This is a linkpost for't

My friend Buck once told me that he often had interactions with me that felt like I was saying “If you weren’t such a fucking idiot, you would obviously do…” Here’s a list of such advice in that spirit.

Note that if you do/don’t do these things, I’m technically calling you an idiot, but I do/don’t do a bunch of them too. We can be idiots together.

If you weren’t such a fucking idiot…

  • You would have multiple copies of any object that would make you sad if you didn’t have it
    • Examples: ear plugs, melatonin, eye masks, hats, sun glasses, various foods, possibly computers, etc.
  • You would spend money on goods and services.
    • Examples of goods: faster computer, monitor, keyboard, various tasty foods, higher quality clothing, standing desk, decorations for your room, mattress, pillow, sheets, etc.
    • Examples of services: uber, doordash, cleaners, personal assistants, editors, house managers, laundry, etc.
  • You would have tried many things at least one time.
    • Examples of things to do: climbing, singing, listening to music, playing instruments, dancing, eating various types of food, writing, parties.
  • You wouldn’t do anything absurdly dangerous, like take unknown drugs or ride a bike without a helmet.
  • You wouldn’t take irreversible actions if you didn’t know what the fuck you were doing.
  • You would exercise frequently.
    • Types of exercise to try: climbing, walking, running, soccer, football, yoga, hiking, fencing, swimming, wrestling, beat saber, etc.
  • You would reliably sleep 6-9 hours a night.
    • Obvious things to try:
      • melatonin
      • blackout curtains
      • putting black tape over LEDs on electronics
      • experimenting with mattress, pillow, blankets, sheets, etc.
      • blue light blocking glasses
  • You would routinely look up key numbers and do numerical consistency checks during thinking.
  • You would have a password manager.
  • You would invest money in yourself.
    • Recall: money can be used to buy goods and services.
  • You would use a email’s subject line to succinctly describe what you want from the person.
    • For example, if I want to meet with my advisor, I’ll send an email with the subject “Request for Advisory Meeting” or something similar. If I want someone to read a draft of something I wrote, the subject would be “Request for Feedback on <Title>”.
  • You would have a good mentor.
    • One way to do this is to email people that you want to be your mentor with the subject “Request for Mentorship”.
  • You would drink lots of water.
  • You would take notes in a searchable database.
  • You would summarize things that you read.
  • You would have tried making your room as bright as the outdoors.
  • You would carry batteries to recharge your phone.
  • You would have tried using pens with multiple colors.
  • You would read textbooks instead of popular introductions.
  • You would put a relatively consistent dollar value on your time.

I’m sure there are more things that I tell people that can be prefaced with “if you weren’t such an idiot…”, but that’s all I got for now.

A post I like by @Mark Xu (who agreed to my crossposting in full).

Some more from me:

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59 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 9:15 PM

Laptop chargers are also an object for which it's trivial to own multiple, at a low cost and high (potential) advantage.

Other examples: Take caffeine once a week (and nicotine (not cigarettes!) once a month) instead of never or daily. Leave social situations when they're not fun or useful anymore. Do small cost-benefit analyses when they make sense[1].

See also: Solved Problems Repository, Boring Advice Repository.

  1. I've done two already this year: One to decide whether to leave a bootcamp, and another to decide which gym to select. (The second one misfired: I made a mistake in my calculation, taking only the way there as a cost and not the way back to public transport, which led me to choose the wrong one (by <100€ of cost over the time I go there)). I should've done the math (done ✓), then burned the math and gone with my gut (not done ✗).) ↩︎

Just last week I wrote a post reviewing the evidence on caffeine cycling and caffeine habituation. My conclusion was that the evidence was thin and it's hard to say anything with confidence.[1]

My weakly held beliefs are:

  1. Taking caffeine daily is better than not taking it at all, but worse than cycling.
  2. Taking caffeine once every 3 days is a reasonable default. A large % of people can take it more often than that, and a large % will need to take it less.

I take caffeine 3 days a week and I am currently running a self-experiment (described in my linked post). I'm currently in the experimental phase, I already did a 9-day withdrawal period and my test results over that period (weakly) suggest that I wasn't habituated previously because my performance didn't improve during the withdrawal period (it actually got worse, p=0.4 on a regression test).

