Instrumental rationality/self help resources

by gothgirl4206661 min read18th Jul 2013107 comments

37

Life ImprovementsSelf ImprovementPractical
Frontpage

I took part in a recent discussion in the current Open Thread about how instrumental rationality is under-emphasized on this website. I've heard other people say similar things, and I am inclined to agree. Someone suggested that there should be a "Instrumental Rationality Books" thread, similar to the "best textbooks on every subject" thread. I thought this sounded like a good idea. 

The title is "resources" because in addition to books, you can post self-help websites, online videos, whatever. 

The decorum for this thread will be as follows:

  • One resource per comment
  • Place your comment in the appropriate category
  • Only post resources you've actually used. Write a short review of your resource and if possible, a short summary of the key points. Say whether or not you would recommend the resource. 
  • Mention approximately how long it's been since you first used the resource and whether or not you have made external improvements in the subject area. On the other hand, keep in mind that there are a myriad of confounding factors that can be present when applying self-help resources to your life, and therefore it is perfectly acceptable to say "I would recommend this resource, but I have not improved" or "I do not recommend this resource, but I have improved". 

I think depending on how this thread goes, in a few days I might make a meta post on this subject in an attempt to inspire discussion on how the LessWrong community can work together to attempt to reach some sort of a consensus on what the best instrumental rationality methods and resources might be. lukeprog has already done great work in his The Science of Winning at Life sequence, but his reviews are uber-conservative and only mention resources with lots of scientific and academic backing. I think this leaves out a lot of really good stuff, and I think that we should be able to draw distinctions between stuff that isn't necessarily drawing on science but is reasonable, rational, and helps a lot of people, and The Secret

But I thought we should get the ball rolling a little before we have that conversation. In the meantime, if you have a meta comment, you can just go ahead and post it as a reply to the top-level post. 

37

107 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 3:46 AM
New Comment
Some comments are truncated due to high volume. (⌘F to expand all)Change truncation settings

Meta: I think that this is all entirely brilliant, and I've found this very useful already.

Also, in this post or a later one, I think it would be great if you made a list of each area and links to the recommendations in the OP, like in Lukeprog's The Best Textbooks on Every Subject, because it will become hard to search through all of the posts for new recommendations.

Hopefully, it could end up looking something like this.

8pinyaka7yWell, that list of references and resources for LessWrong derailed me reading the comments for this thread by about 12 hours.
4Metus7yI further propose to turn the content into a wiki page as that is an organisational form that lends itself to lists like these.
6wedrifid7yBy 'propose' do you mean 'intend'?
0Brendon_Wong7yDo you think a wiki page would be more useful than an entire wiki website dedicated to this topic? I can think of hundreds of self improvement items to add, and that's not including the associated resources to study/implement the suggestions. I can see the wiki page quickly becoming very, very long and difficult to navigate. Hundreds, or even thousands of paragraphs may be hard to organize.
2Metus7yHonestly, I think organizing this kind of material is an unsolved problem. I have no solution for that.

I want to approve of your initiative publicly. No other content in this post.

I have my own website and I can set up a wiki/social network dedicated to self improvement/instrumental rationality. Is there significant community interest?

If there is significant interest, would a wiki with social networking features such as forums and chat be more useful, or should I just stick to a wiki?

Wiki options: DocuWiki, MediaWiki, PmWiki, and WikkaWiki

Social networking options (with wiki): BuddyPress on WordPress

I am open to other suggestions, but they may be harder or more expensive for me to set up. If anyone has experience setting up websites, their help would be greatly appreciated (if the website concept is deemed useful).

