This post outlines a very simple strategy that's been working for me lately. It may be obvious to some, but it only clicked for me recently.

Positive social stimulation is fun for humans, right? We like to be liked. It makes us cheerful. We're motivated to do things that make people smile at us and praise us.

But purely optimizing for being liked is a bad idea for lots of reasons: it leads away from your real goals and values, it motivates you to be deceptive, it's kind of shallow and unsatisfying in the long run.

So here's what you do instead: first, decide what you actually want to do. Then, seek out people who will socially reward you for doing that, and set yourself up to get social rewards.

Marketing experts will tell you that you have to "find your tribe", find the fans of your product, and focus on delighting them. It's fine if you have haters. Haters are almost irrelevant. You succeed if you have enough fans who value your stuff highly enough.

This applies across areas of life. You only need (about) one job. You only need one spouse. You only need a small number of close friends. Having great supporters is more important than avoiding having any haters.

I used to have the intuition that "fairness" meant I wasn't allowed to bias my social environment in my favor; that I should expose myself equally to people who liked and disliked me, people who did and didn't share my values, in order to get a "balanced" impression of the world.

This is pretty stupid, actually.

You, as a very small creature moving through infinite space, don't learn about the universe by drawing uniform samples from it. You learn through pursuing goals, which means you'll spend more attention on areas of the universe that are useful to you, which means things that are easy for you or helpful for your life, things that give you energy and resources to explore more.

An amoeba, as it crawls around, is going to learn more about the parts of the petri dish with food than the parts without. This is because the amoeba is alive. So are you.

As a motivational hack towards any kind of project, it really helps to set yourself up to have recurrent social interactions with people who support you in that project.

Meetup groups are good for this. Mixers. Mailing lists. Actually select for people who like the thing you're into, and it's astonishing how much it'll feel like the "world" supports you!

Use moments when you're in an energetic, upbeat mood to set up plans for things that'll give you positive social feedback in the future -- make plans to meet people or go to events, or apply to things or submit your work to things. That way you get a recurring stream of "good news" in your inbox, which will trigger more upbeat moods in future. Engineer your social environment to reinforce you for pursuing your goal and you'll be more likely to keep going.

A mastermind group is maybe the most explicit example of this kind of engineering. Get 3-7 people together who have similar goals (starting businesses is a common example) and meet regularly to offer support and cheer on each other's progress. The vibe of the mastermind should be "we're all awesome and we're going to succeed together." It's designed to help you keep up momentum.

Doing this isn't about wireheading or fooling yourself, it's about focusing your attention, including your social attention, in the areas that can offer rewards instead of the barren spaces.

So much defensiveness is unnecessary. Unproductive. It's silly to feel like you have to steel yourself against an unfriendly world if you haven't even checked to look for friends. If you take the attitude of "X is cool and awesome -- who's with me on this?" there's a good chance you'll find a community of X-fans. I have seen (and made) so many strategic social errors based on the premise that you have to defend yourself against haters rather than seek out fans. It's much better to aim to win than to not-lose.

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Yes! Mark Manson explicitly gives this as dating advice in Models (which I recommend, it's much less PUA-flavored than it might look): figure out what sort of person you are, be that sort of person really hard, then put yourself in environments where people who like that sort of person congregate so you can date them.

The excerpts are interesting, but pretty much just as PUA-flavored as it looks. :P

Is Models similar or adjacent idea-wise to this article?

Complementary but not that directly related. Models is mostly about how to be attractive as opposed to how to not be seen as dangerous.

Models was one of the best books I read in my young adult male life. Mark's content in those years was gold. I was really looking forward to and consequently super disappointed with "The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck". I hated his his gimmicky use of profanity, and since then, it seems like he's stuck with it as well as moved to a much less nuanced, more commercialized style of writing. Can't blame him with the success he's achieved with that approach, but it's too bad. 

So here's what you do instead: first, decide what you actually want to do. Then, seek out people who will socially reward you for doing that, and set yourself up to get social rewards.

