This is the public group instrumental rationality diary for the week of October 29th. 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 everyone who contributes!

Previous diaryarchive of prior diaries.

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It currently seems like the best technique I've discovered for increasing focus and productivity, energy levels, and personal happiness has been having a baby (or technically, my wife having a baby.)

At work, I work. I no longer "require" lengthy breaks to go on walks or read LessWrong at my desk. My daughter needs food and diapers, and she needs my attention when I'm at home in the evenings, which means I need to get my work done efficiently and with high quality, and I need to get it done while I'm at work so my mind is free at home.

It's a common belief that having a small baby makes the parents exhausted all the time. This happens some nights, but your body gets used to waking up during the night, and you make small sacrifices like going to be earlier. I generally feel no more exhausted than I did when I was single and staying up way too late watching movies and reading internets every night.

I am a pretty physically lazy person, or I used to be. For example, it was fairly typical that if I was thirsty or needed to use the rest room, I would avoid getting up off the couch until the need became quite uncomfortable. Since having a baby, I have essentially been unable to remain sitting in one position for more than, perhaps, half an hour, so I simply don't have this inertial lethargy anymore. If I'm thirsty, I get a glass of water.

Generally, most things don't bother me anymore. I've had confrontations recently which, in the past, would have ruined my week, but now they don't even effect my mood.

I suppose it's a huge cliche, but I think the fact is that my daughter is my something to protect and thus an unexpected source of personal superpowers. The power of a role to be filled is extremely motivating, and luckily I have a highly positive cached expectation for the role of "father."

(I hesitated to post this because I feel like there is a bias against reproduction on LessWrong. I feel like at least some group of people is going to read "motivated cognition" into my claim that having a baby improved my life. I would respond - even if that's true, so what?)

I feel like there is a bias against reproduction on LessWrong.

Is there? I kinda hope not.


Our demographics skew young (75% under 30, 90% under 38) and unmarried (18%, surely way below at least the American average) so that could explain a perceived bias without having to resort to more elaborate arguments.

Let's see what people have answered the “have children” and “want (more) children” questions when the survey results come out...


I've been working hard for several months to make myself more attractive to women: e.g. working out, dieting, and improving my social skills. I've also been taking better care of myself and have started wearing clothes that look/fit better. Most importantly, I have been regularly talking with women in my classes. (Both just talking, and sometimes trying to flirt.)

I'm doing all of this because I want to start dating regularly. And yesterday, I asked a woman on a date and she said yes! I feel like this is a huge success for me, and the dividends of applying some instrumental rationality techniques.

I'd like to continue to make myself more attractive, as well as turn this one date into a success spiral. This one success makes me much more confident, as well as engenders other positive emotions.

I currently have an abundance of free time. As part of this, I've decided to lose some weight, and for the past month I've been walking at least five miles for at least six evenings a week while keeping my calorie intake stable. I'm currently at the fragile stage where the behaviour hasn't yet become habit, but my enthusiasm has started to wane.

Some observations:

  • October/November was not necessarily the ideal time of year to undertake this project.

  • To begin with, I valued the time spent walking because it gave me time alone with my thoughts. With 90 minutes of this every day, I've discovered I don't have an inexhaustible supply of thoughts. As a result, I will sometimes do half an hour or so of study before I go for my walk so I have some concepts to mull over.

  • Varying my route means I'm less likely to get bored. I think this has a lot to do with making mental milestones for regular routes. ("I've just passed under this bridge, so that means I'm only a sixth of the way, this is going to be a long walk!").

  • I've considered various forms of entertainment/education I could use while walking, such as music, podcasts, audio lectures or foreign language tapes. I've had some technical difficulties of late which have prevented me trying these out.

  • Watching TV and film with lots of fit people doing action-packed things is a surprisingly good motivator for exercise. This seems ridiculous to external observation. "Oliver Queen is a fictional character played by an unbelievably ripped actor, who carries out implausible acts of physical prowess on a TV show. Therefore I should go for a walk and become a little less fat".

  • While I'm currently somewhat overweight, I used to be enormous, to the considerable detriment of my health, social life and self-esteem. I lost a large amount of weight five or six years ago, but I still have a lot of residual anger and resentment towards perceived mistreatment I experienced during this time. Thinking about this is also a powerful motivator, but I'm unsure of how healthy this is as regards my psychological wellbeing.

