This is the public group instrumental rationality diary for August 16-31. 

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 cata for starting the Group Rationality Diary posts, and to commenters for participating.

Previous diary: August 1-15

Next diary: September 1-15

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10 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 2:46 AM

Malcolm Ocean defines a thought hook as:

...a module in your brain that gets activated by you thinking/saying/hearing a certain phrase or structure of sentence. [...]

So one example (that will be familiar to some CFAR alumni at least) is when you encounter the word “later” and your brain instantly responds “THAT’S NOT A TIME.” Val, a CFAR instructor, while teaching a course on the planning fallacy and contingency planning, has described how he’s very averse to the word “later”. Why? Because it’s dangerous. It looks like a time but doesn’t act like a time. You can schedule something for “later” but that won’t actually cause the thing to happen because later never comes, even though the word works grammatically and type-sensitively (“schedule for X” requires that X refers to some point(s) in time, which “later” does).

I seem to have managed to install in myself the thought hook "if something feels uncomfortable, but doing it involves no real risk, then the discomfort is a reason to do it". This has been a useful way to get myself to do comfort zone expansion. So far, it has caused me to do things like 1) walk a route that I've sometimes avoided because I sometimes run into a neighbor coming the opposite way and I feel social anxiety over not knowing the right distance for making eye contact and saying hi 2) go into a store selling women's clothing and shop for a new dress 3) wear dresses and cat ears in public 4) make food when I'm at home and feeling sufficiently low on energy that I'd rather just go to a nearby fast food place than prepare anything myself.

I greatly benefited from a silly-seeming "information hazard management scheme" (suggestions for better/existing terms are welcome):

I was going to interview at my top choice med school that I applied to, School A, and knew that I would receive my first admissions decision, from School B, on the same day I would be interviewing. I was mildly confident (60-70%) that School B would accept me, and I really wanted to know their decision. If I were to be accepted, I figured I'd get a confidence boost that would improve my interview performance at School A. But finding that I hadn't been accepted would badly shake my confidence.

So I arranged to receive a noisy and biased signal of my admissions decision. I asked my sister to execute the following when prompted: Flip a coin twice; if the outcome is HH, stop there; otherwise log into my email account and send me a text message iff School B admitted me. This protocol has the effect of diluting the bad news with noise -- P(admitted | no text) ~ 0.3-0.4 -- while still being 75% likely to give me the good news if it exists.

On interview day at School A, the decision email arrived about 30 minutes before my actual interviews. I let my sister know, and waited. I didn't hear back, and as expected, I didn't think much of it. I resisted the temptation to open the email until after my interviews (the interviews went fine). It turned out that School B waitlisted me, which predictably wrecked my confidence. School A would later be the only med school to accept me.

In Ham Land:

  • According to Liz, no frills Cryonics may cost approximately the same as World of Warcraft on a yearly basis. I do expect to sometime in the next year have a job that could support a gaming habit on the side. If I'm going to continue not even poking the idea of actually signing up for cryonics, I have to admit myself I am not optimizing for life. Examining my own emotions... Yes. I do not really alieve that me not being alive tomorrow would be this terribly awful thing. System 2 recognized this as a probable failure mode and takes great care not to take direction from this part of my brain, but it's still there.
  • This weekend has been an experience in trying to reframe the unhelpful "You are shit. You're so deeply shit that rationality training can't even dig you out of your shit." voice in my head. It is has been too long since I have interacted with people who both deliberately avoid being reinforcers of this and do not try to smother the emotion away with mere feel-good strokes. It hurts to brush up against the edge of doing more Things, it brings back all the failures and shame of not doing more Things before. Reframing much of this pain as a signal of growth--much like outright panic might be the sign of a truly important discovery--and being curious about the way in which I might fail sounds way too simple to work. And yet... I am curious where it might lead me before it crashes.
  • When doing a conference thing... or any intensely social thing, this appears to be consistent in some smaller examples in my journal... I HAVE to plan in some time to rest and regroup. At the very least, I cannot skip morning prep and meditation as I tend to do on vacation. I spent the last day and a half of the CFAR Alumni Reunion as an ineffectual zombie of tiredness because I was trying to discount sleep in favor of interesting conversations. (This is a natural consequence of how I "planned" for the event: I only brainstormed things to do, rather than go through a whole murphy-jitsu session.) I have thought this thought before: that taking breaks was important for a.) my health, and b.) actually being fully present for whatever thing it happens to feels important to not walk away from.
  • My to-go packs need optimizing. Melatonin would have been just as if not more useful than the caffeine. Water bottles never got refilled. The snacks I carry turned out to be very useful, I got dizzy a few times and someone else needed my jerky because of low iron. There were not shampoos or conditioners, I may want to at least have soap in my backpack. I would have liked needle and thread at a couple of points.
  • Tried adrafinil. Felt AWESOME while on it, felt less awesome and cry-ish later in the day. Unsure how much was the event vs. the drug. Will look up side effects and probably buy some.
  • Also, aim for talks that are not already familiar to me. I aimed to reinforce ideas I already knew, which I was working on doing at home anyways, and missed much opportunity to find novel thoughts and network with differently focused people.
  • I am moving my to-do's off of HabitRPG now. It tends to fail me when I am not alone and at my computer all day. It has done wonders for keeping me basically functional on most days. I do not want alone and at my computer to be the majority of my life anymore. So, I'm opting for something more flexible. Google Now for daily functionality and alarms + Evernote for reference and my next actions lists.
  • this is not an exhaustive list but I want to do other things.

I believe that reframing these "voices in head" is critical for long-term productivity. Essentially, these voices determine your internal reinforcements (rewards, punishments) for things that happen to you, which makes you do more or less of them later. This is sometimes even more important than what actually happened; the same thing may happen to two people, one of them will reward themselves for it, other will punish themselves. In short term, you can try using "willpower", but in long term the balance will go towards the things you reward yourself for doing.

Of these two kinds of reinforcement -- rewards, punishments -- I would recommend focusing on rewards. Because if you want to live rationally, you must notice what is happening to you. You may say "I will reward myself for doing X, and punish myself for doing Y", but unless you use some automatic detector, you actually mean "I will reward myself for noticing that I am doing X, and punish myself for noticing than I am doing Y." Punishing yourself for noticing, that's not a good idea; instead of reducing Y, it could just reduce your self-awareness.

it brings back all the failures and shame of not doing more Things before

Heh, I know what you mean. There is no success that a brain sufficiently trained in negative thinking couldn't interpret as a failure. Even "I wasn't as great yesterday as I am today... therefore I am a loser" can seem credible from a specific angle (where yesterday is forever, and today is just an exception) and suddenly you punish yourself for improving, which is like the most unreasonable thing you could do. -- Although it probably made sense in ancient environment, where "yesterday and days before that" were better evidence of your social status than an exceptional "today". So you are essentially telling yourself not to overestimate your social status. Not completely incorrect, but comes with the horrible side effect of not doing the useful thing which could threaten the status balance.

So... be nice to yourself! ♡ Especially when you do the right thing. Even if it is a small right thing, or a right thing you could have done yesterday, or all the other kinds of right things your brain is able to find an excuse why you should actually punish yourself for doing them (as if not doing them could somehow make things better).

Re: cryonics, I've been playing with the same sort of "revealed preference" idea, but on reflection I don't think it survives a status quo reversal test. If I'd been signed up by default, I would not cancel my membership in exchange for a smallish annuity and a larger lump sum payment that's equivalent to the time and other costs of signing up for cryonics.

I'm in the painfully slow process of optimizing my work flow and method of knowledge management and acquisition.

That means I started to use Evernote as extention of my brain instead of relying on pen and paper which I manage to never have next to me when a thought occurs. One side effect is that I jot down a lot more ideas and leads than I could follow through in terms of time, money and mental capacity. One big advantage though is that I usually access these notes at a later time when I actually work on something vaguely related to that thought.

