[Epistemic status: mostly confident, but being this intentional is experimental]

This year, I'm focusing on two traits: resilience and conscientiousness.  I think these (or the fact that I lack them) are my biggest barriers to success.  Also: identifying them as goals for 2017 doesn't mean I'll stop developing them in 2018.  A year is just a nice, established amount of time in which progress can actually be made.  This plan is a more intentional version of techniques I've used to improve myself over the last few years.  I have outside verification that I'm more responsible, high-functioning, and resilient than I was several years ago.  I have managed to reduce my SSRI dose, and I have finished more important tasks this year than last year.  

Inspiring blog posts and articles can only do so much for personal development.  The most valuable writing in that genre tends to outline actual steps that (the author believes) generate positive results.  Unfortunately, finding those steps is a fairly personal process.  The song that gives me twenty minutes of motivation and the drug that helps me overcome anxiety might do the opposite for you.  Even though I'm including detailed steps in this plan, you should keep that in mind.  I hope that this post can give you a template for troubleshooting and discovering your own bottlenecks.

I.  

First, I want to talk about my criteria for success.  Without illustrating the end result, or figuring out how to measure it, I could finish out the year with a false belief that I'd made progress.  If you plan something without success criteria, you run the same risk. I also believe that most of the criteria should be observable by a third party, i.e. hard to fake. 

  1. I respond to disruptions in my plans with distress and anger.  While I've gotten better at calming down, the distress still happens. I would like to have emotional control such that I observe first, and then feel my feelings.  Disruptions should incite curiosity, and a calm evaluation of whether to correct course.  The observable bit is whether or not my husband and friends report that I seem less upset when they disrupt me.  This process is already taking place; I've been practicing this skill for a long time and I expect to continue seeing progress.  (resilience)
  2. If an important task takes very little time, doesn't require a lot of effort, and doesn't disrupt a more important process, I will do it immediately. The observable part is simple, here: are the dishes getting done? Did the trash go out on Wednesday?  (conscientiousness)
  3. I will do (2) without "taking damage."  I will use visualization of the end result to make my initial discomfort less significant.  (resilience) 
  4. I will use various things like audiobooks, music, and playfulness to make what can be made pleasant, pleasant.  (resilience and conscientiousness)
  5. My instinct when encountering hard problems will be to dissolve them into smaller pieces and identify the success criteria, immediately, before I start trying to generate solutions. I can verify that I'm doing this by doing hard problems in front of people, and occasionally asking them to describe my process as it appears.  
  6. I will focus on the satisfaction of doing hard things, and practice sitting in discomfort regularly (cold tolerance, calming myself around angry people, the pursuit of fitness, meditation).  It's hard to identify an external sign that this is accomplished.  I expect aversion-to-starting to become less common, and my spouse can probably identify that.  (conscientiousness)
  7. I will keep a daily journal of what I've accomplished, and carry a notebook to make reflective writing easy and convenient.  This will help keep me honest about my past self.  (conscientiousness) 
  8. By the end of the year, I will find myself and my close friends/family satisfied with my growth.  I will have a record of finishing several important tasks, will be more physically fit than I am now, and will look forward to learning difficult things.
One benefit of the some of these is that practice and success are the same.  I can experience the satisfaction of any piece of my practice done well; it will count as being partly successful.  

II.

I've taken the last few years to identify these known bottlenecks and reinforcing actions.  Doing one tends to make another easier, and neglecting them keeps harder things unattainable.  These are the most important habits to establish early.  

  1. Meditation for 10 minutes a day directly improves my resilience and lowers my anxiety.
  2. Medication shouldn't be skipped (an SSRI, DHEA, and methylphenidate). If I decide to go off of it, I should properly taper rather than quitting cold turkey.  DHEA counteracts the negatives of my hormonal birth control and (seems to!) make me more positively aggressive and confident.
  3. Fitness (in the form of dance, martial arts, and lifting) keeps my back from hurting, gives me satisfaction, and has a number of associated cognitive benefits.  Dancing and martial arts also function as socialization, in a way that leads to group intimacy faster than most of my other hobbies.  Being fit and attractive helps me maintain a high libido.  
  4. I need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep.  I've tried getting around it.  I can't.  Getting enough sleep is a well-documented process, so I'm not going to outline my process here.
  5. Water.  Obviously.
  6. Since overcoming most of my social anxiety, I've discovered that frequent, high-value socialization is critical to avoid depression.  I try to regularly engage in activities that bootstrap intimacy, like the dressing room before performances, solving a hard problem with someone, and going to conventions.  I need several days a week to include long conversations with people I like.  
Unknown bottlenecks can be identified by identifying a negative result, and tracing the chain of events backwards until you find a common denominator.  Sometimes, these can also be identified by people who interact with you a lot.

III.  

My personal "toolkit" is a list of things that give me temporary motivation or rapidly deescalate negative emotions.  

