This is the public group instrumental rationality diary for October 16-31.

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.

Previous diary: October 1-15

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19 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 4:25 PM
  1. I applied to a CFAR workshop and got accepted - with a sizable scholarship making the whole thing affordable for me as a university student. And all I really had to do was ask! I wonder how many other cheap lunches I forwent and forgo.
  2. I am currently reading "Getting Things Done" by David Allen and I am implementing the suggestions there. While the implementation is a bit more complicated than anticipated, the system just makes so much sense. As the system is yet in the honeymoon phase I refrain from an unconditional recommendation.

Any chance you could relate the details for how the scholarship works and how much it is for? I am considering applying for something similar and thought I'd ask

Since I am not willing to publish details of my finances and I am not sure about CFARs policy regarding scholarships and information about them, I will not tell.

To make this post helpful though I tell you that applying to a CFAR workshop is a very pleasant experience and takes less than an hour total. The worst that can happen is that you have one hour less in your life, so take the risk.

This is a small one, but when I realised that I wasn't going to meet my Friday evening deadline, I emailed my advisor to let her know along with the reason I'd missed it, whereas in the past I would have not told her and then spent the weekend alternating between, stress about the missed deadline, extreme procrastination, and madly trying to get the work finished. She responded supportively and now I'm feeling much less stressed and procrastinate-y than I otherwise would have.

On another related axis, my efforts at being accepting and emotionally stable are starting to pay off in the form of massively decreased negative self-talk, increased comfort and emotional intimacy with friends, and decreased sense of pointless obligation and guilt with respect to other people's problems. My methods have involved medication for my anxiety/depression, reading a bunch of self-helpy stuff like parts of Scott's blog, Kate Donovan's blog, Nonviolent Communication, How to Lose at Everything and Still Win Big, and (still working through) The Charisma Myth, obsessive journalling, and spending as much time as feasible hanging out with, reading, and talking to people who embody the traits I want to have.

Curcumin, week 3: I've been taking the supplements with some regularity; on some days I had to reduce my dosage to half, because I don't like the idea of taking the full daily dose all at once in the morning... but arrived home too late to bother taking the second half (since I don't find it useful to waste those pills on hours I'll be spending asleep). One day I completely skipped them.

Nevertheless, I still benefited from the effects to a sufficient extent. The antidepressant effect is pretty strong; I could maintain an emotionally normal, content state no matter what happened to me. I've also noticed improved attention and focus; I have been able to maintain good concentration levels in my college classes (during lectures and labs) even on days with tough schedules, as opposed to checking the clock every minute like I used to. I've asked my family whether they noticed any changes, and they strongly agreed that I've been faring much better in the mental energy department. I managed to fix my erratic sleep schedule so as to not be constantly sleep deprived (it was mostly a matter of prioritizing sleep vs. waking hours). I require less leisure time to feel stimulated and mentally comfortable.

So what have I been doing with all that productive energy?

Obsessive number-crunching, for the most part.

By this I mean anything from deciding in minute detail how to furnish and decorate my apartment and how every square centimetre would be used, to balancing calories and nutrients in the perfect meal plan, to anthropometric measurements and mean values and standard deviations, to deciding on the optimal number of work hours for my target income before even touching the actual work... All of this for hours and hours without getting bored; in fact it would be my activity of choice. Insane amounts of arithmetic and little actual skill gain.

(To be fair, I have been steadily developing two skills over the past year: better singing voice, and general athletic ability. Both of them are essentially physical in nature and at best secondary, if not largely irrelevant, to my goals.)

This wasn't really what I signed up for. My intention was to gather enough motivation to take on impressive independent study schedules, to reach adequate skill/knowledge levels in my disciplines of choice. I had never managed to do even a modicum of what I aimed for because of lack of motivation, so I thought that having better dopamine levels would do the job. However... it's true what I read on Longecity and other places about medications that help with motivation: yes, you could be spending 12 hours ceaselessly undertaking productive actions towards a desired end goal, but you could also be spending 12 hours ceaselessly organizing your sock drawer. It seems to me that a little extra something (interest in the activity, I think, or habituation) is required in order to do something you initially didn't feel like doing.

Still, I'll continue taking curcumin and try to find ways of channeling my effort and energy towards learning. At least now I feel like I have the volitional prerequisites for this endeavour.

Sounds like it might be a good source of raw materials, if not a finished product per se. The lack of optimization is interesting though. Are you able to focus on large projects just as well as small ones (and you're just picking randomly), or is there a detectable upper threshold in the complexity of what you can engage with?

I'll be sure and try this out myself soon. Thanks for reporting on it!

