(Cross-posted from my personal site.)

Several months ago I began a list of "things to try," which I share at the bottom of this post. It suggests many mundane, trivial-to-medium-cost changes to lifestyle and routine. Now that I've spent some time with most of them and pursued at least as many more personal items in the same spirit, I'll suggest you do something similar. Why?

  • Raise the temperature in your optimization algorithm: avoid the trap of doing too much analysis on too little data and escape local optima.
  • You can think of this as a system for self-improvement; something that operates on a meta level, unlike an object-level goal or technique; something that helps you fail at almost everything but still win big.
  • Variety of experience is an intrinsic pleasure to many, and it may make you feel less that time has flown as you look back on your life.
  • Practice implementing small life changes, practice observing the effects of the changes, practice noticing further opportunities for changes, practice value of information calculations, and reinforce your self-image as an empiricist working to improve your life. Build small skills in the right order and you'll have better chances at bigger wins in the future.
  • Advice often falls prey to the typical-mind (or typical-body) fallacy. That doesn't mean you should dismiss it out of hand. Think about not just how likely it is to work for you, but how beneficial it would be if it worked, how much it would cost to try, and how likely it is that trying it would give you enough information to change your behavior. Then just try it anyway if it's cheap enough, because you forgot to account for uncertainty in your model inputs.
  • Speaking of value of information: don't ignore tweakable variables just because you don't yet have a gwern-tier tracking and evaluation apparatus for the perfect self-experiment. Sometimes you can expect consciously noticeable non-placebo effects from a successful trial. You might do better picking the low hanging fruit to gain momentum before you invest in a Zeo and a statistics textbook.
  • You know what, if there's an effect, it may not even need to be non-placebo. C.f. "Lampshading," as well as the often-observed "honeymoon" period of success with new productivity systems.
  • It's very tempting, especially in certain communities, to focus exclusively on shiny, counterintuitive, "rational," tech-based, hackeresque, or otherwise clever interventions and grand personal development schemes. Some of these are even good, but one suspects that some are optimized for punchiness, not effectiveness. Conversely, mundane ideas may not propagate as well, despite being potentially equally or more likely to succeed.
  • If you were already convinced of all of the above, then great! I hope you have the agency to try stuff like this all the time. If not, you might find it useful, as I did, just to have a list like this available. It's one less trivial inconvenience between thinking "I should try more things" and actually trying something. I've also found that I'm more likely to notice and remember optimization opportunities now that I have a place to capture them. And having spent the time to write them down and occasionally look over them, I'm more likely to notice when I'm in a position to enact something context-dependent on the list.

I removed the terribly personal items from my list, but what remains is still somewhat tailored to my own situation and habits. These are not recommendations; they are just things that struck me as having enough potential value to try for a week or two. The list isn't not remotely comprehensive, even as far as mundane self-experiments are concerned, but it's left as an exercise to the reader to find and fill the gaps. Take this list as an example or as a starting point, and brainstorm ideas of your own in the comments. The usual recommendation applies against going overboard in domains where you're currently impulsive or unreflective.

Related posts: Boring Advice RepositoryBreak your habits: Be more empiricalOn saying the obviousValue of Information: Four ExamplesSpend money on ergonomicsGo try thingsDon't fear failureJust try it: Quantity trumps qualityNo, seriously, just try it, etc.

META

  • Before you read the rest of this list, spend two minutes brainstorming ideas to try!
    • In what domains are you in a rut? What do you do frequently, and what are alternative ways to do it? What do others do differently? What vague dissatisfactions tickle your attention?
  • Incorporate trying things from your list into your routine
  • Incorporate adding things to your list into your routine
  • Do something you've tried in the past (this is "try more things," not "new things")
  • Attempt some value of information calculations for trying or researching items below
  • Ask friends/coworkers for recommendations (or bring them in on the adventures herein)
  • Create a system to reliably capture ideas before you forget them and later add them to your list (e.g. take notes on your phone)
  • Learn about and implement some more rigorous self-experimentation
  • Learn to break down desired new behaviors into cue, routine, reward and practice them offline