  1. Kratom (<7g) does wonders for my anxieties about starting a task.  I try not to take it too often, since I don't want to develop tolerance, but I like to keep some on hand for this.
  2. Nicotine+caffeine/ltheanine capsules gives me an hour of motivation without jitters.  This also has a rapid tolerance so I don't do it often.
  3. A 30-second mindfulness meditation can usually calm my first emotional response to a distressing event.
  4. Various posts on mindingourway.com can help reconnect me to my values when I'm feeling particularly demotivated.  
  5. Reorganizing furniture makes me feel less "stuck" when I get restless.  Ditto for doing a difficult thing in a different place.
  6. Google Calendar, a number of notebooks, and a whiteboard keep me from forgetting important tasks.
  7. Josh Waitzkin's book, The Art of Learning, remotivates me to achieve mastery in various hobbies.
  8. External prompting from other people can make me start a task I've been avoiding. Sometimes I have people aggressively yell at me.
  9. The LW study hall (Complice.co) helps keep me focused. I also do "pomos" over video with other people who don't like Complice.
IV.

This outline is the culmination of a few years of troubleshooting, getting feedback, and looking for invented narratives or dishonesty in my approach.  Personal development doesn't happen quickly for me, and I expect it doesn't for most people.  You should expect significant improvements to be a matter of years, not months, unless you're improving the basics like sleep or fitness.  For those, you see massive initial gains that eventually level off.  

If you have any criticisms or see any red flags in my approach, let me know in the comments.

 

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This is inspiring, thank you.

Edit crossposted:

The past 18 months have seen what subjectively feels like more progress than the previous 8 years combined. Inspired by this post I want to briefly outline my current guesses for what the inputs to this have been. Why do I consider myself to have leveled up?

  1. I can trace the genesis of experiences in a much less flinchy, moralizing, or otherwise unhelpful way. This is a dramatic performance improvement for the debugging console, making me more likely to use it.

  2. I consume more worthwhile material than at any previous point in my life, while taking detailed notes that allow me to refer back to it systematically.

  3. As a result of 1, iterating habits is much more effective. All of my self care: sleep, exercise, diet, etc. have improved in ways I expect to be more robust (though not immune) to disruption.

  4. Noticeable decrease in neuroticism. I.e. negative moods are less harsh and shorter in duration.

  5. Noticeable decrease in stress and reactivity. People yelling in my face (including people who have power over processes vital to projects) hasn't bothered me much lately whereas before it would have me shaken for days, and likely cause an unpleasant recall months or years later.

  6. It feels like there is more room in my mind to think bigger, more complex thoughts.

  7. Feel more excited and less defensive when encountering critical feedback or the idea that I have a blindspot.

  8. Far fewer problems seem intractable.

  9. My problem decomposition skills seem improved in the sense that when I talk over problems with intelligent friends I often feel it is easy to point out many potentially useful distinctions that their current model does not make and suggest ways we might test them. I can also rubber duck my own plans in this way and improve their quality dramatically. It's not that this didn't happen before, but there is a sharp clarity that wasn't there before.

Things that seem to have helped (lots of potential confounding with the biggest one being age. I am somewhat disinclined to believe that due to the suddenness of the shift. Shrug.):

  1. Movement. Sure, having an exercise habit, but also just physically altering my state when I am not functioning well gets things working more often than not. Weights, cardio, yoga, but also just walking and sit stand desk ($30 from Ikea parts).

  2. Info triaging. Reading many things at a coarser level and prioritizing more ruthlessly based on what seems valuable, alive. This is a rather pithy description for something of such vast value. It is probably worth a post. (huge ht to Alex Ray for finally finally convincing me to actually do this.)

  3. Developing exobrain systems that work for me in a pleasant rather than onerous, virtue based way. eg I use workflowy, pomodoros, and konmarie like systems a lot. I find many other systems for organizing my priorities to be unpleasant, so I don't use them. Note I said organize my priorities, I don't use such systems in order to try to make myself work. Once I stopp thinking of these as 'productivity systems' I started getting tons of value out of them. That frame is propaganda for an internal fight that it's better to get a ceasefire on rather than developing ever more powerful weapons for.

  4. Noticing negative self talk and not putting up with it. Internal parts that are motivated to get something can engage respectfully with other parts/values or they can be ignored. This got more subtle as I got better at it. I went from noticing explicitly violent internal moves (yelling, shaming, etc.) to noticing that parts use things like hypnotic binding, misleading choice of words to frame issues etc. Your parts are as smart as you because they are you. (sometimes they seem smarter because systems arrived at via selection don't have to stick to a particular abstraction level the way explicitly planned ones do)

  5. Internalizing the core framework of coherence therapy and Immunity to Change by Kegan: that your current bugs/negative emotions/etc. are trying to help you and if you don't acknowledge the important job they are doing any fighting you do against them likely won't work. Or in other words, akrasia is self healing unless you figure out the ways your current coping strategies are helping you get your needs met and you find alternate ways.

