after an appropriate length of time you revisit the issue and find a couple more things to work on.

This makes a lot of sense, but my mind cannot accept this compromise for some reason...

Hmm, ok, well perhaps you have a different stumbling block.

I really like Venkat's idea that life-changing decisions should be "leveraged", e.g. a decision to go to bed earlier automatically improves your ability to make other decisions. So start with the simple physiological stuff (sleeping, eating, exercise), and move on to higher-level things when your newly gained strength allows that.

I've actually been trying that, but the willpower involved in things like sleeping and exercise along are completely draining me of any power to do anything else, to the point that even these things seem impossible

Have you tried altering your diet at all?

Yes i've been following a new higher fruit and veg based diet and following gwern's supplement tips.

Can you talk to this other LWer in person on a regular basis? It's been incredibly helpful for me to have in-person discussions of how I'm doing and what I'd like to tackle next, and brainstorming sessions on how to pursue the next goal.

Also, like everyone else says, don't try to get there all at once. There are complications you're not yet aware of. Optimize one thing at a time, and try and cultivate a visceral sense of achievement when you do so.

Yes! This!

If you don't have a LWer to talk to, maybe attend the Google+ hangout and make a friend to brainstorm with.

I cannot talk to this LWer at all anymore. I've been talking to some of the LWérs on the IRC channel with some success.

Ah, that's too bad. Face-to-face is best for personal improvement discussions, followed by video chat- you might see if some of your IRC friends are willing to talk that way. (Nonverbal communication can be key in picking up on the stuff you're not aware you're thinking.)

Videochat might work, ill ask around.

Seconded. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of talking to people — either a Less Wrong person, or a person who will understand the things you're dealing with.

I have been plagued by similar problems for all my life. Here is how I currently deal with it.

There are 4 heuristics that I try to keep in a reflective equilibrium:

  • Rationality (conscious, reflective high-level cognition).
  • Instinct, intuition and gut feeling.
  • Satisfaction of elementary needs (this includes having fun).
  • Doing what I want based on naive introspection.

(Note: I might be mistaken about the terminology I used to describe what I'm doing, or doing so might be wrong in and of itself, but it currently allows me to stay happy and productive. Suggestions are welcome.)

I'm glad to hear you're happy.

That first link seems very rational and obvious, yet its hard to implement it seems. I'm probably going against everything its advising and i don't know how to turn the tide

If the problem is that you're not where sure where to start on such a big project, then there are some good suggestions here, and I'm sure we can generate more.

If its just that your emotional response to this is a bad one, then that's a completely different problem with a rather quick fix. The emotions you feel and the stimulus that caused them are entirely separate things, and it doesn't make sense to go on feeling inappropriate emotions.

The list of improvements that should be made was already very long - as it is for everyone. Is there any reason you shouldn't feel excited that you're discovering it so that you can start improving?

[-][anonymous]10y 5

The only way I can make myself do useful things is to put aside the goal of "being perfect" or "self-improvement" and just think "I want to do this one particular project just to do it." Every time I've done something that has contributed positively to my reputation, resume, or "awesomeness", I've gotten caught up at least part of the time in just wanting to do it -- solving this problem, writing this paper or code, reading about this subject.

There are limits to the usefulness of looking at yourself and asking "am I good enough? What's my score? What's my goal score?" Sure, scoring mechanisms have their uses (e.g. GPA, income, karma, awards and honors, etc.) but when you're actually in the process of doing something, you have to take your mind off your score. If "self-improvement" is demotivating (and it is, for a lot of people, including me) stop thinking about the "self" part, and just think about the specific things you want to do.

I don't think i ever let myself enjoy the just doing, its always for a cause and the cause doesn't motivate me to actually get up and do it. I really see the self-inprovement as a goal in itself and your right that this shouldn't be the main goal.

The improvement to-do list is a mile long

Improve your to do list by filing it away and starting a new one with a methodology that doesn't handicap you.

I will say how I do it if asked but I'd rather those more successful with such lists responded first.

I'm a big fan of the GTD system for doing that.

Roughly, it can be summarized as a system that lets you forget everything that you're trying to do long enough to actually do any of it.

It tries to make it easier for you to think by freeing up the mental threads that you have running that try to remember what you want to do. Having your brain keep track of lots of things for you saps energy and motivation, but external sources don't nearly as much. Rather than feeling like you have a million and one things to do, it gives you your things one at a time, while ensuring that everything you put through it actually happens. In theory.

I personally use some software to manage the lists, but basically what you do is...

Collect: You put everything you want to do through one system. When something pops up, all you have to do is put it in your inbox. When you trust this system, you feel safe that once something goes in you'll act appropriately, and the thread dedicated to making you actually do the thing is sated.

Process: You go through your inbox and decide what to do. Figure out a next concrete step to do for every item in your inbox. Having a concrete step lowers the trivial inconvenience to doing something since you have less thinking to do at the beginning of a task, and lets you step in and start something when you feel like working on it.

Then, if its actionable and not dependent on anything else, you either do it now if it takes less than 2 minutes, or schedule a time to do if it doesn't. Your software should let you schedule things, and automatically give it back to you when it comes to the scheduled time. If you're waiting on something, mark down the thing you're waiting on and come back to it after that. Different programs do this to different degrees -- what I've been doing so far is just putting everything that's waiting on something in my next box, and checking it regularly. If you don't actually want to do it, throw it out. Do this relentlessly with things that aren't necessary, and save yourself the headache.

Organize: Put everything into a system that lets you access what you need when you actually need it. I have a Today, Next, Scheduled, and Someday list. Everything in the Today list is stuff I intend to do today. Everything in Next is stuff that I want to do in the near future, but not today. At the end of each day, I look at my next list and see if I want to move anything into my today list. The Scheduled list is everything that has a particular date that its going to come up again. My software handles moving them from scheduled to today on the day that I told it to when I process. The Someday list is things that I may want to do sometime, but have no plans to start.

Review: Periodically go through things to make sure that you're doing all of them. See if you want to move things from next to today. Make sure that the tasks for the project you wanted to work on are actually moving forward at the rate you expected them to. If not, see if you need to rearrange your schedule to give yourself more time for it.

Do: Actually do the stuff. Go to your today list and work your way through the things. If you're not working on it now, don't particularly worry about it.

That sounds like a particularly useful bit of software. Is that available online anywhere, or is it something you cooked up yourself?

It's based on a book by David Allen called Getting Things Done.

I personally use, but there are a bunch of different programs based on this. This isn't free, but there's a trial period and its not particularly expensive afterwards. It would probably be worth googling around if you need something different.

I actually use GTD, it doesn't help the with the overwhelming fear though :(

Aww man...

Fear of what?

I find that it helps get things off my mind so that I can focus on the task at hand, and that it makes it so that I can actually remember to do small necessary things.

What suggestion do you have?

What do you want to do with your new 'rationality'? Choose a problem and then the tools you'll need to solve it. Don't be a tool looking for a problem.