In the process of writing down all those things, I noted how much time I spend doing various things and how I go about doing them. Since we are living in a time where software eats everything I am working on automating all kinds of tasks and optimising the software stack I use. This is yet in a too early stage to properly comment about it.

Lastly I need some kind of system to decide on what to save and what to discard, meaning both information and tasks. The more effort I put in the more I come to the conclusion that software in the classical sense can only solve a fraction of our problems.

I just made the transition from marketing/content management consulting to creative writing full time. I also just completed a week of transcribing my long hand writing notes across my 7 active novels. I use Evernote and love it very much. I have it on all my devices and put things down as I think of them which includes outline ideas, bits of dialogue or setting or simply interesting things that may be useful. As far as categorizing your ideas I would think in this manner:

Score each idea on feasibility from 1 to 10 (including cost, time, expertise, and gamification)

Then evaluate these ideas from 1 to 10 on how much you actually want to see them happen

Lastly, evaluate these ideas from 1 to 10 on how they move the conversation of your life forward.

I would then add all those up and then rank your projects by score. Those that score highest go first. You can also organize them by how they ranked by category if you so choose. Let's think about this:

To use myself as an example I have 7 novels, a short story project, and articles going.

I score the novels on the following:

How long I've had the idea The amount of work already done Project viability (based on what's the shelf right now and my ability to sell said novel)

Therefore my novels are categorized:

Memoir (foremost project I'm working on that scored highest) Cast Iron (A novel project with 6 years working duration) Project C Project D Project E Project F Project G

I then take everything else and score it based on urgency which looks like this:

Blogging for (getting ready for fall) Inkspired articles (due for November issue) I.G. Farben web series (long awaited and delayed 3 times) Ancient archetypes for Modern Masculine Living Gay men in the Media (moving up because there is a potential publisher)

When September arrives I am doing the fall season of my talk show and I will be reworking that workflow to create my video topics and news stories and then record all the videos in one day and then spread out the distribution of those videos over time compared to my record and upload strategy that was clunky and time consuming.

I hope this helps!

Yet another week in Hamland:

  • starting a melatonin self-trial. Not double-blinded, and only two weeks long (1 week melatonin, 1 week control). The primary aim is less to get significant results on it and more to get into the general swing of recording stuff well enough to do maths on. It was great when I started collecting anecdotes, but more is possible.
  • I am probably not asexual, despite frequent attempts to self-identify as such, and have the beginnings of a plan to better explore my boundaries. WOoooOOooh.
  • I am now not using HabitRPG. It will take a while yet to iron out the kinks in Google Now, but I think it's working well so far. I want to remember to celebrate when I get things done, since I don't get arbitrary points for it anymore. I possibly need to install a System-1 visualization of being better off for looking at the list of things to do so I at least know exactly what I'm ignoring.

Last week of August:

  • Optimizations: I moved my physical filing system into my laptop bag. More of my home base is now portable, yippy.
  • I am making an effort to get my stuff down to a manageable number of things for nomadism. Not because I think I'd do that, but because having the affordance is useful for not feeling too claustrophobic to think rationally about where I live. I'm hunting down yard sales to buddy up on every other week, and my laptop now has the driver to run the document scanner we've got.
  • Had an emotional breakdown on Wednesday. The culprit is likely some combination of forgetting to take medication and getting not enough sleep. The straw was looking at a box I'd made for the family to collect happy positive thoughts in: a hopeful initiative which had crashed and burned upon contact with said family.
  • I wonder whether it would have been better or worse without the melatonin. I was procrastinating going to grab the pill until it was past any reasonable hour. (I've now fixed this by having an alarm and leaving it ready to take next to my computer. Some solutions are embarrassingly simple as soon as you bother to think about them.) Perhaps I was dead tired enough by then that the melatonin had no benefit in helping me get to sleep, while convincing my body that the night should last longer than I had time for.
  • Texting random people every day has fallen out of use, habitrpg was much better for daily challenges like that than my new system.

This is more of a question than a comment, but here it goes: what do y'all think about Steve Pavlina's blog ( ) , when it comes to the issues raised by the OP?

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