1Brendon_Wong7yIt seems like there is significant interest, so I will work on launching the website immediately. A "first draft" should be ready today or tomorrow unless technical difficulties come up. A question to everyone: What would work better, a wiki, or a wiki with social networking features? Or does it not matter? Should I create a separate discussion on this topic?
0RomeoStevens7yWill you be announcing and posting a link in LW discussion?
1Brendon_Wong7yI will be soon, sorry for the delay in reply Edit: Discussion here [http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/iaf/effective_rationality_training_online/]
0gothgirl4206667yYes, I think that would be a good idea.
0Viliam_Bur7yI think the most difficult part is sorting and collecting the texts. Even if you choose a wrong software - if you make a good choice of the material, you can switch to another software later. Generally, I would recommend using MediaWiki, the software used by Wikipedia. You don't get other software tested by so many users. I have repeated experience with people suggesting using other kinds of wiki, because they have this or that additional feature, only to find out that the main feature - editing pages - is full of bugs. I prefer if the software does one thing and does it well. -- I don't know what those "social networking features" are specifically, but I would guess they don't really add much value to the project. The wiki has talk pages, and you can always install a forum or chat as a separate software. As a first iteration I would probably do a main page with a list of topics, a page per topic (such as "programming"), and a separate page for each significant material where the main ideas could be summarized. The difficult part will be collecting the material, describing the material, and protecting the site against vandals or mindkilled people (as self-improvement is often dangerously close to self-delusion).
3James_Miller7yBlood tests. Check to see if you have healthy levels of cholesterol, vitamin D, magnesium, and whatever else your insurance will pay to have tested.
5RomeoStevens7yIf you don't have insurance, or if they won't cover something you would like tested there is pirvatemdlabs [http://www.privatemdlabs.com] They are popular with the fitness crowd for their female hormone panel which is $60 and can be used by men. Make sure you know what healthy levels actually are. Pro-tip: you are not the average of 400 million people. Some examples where the range accepted by AMA guidelines are wrong: 1. Guidelines push total cholesterol under 200. Cholesterol under 200 is predictive of greater CVD in older adults. 2. Guidelines push low LDL. HDL:Triglyceride ratio is much more predictive of CVD than LDL levels. 3. Blood pressure has very high variability, making a high BP diagnosis problematic. BP lowering drugs often do more harm than good. 4. The accepted range for iron is from 15nm/dL all the way up to 300nm/dL IIRC, but there are indications the low end of the spectrum is significantly better. 5. Guidelines on salt do not take into account potassium consumption, which seem to have an effect on whether salt interventions are harmful or helpful to CVD risk. These are not intended to be me imparting wisdom, they are intended as examples to demonstrate why you need to look into the details of longevity yourself. Almost no one bothers to collate evidence from studies correctly, including often the people conducting the studies -_-. Unfortunately I am unaware of any sources with reliable epistemic hygiene.
0James_Miller7yThanks for the placebo boost. I was unsure what to make of my Cholesterol (232 total, 69 Tri, 76 HDL, 142 LDL) and your interpretation is the most positive way of looking at it I've seen. I hope you are right.
1RomeoStevens7yYour HDL:Triglycerides kicks ass, and indicates that your LDL most likely has a favorable amount of type-A LDL (the kind not associated with health problems).
4[anonymous]7yIn my country (but I think elsewhere too), if you donate blood they test it for lots of health issues for free.
1RomeoStevens7yGreat point, it's also the easiest way to reduce your iron levels.

What's the difference between General and Other?

3gothgirl4206667yI intended general to be resources that discuss life in general or multiple areas, like 59 Seconds or The Happiness Hypothesis, and other to be resources that solely address issues that I didn't mention.

Excellent.

Meta 1: It would be nice if reviews rated the material out of 5 or 10.

Right now, reviewers are starting with things like "Absolutely fantastic." and "Extremely, extremely, recommended", which, while are a nice indicator of high-value materials, is less efficient and more fuzzy than a rating on a standard scale. This would also motivate more people with medium value materials to come forward.

Meta 2: I think this would be much better suited to a wiki piece than a post/set of comments. Ideally it'd be in something like a collab... (read more)

0ESRogs7yI like the idea of a post + set of comments to gather suggestions, and then another format to collect the finished list.
0Brendon_Wong7yI have my own website and I can set up a wiki/social network dedicated to self improvement/instrumental rationality. Is there significant community interest?
0bbleeker7yI'm interested!

The Blueprint Decoded

This is a 20-hour video series by RSD in the controversial PUA genre. However, I think this video series is not at all like the image many people might have of the genre. The discussion is very very smart - discussing matters of psychology, philosophy, spirituality, etc., occasionally coming back down to earth to apply it to the practicalities of attracting women. At the same time, the speaker, Owen Cook a.k.a. Tyler Durden, comes off as very friendly, casual, reasonable, rational, and normal - the type of guy you might want to hang out with. The claims are contrarian, but at the same time the tone is very positive (i.e. not even remotely like, say, Roissy), and not misogynistic, although of course your mileage may very - if you're a radical feminist you will obviously be offended. There are pretty much zero explicit tactics discussed, no "do and say this to get girls". And the content is immensely applicable not only to attracting women, but to social skills and even life in general.

The tagline boasts "4 day total immersion, advanced identity-level change" and I feel like it delivered this. The videos approach the same core themes from so ... (read more)

