This year, like in 2018 and 2019, on Monday after the Less Wrong Community Weekend, we held an Open Rationality Dojo. This time I organised this event and throughout LWCW fielded many questions, usually “what does this Dojo look like?” or “what kind of topics do you cover?”, sometimes from people who said they couldn’t attend anyway, but were still interested in the idea, also partly because it seemed to be much in line with what Duncan’s keynote speech urged us to do. The following document was written to satisfy most of the questions asked, published to the LWCW participants and now LW at large, with the approval of other Dojo members

Why have a Rationality Dojo?

The Rationality Dojo in Berlin was created out of the need to practice rationality on a more regular basis and with the support and peer pressure of other people. Over the years the Dojo has morphed many times and reflects what works for us at the time of writing of this document; it is by no means the one true way to hold a Rationality Dojo

Who attends?

The participants of the Dojo are a somewhat closed group. Because we might cover quite intimate or sensitive topics, we don’t want strangers showing up unannounced and in order to foster trust assume the rule “what happens in the Dojo, stays in the Dojo”. Every now and then someone is brought to our attention, we discuss if we think this person would be a good addition to the group and then invite them or not. We urge the members to come to every Dojo, because that’s how everyone can get the most out of this meeting and we can stay in touch with others’ projects

Before the pandemic each week we would meet as a group of 8-12 people, which meant that we often had enough content to have to split into two rooms for some of the sessions. In my opinion a Dojo of more than 15-18 members showing up regularly every week would be too large to realistically be able to keep in touch with everyone

The pandemic almost killed our Dojo: initially we tried meeting online, but many people had had enough of zoom meetings as a part of their work and also the format of a zoom conference doesn’t foster a natural discussion; people were dropping out also when some meetings turned into social calls instead of augmenting rationality in our lives. In spring (of 2022) we had to move the location of the Dojo meetings and used that as a Schelling point of reviving it - reached out to all the old members, urged the ones we invited during the sparse weeks of activity during the pandemic and are currently (August 2022) meeting in a smaller group of about 4-6 people at a time, hoping more old members will find their way back and actively meeting people in search of interesting new members of the community

How often do we meet?

We meet weekly, same hour, same space - so that it’s easy to keep coming back. The members don’t have to think each week “well where do I go this week?”, they just have to show up and the Dojo will be happening

What our schedule looks like?

Our schedule is fairly formalised, but allows minor-to-moderate changes. One person is “the host”, which means they announce each new step, keep the time, cut short any derailed discussions, announce breaks, remind us to move and stretch, order windows to be opened or closed, delegate any of these responsibilities etc. They also have the power to execute some changes to the schedule, for example change the bragging session into a confessions one, hold just one cycle of focused grit instead of two, invite a guest. They are additionally obliged to prepare material for at least one session; though, if there is enough other content, this session might not happen. Of course, they can announce in advance their topic and/or decide that their workshop will take more time and therefore the whole Dojo will be spent on this one workshop and nobody else need bring more topics

We always begin with a short, 10-minute meditation. This is often a silent, though sometimes guided, meditation, intended to anchor us into the mindset of the Dojo work, to let go of the bustle of the day or week that’s behind us. We acknowledge that sometimes people come late and in order not to disturb the meditation we have a rule, that if someone arrives at the venue only 1-2 minutes before or up to 10 minutes after the beginning of the Dojo, they’re supposed to stay downstairs and not ring the doorbell until the meditation ends

Next, we discuss our past week, this consists of two parts: public evaluation of commitments from the last week’s Dojo and bragging about particularly impressive things we’ve done. The commitments are recorded in a shared document and marked as either filled or not. If a commitment was not filled, we ask what went wrong, why did that happen? how it could have been phrased to be more achievable? how could the person act to get it done next time should they choose to commit again? After that everyone is encouraged to brag about something they’ve done or achieved last week. Those don’t have to be big events, but for some reason important to us. This takes about 10 minutes

After that we have two 5-minute cycles of focused grit. During this time each participant is supposed to choose two tasks that can be completed within 5 minutes each and get them done. This could be for example writing an email that you’ve been postponing the whole week, planning the next day, making a phone call, tidying the contents of your backpack - anything that will give you a minor morale boost when you’ve had it done. It's similar, but not quite the same as a Resolve Cycle

Now we get to the meat of the Dojo - planning and holding sessions. These are usually 3 25-minute blocks separated by 5-minute breaks. Everyone can suggest a topic they want to present or ask for something to be explained (provided we have someone who has the right knowledge). We choose from the suggestions 3 or more most interesting things. If there is a lot of suggested content, we will likely split into two groups/rooms to hold the sessions in parallel. Next section has more on the sessions