SLEEP

  • Earplugs, or a change in style or brand if you already use them
  • Melatonin, or vary dose and timing
  • Sleep mask; an extra pillowcase as a blindfold might be sufficient
  • Wear socks or slippers to bed
  • Different pillows, sheets or bedding
  • Side/back sleeping
  • Windows open/closed
  • White noise (perhaps a fan or a recording)
  • Humidifier
  • Air filter
  • Blackout curtains (particularly if you find a sleep mask uncomfortable but like the darkness)
  • Napping
  • Morning vitamin D
  • "Sleep-tracking" phone app (can record movement and noise, which is sometimes informative)
  • Antihistamines in the case of allergies disrupting breathing
  • Dream journal
  • Sleep journal (notes on sleep time, quality, etc.)
  • Lucid dreaming
  • BEDTIME ROUTINE
    • Construct a nighttime ritual
    • Keep to a specific bedtime
    • Use bed for sleep only
    • Stop using a computer by T minus X hours
    • Stop working by T minus Y hours
    • Don't eat after T minus Z hours
    • Alternatively, light snack before bed
    • Don't drink after T minus V hours
    • Change lighting by T minus W hours (warm/dim lights)
    • Use flux  or alternatives http://alternativeto.net/software/f46lux/
    • Stretching/breathing exercise
    • Intense exercise (most likely to be beneficial well before bedtime ritual starts; I recall reading at least three hours)
    • Further research on sleep habits
  • WAKING ROUTINE
    • Use an alarm, or use a different sound, or place it somewhere new
      • set up difficult tasks to turn off alarm
      • use a light on a timer rather than sound
    • Don't use an alarm -- wake up to daylight or use your natural cycle
    • Practice offline (either with naps, or just getting in bed and then out again)
    • Have a 'halfway point' to getting out of bed which makes things take much less than half the effort
    • Count down from 10, intensely focusing on your plan to get out of bed when you get to 0
    • Open windows or go outside after waking (particularly if it's sunny)
    • Splash cold water on your face
    • Morning stretching , light exercise, or intense exercise routine

WORK ENVIRONMENT

  • Change relative heights of chair, keyboard, monitor (can stack books under desk items)
  • Different desk chairs (ask coworkers if they want to trade for a day)
  • Lighting
    • Really bright daylight bulbs
    • 'Warm light' bulbs
  • Different keyboards
  • Other ergonomics
  • Music
  • White/brown noise
  • Earplugs
  • Establish a policy for interruptions
  • Decorations

WORK ROUTINE

  • Take breaks to stretch, stand, walk, or meditate
  • Try different kinds of work at different times of day
  • Create a routine for entering deep focus
  • Create a ritual or checklist for ending procrastination and starting work
  • Naps
  • Snacks
  • Co-working
  • Collaboration
  • Learn keyboard shortcuts for any application you use frequently
  • Voice recording (e.g. as notetaking while reading)
  • Voice input for computer work (or for your phone)
  • Getting Things Done, or a different system for implementing the key principles of attention saving and strategic review
  • Time-tracking
  • Time-boxing
    • Seriously, spend 15 minutes blocking out hourly plans every day
  • Pomodoros (may also help by forcing you to break down tasks)
  • LW Study Hall
  • Anything on http://lesswrong.com/lw/1sm/akrasia_tactics_review/
  • Inbox Zero
  • Email filtering
  • Process email or other routine tasks in batches
  • Virtual assistant
  • Remove browser autocomplete suggestions for impulse browsing. It's <shift><del> with the suggestion highlighted in Chrome.

LEISURE

  • Brainstorm a list of endorsed activities to supplant unenjoyable, unrefreshing procrastination
  • Walk around, go outside, listen to music, listen to a comedy podcast, meditate, read, do recreational math, sing, dance, exercise, etc.

COMMUTE

  • Different routes, weighing stress, safety, scenery, length as you see fit
  • Different times of day
  • Music/podcasts/audiobooks
  • Biking: This can be logistically complicated but still worthwhile. Try seriously thinking for two minutes about what is stopping you from trying it, and whether those obstacles can be removed.

EXERCISE

  • Bodyweight workout (various push-ups, sit-ups, pistol squats, etc.)
  • Biking
  • Running
  • Yoga
  • A pullup bar or dumbbells
  • Dance
  • Gym

FOOD

  • Write a weekly meal plan
  • Find some recipe blogs to follow
  • Try a new recipe (bonus points if it's more difficult than usual/from an unfamiliar genre/otherwise stretches your cooking skills)
  • Calculate recipe costs
  • Go somewhere new or just order something new unusual
  • Try snacks/sugar/caffeine at different times of the day
  • Reduce/eliminate something (e.g. sugar/caffeine/dairy)
  • Try Soylent
  • I don't actually know anything about nutrition or dieting; maybe fix that?