9pianoforte6117yWould you recommend it to gay men and women?
3Xachariah7yYes. It's not exclusively about picking up women, and from what I can recall the vast majority is about becoming an attractive person in general. Even the stuff about attracting women should generalize to women/gay men attracting straight/gay men.
0gothgirl4206667yI strongly disagree. I personally wouldn't recommend it to anyone other than a straight man. It is definitely not catering to anyone else. A huge theme is that men and women feel attraction in drastically different ways and therefore need to pursue different strategies, so I expect that the majority of the advice would not transfer. And even if parts of it did, I'm not sure how you would go about identifying those parts. Lots of the general social skills and life attitudes might transfer, but again, not all of it, and it's heavily tied in with the themes of attracting women. I would only watch it if you're looking for ways to spend your time and are interested in the subject of relationships / social dynamics.
6wedrifid7yI think you underestimate the value of the general lessons in instrumental rationality, personal development and healthy psychology that are conveyed and demonstrated. I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in practical rationality. In fact, for males specifically interested in social dynamics I wouldn't necessarily recommend the blueprint decoded as a primary source. If anything it errs on the side of too general and abstract for that purpose.
0pianoforte6117yI'm four hours in and I see what you mean by abstract. What would you recommend instead?
0wedrifid7yMy exploration of that broad field of knowledge was never optimised specifically for the goal of pickup so I cannot confidently state which is the best. Someone more practically involved in that subculture would be able to give better information. An example of something much more on the practical side than Blueprint would be the notorious 'Mystery Method' resources. The downside is that it is highly specialised for a specific goal (pickup) in a specific kind of context. There are lessons that can be generalised but far fewer. I would also suggest looking at the earlier material from the author of The Blueprint Decoded and his company. He had to establish himself with practical stuff before being able to indulge himself with sharing his Blueprint theories which are (purportedly) what excite him. David DeAngelo (Eban Pagan) took a similar path.
0pianoforte6117yMany thanks!
5kvd7yI'm surprised by your reaction. You list only general benefits in social interaction and none yet in actual attraction, so I mostly asked my question [http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/i1b/instrumental_rationalityself_help_resources/9ehx] , because you aimed the recommendation so specifically at straight men. Do you think the improvements in social interaction you noticed are not big enough on their own to justify a recommendation, or do you think that anyone that is not a straight male would not get those same benefits out of it?
5gothgirl4206667yI think that if you're not a straight male you might not get the same benefits. You might get something, but it wouldn't be worth watching a twenty hour video series unless you have time to spare. It's sort of hard to explain why I feel this way. The best I can say is that the discussion and atmosphere is very man-centric, and even if some of the advice applies to women as well, it would be hard to have it hit on an emotional level, hard to differentiate between things that would and wouldn't apply to women, and hard to sit through all the discussion of nightclubs and getting laid to the relevant stuff. Or, here's another angle. The program goes something like "women are primarily attracted to men who are assertive, independent, confident, and leaderlike - the 'alpha male'. Now I will spend hours upon hours talking about what this type of attractive man would do in a club. Okay, have you internalized this attitude yet? Surprise, you are now a little closer to becoming this independent, confident, leaderlike man, and this will help you in areas outside of women, as a nice bonus!" Can you see why this approach might not work for women? If you still want to watch it, by all means download it and check out the first few hours for yourself, I might be wrong. But don't blame me if you don't find it useful. d: EDIT: Apparently everyone disagrees with me, so maybe you should in fact go ahead and check it out. This is just my intuition, I guess.
5wedrifid7yIt almost sounds like you must have watched a different movie series than I did. Or, perhaps, different parts felt salient to you than felt salient to me due to different pre-existing abstractions and intentions when watching. (Your testimony is useful to me.)
2gothgirl4206667yWell, there is that part at the beginning where he says "this program is like a secret code with many layers, each time you watch this you will find an entirely different message within", etc.
0[anonymous]7yIt depends on whom they are trying to attract. (I do like independent, confident, leaderlike women, but I guess the majority of men don't.)
0gothgirl4206667yI feel like the thing about leadership/dominance/confidence/assertiveness/independence is that it's a wholly desirable trait for men. If you have it, women will want to have sex with you, men will want to be your friend, and employers will want to hire you. But women have to deal with the dual memeplexes of traditional patriarchy and modern-day feminism present in our culture. Having this trait is probably not strictly desirable for women - there are pros and cons, sometimes it'll come in handy, sometimes it'll put people off. (I imagine.)
2bogus7yI kind of assume that a well-rounded woman should both be able to show indipendence/confidence, and have the social skills of a good team-player and negotiator. If commonly reported anecdotes are any guide, these qualities are not really fostered by either of these memeplexes. Conservative/traditional social norms do little more than stunt women's confidence and assertiveness, but modern feminism does not really encourage them to be more assertive; it just makes them more rude and complaining, even in intimate contexts where this would otherwise be seen as highly inappropriate. Few people would describe an old curmudgeon as "independent", "assertive" and "confident", but somehow this description gets applied to women who do not behave in an appreciably different way. What's most likely is that becoming "awesome" in this context requires learning a complex set of strategies, which can't be boiled down to any simple ideology. Men actually tend to face comparable issues, which is why you tend to see such a sharp divergence between "nice pushovers" and "naturally confident, overly aggressive jerks" - well-rounded personalities (i.e. not a pushover, but not inclined to physical aggression either) do exist, but they are comparatively rare. Some PUA practitioners have suggested that the women they approach can intuitively tell that they have such a conflation of good traits, and find it especially attractive.
