[ Question ]

What are your greatest one-shot life improvements?

by Mark Xu1 min read16th May 2020120 comments


Life ImprovementsProductivityPractical

Sometimes, people have life problems that can be entirely solved by doing one thing. (doing X made my life 0.1% better, PERMANENTLY!) These are not things like "This TAP made me exercise more frequently", but rather like "moving my scale into my doorway made me weigh myself more, causing me to exercise more frequently" - a one-shot solution that makes a reasonable amount of progress in solving a problem.

I've found that I've had a couple of life problems that I couldn't solve because I didn't know what the solution was, not because it was hard to solve - once I thought of the solution, implementation was not that difficult. I'm looking to collect various one-shot solutions to problems to expand my solution space, as well as potentially find solutions to problems that I didn't realize I had.

Please only put one problem-solution pair per answer.

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My realization that smoking was associative, led me to try to do it alone. I told everyone in my social circle that i had quit, and smoked in secret when I had to. I don't generally espouse lying but it might be a prerequisite in this case. I stopped using smoking as an aid to social situations, or as something to do with my hands and mouth when i was pensive. I focused completely on the very process and did not accompany smoking with anything else at all. What this method encompasses is, being very aware of smoking, from lighting it, putting it on your lips, inhaling the smoke, exhaling, to flicking the ash and throwing the butt away. I also focused on the sensations in my mouth and lungs, as well as the blood rush. It reduced my daily intake immediately, made me despise smoking, and along with other measures, helped me kick the addiction for good.

I used to have really strong emotions that could be triggered by trivial things, which caused both me and the people I was around a lot of suffering.

I managed to permanently stop this, reducing my emotional suffering by about 90%! I did this by resolving to completely own and deal with my emotions myself, and told relevant people about this commitment. Then I was just pretty miserable and lonely feeling for about 3 months, and then these emotional reactions just stopped completely without any additional effort. I think I permanently lowered my level of neuroticism by doing this.

I frequently got trapped browsing the internet on my phone, so I removed the web browser from my phone. You would think that I would just reinstall the browser, but adding 5 extra seconds delay is apparently sufficient for me to have impulse control.

I was always wary of using drugs to solve my problems (I always thought I should just apply more willpower), but then my anxiety got so bad that I cried every day for nearly a year. Going on SSRIs immediately made a massive difference. I only cry about once a month now and have far more good days than bad.

Similarly, sucking it up and taking ibuprofen when I feel a migraine starting is way better than 'powering through' it. You requested only one problem-solution pair per answer, so I'll generalize this to 'significant life improvements when I stopped blindly rejecting drugs on principle.'

I discovered a year ago something that substantially improves my mood and energy. In the shower each morning, I rub the sole of each foot for just a few seconds with a flannel (or anything slightly rough would do). This produces a buzz (kinda endorphins + caffeine) that lasts all day, without wearing off as it is renewed by standing or walking. It hasn't diminished over time. It's an amazing free lunch. Not just making life 0.1% better, I'd genuinely say 30% better.

Perhaps I have particularly sensitive feet. But presumably this works for some other people, they just haven't tried it; after all, it took me decades to discover it.

I was using my phone too much in bed, so I moved my phone charger far enough that it wouldn't reach my bed.

Setting a recurring alarm at 9:30pm and taking melatonin right away. Got me in the habit of getting tired and going to bed more consistently.

I grew up in warm climates and tend to suffer a lot in cold weather. I moved to a colder climate a few years ago and discovered scarves. Wearing scarves eliminated 90% of this suffering. Scarves are not exactly a bold and novel invention, but people from warm climates may underestimate their power.

Writing down ten ideas a day. This "exercise" of my idea muscle, with just a few months, completely rewired my brain to start thinking more creatively.

I frequently stayed up late on my computer. A timed outlet that turns off my monitor at 10pm almost completely solved this problem by forcing me to actively choose to continue using it.

I only started doing cardio consistently once I paid the upfront cost of trying 14 different pairs of shoes till I found some that made my feet hurt less.

Getting rid of all but ~100 belongings permanently decreased how much time I spend cleaning since the worst things ever get still only takes 10 minutes.

Learning to make 3-4 meals, not in the sense of 'I know the procedure' but in the sense of 'I buy these specific things at these specific stores in these specific quantities and follow this exact procedure each time' ingrained it into muscle memory enough that it no longer occurs as aversive.

Buying a Reach Access flosser made me floss.

Practicing the muscle memory of opening a new note in my favored note taking app and reducing the number of buttons I need to press to do so eventually bootstrapped to a very robust note taking system.

Installing freedom.to, which lets me deactivate websites that are distracting, and sync them acros devices. (I previously tried various things to add a delay to particular websites, not of which worked nearly as well)

I think for Freedom to work, it needed me to also have an active project I was working on that I actually enjoyed. I think otherwise I would have found other ways to distract myself and eventually undermined it to the point that I gave up.

I had bad carpal tunnel pain and RSI due to my coding job 3 years ago, to the point where it was very painful to type, and moderately painful all the time. I was worried I would have to find a new career.