I think I would need to first try my hand at a complex project to be able to answer your question; my ordinary life hasn't demanded anything of the kind from me lately. And anyhow, even so I couldn't make sure that the real bottleneck is my power of focus; generally poor organizational capability seems a likelier culprit for potential failure. Right now, only trying to assemble a syllabus for my math studies is giving me headaches; there are too many things to study and I should have been done with them three years ago anyway.

Presumably I select activities according to personal interest and relevance to me, rather than according to task complexity or my long-term best interest. The data I've been compulsively analyzing and computing helps me answer questions I'm very interested in, although it may not be the kind of information I should be focusing upon.

Good luck, but remember that the kind of problems that are treatable with MAO-B inhibitors involve only your baseline capacity for desiring/pursuing anything at all. That may or may not be the reason you're not getting as much done as you would want to. If you're generally, how should I say, not much of a wanter, then curcumin will help you, but otherwise (if your lack of motivation is not unselective) I wouldn't bet on it.

Until very recently I believed that I was completely anti-religious and took the opposing view to religion whenever the choice presented itself. I participated in a discussion on the topic and found myself making arguments I didn't actually agree with. This was mostly due to several habits I've been practicing to make me better at analyzing my own beliefs, most notably running background checks on any arguments I make to see where exactly in my brain they originate and constantly looking for loopholes in my arguments.

Because of this experience I've come to understand that most of my beliefs about religion were more based on color politics than any rational thought processes. Since breaking out of religious thinking itself a few years ago I'd simply been aligning my beliefs with the more anti-religious side of the atheist movement.

For example, where I once automatically looked down on the choice to live in religious society, regardless of personal religious belief, I've come to realize that I actually think of this decision as more of a lifestyle choice than a religious one, and thus undeserving of my baseless criticism.

What is "religious society"? (I'm in particular confused about it being something such that one probably has a choice about whether to live in it or not.)

I think this sort of thing works differently in my country (Israel) than it does in other places. Because religious and secular societies are more segregated, it's fairly common for people to affiliate themselves with a particular group due to the community's norms, customs or values rather than religious belief.


Finished my assessment of Toastmasters and decided my resources can be put to better use elsewhere. Still maintain contact with acquaintances made to keep up networking.

Established a reading schedule for my personal library that is enjoyable and beneficial and allows for me to cover both physical books and audio books equally.

Began researching my diet again and proposed to cut out fruit juice (to be replaced with yogurt) and crackers (to be replaced with solid fruit and homemade trail mix). I next want to move away from excess sugar (i.e. chocolate) in my trail mix and eventually work my sugar intake down once more. I'm discovering that sugar proves pesky to get rid of, being crammed into everything.

Prediction: This is somewhat of a prediction and somewhat of a plan. I've considered keeping a diary or some sort of personal record, but have no real desire to write for myself. I've never found diary keeping very helpful. So, instead, I'm planning to start a blog. My prediction, based on my own understanding of my behavior and thought patterns, is that I will keep up the habit of updating a blog for about two to three weeks (with the current aim being to make at least one post a week), before ennui sets in and I begin to question the efficacy of the action. If left unchecked or unplanned for, this ennui will cause me to stop and abandon the project. So, I need a planned means of dealing with the ennui when it arises. My plan is, first off, to make the style different from my other projects, so that it does not fill like a writing project, but at the same time, it also does not feel like a monologue to myself. I also will impose a rule to spend no time writing about writing itself unless as criticism of other works. Finally, each post needs a goal. If each post has a specific objective, then I can measure their efficacy at meeting that objective. If I find the posts satisfactory, then the blog is worth the time. If I find them lacking, then the blog can be improved.

UPDATE: I started the blog and intend to update it each Sunday that I am able. I need to decide on a means of measuring its efficacy. For now, I will simply go off if I am enjoying myself or not.

Two years ago I took out a high limit, zero annual fees, credit card and put it away for a rainy day (you know: omg water damage kind of rainy day). This week I needed that card unexpectedly and I was very concerned that my plans were for nothing, I had no idea what my pin was. So I made a guess, and got it right on the first try. Two years ago I managed to set the pin to something I could guess, and then completely forgot about it.

The point of this story is, I rarely have it brought to my attention how much the planning and foresight of my past selves have made my life better. We look back and say 'I'm glad I've grown and learnt so much, wadavis(2012) was fairly ignorant", alternatively works of improvement are constant works in progress like your work or your schooling and it never comes up that last years work has made wonderful improvements to this years life..

It was very much like finding an Easter Egg left behind by my life's developer, past me.