I think that it is important to emphasize that the "seeking out people who will socially reward you" part should come after the part where you decide what you actually want to do.

I also want to note that I think that it that it could be very easy to slip from "I seek people out who will socially reward me for what I do after I actually decide what I want to do" to "I let my echo chamber heavily influence what I actually decide to do". And so I think that before applying the former strategy, it is important to have a plan for how to not slip down the dangerous and slippery slope of practicing the latter one. Perhaps it would be a good idea to have a diverse group of people meet, say, once every three months, and challenge each other about whether they should continue to do what they're doing.

Still, I really like this post! I think that a lot of people fall prey to the "surround yourself with diverse people who will shoot you down" failure mode. That diversity just isn't valuable on a week-to-week basis, let alone day-to-day or minute-to-minute one. We can only spend so much time at the meta levels. At some point we must step back down into object level reality and do stuff. And for that, support is useful, while challenge is harmful.

The opposite of asshole filters. In general inverting useful tools is sometimes also super useful.

For another schema in this vein, append the word 'internal' to any given useful seeming technique or vice-versa.

I think this is very good advice, but I'd like to push back on the "haters don't matter" bit. One consistently negative person can do a lot of damage, especially if they punish you for your virtues. I'd probably pay even more attention to removing people from your social circle who punish you for the things you want to do than adding people who reward you for them. Certain classes of haters are also nearly impossible to avoid.

Yup. Especially if it's someone that you feel you should be close to, like toxic parents.


I think the context of "haters don't matter" is one where you already decided to ignore them.

I think the driving motivator for seeking out high variance in groups of people to interact with is an implicit belief that my value system is malleable and a stong form of modesty concerning my beliefs about what values I should have. Over time I realized that my value system isn't really all that malleable and my intuitions about it are much more reliable indicators than observing a random sample of people, therefore a much better strategy for fulfilling goals set by those values is to associate with people who share them.

Good post! That said I personally think engaging with "haters" can be quite valuable. I've had positive interactions with many people despite very rocky beginnings - often, the difference between a hater and a supporter is just a few simple misunderstandings.

Of course, there are some who will just go after you for destructive reasons, and it's good to avoid them. But I think it pays to be careful about writing people off as haters - once you've adopted a policy of not engaging with "haters", it becomes really easy and tempting to write off legitimate critics and thus miss out on relevant information and feedback.

I agree that "often, the difference between a hater and a supporter is just a few simple misunderstandings." This is the #1 update I made from observing successful salespeople at Palantir; they almost never think of anyone as permanently uncooperative, and almost always leave the door open to an improved relationship.

I resonate with the desire to avoid writing off legitimate critics, but I think there's some limits to the usefulness of criticism. In particular, criticism of something that you are not going to change regardless is not always worth updating on. For example:

  1. Criticism of immutable characteristics of your person. (Racial slurs, negative stereotypes about your age or gender, etc.) If you can't change it, why let anyone make you feel bad about it?
  2. Nonspecific negativity about you as a person. There's just not a lot of information in the mere fact that "so-and-so dislikes me."
  3. Criticism of irreversible decisions you've made in the past. Sometimes that can mean you shouldn't do similar things in the future; but sometimes it's basically criticizing you for not having become a totally different person than you are now, and thus has no bearing on your life going forward.
  4. Criticism of decisions you're not going to change over a given time frame shouldn't make you worry or feel self-doubt during that time frame. For instance, if you've made a decision like "I want to see how many signups we get in three months before deciding whether to go forward with this startup," don't cut the experiment short just because somebody doesn't like your startup idea. For the time being, you can treat your decision as immutable. Or, for a slightly different example, if somebody disapproves of the industry you've chosen to work in, you can't immediately switch industries without some amount of preparation time, so you shouldn't feel like you have to "obey" the critic right away, or like you have to feel guilty until you've totally changed your life.
  5. Another way of looking at this is: criticism is only relevant within the scope of the kind of thing you're doing for the moment. If you're trying to solve a scientific problem, you do not need to worry about the opinions of people who think that science itself is bad, for now. You can think about their criticisms during rarer (say, yearly) periods of reflection when you reconsider "what am I doing with my life?"

