This is the public group instrumental rationality diary for the week of June 25th. (Based on the rate of participation in prior threads, I thought it might be a good idea to start posting every other week instead of every week.  Only so much new stuff happens in a week.) 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!

(Previously: 5/14/125/21/125/28/126/4/12, 6/11/12)

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50 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 4:47 PM

Using Rescue Time to track what I spend time on, I found that days where I stuck to the Pomodoro timer fanatically resulted in more time spent on work (broadly defined as my job, or work on one of my projects), approximately 1 1/2 hours more. Interestingly, the days where I cheated on the Pomodoro app and worked through the break times as well felt more productive but I stopped working (or stopped focusing on work) much earlier. So this is surprising: when I feel like I can power through, I probably should not.

I have also just begun Paleo dieting again, as well as an exercise routine (I started to reply to the Minimum Viable Exercise thread and consciously turned the "LessWrong comment time!" feeling into an exercise plan (that I saved instead of posting to the thread).

This is interesting. Today was my first day of pomodoro usage (I use Rescue Time since a while). Afternoon I just decided to switch it off because I found it to kill my flow... That been said the reason why I started with pomodoro today was because I was procrastinating and used the time to try several pomodoro timers. My problem is getting started and hoped that setting myself to just do 1 pomodoro would make it easier to get going (which it didn't help...).

But once I am going I can work easily more than an hour without distractions (this I know from Rescue Time) and maybe pomodoro won't be a good solution for me. Stil it was just a first day, will try again, maybe also experiment with longer work units...

Since you played around with several pomodoros...did you manage to find one that cycles automatically, without needing user input to restart the cycle? I've found that I tend to start procrastinating after the end of a "break" so having that choice taken away would be useful for me.

Try Workrave with a 25/5 break cycle.

If you are Emacs user then this does what you need: pomodoro.el.

I have made an effort to participate on Less Wrong a bit, despite feeling intimidated! I want to learn more about rationality, and I think that I learn better if I involve myself in discussions about a topic :).

I suspect there's a lot of Imposter Syndrome on Less Wrong, and a lot of people feel intimidated by material they're less familiar with, but don't say anything about it.

Realized I was in a slump regarding my band, due to one poor audience response at one show. Changed my focus to a few salient facts- we have turned a (albeit modest) profit for three years, we have three albums, and enough written music for a fourth, and contracts for 25 days of performance already in place. Changed focus into thoughts on how to grow our audience, and whether we would be better suited at comedy clubs instead of bars.

Having just attended the June minicamp and having some time to kill in the Bay Area, I'm spending this afternoon on Haight hacking my fashion. So far my clothes choices have elicited a compliment on the fit from the clothing store staff at least, so I think that's a positive step.

I'm glad you're focusing on improving your appearance, but be careful. If they think you're going to be a one-time customer (Which is likely, since you don't live here. Yes, people can tell.), the staff have a massive incentive to say you look good. Bring a friend if you want an honest evaluation.

Good point and good call. My plan is to arrange some clothes shopping time with friends when I get back to Kingston. I rather suspect they will be shocked when I ask them to accompany me. :)

I realised last night that I spent about 3 hours clothes shopping yesterday, without getting anxious once. It's much easier when you think of it as simply a problem to be solved...

Consciously changed your emotions or affect with respect to something

Based on a few posts and on my experiences here, I have decided to override my natural impulse and never reply to the posts and comments I downvote.

Hm, interesting. I haven't had replying being problematic (well, one or two obvious trolls aside). Would you explain more?

With a few exceptions, whenever I explain my downvote I get silently downvoted with no obvious benefit to whomever I was replying to.

I often find explanations-for-downvotes useful. If they're coming from the SAME person, I'm likely to still disagree with them, and thus downvote them again (this is rarely the case with third-party explanations). Days or weeks later I'll finally drop the tribal posturing, actually THINK about it, and sometimes update my stance. I'm MUCH more likely to update if I've engaged someone thoroughly (which will result in a thread of comments by them, all of them downvoted by me)

... I should probably stop negatively reinforcing this with downvotes >.<

Based on this comment on reinforcement, I am no longer randomly eating Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Nibs at work, but instead only eating them just after explicitly noticing or investigating or taking steps to change my motivation.

Last night was my fourth night using melatonin. It's hard to detect whether I'm getting better sleep, but I'm definitely not getting the fake-hangover feeling, and I definitely am either having more vivid, weirder dreams or remembering my dreams more easily.

I was surprised to learn this weekend that I have somewhat of an exhibitionist streak.

