This is the public group instrumental rationality diary for December 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.

Immediate past diary:  December 1-15 

Rationality diaries archive

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47 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 2:17 AM

I'm highly risk-averse, and took a rather big step out of my comfort zone recently and got laser eye surgery on the thirteenth of December.

It's turned out very well so far. The post-care management and discomfort is rather manageable (eyedrops 12 times a day, face shield at night, ban on touching eyes), discomfort is minimal and mostly just light sensitivity).

I had irregularly shaped eyes (astigmatism and perhaps more) before surgery, and correcting that has been amazing. Combined with getting more and better peripheral vision, and it's a huge cognitive load off. Multiple people have remarked that I've seemed much happier after getting lasik done. I've had to re-train my hand-eye coordination to not compensate for the wacky geometry I was compensating for, and it's a very unique feeling. Very hard to describe.

It's also gotten much easier for me to keep track of my surroundings, notice and comprehend more things and more details, line things up and use more accurate lengths, and find objects. As far as I'm aware, uncorrected astigmatism is a big contributing factor to clumsiness in general, and I had a big tendency to figure out how to carry large objects through hallways and staircases by braille. Too soon to tell how much that all is fixed, but I fully expect it to get much better.

I've vaguely wanted to go through with it for just over a year, and I'm a little sad that I didn't earlier. But it's fixed now, and I'm already moving towards being less overcautious, so there's really no point in beating myself up over it.

rather manageable (eyedrops 12 times a day


There is a roughly weeklong course of opthamalic steroids, antibiotics, and lubricant. Instructions say four times a day, one of each, with five minutes between each. Since it takes so little time, it's not that big of an issue - I just multiplied out the "three different eye drops, four times a day"

Ah, I had interpreted “12 times a day” as ‘every two hours’, which would require completely messing up my circadian rhythm.

Every two hours when awake isn't unusual in some conditions. Thicker stuff is used before sleeping, and you would be visually impaired if you used it every two hours during the day.

Have you used glasses or contact lenses before? I'd guess glasses, from what I have heard from friends who switched to contact lenses they get a similar feeling of cognitive unloading.

Been an almost-entirely glasses person. I've tried contacts before, and the uncomfortableness and hassle of it compared to glasses lead me to abandoning them in favor of glasses. Also, I think I remember contacts not dealing with astigmatism and eye shape irregularity very well, and that was the real selling point for lasik for me.

I started using beeminder more actively, and successfully trained myself to execute a daily goal that's very important to me. The price was paying beeminder $10, $30 and finally $90 for defaulting on the goal. That last payment seemed to trigger some sort of WTF reaction in my mind that has pushed me to strict compliance and kept me far away from default ever since. I value the successful execution of the goal far above the money I paid.

Holy cow, thank you so much for this. Speaking of WTF reactions, I hope that won't be how this is perceived. Yours is a perfect example of both the insidiousness and the genius of Beeminder's exponential pledge schedule.

The fact that there's no doubt in your mind that you got more value out of Beeminder than the $130some dollars you paid is I hope evidence that it's more genius than insidiousness. :)

Yours is a textbook case of using Beeminder exactly as intended, to ride the pledge schedule up to the point where the amount of money at risk scares you into never actually paying it. For some people paying even the first $5 is sufficiently aversive. Others go all the way to $810, which has been, almost universally, sufficient to keep people toeing the line. (Ie, only one person has ever actually defaulted with $810 at stake.)

Some people (Katja Grace is an example) prefer to cap the amount at risk and are happy to pay a small fee occasionally. That has the danger of being more expensive in the long term as each particular derailment isn't a big deal and you can keep delusionally being like "ok, but this time for real!". Mostly, though, I think it depends on the severity of the akrasia for the specific thing you're beeminding.

After reading Dennett's Intuition Pumps, in which he invites you to pay more attention to certain words in arguments by suffixing them with "(ding!)" whenever they appear, I've installed a regex browser plugin for the purpose of training myself to "ding" whenever I come across certain words in text.

Which words?

I'm still experimenting with my personal list. The two words Dennett draws attention to are "surely", (which he claims is an indicator that the arguer is pleading at the edge of what they are in fact sure about), and "rather", (which he claims will commonly hide a false dichotomy).

"Just" is another good one. More here.

Keep paying attention to rephrasing statements as relative, rather than absolute, where appropriate, before expressing them. Such as "I like this song" instead of "This song is great". In EY-speak, replace implicit 2-place functions disguised as 1-place with explicit 2-place.

E-prime may help with that, though I do not endorse much of the philosophy that inspired it.