0gothgirl4206667yI... really don't see why this would be true. This kind of sounds like something a misogynist would come up to justify their beliefs. (Not to imply that you're a misogynist, just that it feels to me like you might have absorbed a misogynist meme and forgotten to question it.) In a way, being an asshole often comes from insecurity, and so can be a sign of lacking confidence/etc.. I sort of feel like the coolest, winning-est, most comfortable in their own skin dudes are probably also going to be some of the nicest. But then of course there obviously also exist plenty of alpha male types who are assholes because they don't really care and can get away with it. In the end, I think niceness and confidence are mostly orthogonal traits.
1bogus7yWell, admittedly, I was going by reasonably widespread anecdotal evidence. You're right that this is something that could be used to make feminism look bad, but - speaking personally here - it struck me as the sort of thing that's quite likely to happen as a purely unintended consequence, with no bearing on the broader issue of feminism as a social or political movement. Unfortunately, it can be hard to find more nuanced or evidence-based treatments of such issues, because things like feminism tend to have strong halo effects or ugh fields attached to them; most folks will think of them of "good things" or "bad things" altogether, but not many will "pull the ropes sideways" in order to improve overall outcomes in win-win ways. The thing is, many insecure folks find that being more of an asshole is an eminently viable way of making up for their insecurity, since it gives them some situational confidence, or something which can substitute for it - hence they never bother to fix the more basic issue. I agree that some especially cool and confident guys are quite nice; they can afford to be, after all. But my worry is that this might be a rare occurrence.
0gothgirl4206667yIt seems hard to imagine that feminism wouldn't make women more assertive and confident at all, only rude and whiny. I don't see how that would work in theory, and I don't see what real life evidence would lead you to that conclusion. Unfortunately I have no idea how you would attempt to empirically try to figure out the validity of this claim. Anecdata: last year I went to a hippie school where out of two hundred students or so there wasn't a single "out of the closet" Republican, so it's probably fair to say that feminism was pretty big. The girls there were all unusually very assertive/confident/leaderlike, and yet I didn't get the feeling that they were ever rude or whiny, although I'm not one hundred percent sure what behavior you're picturing. I never saw anyone yell at a man for doing anything un-feminist, if that's what you're talking about, except for maybe one or two exceptions. The girls at the normal school I went to before that were probably ruder overall - a lot of "bitchy hot girl" types. I sort of feel like when you're "living in reaction", as Tyler might say, your level of niceness almost has more to do with the defense mechanism you choose than it does what you actually think of other people. Being nice is submission, being an asshole is self-handicapping. But if you're confident enough that you can actually be free to act in the way you want, then you'll be nice if you actually value other people's happiness, and an asshole otherwise. (This is an over-simplification, obviously.) For what it's worth, I feel like the nicest guys I've ever met have all been very cool and confident, and the biggest assholes I've met have been spread across nerds and cool guys. The biggest asshole I've ever hung out with was a very alpha dude, but a few months after I met him I heard that he tried to kill himself and was finishing high school in a rehab facility, or something like that. So there's more anecdata, I guess.
1wedrifid7yNote that this is what I would expect a human to perceive [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halo_effect] even if the cool, confident, tall, attractive or powerful people in question were either equally nice or slightly crueller than their lower status counterparts.
1gothgirl4206667yGood point, I forgot about that.
0wedrifid7yThe error seems to be overstatement of the degree to which those two traits are incompatible. The claim after the 'just' is true but does not (in theory or practice) exclude also encouraging more assertiveness. In fact, practicing being rude would likely result in more assertiveness via the mechanism of comfort zone expansion.
0bogus7yIt depends on what you mean by "assertiveness [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assertiveness]". On a broad reading of the word, there is basically no sharp distinction between assertiveness and just plain meanness, rudeness or even manipulation - it really all depends on how broad your "comfort zone" is! A strict reading of "assertiveness" would require markedly higher standards which cross into negotiation skills, such as being pointedly aware of other parties' positions and interests, and perhaps expressly acknowledging them. This meaning tends to be more commonly used these days, especially in combination with other useful skills such as confidence and independence.
0[anonymous]7yI think that mindslaver [http://lesswrong.com/lw/htw/bad_concepts_repository/98hk]-like situations may be more frequent in real life than you think.
0kvd7yThanks for explaining. I suspect I might be put off by it, based on the way you described it earlier and here, but if I might benefit from it I'd like to give it a chance. I would like to be more assertive, independent and confident, just not with the goal of attracting women. Based on this and the other responses I think I'll give it a shot. I won't be able to get a hold of it now, but I'll check it out once I can.
5Xachariah7yThe blueprint makes that distinction but it's wrong. Male attraction is isomorphic to female attraction. The blueprint simply doesn't look into what it takes to attract men, so it doesn't make any statements about male attraction other than the superficial. Anecdotally, as I became more attractive to women I became more attractive to men too. Not in a gay way, they just wanted my approval more and listened more and wanted to be my friends more than before. I felt the same way about my PUA friends as well; I could tell that they were getting cooler and I just wanted to be around them more. There's no doubt in my mind that the teachings work on men too.
0gothgirl4206667yThis is interesting to me, what do you mean by this statement? For example, the blueprint says that men's attraction is more or less binary and relatively fixed, while a woman's is a highly dynamic sliding scale. Would you disagree with this idea?