  6. I don't know what to call this one that won't induce an eye roll. To paraphrase Lama Yeshe: 'I am not telling you to help others as some sort of virtuous commandment. I am saying that from a 100% selfish standpoint you should try out focusing on the needs of others. Try it for 3 weeks, and honestly evaluate if your life is better. If not, you never have to do it again. But it will likely be impossible not to notice how much better things go when you get in the habit of keeping a lookout for ways you can assist others in their positive goals. No one is telling you to give up your critical faculties and be taken advantage of. And you'll find that your paranoia was unwarranted.' I'll note that if you are secretly keeping a tally of how people owe you you are not doing the thing. This might be semi-involuntary and take conscious effort to drop. Others might be wary as they suspect you of angling for some advantage. Let them in on the secret that you are being selfish. Those you genuinely enjoy helping and those you don't will work itself out naturally.

  7. My attention span has improved dramatically as a result of significantly reduced use of super stimuli (news feeds, video games, pornography, super stimulating foods, hero's journey fiction, hyper attention grabbing style music, frequency of hamster pellet checks (fb, email, messaging, etc.), video binging) and the resulting free time is shocking.

  8. Schematizing everything. This is an improvement not to normal mental tools but to the mental toolbox. Collecting schematic workflows that other tools can be plugged in to for specific tasks. There are far fewer of these and they assist in the mental availability of the correct mental tools because they have what Eugene Gendlin calls a 'specific' or 'sharp' blank. ie a blank that knows what it is looking for (what was that word? no that's not it etc.). Ever wonder why you can remember thousands of words but not 100 mental tools? Because you have a rich associational web for your words (connotation space) but not one for mental tools. This starts fixing that. The sooner you start the better.

  9. Noting (outlined here: http://lesswrong.com/…/triaging_mental_phenomena_or_leveli…/).

  10. Rituals make your life more like Groundhog Day. Mainly used for the meta-habits of setting intentions around other habits and doing reflection. A morning and evening routine is very worth it. It will repeatedly fail, you have to keep iterating so it fits your current life.

  11. Climbing out of the valley of bad meta of believing if I just installed the correct set of mental tools and habits that things would magically fall into place at some indeterminate point in the future. Realizing that I can't use the outputs of other people's processes as my process (as you would be doing if you tried to instantiate this list as a set of processes rather than using it as inspiration to examine your own life more closely)

  12. Meta: carefully investigating motivation, prioritizing, meaning, the concept of 'carefully investigating', goals, systems, mental tools, mental states, search strategies, what counts as an explanation, tacit vs explicit, procedural vs declarative, and others.

Item eight of your second list ('schematizing everything') sounds really interesting. Is it possible to give some specific examples? I'd like to get clearer on what you mean by 'schematic workflows that other tools can be plugged into'.

The executive summary would be that TAPs are cfar discovering one of these. You can hit various systems with the decomposition hammer and you'll start to see the more common pieces crop up over and over. OODA loop, GTD, analogical reasoning, sorting schemes for prioritization. The tell tale sign of one of these is that you can feed it to itself, which indicates it is flexible enough to take all sorts of arguments.

I'll try to write a short post on it at some point.

Thanks, that's useful! A post on this some time sounds good.

I'll try to write a short post on it at some point.

Please do!

I could really benefit from a better note taking system such as the one you mention in item 2. Could you give me some pointers for improving note taking? Relatedly, what system/app do you use for the note taking?

I use workflowy, the key for me is to not worry about messy ontologies and just clean it up every once in a while. If you search for something and can't find it, be sure to add the first search term you tried to use to the thing once you do find it.

This is a great post helldago. I've found a lot of these useful myself and the others I'm excited to try out because I can relate a lot. A couple of other things I have found useful for resilience.

  1. A Mental Health section in my Anki deck. There's about 170 cards which includes things like cognitive reframes (a bad behaviour doesn't make you a bad person, failure is useful if you use the information gained to update your plan etc.), common depression traps I might be caught in (comparison, labelling, all or nothing), stoic quotes and the like. I've never been able to get those mindsets to stick permanently so the periodic reminders pull me out of ruts and provide a mood boost.

  2. Going outside when you've got brain fog. I think there is at least a couple of parts behind this. Sunlight seems to have an almost instant positive mood boost once the warmth hits you. Also subtle shifts in temperature and air quality can happen very gradually without my noticing and I'll become uncomfortable and restless without realising it. The shift in climate puts my mind in a new frame.

Just an idea:

Various posts on mindingourway.com can help reconnect me to my values when I'm feeling particularly demotivated.

Select the best ones. Print them. Put them in a place you frequently visit.

Then, if you happen to be in a state where you would benefit from reading them, you can find them faster.