This is the public group instrumental rationality diary for October 16-31.

It's a place to record and chat about it if you have done, or are actively doing, things like:

  • Established a useful new habit
  • Obtained new evidence that made you change your mind about some belief
  • Decided to behave in a different way in some set of situations
  • Optimized some part of a common routine or cached behavior
  • Consciously changed your emotions or affect with respect to something
  • Consciously pursued new valuable information about something that could make a big difference in your life
  • Learned something new about your beliefs, behavior, or life that surprised you
  • Tried doing any of the above and failed

Or anything else interesting which you want to share, so that other people can think about it, and perhaps be inspired to take action themselves.  Try to include enough details so that everyone can use each other's experiences to learn about what tends to work out, and what doesn't tend to work out.

The poll earlier this month seems to be sufficiently in favor of maintaining the current schedule that extra votes are unlikely to change things much, but if you'd really like to register your opinion, you are welcome to do so here.

Thanks to cata for starting the Group Rationality Diary posts, and to commenters for participating.

Immediate past diary:  October 1-15 

Next diary:  November 1-15

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23 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 3:09 PM

Recently noticed that a lot of the time I eat junk food is when I wander into the kitchen because I'm bored, and junk food is easy to eat. So I decided to start buying vegetables in advance, cutting them up at the start of the week into edible chunks / preparing them slightly, and having dressing on hand to eat with them. This has resulted in me eating vegetables as a snack significantly more often, because it is now fairly trivial to do so.

Of course, keeping up the habit of preparing them at the start of the week is the hard part. For those with more cash than me, it might be worth it to just buy those party vegetable trays from the grocery store.

I solved the problem long ago by not buying junk food at all. This way, I have to ask myself whether I am really hungry, and therefore need a proper meal, or if it's only boredom. In the second case, cooking a full meal isn't worth it, so I spare myself the extra calories. I lost 8kg in three months with this simple trick.

A number of non-junk foods do not require any preparation and are already conveniently sized. Small carrots, snap peas, cherry tomatoes, and berries, for example. (Now if only I liked those...)

Yes, the advantage of the junk food is that you can go directly to the "eating mode" instead of the "food prepare mode". So it is useful to prepare the food when not hungry.

I missed a flight and updated in the direction of "if you've never missed a flight, you're spending too much time in airports".

How much time did missing the flight cause you to spend in the airport?

Technically, negative half an hour.

I managed to make my connecting flight and got home in time. So: more time in one airport; less time in another; and missing the flight was itself caused by extra time spent waiting on/for trains, so it all balances out.

(My baggage didn't make the connecting flight, and it took longer to get that sorted out than it would have done to just pick it up, so this wasn't quite costless. Also the airport time was spent with more talking-to-people and less relaxing than it would have done otherwise. And I minorly inconvenienced lots of other people while rushing for my connection. But really, the whole thing was a lot less of a hassle than I'd have expected.)

For what it's worth, this is quite different from any of my experiences missing a flight, which for me have always resulted in at least a couple hours of additional delay, and on some occasions over six. For my sister, on two occasions it has resulted in delays over twelve hours.

Nearly all of these were due not to a deliberate attempt to arrive at the airport as late as I could get away with though (in general I do not try to do this unless the alternative is getting up unconscionably early, because of my experiences regarding the unpredictability of airplane schedules and the amount of delay that can result from missing one,) but because delays on flights I did make on time caused them to arrive after my transfer flights departed.

Lost 5 kg in 5 weeks by participating in a diet program where someone else prepares for me all the food. The food is supposed to be balanced, and is divided into 5 meals a day, which should be eaten in intervals of 2-3 hours.

I guess one of the reasons it works is completely giving up all decisions about food. Learned helplessness -- wouldn't expect to see it used for a positive purpose. When you just learn not to think about it, a lot of temptation goes away. There is no "more or less?" nor "this or that?"; you just eat what you get, at the predetermined time, end of story. It's like a precommitment -- with the advantage that the food is physically there (every evening they bring me the food for the next day; on Thursdays they bring also the food for weekend).