[1] Gavin Leech's post that you linked cited a paper on brain receptors in mice which I was unaware of, I will edit my post to include it. Based on reading the abstract, it looks like that study suggests a weaker habituation effect than the studies I looked at (receptor density in mice increased by 20–25% which naively suggests a 20–25% reduction in the benefit of caffeine whereas other studies suggest a 30–100% reduction, but I'm guessing you can't just directly extrapolate from receptor counts to efficacy like that). Gavin also cited Rogers et al. (2013) which I previously skipped over because I thought it wasn't relevant, but on second thought, it does look relevant and I will give it a closer look.

Thank you, that's really cool! I'll look at your post when I have time.

Laptop chargers are also an object for which it's trivial to own multiple, at a low cost and high (potential) advantage.

I don't see why there is a high potential advantage here. I'd expect:

  • Most people to be able to find a friend or a nice person at a coffee shop with a charger they can borrow.
  • Most people to be able to get a new charger within a day or so (in person store or online + pay for faster shipping).
  • Going a day or so without a laptop not to sacrifice much in terms of fun. I actually expect it to be a net positive there since it'd force you to do something like go for a walk or read a book. It also has the benefit of exercising your "boredom muscles".
  • Going a day or so without a laptop not to sacrifice much in terms of your career. Maybe your boss is frustrated with you in the short term, but I don't expect that to lead to any actual consequences like being meaningfully more likely to get fired or not get a promotion.

If you're a student, you sometimes have to hand in papers on a deadline (or are on a tight schedule), in which case another charger might be useful. (This is less relevant today, when many laptops have identical charger plugs).

Good point. Makes sense that it'd be important for such people.

Could you link a source for the once a week coffee? I am intrigued.

I did not yet read your recommendations so I don't know if the answer is there.

I got the caffeine recommendation from here, Nicotine here. I don't have great sources for this, and the ranges were mostly gut estimates.

Thank you

I strongly advise against taking nicotine.

Maybe I can be clearer: I use 2mg nicotine rarely (15 times since December 2022), so on average about once a month, which I've edited in the comment above. It's been really useful when used surgically. Why do you advise against it? The strongest counterarguments I've seen were in here.

Pretty much all of those reasons - what it's missing is that nicotine itself may also be a carcinogen- at least, it has the ability to be one: 
Although there aren't enough isolated studies done on nicotine in a long period to be conclusive: 
Some reviews disagree: 


I think there is some context missing. When I see "taking nicotine" I think "smoking a cigarette, but expressed using more science-y language to make it sound like a less awful idea". Whereas you seem to be taking nicotine gum or something, which is a different proposition. (I think smoking is a very bad idea, with very high confidence. I think nicotine by other sources is also a very bad idea, but my confidence is lower).

Ah, agree on the cigarettes thing (edited it in).

A list of things that "everyone knows you should do" that I have gained value from NOT doing:

- health things recommended by "experts" that few people do and are therefore not lindy
  - drink lots of water - diminishing marginal returns. if you have to get to pee at night you may be drinking too much
  - sunglasses - outdoor light improves your eyesight and makes you more alert. 
  - diet stuff. eating a lot of vegetables, eating no vegetables, cutting salt, cutting fat, cutting carbs - nutrition is not solved, your body is a complex system, and your body is not like other bodies for reasons no one really knows.
  - avoid fast food
  - drink red wine
- don't waste food
- avoid nicotine
- buy a car
- get a mortgage for a house
- save lots of money in a retirement account and buy index funds
- shower daily
- use shampoo
- wear shoes
- walk
- sleep under a blanket

I'm curious about you not doing these, since I'd unquestioningly accepted them, and would love for you to elaborate:

- save lots of money in a retirement account and buy index funds
- shower daily
- use shampoo
- wear shoes
- walk

Regarding 'diet stuff', I mostly agree and like how Jay Daigle put it:

I’ve decided lately that people regularly get confused, on a number of subjects, by the difference between science and engineering. ... Tl;dr: Science is sensitive and finds facts; engineering is robust and gives praxes. Many problems happen when we confuse science for engineering and completely modify our praxis based on the result of a couple of studies in an unsettled area. ...