I solved it by seeing David Bacome at Psoas in SF. After about 7 sessions the pain went away completely. He also taught me how to do some exercises to help prevent it from happening again, which I do whenever I start feeling lots of tension in my wrists. It hasn't been an issue since then, and I have no problem using a keyboard for both work and many of my hobbies.

A friend tells me that they would have a new cold sore every ~3 weeks during winter months. After reading this paper: https://proceedings.med.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/A151218DG-WH-edited.pdf they told the local pharmacist that they needed the chickenpox vaccine since they never had it as a child (which was a lie). Since then (about 3 years), they have only had one cold sore which was much milder than the previously typical ones.

As a side note: it seems to me like it would be worth trying this as a pre-exposure prophylactic for genital herpes if you have sex with multiple people.

1st problem: waking up on time/not going back to bed:

Moved my alarm clock into my office (which is situated right beside my bedroom). Forced me to get up, take a few steps, and consciously turn off the alarm. Since the closest place to rest was the office chair, I found myself not going back to bed and waking up on time with almost 100% compliance.

2nd problem: dishes

I don't have a dishwasher in my apartment, they all need to be done by hand. we (my partner and I) recently limited our cabinets to 4 of each item (cups, plates, bowls, cutlery) and the amount of dishes we need to do is now 90% less. We keep the other items in a closet incase we have company over.

I replaced everything except the ceiling lights with no-blue lights and use F.lux on my devices. Now I get sleepy when I'm supposed to and never stay up late.

Problem: I had a lot of back pain. Some days I'd wake up in pain, and it wouldn't go away for 1-4 days afterwards. Almost once per week? No rhyme or reason.

Solution: Replace the blanket I was using to sleep. My blanket was too small, I would curl up too tightly to stay under it. Now I still very occasionally get the same problem, I'm guessing because of habits, but it's more like once every three months.

Getting up at the exact same time every day, unless I happen to wake up before my alarm goes off. It seems to have improved my sleep quality.

I started prioritizing my to do list each day by urgency+impact+ease, and I accepted the fact that time spent prioritizing is time very well spent.

Using duct tape to tape my floss to my toothpaste has moved my flossing compliance from ~80% -> ~98%

My glasses didn't fit properly, causing them to slide down my nose frequently. I used hot water to bend the frames around my ears better, solving the problem.

Buying a pack of 5 phone chargers on Amazon. I didn't realize how nice it was to have two in my apartment, two in my car, and a dedicated travel charger until I spent $10 on it.

Buying my girlfriend a vape. She smokes weed a lot and it's been said that getting a smoker to switch to vaping is one of the best things that you can do in terms of longevity. She also says that it is much more enjoyable.

(She likes the Pax 3 a lot; Vape Critic seems like a good resource for reviews.)

Any gym equipment in your house, even just a couple 15-pound dumbbells.

Exercising used to be the #1 reason I leave my house, and I don’t leave my house much overall, so pre-COVID I thought I might as well keep using outside-the-home gyms. But I'm also somebody who finds doing 10+ minutes of "task-switching", like driving to the gym, to be a pretty big psychological barrier.

So finally I bought some weights and a treadmill, and now almost every day I'm like sure, at some point of this day I'll take 30 seconds to switch tasks from sitting in a chair to moving my body, it's a nice change of pace.

Recurring Freedom session across all my devices (laptop, phone, tablet) set to disable all apps and most websites (including messaging, news, and discussion sites) 30 minutes before bedtime every night.

I spent a lot of time sitting, because computers are both my work and my hobby. I was thinking about solutions, and I had a few ideas, but I procrastinated for years.

Recently, a health problem made me look for a solution immediately. So I put a huge plastic box on my table, and put the monitor and keyboard on the top of the box, and now I use the computer while standing. At first it felt weird, and I quickly got tired. But after a few weeks, my body adapted and now it feels natural. And the health problem that inspired this change is mostly gone.

Another positive side effect is that the "activation energy" needed to leave the computer is much smaller when I am no longer sitting. Yet another is that my 2 years old daughter no longer tries to climb in my lap whenever I try using the computer.

From the rationality perspective, it is quite humiliating to notice how long it took me to finaly address a problem that could have serious health consequences, and how little time and effort the actual solution required, once the gun was metaphorically pointed at my head.

(To be honest, I am not completely satisfied with this solution, and would like to replace the plastic box with something better... not sure what exactly. But the difference is that now I procrastinate on minor improvements, having already solved the critical part.)

If it will take < 5 mins do it immediately.

It works for responding to e-mails, buying stuff for home, paying bills etc. Benefits which I noticed:

  • It allowed me to have smaller backlog of quick task
  • I feel I have less cluttered mind
  • I feel I forget less stuff which I need to do

My solution for keyboard RSI:

For software engineers, a normal QWERTY keyboard requires the pinky on the right hand to press a ton of different keys, and my pinky joint was getting sore.