Nobody is infallible, but it can be really helpful to treat yourself as locally infallible over a short time horizon or high-level frame. For now, I am... {working on this project, subscribing to this belief system, a person with these personality traits, a member of this profession.} For now, I don't want anybody messing with that or making me feel bad about it. Taking this attitude is normal, I've come to believe. Most mentally healthy people do it. Leaving every aspect of yourself and your decisions up for debate at every moment, being malleable at every scale, is a recipe for constant indecision and self-doubt. It doesn't make you heinously unethical or intellectually dishonest to decide not to worry about certain things for certain time periods. It's a correct adaptation for beings with limited computational power.

I quite agree that deciding not to worry about certain things (barring very strong warnings/overrides/etc.) across given periods is reasonable. That said, I've still had quite favorable interactions that began with that sort of unhelpful criticism and turned into either helpful criticism or more cooperative interaction.

After trying it for a few days, I'm finding that this perspective also helps when thinking about it the other way - being someone who provides positive social feedback to others. It gives me a good thing to work towards when I'm having a conversation with somebody - figure out what things the person wants to accomplish / where they want to go, figure out what their plan is and what they are doing to get there, and provide compliments / positive feedback about their attempts at progress towards that goal. If anything, this post just reminded me that one way to be helpful is to encourage people to achieve their goals - by socially rewarding them for making progress, not by merely suggesting that they do something.

I think there are a number of neglected, important factors and affect one's rationality that are environmental. This seems to me a central example of such a variables (and also the post is readable and short), so I curated this post.

[Edited for clarity]

Move to frontpage?

Moved to frontpage.

I think it's a tradeoff because a more diverse social circle can offer more diverse benefits, and a larger social circle is more robust (in case some members become unavailable). Being able to maintain a diverse social circle also means you can fare better in society outside that circle.

On the other hand the process will expose you more to rejection and other social liabilities. So the question is if it's worth it or not. If it's too hard or not rewarding enough then it might not be. Maybe we can say that people often miscalculate here because they underestimate how much easier it is to find new people than to change a person's mind about you.

There's lots of examples of this. Easier to move up at a new compan than to get a promotion. Easier to find more potential customers than to sell to someone who is uninterested.

So, just to clarify, I don't think "set yourself up for abundant social success" is the same as "never risk social failure."

What I think you want is to have abundant opportunities for positive social interactions. You want to expose your monkey brain to enough positive feedback that it believes "I can have smiles and friendly conversations literally whenever I want, I have surplus here, I have abundance here, I have more than I can use." Then, from a place of abundance, you can experiment with riskier or more ambitious social bids, and you will be more likely to succeed because you're not projecting neediness.

I'm not saying you should always operate in your "easy mode" comfort zone. I'm saying you should have a comfort zone, and expand outward from it.

The first, innermost comfort zone is actually not social, it's self-soothing. It's having a "happy place" to go to -- rest, meditation, physical comfort, etc, when you're alone and there are no demands on you. You can't spend 24 hours a day in your happy place, but you need to have one at all in order to not be freaked out all the time.

And, then, similarly, you need secure intimate relationships as a cozy "home base", even though in practice you won't spend all your time at "home." And in more professional, less personal contexts, you need solid allies, people who are already securely on board with your agenda, as a jumping-off point to build more uncertain alliances. You start with easy wins and then work up to bigger challenges. This is how disruptive innovation works. It's actually how skill-building works in general; you wait until you've mastered the easy stuff almost completely before moving on to harder stuff.

I see, that's an interesting point. I think there's also a lot of interesting parallels with investing and risk management, like the idea of leveraging current assets into high reward/high risk plays, or people's varying risk tolerance (need more/less of the comfort zone), or the idea of diminishing returns (going from 0 to 1 friend is a much bigger perceived jump than 100 to 101).

