Non-resolve as Resolve

by Linda Linsefors 1y10th Jul 20182 min read1 comment

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[I wrote this post after AISFP 2017, and for some reason forgot to post it then]

Resolve = a mental technique for keep going in the face of difficulty. This is a concept that I picked up at a CFAR class a few days ago. As part of the class, we were supposed to think of our own technique. Here is mine (which I successfully used to complete my PhD thesis).

I call it “non-resolve” because you don’t resolve to stick to the plan no matter what. Instead you promise all the parts of your brain, to honestly reconsider your plan, in face in new evidence. By this technique you create an inner trust with yourself which makes it easier to do whatever you think you ought to do.

1) Before you start executing your plan, check with yourself that you agree with this plan. Is the gain worth the effort? If you convince yourself that “yes it is”, then remember this. Remember your internal argument and counterargument, because this is what you will use for your resolve. Take your time to get all your brain’s subsystems on board with the plan, so that no part of you can later say that they were not part of the decision.

2) When you have started your project and you find that some subsystem in your brain is dragging its feet and wants you to stop. Listen to that part of your brain. Does it have any new evidence as to why the plan is not worth the effort? If no, gently remind yourself that you have had this argument already.

But if there is new evidence, you will take this into account. If the plan now looks like a bad idea, then stop doing it. No sunk cost bias is allowed.

3) If you at some point convince yourself that “no, it is not worth it”, then respect this conclusion and DO NOT plunge ahead with your plan. It is important for the technique to work that you respect this.

But equally important DO NOT abandon you plan until you are convinced that the plan is bad. Remember that your past self really thought this though and thought it was a good idea. As a rule of thumb: You are not allowed to give up until you are at least equally convinced that the plan is bad.

Minor points:

a) If possible, don’t redo the argument, just go through it in your memory or on your notes, and see if the new evidence changes the outcome.

b) If at all possible, do not stop executing the plan, while you are reconsidering. E.g. if you are using this resolve to run a mile, (or keep up good eating habits) you are not allowed to take a break and sit down (or eat all the cookies) while you are rethinking the plan.

c) If you are doing mental work, b) might be impossible. In this case, if you find yourself being interrupted by reconsiderations, then schedule a limited amount of time for this, and keep the rest of the time on true project progress work.

Anecdotal evidence:

I enjoyed doing the research for my PhD, and I even mostly liked writing the research papers. But I hated writing the thesis manuscript. It was just so boring and pointless. All my results were already published anyway, and no-one, except the PhD jury, ever reads a thesis.

I tried to “just do it” to get it over with, and I got nowhere.

In the end I did it because of a longing for a sense of completion, and because I did not want to disappoint my supervisor. These were my true reasons, which stayed true enough in me during the eight month it took to write it.

I kept going because I knew it was worth it. And this only worked after I resolved to quit if and only if I found myself not believing in the project anymore.

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