This is part 16 of 30 of Hammertime. Click here for the intro.

The sixth day always marks the boundary between concrete and abstract. Today, I mark the occasion with three essays on new techniques.

These essays are short because I lack data and examples. All concept handles and perspectives are preliminary. The two latter essays are, I think, two fingers pointing at the same moon.

Day 16: Three Miniatures

Pressure Points

I need to sleep earlier.

I can’t sleep now because I need to get this paper written by tomorrow.

I’ll just finish it in the morning.

I don’t trust myself to work in the morning.

I need to try harder to trust myself and sleep earlier

This train of thought plagued me in a past life. Do you see what I was missing?

I was pushing on the wrong side.

I always lazed about in the morning. In this scenario, “Try harder to trust myself” is self-delusion. To fix it, I first needed to cultivate a habit of working in the morning, or at least being able to. Once I could do that, the original train of thought would automatically cut itself off in the middle.

Getting work done in the morning wasn’t easy, but it was the right place to try really hard. Once I solved that problem, I could trust my next-morning self. It became easy to correct my sleep schedule.

Pressure Points is a lateral thinking technique. For any given problem, there are many places to apply pressure, and all it takes is to find the pressure point to apply brute force most efficiently. The pressure point is rarely the obvious direction: chances are, you’ve already been pushing in that direction, and it hasn’t helped thus far. Look for counter-intuitive places to apply brute force.

Here are three examples of Pressure Points and its particular brand of creativity:

Lucid Dreaming is all about finding the right Pressure Points. Instead of “Intend really hard to lucid dream,” the two main techniques are practicing reality checks while awake, and keeping a dream journal to improve dream recall.

People often approach social anxiety with “Try to care less about what other people think.” This is about as effective as “Try not to notice your breathing.” A Pressure Point approach to social anxiety is “Try to focus on other people’s body language and notice their anxiety.”

I’ve been working on TAPs for building better posture. The only one that has had any effect is “Turn to face the shower nozzle.” When I face away from the shower nozzle, I hunch over to avoid the feeling of water on the back of my neck. When I face towards it, I pull my head back and puff my chest out to get my face out of the spray.

I need to make a confession.

I’ve been cheating at Hammertime.

Half of the personal examples for any given technique come from before I even knew about the technique. Many of the tentative techniques and variations I propose are more like “patterns I noticed in my past” than the product of consciously design.

Rationality is systematized winning. The thing is, I got good at certain things before I met rationality. We all did. We’ve all been discovering ad-hoc versions of rationality techniques since before the Sequences were ever written.

Each time you learn a new rationality technique, look into your past for all the times you’ve already been doing it. You’ll get a concrete understanding of the technique and feel more ownership over it, and this will also help you adjust your seat to tailor it to your own needs.

Similarly, new rationality techniques can be discovered by searching yours and others’ pasts. Notice the cognitive strategies your brain employs already, and try to articulate them. Remember that articulating unspoken rules is participating in the divine act of creation (see Logos).

Superstition Culling

A man takes a nootropics cocktail called BrainHammer for 30 days. He feels energized and clear-minded, sleeps two fewer hours a day, and gains control over his anger problem. He develops a rosy halo around the drug, and keeps taking it ad infinitum.

BrainHammer is actually ten different drugs, and caffeine is the only one with positive effects. But BrainHammer is forty times the price of coffee, and several of its ingredients come in miniscule, irrelevant doses. One of the acting ones reduces the man’s sex drive, while another ingredient is slowly giving him kidney stones.

Hammertime (and CFAR) can be like this nootropics cocktail. Thirty days later, you come away with a glow of satisfaction, equipped with ten max-level hammers for tackling your toughest bugs. You start pounding away.

It turns out only one of the hammers (Yoda Timers) does all the work. You’re just really motivated by timers and deadlines. Meanwhile, 80% of your Hammertime-inspired rationality practice consists of placebo motions: rearranging furniture, learning three different yogas and five different meditations, muttering incoherently under your breath, stacking up half-finished journals and spreadsheets, ordering junk and garbage off Amazon. Also, you’re doing Internal Double Crux completely wrong and it’s slowly making you manic-depressive. You won’t notice until it’s too late.

Superstitions crop up inevitably whenever happy things happen. It takes discipline and the scientific method to hone in on the active ingredients of a drug cocktail, and the same holds for rationality techniques. If you’re learning more than one technique at a time, actively plan to cull out superstitions.

Even if you’re learning a single technique with multiple steps, only one of them might be load-bearing. For instance, in high school I learned that the sole value of note-taking is writing down names to remember them. Culling out the superstition, I continued to take notes but stopped keeping them.

Daily Challenge

Set a Yoda Timer and search your history for all the times you improved rapidly. Can you articulate a new rationality technique from those experiences?

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11 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since:

The moderation guidelines, while brimming with newfound hope for a new era of LessWrong, seem to shine too brightly and with a too threatening tone, to truly give me the comfort that my soul requires.