1Xachariah7yYes I disagree. The blueprint covers that both sexes attraction is value based. Women's attraction is dynamic because man's value is dynamic; man's attraction is static because women's value is static (looks based). I'd argue that women's value is static because they don't know how to hold intrinsic value and project that value to others aside from with their looks, just as 90% of men don't know how to do so either. A repeated message in the blueprint is the idea that you'll become attractive towards women, sleep with a lot of attractive girls, then you'll find the one that you really want and use your blueprint skills maximize your chance to get her, then you'll settle down with the one when you're ready to exit the game. This is basically the promise that's made throughout. However, the one you really want isn't defined as the hottest girl, but the awesome girl that you want to be with more than anything. There's an implicit acknowledgement that traits other than physical attractiveness matter when men look at women. My argument is that yes those traits matter, and yes they're the same traits that the blueprint teaches men to have.
2fubarobfusco7yI'm a straight, polyamorous, and financially successful man. And I say unto ye: Huh?!
0Xachariah7ywhoops, misplaced a word. I've edited it.
0ChristianKl7yOne the one hand the argument is that a guy isn't attracted to the girl which whom he wants to be with more than anything because of looks (because she's the hottest) and one the other hand the argument is that male attraction is all about looks?
0Xachariah7yCorrect. My point is that the Blueprint has conflicting messages about male attraction. It says one thing explicitly and very different thing implicitly. I hold that the implicit teachings more closely match reality.
0[anonymous]7yNote that this is a claim by user:Xachariah. The Blueprint does not make this oversimplified claim. In fact, it contradicts it.
-1[anonymous]7yFact is, the skills needed to attract her may be different than the skills needed to attract the typical total stranger in a night club (though some skills do transfer). (See e.g. this [http://lesswrong.com/lw/hbp/using_evolution_for_marriage_or_sex/] about short-term vs long-term.)
2[anonymous]7yI think it underestimates the differences within each gender compared to those between the genders. (Men are taller than women in average, but if I mean ‘tall people’ I don't say “men”, I say “tall people”.)
7kvd7yWould you recommend it to (straight) women, for the other than attracting women benefits?
0[anonymous]7yWould you also recommend it to gay men and women?
9James_Miller7yDual computer monitors. I've had this kind of setup for several years at work and home. It seems to really help, although it does encourage multitasking.
0BrassLion7yI've anecdotally seen this too - I have one monitor of work and one monitor of reference material, and it speeds up my work by a pretty large amount. It doesn't matter for all kinds of work, though.
0Antisuji7yIn my experience [http://lesswrong.com/lw/9v/beware_of_otheroptimizing/] the effect is minimal and tends to be overshadowed by other, stronger effects. For example, at my last office job I had a laptop plus monitor setup at my desk, but unsurprisingly found that I was usually much more productive if I took my laptop to an empty conference room. Of course it's possible I'm just doing it wrong. Right now I work at home and sometimes at coffee shops and I find the flexibility of choosing where I work (and in what posture) to be well worth the missing screen real estate. I am strongly considering the purchase of a new "Retina" Macbook Pro, but I don't anticipate huge productivity gains because of the extra pixels.
9ModusPonies7yGetting Things Done—David Allen [http://www.amazon.com/Getting-Things-Done-productivity-ebook/dp/B000WH7PKY/] Highly, highly recommended. This is the gold standard of organizational advice, and it lives up to its reputation. My productivity has skyrocketed in the five months I've been using this system. I attribute maybe half of that improvement to this book. Allen describes his system in detail, explaining why each piece is useful. The system is modular, and most people who use it have modified it to fit their particular workflow. The book is longer than it needs to be, but still only something like 200-300 pages. Note that organizational advice is different from motivational advice (although bad organization can sap motivation). Key insights: —Breaking down projects into small, achievable "next actions" is a key technique for planning effectively and preventing ugh fields. —Writing down every task in a single list that you will actually check regularly lets you stop worrying about tasks, reduce your cognitive load, and ensure that nothing gets lost.
7benkuhn7yWorth adding that most people don't actually need all of GTD, since the system was designed for a particular type of corporate drone. It's really the attitude about doing things that's important to take away. For instance, I don't keep lists of projects or a "tickler" file--for me, the most important things were the weekly strategic reviews, "next actions" idea, and having a very small number of inboxes that I regularly clear out and categorize.
3lukeprog7yThe Procrastination Equation [http://www.amazon.com/Procrastination-Equation-Putting-Getting-ebook/dp/B003ZSHUP2/] . My post How to Beat Procrastination [http://lesswrong.com/lw/3w3/how_to_beat_procrastination/] is simply a summary of this book.
2XFrequentist7yMaster Your Workday Now! - Michael Linenberger [http://www.amazon.com/Master-Your-Workday-Now-Strategies/dp/097493044X/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top] Recommended to me by pjeby [http://lesswrong.com/user/pjeby/overview/], this is the most CfAR-ey personal productivity book that I've read. I would recommend it over GTD, as it incorporates many of the same insights into IMO a better overall system.
0Risto_Saarelma7yWhat about if your workday problems aren't "I have too many incoming emails and routine tasks to handle, I need to organize and prioritize things somehow" but "I need to design a robust technical system out of nothing and it needs to match our problem and be good enough not to get us into the trouble down the road and I'm having lots of trouble fitting the entire problem and the requirements from the existing system in my head" or "I need to figure out enough about a new technical field in a month that I can incorporate ideas from it into my paper and have it pass peer review and I have no idea what's going on with it"? I've found it difficult to apply GTD style systems to the sort of problems where most of the initial difficulty is understanding the problem to begin with.
0pianoforte6117ySpeed reading apps. I use Acceleread.

