This is the public group instrumental rationality diary for March 1-15. 

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.

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

Next diary:  March 16-31

Immediate past diary:  January 16-31

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Summary (because I tend to ramble otherwise):

  • After I left a soul-crushing college experience to spend two even more soul-crushing years sitting at my parents' all the time, I concluded that I desperately needed better independence training.
  • My research into training options for the blind turned up so little useful data that I ultimately decided to test the least-commitment option, then re-evaluate my progress/options after one month of that.
  • In the downtime during all of this, I frequently found myself imagining scenarios in which I just went back in time to do everything right without having to clean up the present mess. The inadequacies I found in this training pushed these fantasies further from "abuse knowledge of the future" and more toward "fix past me, take school seriously, and acknowledge that social resources are worth cultivating"; consequently, when it came time to evaluate my options, my answer to the question "Why not do the timetravel thing, except without the stock market cheats?" went from "I can't!" to "Well, I still have student loans from last time and it'd take a while..."
  • So I compared and contrasted the most reasonable options, without regard for how I initially felt about them, and put more effort than usual into asking people for the details of each path (except for the "just go home and continue as usual" path, which I included for completeness).
  • I determined that, based on my needs, I'm better off doing college right, and trying to find a sighted minion while there to put me through some of the tests that a blind-specific training facility would take several months to get to. It'd just be more efficient in general: I could learn things and build up a more real-world network than the sorts of insular communities in blindness organizations, and I can trust the culture at some colleges to suit me better than the culture at blindness facilities, and assuming I can find a reliable minion, I can push myself at my own pace rather than waste loads of time on the huge chunks of the curriculum I mastered when I was 10. And the available courses would be more diverse and suited to my interests; where I've spent the last month, my options are "work for the IRS", "assistive Technology instructor", "Desktop Support Technician", and "Microsoft Office Systems"; the other program I was looking at sounds like it's basically the evaluation month, only longer and hopefully tougher.
  • Having said all that, and pretty much decided that returning to school is the best option, my DSB agent reminded me of something important that I overlooked: this leaves 5 months in which I'm right back to sitting at home, waiting for the fall term to start, with no guarantee that I'll be out of my parents' house in that time (I've supposedly been about to move out every three months since summer 2012). I think I'm talking my parents into using one of their upgrades to get me an iPhone (iPhones apparently give blind people superpowers), and we're working on using this back-to-school thing to defer as many student loan payments as possible. This does not, however, give me much in the way of ideas on how to keep the next 5 months from being comparable to the previous 24. (No, I'm not fond of the idea of using my parents/sister as training minions, though I haven't rejected the idea entirely.)

I appear to have rambled anyway. I could definitely use tips on how to achieve more brevity.

I have a Big List of Things To Try, or BLoTTT, because everything I do has to have a tacky self-helpy name even if I make it up myself. Lately I've just been, you know, trying them. It seems obvious, but it's easy to make this list and not do anything with it because you're always too busy or focused on something else or whatever. But really, it took two minutes to install f.lux and f.lux is awesome.

So is:

  • Boomerang

  • Anki

  • Evernote

  • Pomodoro

  • Sunlight


Not so awesome (for me):

  • Rails

  • Napping

  • Large amounts of caffeine

But I learned!

  • The Rails tutorial I started introduced me to TDD. TDD is great, so I'm learning to apply it to Django.

  • Easier to appreciate proper sleep now.

  • Low doses of caffeine are also great, and as yet it's nowhere near as addictive for me as it seems to be for other people. Still on a 1 day on, 2 days off cycle, to be safe.

I made an audio track to help myself focus doing the Pomodoro technique. It consists of 25 minutes of noise from followed by 5 minutes of break time. I can just leave it looping in my headphones to run through a series of Pomodoro sprints without any other timer, and the noise blocks outside distractions and serves as a constant reminder to stick to work. Download here.

I mixed the rainstorm noise work period with a 20 Hz binaural beat and the break period with 1.5, 4 and 7 Hz binaural beats. Binaural beats can supposedly make your mental state more alert (the frequencies around 20 Hz) or more relaxed (frequencies below 10 Hz). I don't have any solid evidence that they're any better than placebo, but they're neat-sounding placebo. I used discord to mix the binaural noise, and I think this is the program I used to generate the audio.