This means two things. First is that we need to understand things much better for engineering than for science. In science it’s fine to say “The true effect is between +3 and -7 with 95% probability”. If that’s what we know, then that’s what we know. And an experiment that shrinks the bell curve by half a unit is useful. For engineering, we generally need to have a much better idea of what the true effect is. (Imagine trying to build a device based on the information that acceleration due to gravity is probably between 9 and 13 m/s^2).

Second is that science in general cares about much smaller effects than engineering does. It was a very long time before engineering needed relativistic corrections due to gravity, say. A fact can be true but not (yet) useful or relevant, and then it’s in the domain of science but not engineering. 

Why does this matter?

The distinction is, I think fairly clear when we talk about physics. ... But people get much more confused when we move over to, say, psychology, or sociology, or nutrition. Researchers are doing a lot of science on these subjects, and doing good work. So there’s a ton of papers out there saying that eggs are good, or eggs are bad, or eggs are good for you but only until next Monday or whatever.

And people have, often, one of two reactions to this situation. The first is to read one study and say “See, here’s the scientific study. It says eggs are bad for you. Why are you still eating eggs? Are you denying the science?” And the second reaction is to say that obviously the scientists can’t agree, and so we don’t know anything and maybe the whole scientific approach is flawed.

But the real situation is that we’re struggling to develop a science of nutrition. And that shit is hard. We’ve worked hard, and we know some things. But we don’t really have enough information to do engineering, to say “Okay, to optimize cardiovascular health you need to cut your simple carbs by 7%, eat an extra 10g of monounsaturated fats every day, and eat 200g of protein every Wednesday” or whatever. We just don’t know enough.

And this is where folk traditions come in. Folk traditions are attempts to answer questions that we need decent answers to, that have been developed over time, and that are presumably non-horrible because they haven’t failed obviously and spectacularly yet. A person who ate “Like my grandma” is probably on average at least as healthy as a person who tried to follow every trendy bit of scientistic nutrition advice from the past thirty years.

Skipping showering is easy actually.

Caveat: people differ in body odor based on genetics, hormones, and armpit microbiome. I personally am privileged to not smell bad, therefore I don't shower until my skin or hair starts to feel icky (a few days).

I used to get dandruff a lot even back when I was showering daily. I saw r/HaircareScience saying sulfates and other chemicals in typical shampoos dry out the scalp and make it overcorrect by producing more oil. this matches my experience. Shampoo is like coffee; it creates dependency. Later, when I stopped showering daily, I did some experimentation and found that if I used shampoo, my scalp would actually feel worse the day after. So I just went cold turkey.
Now, my hair routine is: brush it every morning, use normal conditioner every time I shower, and use clarifying conditioner if my hair feels icky.


I saw people on r/parkour talk about running barefoot, so I gave it a try. The impact hurt at first, but I focused on landing on my forefoot, I immediately learned the technique and honed it over a few runs. Then I was able to use this technique even while having my shoes on. 

At the time, I reasoned that this skill would allow me to be prepared in scenarios where I was wearing high heels or something, because I had the option to take them off and run. Which is true but moot: now I prefer to wear shoes with a "zero drop" because they pack light, are cheap, and comfortable to me.


Walking strictly slower than running. Most things if done faster will give you more stress, but pure movement done fast both saves time and is healthy.

I tried to give up walking for Lent - except when inside or walking with a group of people, and I can walk when out of breath. Honestly I've forgotten to do this sometimes. But it's fun and I'm getting better.

I also don't have a sports bra, or any bras really because I've grown out of my old ones. This is definitely me being an idiot, but to cope I've discovered how to run with long gentle strides such that when the foot lands it loads the energy into the arc of my foot like a spring, using my leg and foot almost like a suspension, and this eliminates the jerky shockwave that would make my tits hurt. It's easier on the knees and saves energy I think, but harder on the achilles tendon probably? (I don't trust my biomechanical description here.) 

warning that these things can have surprising tradeoffs. my energy-saving technique for descending stairs / slopes quickly also makes me more likely to slip, for instance, though I think I am better at catching myself than most people...

Caveat: people differ in body odor based on genetics, hormones, and armpit microbiome. I personally am privileged to not smell bad, therefore I don't shower until my skin or hair starts to feel icky (a few days).