Happiness (or anything else designed primarily to change your inner state)

Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy - David D. Burns

Absolutely fantastic. The concepts are highly rational and compatible with a LessWrong worldview and are explained very well. The guy writes in a really friendly, likeable style. He does an excellent job arguing with the hypothetical depressed reader and logically convincing him that the beliefs he firmly holds are maladaptive and wrong, without expecting him to "just think more positively" or anything similar.

The principles explained in the book are those of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which is the only form of psychotherapy proven to work better than placebo. Essentially what CBT says (if I correctly understand it) is that depression essentially is a form of irrational thinking, specifically ten specific irrational thinking patterns, called "cognitive distortions". These include things like "overgeneralization", where a depressed person will do a small thing wrong and conclude that everything they do is wrong, or "mind reading", where a depressed person will insist that somebody hates them or is thinking negative things about them, without proof to back it up. The book explains how to no... (read more)

1Douglas_Knight7yDepending on what you mean by placebo. Talking to someone trained in most brands of therapy is no better than talking to the untrained, but it's a lot better than no therapy. Also, I think it has been demonstrated that reading this book about CBT is useful, though not as useful as talking to someone trained in CBT. Compared to talking to the untrained, I don't know.
3Stabilizer7yMoodkit [https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/moodkit-mood-improvement-tools/id427064987?mt=8] This iPhone app is based on CBT. It has many features. But the most useful feature for me is something called "Thought Checker". Suppose in a certain situation you felt a surge of negative emotions. Then into the app you first describe the situation. Then you choose, from a large list, some of the emotions you experienced and rate their intensity. Then you describe the thoughts that ran through your head. You then select from a list of cognitive distortions, the distortions that would apply to the thoughts you just described. Then you write a new, clearer way to think about the same situation but without the distortions. Then finally your re-rate the intensity of the emotions you listed. Almost always it attenuates significantly. I have found this to be an excellent way to defuse extreme emotions. For example, sometimes a single negative thought about my career or relationship status would ruin the productivity of an entire day for me. No longer. Repeated use might make the whole procedure automatic in your brain. The other features are tips and advice to improve mood. You can commit to taking specific actions and check back. You can track your mood as a function of time. There are also journaling templates which are very handy. All in all, easily worth the $5 price tag. Drawback: you need an iPhone or iPad.
1MalcolmOcean7yLove Yourself Like Your Life Depends On It - Kamal Ravikant [http://www.amazon.com/Love-Yourself-Like-Depends-ebook/dp/B0086BX8UE] Essentially involves rewiring your brain by insisting to yourself that you love yourself. Got the author out of a depressed state where he hadn't left the house in months(?) even though it felt like bs when he first tried. Others have had similar success with it (note the high number of reviews). Personally I appear to be naturally predisposed towards happiness; why I recommend the book is that it's the only thing I've heard of that seems to produce the same kinds of natural bursts of elation that I experience anyway. The book is cheap and short, and the potential return is very high (if you're looking for stuff under the Happiness heading) so I would say that it's worth checking out.
0Stabilizer7ySelf-compassion. See here [http://www.self-compassion.org/] and here [http://www.mindfulselfcompassion.org/] and links therein. Self-compassion, as defined by Kristin Neff [http://www.self-compassion.org/bio.html] contains 3 main components: (1) Self-Kindness; (2) Common Humanity, i.e. recognizing that your troubles aren't that unique and that many people suffer/have suffered similar problems and (3) Mindfulness: mainly, seeing clearly and not-denying your current state as it is. I think self-compassion based meditation has increased my happiness as I've always tended to be overly self-critical.
6gothgirl4206667ySucceedSocially.com [http://www.succeedsocially.com/] This website is sort of an all-encompassing general overview of how to develop a social life and common problems people face in doing so. The writing is kind of boring, and a little frustratingly vague sometimes, but at the same time it's utterly reasonable and probably applies to almost everybody's situation. My experience with this website was that I would read a bunch of it, saying to myself "okay, I know... yes, that's obvious... okay, I'm not an idiot, maybe I don't need to read this site after all", and then all of a sudden come across something that made me suddenly realize that I had been doing something terribly wrong for the last four years and immediately mentally correct it. I would recommend that anyone who doesn't have a wide social circle read through this whole website (it's maybe about as long as a book), and anyone who is socially awkward in some situations scroll through the table of contents and see if any articles jump out that seem relevant to their interests. Since I have read this website three months ago, I would definitely say my social skills have improved.
