The rationalist's checklist

by Technoguyrob1 min read16th Dec 20118 comments



Doctor Peter Pronovost has managed to single-handedly reduce the infection rates in ICU facilities nationwide from numbers like fourteen percent or twenty percent to zero. His solution is idiotically simple: a checklist. In a process as complex as ICU treatment, doctors perform chained simple steps very many times, and it can be easy to forget a step. These things add up. Read the article before continuing.

In their phenomenal book, The Power of Full EngagementJim Loehr and Tony Schwartz discuss a pattern they have discovered among all top performers, ranging from sports to music and business. Beyond a certain level, all top performers had established positive rituals for relaxation and deliberate practice. These positive rituals were daily ingrained habits and allowed them to surpass the merely excellent performers.

It is difficult to make use of most Less Wrong posts in terms of changing one's behavior. Even if you integrate a lesson fully, you will still miss steps on occasion. I propose we suggest checklists for various recurring activities that will offload these responsibilities from conscious thought to its much more reliable brother, ingrained habit. Fortunately, we should not need many checklists.

An example of a checklist is a morning routine:

  • Short exercise (40 pushups, 50 situps)
  • Shower
  • Daily cosmetics (brush teeth, shave, skin moisturizer, hair forming cream, male scented lotion, deodorant)
  • Make breakfast, which can be depending on what day it is mod 3: Black mango tea as well as
  •    Omelette with cheese and tomatoes
  •    Cereal with a side of oatmeal
  •    A piece of fruit and yoghurt
  • Brief non-work and non-study related reading, for example, a novel

Another example of a checklist is during a conversation with a non-rationalist on the 5-second level: If you feel strong affect (anger or annoyance) at someone's point in a debate,

  • Say "Let me think about this for a second."
  • Are you two on the same  inferential level? If not, backtrack by trying to bridge it first.
  • Have either of you committed a  cognitive bias? (This may not be so helpful, given this is a potential fifty-item checklist!) If so, inform them about them about it in a friendly manner. ("Ah, I see! You have to be careful here because..." or "Oh, oops, I had forgotten here about...")

Think of this as a re-run of the 5-second level post, with an outreach towards more than just specific rationality skills. The checklists that are not required to be performed extemporaneously (i.e., not in conversation) should be like a physical checklist, that one can write down and should go through every time.