The time you have

by Elo6 min read5th Jan 20177 comments


Personal Blog

Original post:

Part 1: Exploration-Exploitation

Part 2: Bargaining Trade-offs to your brain.

Part 2a: Empirical time management

Part 3: The time that you have

There is a process called The Immunity to Change by Robert Kegan.  The process is designed to deal with personal problems that are stubborn.  The first step in the process is to make a list of all the things that you are doing or not doing that does not contribute to the goal.  As you go through the process you analyse why you do these things based on what it feels like to do them.

The process is meant to be done with structure but can be done simply by asking.  Yesterday I asked someone who said he ate sugar, ate carbs, and didn't exercise.  Knowing this alone doesn't solve the problem but it helps.

The ITC process was generated by observing patients and therapists for thousands of hours and thousands of cases.  Kegan observed what seems to be effective to bring about change, in people and generated this process to assist in doing so.  The ITC hits on a fundamental universal.  If you read my brief guide on Empirical time management, as well as part 1 - exploration-exploitation of this series it speaks to this universal.  Namely what we are doing with our time is everything we are choosing not to do with our time.  It's a trade off between our values and it's counter-commitments in ITC that's often discovering the hidden counter commitments to the goals.

The interesting thing about what you end up doing with your time is that these are the things that form your revealed preferences.  Revealed preference theory is an economic theory that differentiates between people's stated preferences and their actual actions and behaviours.  It's all good and well to say that your preferences are one thing, but if you never end up doing that; your revealed preferences are in fact something entirely different.

For example - if you say you want to be a healthy person, and yet you never find yourself doing the things that you say you want to do in order to be healthy; your revealed preferences suggest that you are in fact not revealing the actions of a healthy person.  If you live to the ripe old age of 55 and the heavy weight of 130kg and you never end up exercising several times a week or eating healthy food; that means your health goals were a rather weak preference over the things you actually ended up doing (eating plenty and not keeping fit).

It's important to note that revealed preferences are different to preferences, they are in fact distinctly different.  They are their own subset.  Revealed preferences are just another description that informs the map of, "me as a person".  In many ways, a revealed preference is much much more real than a simple preference that does not actually come about.  On a philosophical level, if we have a LoudMouthBot, and all it does is declare it's preference for things.  "I want everyone to be friends", "you need to be friends with me". However it never does anything.   You can log into the bot's IRC channel and see it declaring preferences, day in, day out.  Hour after hour.  And yet, not actually doing those preferences.  He's just a bot, spitting out words that are preferences (almost analogous to a p-zombie).  You could look at LoudMouthBot from the outside and say, "all it does is spew text into a text chat", and that would be an observation which for all purposes can be taken as true.  In contrast, AgentyBot doesn't really declare a preference, Agentybot knows the litany of truth.

If the sky is blue

I desire to believe that the sky is blue,

If the sky is not blue

I desire to believe that the sky is not blue.

Or for this case; a litany of objectivity,

If my revealed preferences show that I desire this goal

I desire to know that is my goal,

If my revealed preferences show that I do not desire this goal

I desire to know that is not my goal.

Revealed preferences work in two directions.  On the one hand you can discover your revealed preferences and let that inform your future judgements and future actions.  On the other hand you can make your revealed preferences show that they line up with your goal.

A friend asked me how she should find her purpose, Easier said than done right? That's why I suggested an exercise that does the first of the two.  In contrast if you already know your goals you want to take stock of what you are doing and align it with your desired goals.


I already covered how to empirically assess your time, That would be the first step of how you take stock of what you are doing.

The second step is to consider and figure out your desired goals.  Unfortunately the process as to how to do that is not always obvious.  For some people they can literally just take 5 minutes and a piece of paper and list off their goals.  For everyone else I have some clues in the form of the list of common human goals.  By going down the list of goals that people commonly obtain you can cue your sense of what are some of the things that you care about, and figure out which ones matter to you.  There are other exercises, but I take it as read that knowing what your goals are is important.  After you have your list of goals you might like to consider estimating what fraction of your time you want to offer to each of your goals.

The third step is one that I am yet to write about.  Your job is to compare the list of your goals and the list of your time use and consider which object level tasks would bring you towards your goals and which actions that you are doing are not enabling you to move towards your goals.

Everything that you do will take time.  Any goal you want to head towards will take time, if you are spending your time on one task towards one goal and not on another task towards another goal; you are preferencing the task you are doing over the other task.

