Title taken from Tyler Cowen: The high-return activity of raising others’ aspirations

This is taken from a twitter thread (which I also wrote up on my website) that I was - aptly for the content - encouraged to put in non-Twitter places. Thanks for the encouragement!

Things you can say to people in ten seconds that sometimes produce insanely outsized effects:

  1. Yeah, someone *should* do that. Why not you?
  2. Is there something you could do about that problem in the next five minutes?
  3. That's a great thought - have you written it up somewhere? I'd be excited to share it if so.
  4. Should you write a book / blog?
  5. You want to do that but don't think you will? Do you want to make a concrete plan now?
  6. Do you want me to ask in a week / month if you've done that or how it's going?
  7. Feeling stuck sucks. Want to brainstorm together?
  8. Feeling stuck sucks. Have you spent a five minute timer generating options?
  9. What's the twenty minute / minimum viable product version of this overwhelming-feeling thing?
  10. Do you want me to sit with you while you fill out that application/write that email? Too bad, it's happening.
  11. Is it worth just asking / cold emailing and seeing?
  12. Is there anyone I know who you'd like to be introduced to?
  13. Do you want to just set an alarm on your phone now as a reminder? (from Damon Sasi)
  14. Do you know anyone else who might have struggled with or succeeded at that? Have you talked to them about it? (from Damon Sasi)
  15. Who do you know who you could ask for help from?
  16. You are Allowed (to try, to do, to build, to ask). I strongly recommend this link of things you are allowed to do.
  17. Do you sort of already know what you're going to do / have your mind made up about this?

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One time an EA just asked me "have you considered becoming a billionaire?", which I found very potent.

Here is a thread on the EA forum which makes this case explicitly.

How's that going? (Sincere question)

It could be coincidental, but since then I think the rate of pondering founding/building ideas has increased. Perhaps my ability to see myself in a founder role has increased.

(Which isn't specifically about profitable business models, so could be orthogonal to the billionaire suggestion: most of the "buildy" ideas I ponder are grant-reliant / unprofitable)

Note that if someone is low on akrasia or depressed, raising their aspirations can be net-negative.

For instance, the EA community seems to have a recurring problem of some people burning out after learning about it. That said, I don't know if there are any surveys on this problem; I'm mostly basing this impression on there being several high-karma EA forum posts on this topic, e.g. this or this.

It is definitely important to have sense of who you're talking to and what they need (law of equal and opposite advice). For what it's worth, 5-10 and 13 are aimed to be disproportionately helpful for people who have trouble doing things (depending on the reason). 

I'm a certified life coach, and several of these are questions found in life coaching.
 

E.g.:

Is there something you could do about that problem in the next five minutes?

Feeling stuck sucks. Have you spent a five minute timer generating options?

What's the twenty minute / minimum viable product version of this overwhelming-feeling thing?

These are all part of a broader technique of breaking down a problem.  (I can probably find a name for it in my book.) E.g.: Someone comes in saying they're really bad at X, and you ask them to actually rate their skills and then what they could do to become 5% better. 

 

You want to do that but don't think you will? Do you want to make a concrete plan now?

Do you want to just set an alarm on your phone now as a reminder? (from Damon Sasi)

Do you sort of already know what you're going to do / have your mind made up about this?

 


These are all part of the "commitment" phase of a coaching session, which basically looks like walking someone through SMART goals.

 

Do you know anyone else who might have struggled with or succeeded at that? Have you talked to them about it? (from Damon Sasi)


Who do you know who you could ask for help from?

 

I can't say these are instances of a named technique, but they are things you'd commonly find a coach asking. Helping someone look inside themselves for resources they already have is a pretty significant component of coaching.

There's a major technique in coaching not represented here called championing. Champion is giving someone positive encouragement by reinforcing some underlying quality. E.g.: "You've shown a lot of determination to get this far, and I know you'll be able to use it to succeed at X."

 

Several of these questions do differ from life coaching in a big way: they suggest a course of action. We call this "advice-giving" as telling someone what to do serves the advice-giver's agenda more than the receiver's, or at least serves what the advice-giver thinks the receiver's agenda should be. The best piece of (irony forthcoming) advice I've received about coaching is to "coach the person, not the problem." Much more effective than to help someone with the task at hand is to help them cultivate the underlying skill. Instead of suggesting courses of action, you instead focus on their ability to come up with and evaluate options.

 

Recommended reading:  Co-active Coaching, https://www.amazon.com/Co-Active-Coaching-Changing-Business-Transforming/dp/1857885678

Make the person also feel like how you feel when you lose a video game. You don't feel sad and you try to get back immediately because you KNOW where you messed up. So in tandem with "Being stuck sucks,..." phrase, you could say. Hey, you messed up first time because of a wrong approach, let's think of another one!

Also, this is my first time commenting here. :D

These statements might spur some action in the moment but are unlikely to have lasting effects. People have a certain level of trait conscientiousness and certain behaviour/thinking patterns. I think it'll take more to actually meaningfully push someone to aim higher and act on those higher aims.

One could probably use those consistently on a friend over time and actually see a change (provided the friend actually wants to change/is receptive).

I definitely find it helpful to be surrounded by people who will do this for me and help me cultivate a habit of it over time. The case for it being very impactful is if people do a one-time thing, like apply for something or put themselves in the running for something that they otherwise wouldn't have that makes a big difference. The ones that are about accountability (Can I remind you about that in a week?) also are sort of a conscientiousness loan, which can be cheap since it can be easier to check in on other people than to do it for yourself. 

I like this in that there are some friendly responses to folks’ self-doubts, tendencies towards complaining, laziness, and feigned helplessness. I am going to record these and play them back to myself as needed. Would that be everyday?