5gothgirl4206667yHow to Win Friends & Influence People - Dale Carnegie [http://www.amazon.com/How-Win-Friends-Influence-People/dp/0671723650] The thesis of this book seems to be something like this: "Many people try to make themselves look good in order to get someone to like them, even at the expense of making the target look bad. Instead, you should make the target look good, even at the expense of making yourself look bad. This works because people like feeling important and high status, and if you can make them feel that way, they'll enjoy being around you." The book is divided up into thirty or so chapters, each which revolves around a single-sentence "principle" that reflects the thesis. Each chapter then consists of six or so supposedly true anecdotes in which someone makes someone else like them by applying the principle. I don't know if I necessarily agree with Carnegie's principle. It proves too much - cool jocks don't enjoy hanging around nerds even though it presumably makes them feel important. There is definitely something to be said for appearing to be a desirable high-status person yourself. However, after reading this book, I sort came up with a weaker version of Carnegie's thesis that was a really big epiphany for me [http://lesswrong.com/lw/hzd/stupid_questions_thread/9dea]. So I have this book to thank for that. The book is also fairly boring and repetitive, as you might imagine given my description of its structure, and it's something like eighty years old, which should make it a little suspicious, because times have changed since then. (Although it does have a sort of old-fashioned charm which makes it entertaining.) My social skills have improved since about three months ago when I read this book. I would not recommend this book, unless you have a tendency to act arrogant or self-absorbed and need to give yourself messages to act in the opposite direction. Or if you just want to act nicer in general.
5Vaniver7yI think this book is well worth reading (and then rereading every few years). Robin's take. [http://www.overcomingbias.com/2012/03/how-to-win-friends.html] I think this is evidence for Carnegie's thesis- cool jocks enjoy exerting dominance over nerds, because exerting dominance makes them feel important. They don't enjoy hanging around nerds because that doesn't make them feel important, because nerds are (generally) not good at making other people feel important.
1wedrifid7yThat is true and a partial explanation. It is also significant that nerds make people feel important based on different criteria and in response to different stimulus. This makes some of the dominance asserting skills that the jocks have less useful.
1RomeoStevens7yHow to Talk to Anyone by Leil Lowndes is written as a sort of spiritual sequel to HtWF. It goes a lot farther in breaking things down to a simpler level. HtWF often assumes you know how to do certain things. I would strongly recommend it to anyone reading HtWF who thinks "okay, so what should I actually do?"
-1Duke7yThanks to my previous employer, I actually went a step further and took a Dale Carnegie [http://www.dalecarnegie.com] class called Effective Communications & Human Relations / Skills for Success Course. I think it was $1600 or so a couple years ago. My manager thought that I was doing a good job but that I was not particularly nice to people, which was accurate. So, thankfully, he paid for me to take the course and, as far as I can tell, it had a strong influence on me in a positive way. The course was geared towards professionals of all flavors--engineers, salesman, executives, etc. And, while they teach technical-ish stuff about remembering names, giving presentations and the like, the essential elements of the course were positivity and high energy. The primary instructors never said a single negative thing and they never let their high energy levels dip. The classes were each three hours and held on like Tuesdays after work. So they were charged with keeping 40-50 people who just finished a full day of work interested. They succeeded each night. It was quite an accomplishment. They were probably the friendliest people I've ever met. As for me, while I was never particular friendly, I've always had a knack for public speaking. Not only do I not get nerves when speaking to a group, but I feel energized by it. IIRC, every class each student had to speak to a small group and then most of the time we all had to speak to everyone. I did very well and won a couple awards including the highest achievement award, which all my fellow students voted on. I was pretty surprised to win that but it was cool. The experience instilled in me a lot of confidence. So much so that I eventually switched careers to sales. My favorite memory of the course occurred the night that we each had to get up in succession and give a 3 minute speech on something or other. I was to go about half way through. There was a stage in the room that everyone so far had stood on while giving their
2RomeoStevens7yThe Personal MBA [http://personalmba.com/] is written in such a way as to be easily digestible in small chunks, and should be highly useful to anyone who doesn't already know a lot of econ and find themselves applying it. I would say it's still worth a skim even if you're fairly confident in this area as a sort of checklist. It doesn't matter if you're not trying to run a business, the lessons are widely applicable.
0anholt7yhttp://www.mrmoneymustache.com [http://www.mrmoneymustache.com] fixed what I was doing with personal finance. In particular, not saving for retirement consistent with what my goals are on reflection. The best part is that what he tells you to do for investing is really easy and involves almost no choice, which meant I got started immediately while reading more about other life changes. He also drills into you that the naive cost/benefit calculation for outsourcing small home repairs done by a lot of us geeks misses less obvious costs of outsourcing and under-counts the benefit of learning skills, which was a big update for me.
[-][anonymous]7y 0