When the sessions are finished, we gather back to plan the next week: decide on new commitments and the next host, which takes about 10 minutes. A good commitment would be measurable, concrete, challenging, achievable. For example “go to the gym 3 times” is a decent commitment - it doesn’t tell you you need to be particularly active at the gym, but it helps you build the habit of showing up at the gym (assuming that once you show up, you will get some workout done); on the other hand “don’t eat any sweets” is a rather bad commitment. Does it include cookies? savoury snacks? do you have enough will to actually stop yourself from reaching out for sweets for the whole week without planning for substitute snacks? Unless this commitment is backed by more measures than just its words, it’s doomed to fail. To make a commitment easier, we may add “jokers”, for example “go to bed before 11pm with one joker” means that you allow yourself one day of grace, to use whenever it’s needed, but still aim to be in bed every day by 11pm. To put more pressure on yourself, you can place a bet on your commitment - if you fail, you pay the amount of money you decided on to the Dojo fund (this is mostly used for snacks, but may also cover random expenses associated with the Dojo). To motivate yourself to fulfil the commitment, you can add a “for cheers” condition, for example “spend 3 pomodoros every weekday working on my thesis, 20 pomos total for cheers”. This means that if you achieve the extended goal, we’ll congratulate you and we’ll cheer loudly for a moment. Finally, the host checks if there are new hosts for the next couple of weeks and, if nobody has picked up this duty yet, asks for volunteers

As the last action, we cheer loudly together “we’ve dojo-ed!” in appreciation of the work we’ve done. This officially concludes the Dojo and the participants can leave or hang out socially a little more. It’s nice if some people help clean up the beverages and leftover snacks, but we don’t force it on anyone. The formalised part of the meeting takes usually a little over 2 hours and no longer than 2 and a half hours

What kind of topics do we cover?

Initially those were CFAR technique workshops, but nowadays there are many more types of materials that we find helpful. We still occasionally hold mini-workshops on e.g. Trigger-Action-Plans or Goal Factoring. We often ask for a Hamming Circle - a common session trying to understand a person’s problem and help them solve it (or at least to come up with ideas to try). We discuss books or articles that we found impactful[1]. We can do an ideas-gathering session, e.g. a “low-hanging-fruit advice” or recommendations about productivity software, books to read. Hold a short lecture about a topic, preferably something that could be useful to everyone rather than something very intricate to the presenter’s favourite field (e.g. “science of better sleep”, “how do vaccines work”, but not “how does a ribosome translate mRNA to aminoacids”). Request a session with advice “how do I start investing my money now that I have a little more than I need” from a member who has more experience. Doom circle. Silly solution debugging. The list goes on

Every now and then we have a meta-session, i.e. talk about how we think the Dojo itself is doing, do we want to introduce some changes? If we’ve invited a new person, there is usually a session dedicated to getting to know them a little better - usually not all of us know the people we invite. Everyone is always welcome to skip a session that doesn’t interest them much, but then it’s assumed they will be working on their own stuff and not watching youtube for fun; in fact we have in the past sometimes devoted a session to just personal work or multiple cycles of focused grit

What we refrain from exploring are topics aimed at connection building, such as Authentic Relating or Circling; and social activities. We assume that the social element is covered by both monthly meetups of the general community and the hanging out after the end of the Dojo. There are opportunities in the community to do Circling and Authentic Relating games, our group wants to work more on the effortful matters of becoming better at rationality and life

What else is there to know?

We have snacks and a snack/tidying fund, paid in theory 1€ per person per visit, in reality whatever whenever we remember. Participating in a Dojo takes quite a lot of energy, so not having snacks and beverages would drain us quickly

On the matters that have to be discussed between the meetings or with someone who is not right now present at the Dojo, we communicate via private channels on slack and telegram

If we invite a guest we don’t tell them to arrive at the same time as regular members. The guest should only come after the introductory parts, so that we are still free to talk e.g. about the commitments and also the guest is not bored with our schedule before we get to talk about interesting things together. Inviting a guest should be decided and announced at least a week in advance so that the members can prepare for the guest’s visit

  1. ^

    there are some “book clubs” in the community, where a group of people discusses a chapter or an essay a week from a single book, but we avoid multi-week activities. On the other hand, the presenter of a session might check in a few weeks later “did you try what we practiced? How did it go?”

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