I bought this Ergodox EZ keyboard and remapped the "P" and various brackets to extra keys that are easily-pressable with my forefinger or thumb. It took a couple weeks to stop being annoyed by the new layout, and a couple months to return to my old typing speed, but this is a lifelong ROI.

There's another major bonus: I can now separate my arms far apart when I type, instead of squishing them together to accommodate a one-piece keyboard.

Taking Alexander technique classes improved my posture a lot, and cured the tendinitis I used to get in my shoulders.

Reading https://www.amazon.com/Allen-Carrs-Easy-Stop-Smoking-ebook/dp/B0051XSN50/ enabled me to stop smoking very easily, and I've not wanted a smoke in 25+ years now.

Earmuffs have helped me a lot for productive time. The silence lets me focus more on what I'm trying to work on. Compared to my noice cancelling headphones (qc 35 II) I can't play music even if I want to to so less likelihood of distraction. On occasion though, if they aren't enough by themselves I'll put earbuds inside the earmuffs with low wind noise. I can hear pretty much nothing external after that.

They also help me sleep on planes since they block out a fair portion of the noise.

This is the one I use: https://www.amazon.in/3M-Peltor-X5A-Over-Earmuffs/dp/B00CPCHBCQ

It looks ridiculous when you wear it. Really ridiculous, I won't lie.

Installing the Hide YouTube Comments chrome extension stopped my habit of reading and participating in the toxic comment section of YouTube. Absolutely essential for mental hygiene if you suffer from the same habit but at same time don't want to miss out on the great video content there.

Reading https://www.amazon.com/Allen-Carrs-Easy-Control-Alcohol-ebook/dp/B07B7QRWTH enabled me to quit drinking alcohol very easily. It was almost like it just turned off my desire to drink for good. ~3.5 years alcohol-free now.

Skincare - not using product.

Giving up facial soap and making sure shampoo didn't get on my face did what no cleaning regiment did.

I tried this as a teen with moderate - severe acne, and to this day my skin is even better than most people's

Reading 'Say Goodnight to Insomnia'. I struggled with horrible insomnia, now I have a ridiculous control over my sleep.

Glide floss. My teeth absolutely shred every other brand, but Glide is coated with Teflon. Made regular flossing possible.

I stopped watching news years ago. Improved my mental state massively.

Stretching every day, right after work, has been a win as well. It’s a good end to the day, I’m way more flexible, and overall feel happier.

Whenever I feel angry or frustrated, I ask myself what outcome I want from the situation, and focus on how to make that happen. Helps me avoid acting counterproductively on emotion.

Flossing in the shower.

I went from seldom flossing to flossing every single day, improving my gum health significantly.

Transition medication. The actual act is incredibly simple (just take pills a couple times a day) but has a disproportionately huge impact on the rest of my life.

I suspect this probably generalizes pretty well to things like antidepressants.

I get waylaid down rabbit holes as I work on the computer. Everybody is probably familiar with this - you start a Chrome tab to read about space exploration and two hours later you have 50 tabs open, the current one being about the nesting habits of robins :-)

A couple of years ago I started using the Evernote web clipper to save all these articles to my Evernote library. So now I don't go off track and I don't spend endless hours reading articles that are interesting but unrelated to my current projects.

My brain's FOMO related to not reading these articles appears to be satiated as long as it knows the article is safely saved in case I need it later!

When I revise my writing I find it hard to delete large chunks because it feels like a waste and I'm also worried that I might change my mind and need parts later.

I have a folder in Notes called "Writing Stubs," where I dump the would-have-been-deleted chunks (and also other temporary relevant bits of information, kind of like working memory). It makes me feel better that I have the original still and so, feeling more assured, I can ruthlessly delete large chunks from my writing which might be unnecessary or badly written. Speeds up the revision process.

Eyemasks and earplugs have helped a lot for sleep. I'm not sure how to quantify the benefit but I haven't slept without them (for nightsleep) in at least a year from what I can recall.

The Zettelkasten has resolved my problem, i.e. searching for a place where to keep and retrieve easily all the stuff I collect to study

Haven't quite reached the 100% resolved/full-payoff state yet but I once had a doctor firmly tell a family member to (paraphrased) not settle for a partial improvement and https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/fhEPnveFhb9tmd7Pe/use-the-try-harder-luke. I notice that when I apply that seriously to my health problems, entire swaths of the problem space vanish. I can't say that I'm 100% fixed though because my doctors and I are still digging around in the much-reduced problem space.

If you require something that's fully resolved or has definite results, then I'd say:

  • Aforementioned "1 thing" resulted in long-term pain relief in part of my body
  • Checking UpToDate (<$50 for 1 week) before (and during) doctor visits dropped my stress greatly and showed me that certain problems might have a real solution. I am also able to have a much more intelligent and meaningful conversation with doctors

In order to win Championships, some tennis players take ballet to make them more graceful and light on the courts. They create habits of working on themselves while each 0.1% amounts to the whole. It may also be a word of advice to create habits around the solutions to your problems i.e. the tennis player stretching every morning before the start of the day.

PROBLEM: flexibility, mobility

SOLUTION: ballet and dance classes

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