I have a strong aversion to getting my bike fixed up so I can ride it. I can tell because I haven't managed it yet after a couple months of realizing it's an obviously good idea, and that's how you measure aversions. :(

Is there some sort of community / bike co-op in your area that, for free, helps people repair their bikes? There's this cool garage where I'm living that's open 3 days a week and has a bunch of bike repair tools free to use and used bikes for sale. Maybe you should swing by there sometime just to check it out :D

I have a strong aversion to getting my bike fixed up so I can ride it.

Hah, that brings back memories for me:

Switched to a standing desk at work. I have one at home and I mentioned the idea to my boss. He eventually found a post where the right $22 at IKEA lets you build a desk -> standing desk converter. It's basically an end table with a shelf screwed to the side; since you are making the screw holes yourself, the shelf is at whatever height is ideal for you. He decided to try it out also, along with a few other people, so we shall see how the grand experiment goes.

It's been a few hours and I have already discovered that standing for long periods in tennis shoes is not quite the same as standing barefoot. If I don't adapt, I may need to buy new shoes.

Consider taking off your shoes and standing on a folded yoga mat; I find that comfortable.

I have joined Udacity to learn statistics 101 (and so did a few other LWers). So far there was a first lesson, rather easy. I also attend some other virtual lessons.

By this I am trying to redirect my habit of spending a lot of time online into something more useful. Generally, I can imagine doing much more useful things, but Udacity is very convenient.

I've started ST101 too. So far I've just drawn a few scatter charts and discovered I'm unpopular, but I'm excited to be getting into it.

Now finished the first week - actually learnt something new and cool - Simpson's Paradox.

I learned to knit Continental-style (the most efficient method) rather than English-style. I knew it would be faster once I put a few hours in, and I'd been meaning to learn for the last six years. I'm not quite as fast as I was with my old method, but I expect to be soon.

I was wondering whether not a Safeway cake slice contains trans fats. Safeway's advertising in their deli section says that they don't cook using trans fats, which my brain was using to argue that a cake slice was probably safe. Once I noticed my brain arguing-for-a-side, I HMC'd (Halt, Melt, and Catch fire) and looked it up online. Their cake slices definitely do contain trans fat in large quantities, and are also a lot more caloric than I would've estimated.

I failed quite hard this week. I've been basically just playing video games the last 4 days or so. I was doing quite a bit for a while, and it feels like a typical "burn out." I'm a bit jealous of the people who went to that camp. It's not that I consider playing games or reading fiction to be a complete waste of time- I'm having fun doing them. I just want to be able to split my time between learning/reviewing and gaming. The main problem is that I've always had a bit of a "one track mind" and I'll either spend weeks doing productive-type activity all day, or weeks just playing games all day.

Oh, I did find MIT open course ware.

Despite my best efforts, I sometimes find myself in protracted and unproductive internet arguments. These distress me greatly, and seem to distress me more and more as I get older and (I hope) wiser. In a way, they've become even more distressing since I started haunting Less Wrong, because my default approach to online discussion has become a lot more collaborative, and I'm less psychologically prepared when someone starts sabotaging the exchange in order to "win".

I've realised that part of the reason they distress me is my habit of mentally dissecting the last thing I was writing about. If I write an essay on the Steiner Ratio Conjecture, it's likely I'll be dwelling on both the Steiner Ratio Conjecture and my presentation of it for the next day or two. In a similar fashion, if I get into an exchange with someone furiously and convolutedly backtracking all over what they're trying to say, I'll be dwelling on my own sanity and comprehension skills for the next day or two.

Simple solution: write an essay after having an argument.

About a month ago I started using Nozbe for task management and generally "getting organized." Nozbe is the latest in a series of attempts at getting my shit together too long to be listed here. After the first week I was extremely excited at how well it was working for me, but I refrained from posting about it in the previous rationality diary because I know myself, and I wanted to see if Nozbe still worked after the honeymoon phase.

After a couple of weeks my relationship with the product changed as I began to view it as a kind of taskmaster. I started to avoid putting tasks into it because I knew it would make me actually do them. I eventually realized that I really wanted this after all.

I helped commit myself to using Nozbe by paying for the full monthly subscription. It's working really well for me, and it's the first such product that I've ever actually recommended to other people, except perhaps Evernote which is really a very different sort of thing.

Decided to behave in a different way in some set of situations

I downloaded seven metabooks and I'm going to read all of them, regardless of their quality. I'm pretty sure I'm bad at reading, never having "practiced" it, and I'm certain that I do not read quickly enough or recall enough. So I hope these books will fix that problem. I may make a discussion post after this experience, explaining which ones I thought were helpful and which ones I thought were not.