(Standard caveats for listening to stuff while doing cognitively demanding stuff apply. Some studies show people perform measurably worse in tasks that demand creativity when listening to music than when working in silence. Listening to a soundtrack may still be a good idea if you're in a place with lots of distracting noise or if you're having trouble concentrating at all.)

Since the end of last year I've been maintaining a reading log. It's a simple notebook in which I'll infrequently add entries for beginning or completing a book.

I generally don't have much success at manually logging activity in my life, but reading happens on a timescale that makes it pretty robust to a logging granularity of "whenever I can be bothered". If I rediscover the notebook after having lost it for a month, it's a straightforward, non-arduous task to balance it out with whatever I've started or finished reading in the interim.

The main benefit is focus. I have a bad habit of starting to read something, and then abandoning it to something else in spite of still finding it interesting. I now know exactly how many books I have "open" at any given time, and I'm more likely to want to complete and "close" that entry in the log before moving onto another one. It's also satisfying to have a record of completion.

Finally wrote up the last two parts of my answer the question "Why can’t you fall into a white hole?" Took me two or three weeks to figure it out, given that there is basically nothing about it in the literature. Not that I could find, anyway. Comments welcome.

Looks like my latest Anki sprint has died out for now. I started building the deck at the start of December 2013, and did daily reviews until two weeks ago when I got fed up. I was trying to learn easy stuff like historical dates by adding them to Anki and then trying to learn them as they popped up as questions. I hadn't been adding much to the deck since mid-January, and the annoyance of random questions popping up about things I'd stopped thinking about got to be too much.

I was happy with keeping the deck in a text file though. I'll probably be reusing the technique and some of the current deck when I find something I want to start studying with Anki again.

Based on ill-remembered citations of the efficacy of exercise for improving focus and general mental health, and after a lot of angst about body acceptance, I I reduced trivial inconveniences to working out below the inertia setpoint and started jogging three days a week. (I settled on running after an extended period of never getting around to signing up for hot yoga, crossfit, or a membership to the Y so I could swim, all of which seem more appealing.)

Good outcomes so far: feeling of accomplishment post-workout; feeling of accomplishment when I put on shoes and leave the house (remembering that not long ago I was basically incapable of making myself do anything I found unsavory); getting a lot less winded by minor physical exertion (e.g. walking briskly up a hill or flight of stairs). Meta-good-outcome: practice at finding and focusing on successes for self-motivation.

Waiting for more data: My focus has not yet improved discernibly. To do: self-test whether focus improves globally if I focus on jogging while I'm doing it.

How do you plan to measure focus? Just subjective effects, or are you using QuantifiedMind, or pomodoro success rate, or something?

Good question; I had briefly considered whether "better focus" was actually measurable, then forgot to think about it further.

So now I've thought about it a little further and (maybe there's a bias name for this phenomenon, but) yes, I will be going with subjective effects. It's not clear to me if "focus" has more content than feeling focused, and in either case, what I want is the feeling of being focused -- i.e., an awareness that what's going on in my head corresponds closely to what my memory and senses tell me is going on outside of my head.

I stopped running at lunchtime since I kept on injuring my knees. I joined a gym a month ago and have been going three times a week, doing barbell weightlifting, bench, squat and overhead press. My progress has been almost non-existent in weight lifted so I probably need to alter my diet. At least I no longer get DOMS.

I started spending too much time mindlessly checking websites so I banned myself from spending any time on the internet at work . This works a lot better than having an exception for legitimate use.

I now have a very large collection of Chinese Anki sentence cards. I now spend more than two hours a week just on Chinese cards. I started a psychology deck but I think I'll delete it. Books with glossaries and summaries are excellent raw material but it's better to rewrite than trabscribe though the latter beats most ways of studying.

I could be better at learning Chinese if I had entertaining listening/viewing material but I don't do much of that in any language.

What's your lifting program?

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