Reposted

[This comment is no longer endorsed by its author]Reply

Instrumental rationality is the practical application of epistemic rationality, "winning" being the criterion of whether you did it right. Is there anything that can be said about intrumental rationality at that level, rather than exhibiting exemplary particular cases?

2Metus7yInterestingly, the wiki [http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Instrumental_rationality#Instrumental_rationality] turns it around and says that epistemic rationality is a special case of instrumental rationality.
0wedrifid7yI wonder who wrote the wiki page. The claim is controversial. I'd say that the article would be better without it.
0Caspian7yThat part of the wiki page was written in this edit [http://wiki.lesswrong.com/mediawiki/index.php?title=Rationality&diff=13094&oldid=13093]
0wedrifid7yThanks. Fixed. If someone wants to include discussion about how instrumental and epistemic rationality are related they may consider creating an additional subheading for that purpose. The 'instrumental rationality' section needs to be a simple definition of what the phrase refers to.
0RichardKennaway7yI don't think I agree with the wiki. Epistemic rationality is not a special case of instrumental rationality, like a car is a special case of a vehicle; it is an essential component, like an engine is of a car. Expressing that by saying that epistemic rationality is instrumentally rational for instrumental rationality is cute, but doesn't justify the wiki's statement. "In a sense", it says, but not an important one.
3Ben Pace7yIf learning a piece of knowledge will hurt you (emotionally, or be bad for your mental health) then it might be bad, instrumentally, to learn it. Personally, I value the truth because it is a massive pre-requisite for doing good in the world (although I do tend to value it a bit more intrinsically). But if Epistemic Rationality didn't help me be instrumentally rational, then I wouldn't value it half as much. I want to win.
0RichardKennaway7yBetter, instrumentally, to learn to handle the truth. Ignorance and dullness are not qualities to be cultivated, however fortuitously useful on occasion it might be to not know something, or be unable to notice an implication of what you do know. If it doesn't, you're doing it wrong. This is the entire point of LessWrong.
0Lightwave7yIt really depends on your goals/goal system. I think the wiki definition is supposed to encompass possible non-human minds that may have some uncommon goals/drives, like a wireheaded clippy that produces virtual paperclips and doesn't care whether they are in the real or virtual world, so it doesn't want/need to distinguish between them.
0RichardKennaway7yI really do not care about hypothetical entities that have the goal of being ignorant, especially constructions like wireheaded clippies. It's generally agreed here that wireheading is a failure mode. So is the valorisation of ignorance by romanticism [http://lesswrong.com/lw/or/joy_in_the_merely_real/].
0Tenoke7yIt obviously is. If it is part of your utility function to value truth then seeking truths will be instrumentally rational. <- This is the special case.
4RichardKennaway7ySorry, this whole subthread has devolved into idiotic word games.
0buybuydandavis7yEpistemic rationality is just one of many means available for winning. There will be trade offs between these means, first in terms of opportunity costs, but second where being employing the means is a handicap in a situation. Under totalitarian theocracy, it's likely instrumentally rational to believe in the Great Gazoo with the rest of them. In general, there are costs in not aligning your beliefs to the society you live in, even when those beliefs are false. Whether the benefit of more accurate prediction from epistemic rationality outweighs those costs is a factual matter of the situation.
0RichardKennaway7yI am not interested in these tradeoffs, or in whatever imagined situations where it would hypothetically be better to be dull and ignorant. If LessWrong is about anything, it is about epistemic rationality and its employment for instrumental rationality.
0buybuydandavis7yI'm interested. I'm even interested in what aspect of instrumental rationality is served by renouncing epistemic rationality on the question of the limits of epistemic rationality to serve instrumental ends.