Obtained new evidence that made you change your mind about some belief

Mitchell Porter has decreased my confidence in the computational theory of mind, but not so much that I think it's wrong. This actually happened a while back. I've also changed my mind about something else, which I won't publicly reveal.

Update on modafinil: (see my previous post)

Tried modafinil a couple more times for getting through assignments. Each time I've found I managed to stay focused pretty well. I haven't yet tried a self-blind test with placebos; I intend to soon, because I'm very curious how much of my resulting improved productivity is just a result of the conscious commitment, "okay it's time to take a modafinil and hammer out this goddamn assignment because I'm losing 10% each day". (I really hate my course.)

In other news, at our last Melbourne practical rationality meetup a month ago, I committed to resuming going for a run at night, trying a Tabata routine (20s full sprint, 10s walk/jog, alternate for 4 mins). I tried for the first time last week, with the help of the IRC channel and an amazing motivational website. After the first 20s I developed a stitch and remembered I'd hardly had anything to drink all day (and also I am very unfit), but I decided that it was good progress nonetheless. Tonight I plan to go again and start developing a regular schedule.

I'm going to focus on one rationality checklist item a day, and write down instances where I notice myself using it that day in my little notebook. (Or on later days, if it occurs to me.) When I run out of those checklist items I'm going to try pulling out some katas from the minicamp notebook.

I'm finding that it's much easier to remember to consistently reward yourself for practicing one new habit than trying to install 25+ at once. I'll see in a few weeks if the consistency pays off in continuing to perform previous days' checklist items I'm not explicitly looking for.

I have time-delayed emails to remind myself to start again if I forget, and telling all my local LW friends to ask me about it now and again. I know I'll want to avoid looking like I'm all talk and no game.

I'm finding that it's much easier to remember to consistently reward yourself for practicing one new habit than trying to installing 25+ at once.

Absolutely. It's also more effective when reinforcing behaviors in something other than myself.

I decided to downvote very short articles on LW that should be comments in Open Thread instead.

Previously I would downvote an article only if it had negative value, for example completely stupid, but I would leave positive-epsilon articles without a vote. This isn't a problem if there is one such article. When there are two dozen new articles a week, it becomes obvious that those positive-epsilon articles create a negative value: they make the noise-to-signal ratio worse, and make the more useful articles scroll away from the front page fast. (So it is more difficult to find a recent Open Thread, for example.)

I realized that I dislike that such articles are becoming frequent on LW, and that the tools to prevent this are already there. It's just that I don't use them... and instead I wait and hope that some moderator will come and fix the problem.

At least at first, it would probably be useful to leave a comment on those articles explaining why you downvoted.

Not to get needlessly meta but this is the habit that I had been avoiding and am now breaking using Timeless Decision Theory. . I used to write every day. I stopped a few years ago when a professor of mine told me it was building and reinforcing bad habits of mine. Since recently leaving academia and going back to being a freelancer I have found myself fearing the specter of the keyboard for anything but the most utilitarian of documents. So while I have kept up my level of production it has been unread by anyone. So I am going to begin posting more prolifically and opening up my mind and work to criticism and the thousand tiny knives of internet comments. I'll link my first post in this when it is up. I am putting it up Now.

I'm curious about the bad habits you mentioned. My daily routines involve lots of correspondence, note taking, and programming, and I've always assumed it was simply good to build high productivity habits around things of known utility in the area of "text emission". I'd be very interested to hear the details of a theory that explained a connection between "daily writing practices" and "an expert's abstract conception of good writing habits".

The terrible habits I had were listed as follows. "Writing for the sound of it" This was later explained as writing the way I talk or writing to sound like speech and eschewing the more visually oriented prose. "Getting into the habit of appealing to the wrong audience." This is a pretty fair criticism and I do admit my style became more academic writing less for popular consumption. I cared less about a clever turn of phrase or a good hook than I cared about fitting the tone set out for the work. This led to the odd an unenviable position of one of my later teachers saying they would like to keep some of my work for their personal circulation and to use as class lecture notes but saying under no circumstances should such things be said in respectable journals. Finally, and the reason I severed my connection to the keys was that I wrote too casually and fluidly. Most people when they write for a paper or some sort of formal arrangement sit down with a deadly and serious purpose. They make their keyboard their altar and put themselves in an almost sacred mindset. My words were trash, wrappers in which to convey sticky and sweet ideas and I thought nothing of filling a page with empty calories. I was overly comfortable and familiar with writing and so perhaps did not place the thought and ceremony I should into every painfully wrought sentence. Or maybe, as with many English professors, she was a frustrated writer and disliked the fact that I, an uneducated plebeian, taking beginners English at nearly age 30 had written and sold a book and she hadn't. Either way this was one of my first critiques given by someone who was supposedly judging me on some empirical merit as opposed to whether or not they personally would buy my words and so it struck home.