Experimenting with this requires a source of trustworthy feedback. Only try this if you have a friend who's opinion you trust that you can ask whether or not you smell bad.

Practically it's also worth noting that specific emotional states such as going to an event with a lot of social anxiety can make your body sweet in a way that's smelly even if you normally don't.


Ok. Well I don't think there's a robust nutrition engineering either. Except maybe whatever the gym bros are cooking up (iirc mostly macronutrients, some supplements, and don't take certain research chemicals that will kill you). There is a lot of incredible engineering in making food tasty and cheap though.

(Splitting into multiple comments)


  • Yes, the employee matching is "free money." But transferring my money out of this to do a Roth IRA rollover was really annoying and I may have accidentally done it wrong and now I need to talk to a CPA.  All this work for just for a matched $6000. Bureaucracy, friction, and poor UI are bad because it makes my adhd brain procrastinating on actually investing. (Incidentally this is also a reason to be wary of crypto as an investment - annoying to get on/off chain)
  • Retirement accounts are also often not able to invest in non-traditional assets like crypto or startup equity. They are less liquid.
  • I've reduced my "necessary" possessions to only what fits in a single tiny backpack. I've also cut my expenses substantially. I've saved so much money, I could retire very soon and travel the world in low cost-of-living countries, just living off the 4% of the principal. So by keeping my money in "retirement" accounts I am delaying the age at which I can retire because of the tax penalty!
    (I love working at manifold tho, and even if I left I'd probably just start my own startup, or something else ambitious, while being a nomad.)
    • maybe you don't earn very much, but the future is coming fast so who knows when financial escape velocity will come for you

index funds

  • diversification has diminishing marginal returns.
  • if instead you just hand-pick a dozen of stocks of companies you think are underrated, spread out across industries, you've got most of the benefit of diversification already, but at higher EV
  • if you're young, you should be taking on more risk for higher EV
  • the lesswrong zeitgeist in particular was ahead on crypto, covid, and AI. I have made money listening to it. what else will this community be ahead on?
  • if everyone buys the top 500 companies in the S&P, because "they're supposed to," then the top 500 are overvalued and you should buy the 501st company. (some mutual funds do this trade, and my rationalist friend who I think is smart, but who also lives in his mom's basement, swears there's still alpha in this. I don't bother.)
  • The future will be weird
  • Markets are anti-inductive

Of course, you probably should not be thinking too much about optimal investments if you have very little to invest, or if you are in debt. Weigh the value of your time. If you are young the most important thing to invest in is in yourself - your skills, equipment, knowledge, etc.

  • You would wash your hands properly at all the appropriate times.
  • You would study with spaced repetition.
  • You would stop looking at (mainstream, megacorporate) social media.

Minor nitpick:

You wouldn’t do anything absurdly dangerous, like take unknown drugs or ride a bike without a helmet.

Riding a bike without a helmet is not "absurdly dangerous". Mostly because riding a bike is not very dangerous, to begin with (unless you are doing absurdly dangerous stunts with it, but then it's a different question and anything that reduces injuries helps). Helmets do reduce injuries by a factor of about three. 

'Bike' is sometimes used as shorthand for 'motorcycle', in which case the 'absurdly dangerous' claim stands. I agree that riding a pedal-powered cycle without a helmet is somewhat dangerous, and unnecessarily so, but not 'absurdly dangerous'.

I was under the impression that riding a motorcycle even with proper protection is still very dangerous?

Ah, yes. I agree that motorcycles are more dangerous than bicycles. Generally, avoiding dangerous activities (like those toward the lower end of this chart) seems like a good idea. 

That doesn't seem like a good idea. You're ignoring long-term harms and benefits of the activity - otherwise cycling would be net positive - and you're ignoring activity duration. People don't commute to work by climbing Mount Everest or going skydiving.

I'm not ignoring them. I'm just comparing danger base rates. That's why "generally". The benefits of each activity depend on the user.

On the note of wearing helmets, wearing a helmet while walking is plausibly as beneficial as wearing one while cycling[1]. So if you weren't so concerned about not looking silly[2], you'd wear a helmet while walking.

[1] I've heard people claim that this is true. I haven't looked into it myself but I find the claim plausible because there's a clear mechanism—wearing a helmet should reduce head injuries if you get hit by a car, and deaths while walking are approximately as frequent as deaths while cycling.