  • This walking regimen takes up about ten hours a week. While I have that free time right now, I will have a lot less free time in the new year. The obvious course of action would be to transition my walking regimen into an equivalent quantity of running, but I'm unsure of the best way to go about doing this. I've had a couple of abortive attempts at Couch to 5K, both of which failed because running in public is embarrassing and hilarious to onlookers if you're not very good at it; having people laugh at your efforts to better yourself is unbelievably demoralising.

To begin with, I valued the time spent walking because it gave me time alone with my thoughts. With 90 minutes of this every day, I've discovered I don't have an inexhaustible supply of thoughts. As a result, I will sometimes do half an hour or so of study before I go for my walk so I have some concepts to mull over.

Thanks for the tip!

I had a strong aversion to changing the area in which I work. My friend pointed out that from all the outside views it was a good idea to look into changing, like, now. So I committed to send the requisite emails no matter how bad it made me feel 'cause it was worth doing even before figuring out the aversion and if I did, buy myself a steak dinner. Then I sent the emails. Then I bought myself and my friend a steak dinner.

I have not yet investigated the strong aversion.

Area meaning location or area meaning occupation?

Started doing some minor exercise (stretches, jumping jacks, a few pushups and crunches) in the morning and at lunch. Low effort, yet better than being completely sedentary all day.

Listening to upbeat music at work to stave off creeping negativity. Has the unfortunate side effect of making me fidget-dance.

In the past few days there's been at least three separate occasions when I was rationalizing, noticed I was rationalizing, and then, rather than change my behavior, proceeding to rationalize why it was okay for me to rationalize. I discovered I'm not nearly as determined to be rational as I say I am.


The Shangri-La diet has been mentioned a few times around here, and each time I came across it I went "Hmm, that's cool, I'll have to do it some time". Last week I realized that this was in large part due to the fact that all discussions of it say something along the lines of "Sugar water is listed as one of the options, but you should really do one of the less pleasant alternatives". And this was sufficient to make me file it away as something I should do "some time".

I'm not in any population which is especially more strongly disposed to getting diabetes than average, I already drink a soda every other day or so, drinking sugar water is something I would consider quite pleasant, and I'm around 40 lbs over my target weight, so I decided that getting whatever benefit there was to be had from the sugar water was a better outcome than deciding on a less pleasant method and failing to actually get started yet again.

Over the first few days I saw a slight drop in my weight (though still more than the "MORE WILLPOWER!" method had accomplished over the same interval the last time I tried that), and some appetite reduction which may have just been imagined. Unfortunately, I ran out of sugar 4 days in, and wasn't able to buy more for a couple days. By the time I did, my weight had risen to above where I started. So I have no idea whether this is a success or not, but I'm still proud that I managed to get past the whole "But it's not optimal!" roadblock and try a cheap (in terms of willpower) test.

I recently took the time to compile a list of my favorite philosophy podcasts and finally realized in the process that I spend a disproportionate amount of time on podcasts in general. However, since I've been pretty happy about how much time I spend on podcasts, I'm unsure if changes to my current behavior are warranted.

My current plan is to cut the bottom third of podcasts I prefer out and see how I feel. If it turns out that I'll be just as content with only 2/3 of the time invested, that'll definitely free up some time I can spend on other projects. But my prediction is that I'll miss a lot of them and just end up re-adding them after a few weeks' hiatus. I'll guess I'll find out in a month or two.


Wow, thanks just for that list. I err on the other side of time-spent-on-podcasts so I mightily appreciate this resource.

I looked into getting a Nectar card, saw that it only saves about 1%, and decided it wasn't worth the hassle of scanning. But then I did an actual calculation, assuming that it adds ten seconds to a shopping trip, and decided that it's an effective use of those ten seconds if I'm spending £3 or more. Now I have a Nectar card.

I didn't take into account the hassle of getting a card (a few minutes so far, I'm not sure whether I need to register it online at some point or the leaflet is just creatively written, so maybe longer), or of redeeming points (unknown) or of having an extra card in my wallet (small).

A few weeks ago, I set the goal for myself of having some significant accomplishment to show for each week, either in the category of creative content (writing / game development) or something of significant use (like general purpose utility software). This was based on something similar I did in the first few months of 2010, which was based on the "virtual series" idea--that is, write and release screenplays for an episodic series with the limitations of an actual weekly production in mind.

At first, this seemed to be working somewhat; I wound up adding a list of specific things I wanted for each week for the next year, and I've had less success with that. But the past two weeks have seen less success, so a few days ago I decided that I should at least be able to identify some kind of work I've accomplished each day. And I've accomplished nothing since.

The evidence still seems to be in favor of weekly deadlines more than anything else, at least.


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Missing a link?

Whoops, hah, more like in reply to the wrong thread.