MUSIC

  • Check whether your favorite musicians (or even ones you only kind of liked before) have released new music
  • Find a service where you can listen to music for free with minimal inconvenience (YouTube and Spotify are usable for me, but just barely)
  • List artists you've "been meaning to get around to listening to" and use the above to actually do that
  • Listen to things outside your usual tastes
  • Listen to (internet) radio stations
    • Your local college radio (or any college radio, since they usually stream online) will have a huge variety of programs, some of which should be good
    • Use Google to find a good one; I really like KBAQ for classical
  • Try different headphones (go to a store, or ask your friends if you can borrow theirs for a bit)
  • Find a "best album of the year" thread from a non-music-related forum; you'll get some pretty diverse picks

OTHER

  • Different soap/shampoo/shaving cream/razors/other grooming products
  • Different socks
  • Barefoot shoes
  • Journal
  • Gratitude journal
  • Comfort zone expansion
  • Cold showers
  • Meditation
  • Various reading, lecture-watching, note-taking, or review strategies
  • Alternatives to software and online services you use frequently (whether or not you feel happy with your choice already)
  • Watch videos at higher speeds
  • HabitRPG, Beeminder, and/or Stickk; brainstorm some goals
    • e.g. pomodoros, Anki reviews/card-making, trying more things, reading, endorsed leisure, meditation, journaling, strategic reviews
  • Anki (or spaced repetition more generally)
  • The http://tinyhabits.com/ course
  • Typing practice to improve speed + accuracy
  • An alternative keyboard layout
  • Reading practice for speed + comprehension
  • Learn to juggle

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20 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 9:34 PM
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Learn to juggle

I learned to juggle from a gift from a friend - a book and a bag of juggling cubes. I was amazed at how easy it was to learn, and the experience is a touchstone of my life. There was something I couldn't do at all, then with a little effort, I could. In keeping with your theme of trying new things, learning to juggle is a great object lesson in the ability to make changes in one's life.

http://www.amazon.com/Juggling-for-the-Complete-Klutz%C2%AE/dp/B000XQCQ2Q/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1389493320&sr=8-3&keywords=learn+to+juggle

I'd like to second this exact book. A substantial number of circus skill hobbyists I've met over the years owe their entry to the hobby to a chance encounter with this book, as did I.

a book

Curious - how useful is a book in learning to juggle? I had been assuming that juggling was 99% a motor skill that you just had to practice and where a book wouldn't be of much benefit, but maybe I'm wrong about that?

[-][anonymous]8y 11

I mostly agree, but there is a big exception: For beginners, it's very important to start with the right pattern.

The basic pattern is the cascade, but beginners often try to start with the shower pattern. The cascade pattern looks more complicated and less intuitive, but it's actually much easier to learn than the shower pattern.

It'd be interesting to document other physical acts where the intuitive motion is much harder than a less intuitive motion.

I think it helped because it walks you through learning the juggling process by breaking the process down one tiny motor skill at a time. You practice each skill separately, making them consistent and repeatable, then you build them up in series.

That's part of the object lesson: complex skills that seem hard can be broken down into component skills that are easy.

A book is probably not necessary. I learned to juggle just be trying to do it over the course of a few months at work when I had free moments chatting with co-workers. You fail every time in the beginning, but progress is rapid. You probably just need to watch a YouTube video if you've never thought about the actual mechanics of juggling before. I didn't even do that much, I literally just tried over an over again.

Thirdin this recommendation. Juggling is a fun self-practice activity that is a good party trick and can also turn into good social times.

Upvote out of appreciation for practical rationality.

[-][anonymous]8y 5

Around the New Year I write down not what I will do in the new year but what ended in the old year. Bad habits overcome, crummy jobs ended, sickness mended, people not spoken to any more. Some goodbyes are sad, most a relief. Clarifies progress is being made more than resolutions guide future choices.

Great list! Reading through it, I was surprised at the number of those things that I had actually tried (deleting inpulse browsing items from the suggestion list has been pretty useful; combined with adding those to my RSS subscription, it greatly reduced my impulsive browsing habit).

I'm off to try a cold shower! :)

This is a really great list. I've done most of this, and it's been extremely helpful.