This strikes me as a tradeoff between epistemic and instrumental rationality. Perhaps the best way to manage the tradeoff is: if your hurdles are primarily motivational, i.e. the question is whether you're going to do anything, then go ahead and put yourself in a motivational echo chamber. Once your motivation is resilient, seek out critical feedback that could cause you to change your path.


The effect that getting positive feedback from following a passion has on your thinking seems to be localized around the area related to said passion, mostly.

If I decide that my passion is, say, anti-aging research, I'l inevitably steer my thought in certain ways, such as around what is necessary to get the research off the ground. If I've decided to take pride in simply being a playful person, this has some such effects too, but heck if I know what those are, since that's something I'm currently playing with. Seems to be affecting my work style and schedule, at the very least.

I'm unsure if it's possible to go without having a thing that you are trying to, or are getting approval for, in the long-term. We're social beings, and that's fine.

As a motivational hack towards any kind of project, it really helps to set yourself up to have recurrent social interactions with people who support you in that project.

I'm curious what you believe one should do when others explicitly fight one's attempt to set themselves up to have recurrent social interactions with people who support them.

Associate with people who are awesome. Don’t associate with people who suck. Get away from these ‘others’ ASAP.

My specific problem, is that the people who are awesome, who actively support me in my projects, associate with people who WANT THEM TO STOP SUPPORTING ME.

These “awesome people” sound insufficiently awesome, if that’s true. Find awesomer people! They exist. (Yes, this is hard. Many people suck, few people are awesome. My recommendation stands.)

Relevant background: ialdabaoth has this exact same conversation highly frequently, with people who think he must be missing something obvious, and then spend a much of trying saying "have you tried X" and he says "yes, but Y", and then "oh, have you tried Z?" and he says "yes, but W", and then after an hour of back and forth they give up, with neither party having gained anything useful.

(I do not think this particular instance of this conversation is likely to go anywhere useful)

(Quick note: I've downvoted my own post to keep it below zero karma, since meta-discussion-about-this-particular-sub-subthread isn't something I'm interested in encouraging on the front page)

Yes, I know; I’ve seen ialdabaoth around the interwebs before.

Conversely, I have had something very much like this same conversation many times before, and it is my experience that this (i.e., my advice) is something that people—even very smart people—do, in fact, miss, like, all the time.

Or rather, it’s not necessarily that they miss it per se (though surprisingly often, it’s exactly that), it’s just that they don’t do it, for various reasons that boil down to “assorted biases”.

In this particular case (I surmise), and in any case in many similar cases (I know), this is exactly the sort of thing Eliezer talks about in Inadequate Equilibria, where people try a thing, but they don’t try doing more of the thing.

But, of course, ialdabaoth is more than welcome to correct me, and I would certainly be willing to take the conversation private, if desired.

P.S.: Whoever’s downvoting my comments: if you’re doing it because you disagree, fair enough (though I’d like to hear why). Otherwise, take note of the fact that ialdabaoth did start this thread, by asking a question. I answered it.

I pursue lots of projects in the effective altruism community at the same time, which takes up much of my time socially as well. One thing is among the people I hang out with I haven't been able to find a "mastermind group" with which to start the projects I'd be most passionate about. Unfortunately, my interests are narrow, and I think I'm no more likely to find collaborators outside the community as I am within it.

Is anyone interested in forming a (online) mastermind group with the goal of improving rationality?

I've read that study groups can be more effective than studdying alone, and maybe small groups of aprox 4 discussing the sequences / other reading matterial would make things more interesting.

I'm a little wary of the goal being to improve rationality; too easy for that to get masturbatory. I suspect you'd get more done if your goal was to make all of your lives a lot better.

Agreed, the goal was not well formulated.

My focus was on the group aspect rather than the goal aspect, and I think your suggestion is a good one.

I wouldn’t mind having that kind of group. I’d love to have LW friends

As would I.

I also suspect that learning and thinking as a group would be a cool way to make friends.

How should we connect? Do you get notifications for private messages? I don't know how see conversations.