Have you noticed getting in to less conflict?

Good question. I am not sure, I will try paying more attention to the instrumental side of this epistemic change.

After reading the latest willpower research from Kurzban, I tried to figure out a way to make use of the model it proposes to decrease impulsivity and increase the time I spend on productive tasks.

I've developed a habit that makes use of mindfulness skills (that I get from nightly mindfulness meditation) where I notice when I am feeling an aversive state in response to deciding what to do or evaluating what I'm doing and use that feeling as a reminder to be mindful of just the task I am working on (which has the effect of diminishing the aversive feeling). I've experienced success in that I end up not being influenced as much by the aversive states (due to inhibiting them using mindfulness), which leads to me feeling much more able to work on productive but not instantly gratifying things. I feel overall less "decision fatigue" or "mental exhaustion", which makes my day more pleasant without the cost of wasting time on immediately gratifying tasks (and I find that immediately gratifying tasks don't really "recharge" me anyway, which is consistent with Kurzban's model).

I'm taking a Data Analysis course via Coursera because I believe the skill of analyzing data will be generally useful. I'm also teaching myself cell biology via a textbook as part of an effort to learn neuroscience, because I hope to get involved with computational neuroscience at some point (and I think knowledge about how the world works can be generally useful). In both of these, I've been using Anki to create cards as I learn (and review them during my commute), and I've noticed that it's greatly improved my ability to recall what I've learned, which has made it easier for me to more quickly process new concepts as I learn.

I've been keeping on regularly using Anki and HabitRPG, both of which I recommend. I still exercise daily, have much more regular sleeping habits, study all my flashcards every day, etc.

Anki and HabitRPG make a powerful combo: Anki to memorize things, HabitRPG to remind me to use Anki every day.

I am learning to use stenographic typing, and I have made enough progress to type up this post. Slowly. You have no clue how long this is taking. But I can write, slowly, and that is enough to make it easier to learn more and to practice more.

I hope to get much, much faster at this. It is a simple matter of practice, though. I am doing a lot of stopping and looking stuff up, and that is where most of my time is spent.

150 WPM is my long term goal. At that point it is better than anything I could get from a qwerty layout, even with infinite practice.


I'm curious how useful this ends up being. Once you're well above qwerty speed, please let us know whether it increases writing speed as well as typing speed.

my QWERTY speed is 90 WPM, so I will give another update then.

I currently hold the dubious "benefit" of valuing my time at under ten dollars an hour. I hope to improve that, though, and hope this helps.

I know Mirabai Knight, of stenoknight. She's a great person and doing strong work in lower the cost of entry to becoming a stenographer.

The cost of entry is now almost entirely a time/focus/attention cost, rather than getting equipment and software and professional training. If I had or was a child, I'd recommend learning this - it's a valuable and useful skill, and the opportunity costs are lower for non-adults.

I'm trying to cut down on soda intake. I've gone down from 1 bottle of coke per day down to maybe 3 cans per week. However, I do work night shifts at a bar so there's the temptation to sneak a glass or two from the taps for the caffeine boost, to get me through the night.

If it is just the caffeine you want, why not get some caffeine pills? Virtually no calories & lightyears better for your teeth.

I think I'll do that actually.

EDIT: Done.

As a green tea drinker, is there any benefits that I would be missing if I switched to just caffeine and theanine pills?

Caffeine pills are more easily employed in a lot of situations.

For example, you can easily bring along a pill to random occasions where you think you might need a quick boost.

Or you can experiment with them: for a little while, I have been trying out on alternate days Anders Sandberg's caffeine-pill-wakeup idea (where when I first groggily wake up, I take a caffeine pill I left on my bedside, and then go back to snoozing; in theory the caffeine will enforce wakefulness, rather than me hitting the alarm clock and going back to bed for another hour). It would be very difficult to do this if I had to get up, prepare a cup of green tea, drink it, and then go back to nap.

I take a caffeine pill I left on my bedside, and then go back to snoozing

I did this for a while, which pretty much forced me out of the habit of snoozing. Bright lamps timed to an hour or so before I wake up also helped. I wonder if light through the eyelids is enough for hormonal regulation.

Not as far as I can see. I'm not a fan of tea or coffee, so my only viable source of caffeine is either soda or pills. In this situation it's obvious pills win out. If you enjoy green tea then stick with it.

Maybe buy some pills for the odd occasion when you need caffeine but don't have any tea on hand?

Should also be better for your GI-tract than coffee at least.