It goes pretty far in removing the trivial inconveniences, although -- if someone feels like competing in this area with creating a better program -- I can imagine a few improvements, such as also providing in advance a package of frozen vegetables for the case of sudden temptation.

My most serious objection is that I don't approve some choices of food, and the company gives me no choice about anything. (There are competing companies in my area that offer a choice of food, but don't provide food for weekends; in my opinion that would be much worse, as it would break the habit every week and provide a temptation with leftovers from the weekend.) My contract is till the end of October; and then I will start preparing my own food using the same system. And I will continue to measure my weight to see if my version works.

A lot of us are programmers or work with software which performs batch-style computation. The result is that our daily work habits look like "do some coding or input file generation, start simulation/code compilation/code testing suite, wait for 1-10 minutes, analyze results, repeat with modification."

The waiting step is killer. You are disinclined to use that waiting time for other productive tasks because it's not really enough time to do anything meaningful. You also don't want to start early on the next pass of modifications because you could get confused about what step you're on versus what results you're looking at. So there's a powerful motivation to do something impulsive like checking email again, or worse, checking your hedonic distraction websites.

This has been a problem for me for many years, and I've recently tried to address it by bringing to bear some various lesswrong memeplex concepts to attempt what I'm calling the "productivity trance." I keep a pad of paper where I make a tick mark every time I successfully resist an impulse to do something other than what I should be doing, essentially training the "make a tick mark, feel satisfaction" habit to replace the "check Facebook" habit.

I've only started this recently, but I think the point of these rationality diaries is to share half-baked ideas so we can iterate faster.

edit: Realized it seems dumb that I'm calling it a "productivity trance" without context. Partly I call it this because I got the idea from the meditation style where you watch your thoughts, and calmly bring them back to focus on the meditation when you see them drifting. It has so far resulting in a kind of increased mindfulness and deeper insights into what I'm doing, because my attention is fully focused in my task.

When I have such 1-10 minutes breaks, I do mindfulness meditation. I think of it as recharging my mental energy pool. It happens to reliably feel good every time.

I switch to routine tasks like checkin preparation, mail, time tracking, picking up conversations, eating, streching, surfing. If it really takes longer (>>15m) I will begin the next independent task.

But generally you should avoid long modify-test cycles. Use a much smaller data set/matrix/grid size to try out your modifications and if they show what they shoud run with the larger set.

I have more experience with accounting and media data but the principle of reducing the data volume or even generating synthetic test data should apply to most numerical or engineering problems too.

One anecdote by Feynman when he was in Los Alamos is about this kidn of batch processing (then with punch cards). One thing I remember from that is that they ran multiple computations in parallel. But then they got partial and early feedback which not every computation may.

On a games evening I chose to talk to someone I disliked but who was in a life situation I saw I might get into too if I didn't watch out. By showing genuine interest I learned something about how relationships can fail and I could even pass on some advice that may help her in her situation. By comparing my still stable situation to hers I saw where I will have to watch out and in this case that short time stability may change due to events outside of my control but for which I might prepare. I was reminded to not feel overly secure in the long term only because a situation look stable for some time.

I moved about two months ago and use that as an excuse to make a number of life changes. This has been going very well. I have in the past been quite bad at making systematic changes to my life, so this has been a refreshing change. Here's the major changes I made:

  • I run 5 times a week on average instead of once or twice
  • I write daily on and completed last month's challenge to write every day (this site encourages you to write at least 750 words (about three pages) every day of private stream-of-consciousness in a journal).
  • I reinstated a dental hygiene habit I had let slip years ago
  • I am going through the program
  • I am keeping better contact with friends I no longer see regularly than I have in the past
  • I learned more about my financial situation and set up systems to keep better track of all that
  • I replaced some of the worst pieces of clothing I wore and am trying to look less sloppy in general
  • I have started taking music lessons for the first time in many years

Habits that I tried to make but have had limited or intermittent success with:

  • mindfulness meditation
  • Anki - I maintained this for a while then dropped off again and haven't gotten back in yet. I think I need to put more 'fun' cards in and find a way to get Anki to randomize them across all my decks so that I don't get long strings of hard cards.