Interesting and appreciated! Especially since I may have both of those going on with my own writing...

The latter critique sounds like "practice makes permanent" advice combined with particular taste about the quality of one's typical audience and your discourse intentions, which makes sense to me. LW seems to appreciate a sort of moralistic criticism, for example, and unless I consciously recalibrate, I've noticed that creeping into text where that's not helpful. I think I'm going to have to think about this one...

The former critique, curiously, is something I've tried to do on purpose out of active preference since I was in about the 4th grade. My speech sometimes acquires elements of the formality of text, and I try to bring the bounce and emotion of speech to my text where appropriate. I like text like that. And speech like that. Was there a reason this habit was supposed to be bad, or was it just a "reflexive prescriptivism"?

I tried googling and found that "writing for the sound of it" occurs in three places on the internet: this very thread, here, and here. My impression from context is that it has something to do with issues of status, tone-matching, and accidentally pushing people's buttons or falling on the wrong side of someone's textual shibboleth detector by accident? If you strip the personality out, I'd expect text to escape undue scrutiny, which seems helpful in some contexts, but if the personality survives or is exaggerated I'd expect strong reactions both ways, which seems helpful in other contexts. I went through a Tom Robbins phase in high school out of love for his ridiculous prose and vivid descriptions, but I know there are people who hate his stories for exactly the same elements.

I'm also curious. It flabbergasts me that someone would think not practicing writing is better writing practice than practicing writing.

Also, every other writer I've respected has given the advice that one should write every day if one wishes to improve.

I would like add, one should write every day and get vicious dispassionate feedback if one wishes to improve. Otherwise you are shouting in an empty canyon for the echo of your own voice.

I've started "the rules of the game" by Neil Strauss. I originally bought it for use in the research project I am doing about PUA, but I intend to complete the exercises, at least to the extent that they deal with general social skills. I'll probably also do some of the attraction ones, but I don't currently want to pick up women so that will obviously put a bit of damper on some of the exercises.

I've started studying machine learning math, and plan to enter in Udacity class. There are other sites with the same proposal like Coursera. Still not decided.


I learned to knit Continental-style (the most efficient method) rather than English-style. I knew it would be faster once I put a few hours in, and I'd been meaning to learn for the last six years. I'm not quite as fast as I was with my old method, but I expect to be soon.

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Not sure how rational this was, but yesterday on a crowded bus I discovered the seat I initially was in didn't have a functioning seatbelt. My initial thought was "chances of a collision are very low, it would be irrational to spend effort/time/social awkwardness moving." Then I considered how low the chances actually were based on my experience. I had taken this bus route approximately 50 times without any accident, so were an accident to happen that day it would mean it was a 1/50 chance of accident. So was I willing to take a 1/50 chance of serious injury or death? I moved.

Admittedly the logic doesn't quite hold together there, but it was a visceral enough thought experiment to get me over my unwillingness to move.

People in general don't wear seatbelts in buses. I wonder why that is. I'd buy that buses are actually a lot less likely to get into accidents that harm the occupants because they are big and professionally driven along familiar routes.

I've never seen seatbelts on a bus before (I've lived in Seattle, San Jose, and Portland on the west coast of the US, and visited Minneapolis, MN and Sydney, NSW, Australia. I also used to ride Greyhound monthly)

Given the presumed liability to all these bus networks for failing to include seatbelts if they actually helped, I have to assume that people far more knowledgeable than me have concluded the risk is minimal.

Having seen a truck smash in to a bus at ~20 MPH: The bus doorframe bent. The truck's front was about a foot shorter. The bus, suffice to say, won that confrontation. I was near the front and didn't realize we'd actually been hit for a few seconds...

The worst I've ever had happen on a bus was a sudden stop while walking to the back, which threw me to the floor (I wasn't holding on to anything, and now I make a point of generally grabbing handholds instead)

So, my anecdotal evidence lines up with the assumptions of whoever skipped installing seatbelts in the first place :)

(In fairness, they're probably far more statistical about the value of my life, whereas I'm biased because it's mine. But I try hard to accept statistical risks to my life, because I find my happiness is vastly higher when I'm taking trivial risks like this :))

I imagine the size of buses makes collisions less of a hazard for their passengers, through a combination of limited maximum speed and conservation of momentum.

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