It's so easy to take pills I think tolerance develops easier than with other delivery methods. I've found that steps of about 25 mg per day are sufficient to reduce caffeine intake without much side effects for me. The pills can be cut to pieces.

I used to drink coke when I had headaches (migraine) because I had discovered that it did help. When I later learned that it is due to the coffeine I first switched to ASS and then to pure coffein pills (as that is what has the main effect). Interestingly the coffein pills don't really make me jittery or unusually awake.

I've dropped soda entirely by substituting green tea. I bought a kilogram of it loose, and brew it with a microwave and two mason jars (put a pinch in a quart-sized jar, microwave for 3:30, pour through strainer into second jar).

I've quit caffeine outright two or three times beforehand, but relapsed for trivial reasons.

In general, I've had much more success at substituting good things than cutting out bad things. I tried and failed to stop drinking soda many times, but eventually succeeded without much difficulty after I'd installed the habit of drinking seltzer water.

I love drinking tea, white and green mostly, and I never crave coffee or soda. I cold brew white tea in a large diffusion jug I got off amazon overnight in the refrigerator and then I have a ton of tea for the next day or even a few days afterward. The cold brewed tea is so refreshing and delicious. I highly recommend trying it out.

I cut out most soda long ago, but one recent drink change I did manage - I like hot chocolate in winter, and I tend to like it syrupy, so it's not exactly health food. I tried making a glass of hot water on a cold day instead, as an experiment when I noticed it was an option on the coffee machine at work. Surprisingly, I liked it almost as much - it has the nice warming effect, and it tastes much nicer than lukewarm water. I suspect that'll save me a lot of calories over the average winter, plus it''ll let me consume way more hot drinks than I otherwise would on cold days.

I've noticed that at least for myself, things which are very warm/hot and things which are very cold (by the standards of food) taste better than lukewarm things, independent of flavor. I'm not sure whether this is a general principle, but suspect it is.

I am beginning to think so, yes. I have long noted that cold drinks taste more like coldness than like anything else(which is why so many people who dislike beer, myself included, prefer their beer icy cold), but I've always associated my preference for hot food/drink as a preference for freshness - you want to eat it before it goes stale and congeals and whatnot, not so much because of the actual flavours. Thinking about it, though, there's not much difference between right out of the pan versus half an hour old, and yet I'll take the former every time.

I now want to experiment to see what exactly I'm experiencing and thinking when I'm eating foods at different temperatures.

After dealing with the effects of bad procrastination over fall semester, I started working on anti-akrasia techniques last week. So far, it seems to be working.

Cool, congrats!

Care about sharing what actual techniques you used?

I've started a diet in VLCD fashion with a goal of losing at least 5 kg of mainly fat in a month. I'll mostly use a micronutrient-dense powder I bought in a pharmacy, and will complement it with additional protein and occasional normal food. VLCD is mostly recommended for the morbidly obese, and I'm just having trouble with the waistline and not overweight, so this should be interesting. It's three days in with about 1000 kcal intake, and I haven't experienced great difficulty yet. I've also had energy to exercise a bit.

I'm a doctor (yes, not a nutritionist), so I probably know most of the arguments and words of caution against this idea already, and know when to quit, so please don't bombard me with expressions of concern. I wouldn't recommend this to anyone else without reservations.

If anyone's interested, I'll post an update after a few weeks.

Please do post an update, and I'm curious about what signs you'd use for when to quit.

I've had trouble keeping up with certain prescribed medications due to side effects and a sense that I may be comparing them to an atypical baseline (non-medicated) baseline.

Today, I finally got around to implementing a new schedule for medications & for handling the side effects. Since I procrastinated so long, I also now have a much better baseline helped by the acquisition of an Android application designed explicitly for people with my condition that makes it easy to log symptoms even without Internet access. I also started using a 2 button timer so that I am reminded to go back and log how I'm doing after the initial onset of symptoms.

I still have to do number crunching and see what this new (almost certainly more accurate) baseline says.

Briefly, I am going to take advantage of the following ideas:

  • Cutting out all the obstacles I can think of
  • Feeding your inner pigeon
  • Habit RPG (and everything that entails)

After reading Scott Adams' article about goals versus systems, I decided to create a system for losing weight (I am 20 pounds heavier than I think is optimal for my health). The first part of the system is simply counting calories. No restrictions, just being aware. I plan on doing this for two weeks, then start changing my diet.

11 days ago, I started tracking my food using LoseIt and have found it extremely useful. The holidays have been intense (several days of eating 2x my daily "requirement").

The biggest thing I have found that meals of 250-600 calories leave me feeling sated but not tired.

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