I feel a small pang of shame as I realize I made the wrong choice. So many years of UI design and programming apparently for nothing. How could I have not seen the pain this color would invoke, the terror it would instill in the souls of the commenters? Even if it is a rain of terror, it is really necessary for the commenters to live in terror? Isn't the name and the warning enough?

I shall fix this swiftly, though which path to absolution to take is uncertain. I would appreciate guidance on my path, though going down the path of a darker sun, with a less bright shade, seems like a path not too-unlikely to end in a comforting, though maybe not as glorious home.

my name is Dross,

and wen i see

the shiyning text

leap out at me,

i look at wot

it tels my hed -

i read the rules.

i like the red.

My heart brims with apologetic joy that you jumped in before I could push to frontpage.


I'm supposed to expand it?

If your tone weren't so affected,

I'd've missed it.

Could I have some kind of... small reminder text underneath that says approximately:

(click to read this author's specific moderation requests before commenting)


Roses are red,

Violets are blue,

This experiment

Got out of hand.

I'm removing the poetry guidelines for now. Clearly there is public demand for this, so it may return periodically on individual posts which I deem appropriate. Keep your eyes peeled, budding bards!

Times in past of greatest growth

when through clear thought I tossed the yoke

Came when I set clocks for 3 hours

and cross multiple days worked, achieving power

Time blocking plus some deep work make

A rationalist able to take the cake

Separate from the previous one

was asking only "What needs to be done?"

through scouts I learned to craft of doing

No blame or evasion, but an end I was pursuing

(I don’t know if this qualifies as a full-fledged technique.)

One of the things I always found valuable was the use of "motivational" videos for mental bootstrapping. You may be saying, "TurnTrout, those videos are just platitudes told by people trying to build a brand", and you’d be totally right. However, the videos still worked for me when not much else did - when I was in a slump, I’d just click a few videos, and soon I’d be fired back up and able to motivate myself to start doing other good things for myself.

At this point, it’s important to stop watching, as you run the danger of bathing in the nice warm motivational bath and getting nothing done.

These days, I don’t need this as much (mostly due to having something to protect), but I found it to be a high reward, easy-to-use technique.

Listing all of the times I've improved rapidly in the past was a very interesting exercise. Many of the times where I made a really big improvement stemmed from making a decision that was hard to make in the moment, but locked me into a path toward something good. That's very much in line with the basic principle is "take advantage of willpower now to put yourself on a course in which you don't need willpower to do the right thing later."

Another idea that seems common to a number of the examples I can come up with is an idea that I might call "seize the moment." It's very similar to the first one but perhaps just slightly distinct. The basic idea is if you do one hard thing and it works, you may find that lots of other hard things suddenly seem easier, at least momentarily. I've had times where I was able to get on a roll of compounding improvements that way, and I think it can be surprisingly successful at allowing you to make big changes. 

Not a full technique but the seed of one - maybe it's an obvious idea, but most of the times I made major leaps forward were when I stopped wasting time on tangential things and just "stared at the sun". This is probably just a different name for deliberate practice. I need to remind myself that 70% of 100 is much bigger than 100% of 10 (doing an important thing passably vs. doing something unimportant perfectly).

I think the main generalization I could come up with from past successes is that if I want to make rapid improvement in any area, it helps to focus singlemindedly on just one thing for a while.

However, I haven't learned how to do that and then sustain any gains made as I shift focus to something else.

Thinking through my history of improvements, what seems to have worked for me:

1. Realizing I am dissatisfied with something.
2. Describe the problem and the desired outcome.
3. Search for solutions, compare multiple options.
Most techniques might require some tinkering/experimenting before they actually become useful. The longer feedback loop makes it is easier for snake oil salesman to enter such fields. To avoid these, check if the people promoting the solution are actually far above average in the ability the solution is supposed to grant, and if it is actually coming from the system and not from other factors. (e.g., if someone is selling you a way of making money, but the majority of his income is from selling seminars or running podcasts about it, that's a red flag)
4. Try implementing several versions, and keep using the one that seems to work best for my situation.
5. Practice the method, it should be running mostly on system one if you want to apply it effectively.


1. There was a period when I was dissatisfied with my grades during uni.
2. I thought about the issue and realized most of it was due to having started a second major and additional outside activities, so I had less time and more material to learn. I realized I needed to get more efficient at studying.
3. I searched for solutions on the net, and came across multiple memory enhancing tricks, mostly based on association and/or visualization of spatial environments. As these were usually promoted by memory world champions, whose records were verified and recorded (and who claimed to have been average before they started using the promoted material, for which there was no counter evidence), the techniques looked plausible enough to put in the required effort.
4. I tried two main versions: one using simply associations and one using mainly spatial locations (memory palace). At the start the first one seemed to work better, but with a bit more practice I realized the second one is the stronger technique that I need.
5. Through the rest of uni I kept practicing it even when it was not needed, making it an always ready to use skill of mine, cutting time required for cramming drastically while also improving the results.

Another important aspect is that may happen when searching for solutions, is realizing that it is possible to have it better, you can (and could already have) create a world, counterfactual to the current one, where you are way more satisfied.