It feels really good to make systematic changes. I highly recommend making use of any enforced change like moving or changing jobs to help you make other changes at the same time. I got that suggestion from this site as well, though I can't remember exactly where.

In particular, I do want to advocate for 750words. Somedays I have little to no interesting in writing and little to talk about and end up writing about things of little consequence, maybe just video games or what I had for dinner. But being forced to write is a good habit that allows you to do a lot of self-evaluation in interesting ways. I've used it as a sounding board for a number of decisions since starting it and have come to the decision to start some of these habits based largely off of talking through the costs and benefits to myself on 750 words. I have used it to brainstorm ways to improve aspects of my life, to do put down a short research project investigating some idea, or write down critiques of ideas I've heard, as well as to just put down my thoughts and emotions. I've found that speaking my true feelings is hard and that even writing them down can be difficult - I self-censor all the time apparently. This has given me practice in overcoming that. Try it!

(You can easily write without but it does provide some gamification incentives, namely keeping a streak counter to encourage you to not miss a single day. Privacy concerns about putting it all in the cloud are possibly legitimate! And 750words costs $5/month after the first free month.)

There is always the cheap and private option to write 750 words a day in a text processor, and use Beeminder to remind you.

Of course - I was more advocating the practice than the program, as in my last paragraph. To be honest, $5 a month for something that takes 20+ minutes a day is cheap. The opportunity cost is much higher than that. You could earn more than that on Mechanical Turk in a fraction of the time.

Actually, the main downsides on a day-to-day basis for me for 750words are that you have to use your browser for a text editor which is OK these days but I'd rather be using my favorite desktop one, and that you need internet access to write it.


I've had trouble with reading books or really anything longer than a slatestarcodex post- I just start skimming, and then I have to backtrack because I didn't really read parts at all, and then I get bored and/or frustrated and quit. So if you have that problem too I found something that might help:

This text to speech app takes a pdf file, breaks up the text, and then highlights and reads individual lines. I think the key is engaging more than 1 sense. It's less effort than reading normally because of the voice, the bite sized chunks, and the fact that it's not really possible to lose my place. And I seem to listen more actively when I follow along than with audio alone. Also, critically, the playback speed is adjustable. This wouldn't work for me if I couldn't speed up the voice to more closely match my reading speed.

The default robotic voice is a bit off putting- the best free TTS engine I've come across is called IVONA, though it doesn't seem to have male english voices. Also I've found that adding some sort of quiet ambient or classical-like music in the background can make this more pleasant.

Setup a system to reward myself for checking things off a to-do list. It has caused me to actually maintain the to-do list accurately (it's been nearly a week now - most to-do list things I've tried have only lasted a couple of days).

It works by using a Google Spreadsheet script to (with 50% probability) send me a text message saying "go get a candy" whenever I mark an X in a certain column in the spreadsheet. I actually do go get these candies immediately when I get this text message.

Could you post a quick update a month or two from now, preferably once you've been through a really intense work period?

Yep, I intend to! I'm trying to further automate the system with an actual computer controlled candy dispenser, but that part isn't built yet, and it's not clear if it's needed because it seems already to be working.

Meta: Why does the "Article Navigation" below the article not work? There should be automatically generated links to previous and next rationality diary, but they are not there; neither are links to other articles by the same author.

Actually, I manually insert the next & previous links, and I was half asleep when I posted this and forgot.

eta: actually, I can see the Previous and Archive links. (No 'next' link yet because no next diary yet.) edited again: oh, I see what's broken now. Apparently I am still half asleep :/

Hmm. therufs's last post was a Meetup post, but I don't see why that would break the Article Navigation link.

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