You might do better picking the low hanging fruit to gain momentum before you invest in a Zeo and a statistics textbook.

Given that the company behind Zeo went bankrupt and that you need a regular supply of replacement headbands I would advice against going the Zeo route.

If you want something that tracks sleep MyBasis would probably be a better choice. It also gives you other stats.

NeuroOn is a kickstarter product more tailored on sleep.

Find a service where you can listen to music for free with minimal inconvenience (YouTube and Spotify are usable for me, but just barely)

Grooveshark (http://grooveshark.com/)! Unless you cannot stomach songs playing out of order, or sometimes being repeated (and even that is getting more rare as they work on improving their indexing).

Open page, type artist name (or select genre), press 'play all'. It stops playing every couple hours (which I enjoy - means I can just put music on in the evening and it'll turn itself off eventually - no need to get up) so you'll have to press a single button to resume.

Interesting -- looks like it's come a long way on indexing and general usability since I last played with it (I think it was all Flash back then). I'll give it a second chance, thanks.

I'm much less (emotionally) motivated to try new things/deviate from my routine than I'd like to be, especially when an intervention's purpose is to improve something I'm currently not doing very well at. For example, I feel a lot more motivated to try something that might further improve a project that's already going very well than I am to try something that might turn around a project that's failing. I suspect that this is related to ugh fields. Any suggestions?

I have one project that came to mind immediately when I read your comment, so I feel like I know what you mean. A fix turned out to be "tell a friend I want to do X, and ask her to remind + encourage me when the appropriate chance comes up." But social-commitment-type things don't always apply.

I have more experience with projects that started becoming aversive, and that pushed me harder (both emotionally and otherwise) to tweak my approach, which in the end led to renewed focus and progress. Having those examples available helps motivate me in situations where I don't otherwise want to attend to operations long enough to change them from their default. Could the same be true for you? That's the only general suggestion I have.

Earplugs, or a change in style or brand if you already use them

Do you know anything about long term effects of nightly earplug use on your ears?

I heard once one a unreliable source that it might be unhealthy to rely on them for long periods of time. I wouldn't trust the source but hearing it is enough for me to want to know whether someone else looked into the long term issues of using them.

http://www.fitsugar.com/Can-Prolonged-Earplug-Use-Cause-Damage-Ears-8872394 would be a website I found with quick googling that explains some of the concerns.

I do wear Earplugs when I'm at loud Salsa clubs where I expect the soudn would damage my ears if I would expose them to it. I brought expensive ones for 200€ that just downregulated the loudness overall but that keep relative difference the same which means that you can still hear all the details in the music.

Yeah, when I first looked into this, I found all these popular sites talking about tinnitus and infection, but couldn't track down any sources. Wikipedia just cites those websites. One actually does give a source: Journal of Hearing Sciences, 2006: 9-10. This seems to be made up by its "SEO professional" author. ("Journal of Hearing Science" at least exists, but started in 2011. Bizarre.)

I don't remember finding anything especially scientific and reliable on risks when I first looked into it. The best I could do was Ear Infection and the Use of Hearing Protection (1985), a review of epidemiological studies by a researcher employed by an earplug manufacturer, mostly concerning workplace use.

Anecdotal comments abound, but controlled studies are "conspicuous by their absence." By implication the problem is neither significant nor widespread; otherwise it would have drawn greater attention and research interest.

...

Although hearing protection devices should not be worn in the presence of some preexisting ear canal pathologies, and care must be exercised regarding selection and use under certain environmental conditions, regular wearing of HPDs does not normally increase the likelihood of contracting otitis externa.

I don't know how much you want to rely on that. I just follow the manufacturer's instructions for cleaning and reuse, and plan to stop if I notice irritation.

I'd be interested in seeing some reliable evidence about this.

I sleep fairly poorly, and consequently I've used earplugs nearly every night for 5+ years now. I do have bad tinnitus (it is congenital), but it has not become worse from this. I have not had any ear infections in this period. I've had my hearing checked twice over the past 5 years, and it is stable at all frequencies.

It's worth noting that most earplugs will fall out after an hour or so, or at least the ones I've been using will. I buy a ton of cheap foam ones and rotate them periodically.

The only thing that has made my tinnitus worse best I can tell was a bursting rubber tube, which was basically as loud as a shotgun. This added a specific and identifiable frequency to one of my ears, oddly enough, but had no other long-term effect.