If these are your revealed preferences, what do you reveal that you care about?

I believe that each of us has potential.  That word is an applause light.  Potential doesn't really have a meaning yet.  I believe that each of us could:

  1. Define what we really care about.
  2. Define what results we think we can aim for within what we really care about
  3. Define what actions we can take to yield a trajectory towards those results
  4. Stick to it because it's what we really want to do.

That's what's important right?  Doing the work you value because it leads towards your goals (which are the things you care about).

If you are not doing that, then your revealed preferences are showing that you are not a very strategic.  If you find parts of your brain doing what they want at the detriment of other parts of your goals, you need to reason with them.  Use the powers of VoI, treat this problem as an exploration-exploitation problem, and run some experiments (post coming soon).  

This whole; define what you really care about and then head towards it, you should know that it needs doing now, or you are making bad trade offs.

Meta: this is part 3 of 4 of this series.

Meta: this took 5+ hours to piece together.  I am not yet very good at staying on task when I don't know how to put the right words in the right order yet.  I guess I need more practice.  What I usually do is take small breaks and come back to it.


7 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 4:10 PM
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What is the theme of this series Elo? What are you trying to achieve? I don't see an introductory post anywhere.

apologies - I don't have a summary yet. But I do have one more post before I stop and make them link better. I will write a summary of the series then.

Don't apologise, it's better that it exists without one than not at all. Looking forward to it.


I am actually having difficulty evaluating whether this series is being well received or not. I can't tell whether silence is akin to, "it's really great and no one has anything to add", or more like, "It's not even wrong so I won't bother pointing out the flaws" or the infinite space in between.

My hunch is, this series sits around the point of, "I implicitly agree with the premise(s) raised but it hasn't impacted my life yet or brought me revelations worth sharing.". If that's the case I need to dig deeper.

My other option is to say more controversial statements so that people have content to dig their claws into when they want to talk about them. This is something I am considering.

Speaking for myself, any text mentioning "revealed preferences" gets flagged as high probability of being in the "not even wrong" territory. Or, more precisely, in the "motte and bailey" territory, because that's where the whole concept resides.

I mean, the "motte" of the revealed preferences is that when people talk all the day about how they want X, but actually everything they do points towards Y, it is reasonable to assume they are probably just bullshiting.

And the "bailey" is taking what actually happened and saying "this is your true preference" even in cases when the person who talked about X actually took some steps towards X, but they failed because... well, usually because the person did something stupid or half-assed. Essentially, to say that "what happened = the true preference" assumes too much rationality and computing power on behalf of the person we are judging. (And ignoring the effects of luck. If I throw a coin and achieve two different results in two Everett branches, does it mean that my "revealed preferences" were in a superposition before the coin landed? Or is it okay if each branch predicts that head/tails has actually been my revealed preference all the time?)

I am not sure what is the point of this article. Is it "if you want X, take a look at whether you seem from outside as 'a person who really wants X', and perhaps adjust your actions accordingly?" That's my best guess, but the previous part about AgentyBot just got the whole text flagged in my mind.

"revealed preferences" gets flagged as high probability of being in the "not even wrong" territory.

""motte and bailey" "this is your true preference"

Quoted from above, "It's important to note that revealed preferences are different to preferences, they are in fact distinctly different. They are their own subset. Revealed preferences are just another description that informs the map of, "me as a person". In many ways, a revealed preference is much much more real than a simple preference that does not actually come about."

Revealed preferences is a very real economic theory by Paul Samuelson -

He originally developed it to replace utility theory because utility has no basis in reality. Just correlation. (similar to the way that math is not real but is in fact correlated with reality very very well that we usually just accept it as being real). Specifically he cared about consumer action and based on some simple premises about how a consumer's choices were fixed, he theorised that you could use a revealed preference (a persons actions lead them to make choices that they believe will increase their utilons) in the place of a utility (a person has preferences that lead to greater utilons).

I don't think he actually succeeded in replacing utility with revealed preference theory (see: how common each theory is today), but I think he certainly made big discoveries and found something very concrete compared to utility. Something in which we can genuinely use as valuable concepts.

Further information:

I'm silent because I haven't read it. The reason being without an overview I'm not sure if it's something worth investing time in. The non-default font causes some aversion to, albeit minor. n=1