[2] I'm using the proverbial "you" in the same way as Mark Xu.

It's not just cars- helmets protect you if you tip over or crash into something. That happens at much higher speeds on bikes and scooters than while walking. 

Disregarding the looking silly, there are many other (small) downsides of wearing a helmet all the time:

  1. the weight may have an adverse effect on your neck
  2. you may get stuck on obstacles such as door frames
  3. you may hit other people with it (who presumably don't wear it and if they do see 2
  4. it interferes with close personal interactions, such as hugging
  5. ...

I will push against.

I feel unhappy with this post, and not just because it called me an idiot. I think epithets and thoughtless dismissals are cheap and oversupplied. Patience and understanding are costly and undersupplied.

A lot of the seemingly easy wins in Mark's list were not so easy for me. Becoming more patient helped me a lot, whereas internal vitriol made things worse.I benefitted hugely from Mr. Money Mustache, but I think I was slower to implement his recommendations because he kept calling me an idiot and literally telling me to punch myself in the face.

If a bunch of people get enduring benefits from adopting the "such an idiot" frame, then maybe I'll change my mind. (They do have to be enduring though.)


Here is a meme I would be much happier to see spread: 

You, yes you might be able to permanently lower the cost of exercise to yourself if you spend a few days' worth of discretionary resources on sampling the sports in Mark Xu's list. But if you do that and it doesn't work, then ok, maybe you really are one of the metabolically underprivileged, and I hope you figure out some alternative.

Side notes:

  • It seems like this post is in tension with Beware Other Optimizing. And perhaps also a bit with Do Life Hacks Ever Reach Fixation? Not exactly, because Mark's list mostly relies on well-established life upgrades. But insofar as there is a tension here, I will tend to take the side of those two posts.
  • Perhaps this is a needless derail, and if so I won't press it, but I'm feeling some intense curiosity over whether Mark Xu and Critch would agree about whether Critch at all qualifies as an idiot. According to Raemon, Critch recently said, "There aren't things lying around in my life that bother me because I always notice and deal with it."
  • I find something both cliche and fatalistic about the notion that lots of seemingly maladaptive behaviors are secretly rational. But indeed I have had to update quite a few times in that direction over the years since I first started reading LessWrong.

I don't have strong takes on the "idiot" stylistic choice; introspectively it feels fun and it takes the bite out of my self-flagellations when I notice leaving value on the floor. I won't claim to have any empirical support that this actually works better or worse for me.

I mostly like this post for the advice. Concretely, after reading it:

  • I've bought copies of exercise equipment I like for my parents' house so that when I am exercising relatively regularly, I don't break a streak by visiting them.
  • I own two laptops, two kindles, have multiple chargers (some of which live in travel bags so I always have them)
  • I often invoke this when deciding whether to try an experimental purchase that might make my life better, but is a little pricey.
  • Rebought multi-colour pens, which tend to be useful for me for a stretch, and I don't consider rebuying them when they might be useful again.
  • Bought an external battery.

That collection feels like it was probably net-positive.

Some of the things that Mark suggests have been really good for me but I already did them (have a password manager, bright rooms).  There are some I disagree with, so haven't (re)tried after reading it (drink lots of water, summarize things you've read, reliably sleep 6-9 hours a night (on the margin, for me)). And then there are some that seem likely good that I haven't tried.

Thanks! This inspired me to buy multiple things that I've been vaguely annoyed to lack

You would have multiple copies of any object that would make you sad if you didn’t have it


This seems more directly to be an issue with finances than idiotic thinking. off the top of my head: I'd be pretty devastated if I didn't have my 30 year old prime lens, but I also can't afford to buy one, especially because it's quite rare and prices have gone up since I bought it. A second car is a luxury few can afford. Or am I misunderstanding the point of this list?


I think that "any object" was just poorly chosen and it should be "many objects" or "If you would be be sad to not have an object, you would have multiple if you can afford it (and you can more often afford it than you might naively think)".

I suspected that is the case but wanted to make sure because other items on the list also seemed to be things that, at least in my position, seem like unobtainable luxuries (which abstractly might be related to idiotic judgement - for example "invest in yourself" well there's infinite ways to try that, I've made the mistake of reading many self-help books, but few which pay actual dividends; playing an instrument is an investment - a decent electric bass and amplifier can cost well over a grand).

As I understand it, that point feels wrong to me. There are many things that I would be sad not to have in my life but only on the vaguely long term and that are easy to replace quickly. I have only one fridge and I would probably be somewhat miserable without one (or maybe I could adapt), but it would be absurd for me to buy a second one.

I would say most of the things that I would be sad to miss and that are easy to duplicate are also easy to replace quickly. The main exception is probably data, which should indeed be backed up regularly and safely.

Probably >90% of people I know are aware that exercise, sleep and food are important. The reason they don't do them or do them poorly is not a lack of knowledge, it's a lack of dopamine or motivation or whatever you wanna call it.

The list is short enough to repost in full here. Makes it easier to comment.


I don't think it's polite to full-text copy when link posting, particularly when Mark sometimes posts on LessWrong. I guess I'll ask him if he minds

Agree. Please ask.

You would carry batteries to recharge your phone.

Anker makes dual wall chargers/batteries that I found extremely convenient while traveling. 

You would have multiple copies of any object that would make you sad if you didn’t have it

especially a second pair of sheets, so you can wash them at your leisure. 

As an idiot, I found this useful. However, what did you mean by “… routinely look up key numbers and do numerical consistency checks during thinking”?

To build on your point about sleep : if you’re taking melatonin and getting enough sleep but still feel groggy, it’s worth considering the dosage. The average adult naturally produces about 0.3mg of melatonin, yet over-the-counter supplements are commonly available in dosages of 1 - 10mg.

My interpretation of that was whenever you're having an opinion or discussion in which facts are relevant, make sure you actually know the statistics. An example is an argument (discussion?) my whole family had mid covid. The claim of some people was that generally, covid was only as bad as the flu. Relevant statistics were readily available for things like mortality rate and total deaths that some people making said claim were ignorant of (off by OOMs). With covid it seems obvious but for other things maybe not. Things people frequently have strong opinions about and don't frequently look up may include: the return on investment of college, the number of deaths due to firearms, the cost of alternative energy sources, how much taxes are actually going to change for a given bill.

I am really cautious of saying that there are only 2 things I am not doing and I got a weird feeling that I ticked most the boxes. Has anybody had this feeling? (OK I don't use pens and I don't have a consistent mentor).

I do the majority of these, and converged on them independently over the course of decades. I ended up doing most of these because they made my life better.

You would have tried making your room as bright as the outdoors.

i have. i find i operate better in the darkness, where everything is dark except for my screen. it provides sensory deprivation of unimportant information, allowing my neural network to focus on ideation. 

Any suggestions for password management?

I recommend Keepass, but you might have different requirements.

This video serves as a good comparison of your options and on this website you can find a list of recommendation for password managers and other privacy/security tools.

I've been well served by Bitwarden:

It has a dark theme, apps for everything (including Linux commandline), the Firefox extension autofills with a keyboard shortcut, plus I don't remember any large data breaches.


I really like 1Password, but my understanding is that Bitwarden has less frequent reported vulnerabilities

Whatever you use, remember to backup your vault regularly. A cautionary tale:

I lost access to my bitwarden vault containing a private key to a few thousand $ worth of crypto, after changing my master password to something that I was then not able to recall perfectly.  And bitwarden's website / extension start to rate limit you client-side after failed attempts. So instead, after a lot of research I was able to find the bitwarden hashfile on my computer where chrome stores data for its extensions. I then downloaded hashcat and tried to do a dictionary attack and some other clever attacks that made use of what I thought my password was supposed to be, but to no success.

Don't be me. Bitwarden lets you download your encrypted vault from the website or CLI. do that.

The LessWrong Review runs every year to select the posts that have most stood the test of time. This post is not yet eligible for review, but will be at the end of 2025. The top fifty or so posts are featured prominently on the site throughout the year. Will this post make the top fifty?

Soft downvoted for encouraging self-talk that I think will be harmful for most of the people here. Some people might be able to jest at themselves well, but I suspect most will have their self image slightly negatively affected by thinking of themselves as an idiot.

Most of the individual things you recommend considering are indeed worth considering.