I finished Alex Vermeer's 8760 Guide, which I've been trudging on-and-off through for months. I now have a plan of sorts for the next half-year; this is quite a novelty for me. The plan is programming projects, job applications, emotional monitoring, and getting rid of unnecessary stuff.

I am implementing a motivation hack (thank you Nick Winter!) of deliberately telling people what I'm up to, even if it feels like motivation overkill, because I need some overkill. That is what I originally started doing posting to the group diaries for, but I got sidetracked.

  • job applications: I'm compiling a list of local startups and walking up and asking them what they need help with, and if it's nothing I can currently help with then what skills I can install to make myself useful. I'm doing the "build up a portfolio, then apply" approach also, but that's slow-going. More importantly: the fact that thinking about talking to the kind of people I want to work with sends me into a terror-and-shame spiral is a reason to start trying to do it now instead of later. This is something that will happen every other day when I move down into Salt Lake, more weekly for now.
  • Programming projects include: a text-adventure game, a personal ramblings website with JS/JQuery navigation, and aforementioned emotional monitoring. I'll be poking people for feedback about them. I got my dad to burn an Ubuntu disk, because Windows won't let me program anything interesting.
  • Getting rid of unnecessary stuff mostly got done while I was writing my plan. I did a couple of yard sales and swap meets, next up is secondhand stores.
  • Networking is also happening. Weekly lunch dates with co-workers, short after-shift reviews, and weekly goal setting. My temp job is not terribly important, but the habits are; I want to seek out people instead of avoiding them.

Established a useful new habit

I really started to do active listening. On the earlier times I tried to improve my listening it didn't really take off (after reading von Thun and Rosenberg). Now after reading ‎Olivia Fox Cabanes The Charisma Myth I do make probably. Probably due a combination of insights, good examples and a chance to practice.

Obtained new evidence that made you change your mind about some belief

Due to the very promising new LW thread I updated my belief on a small point.

Consciously changed your emotions or affect with respect to something

After my wife and I split up I still clung to some joint events with her and the children (brithdays...) which she wanted to separate further. During a family therapy session this I became clearly aware of this which increased my feelings of loss but also allowed to find a satisfactory solution. My fear was that the separation would increase unbounded at the cost for the children and at a loss of control on my side. But the fear was unfounded.

Consciously pursued new valuable information about something that could make a big difference in your life

Read Athol Kay's MAP and half through The Charisma Myth. The first could have made a difference earlier (but will likely do the next time. The second shows results already.

Tried doing any of the above and failed

I strongly consider taking some risk where I may fail. I'm strongly risk-averse and would normally go down the easier path. But this job opportunity has clear chances and the risks aren't that bad after all.

Just noticed... Why does this say 'instrumental' rationality? When was that decided, when did it start? I originally suggested the rationality diaries with intent of them being both epistemic and instrumental.

I think it started in

which was inspired by a CFAR's "applied rationality" minicamp, and presumably interpreted "applied" as "instrumental".

First rationality diary I can find on LW: 2012-05-14. This one already says "instrumental". It doesn't say it was your idea and seems to imply it was someone else's (which might, among several possibilities, indicate that it isn't actually descended from the original suggestion you have in mind here).

It was in the Received Text, so, no particular reason AFAIK. It seems like the bullet points cover both kinds?

I've sort of internalized the idea that everything is, at least in principle, a solvable problem. And more importantly, that this corresponds without conflict to the normal way that I go around being good and human when not operating under the rationalist guise.

I'd say rationalism often takes this in-principle role in my thinking, providing a meta-level solution to extremely hard problems that my brain is already trying to solve by non-rationalist means. In the example set by the recent months in my life, I've had an extremely hard time reconciling my knowledge that I'm the one to blame for all of my problems, with the idea that I shouldn't feel guilty for not being perfect at solving all of my problems. This is a very human question that's filled to the brim with mental pitfalls, but I've been able to make a little progress by recognizing that, by definition and method, instrumental rationality is actually equivalent to making myself good and awesome, whether or not the on-paper rationalist method is the one my brain is using most of the time. I'm better capable of realizing that the human inability to be theoretically optimal is subsumed by human rationality, that the only optimal that exists is the kind that is actual, and that all that is left to do is take the infinite stream of possible self-improvements you can think of and start checking them off the list.

And so, when faced with something that seems next to impossible to solve (e.g. finding somebody to love ) there's no reason to blame the world, myself, or my proclivity to blame the world or myself. There's only the chance to do the most possible fun thing, which is to enjoy the journey of being myself, where myself is defined as someone who ceaselessly self-improves, even when that means putting less pressure on myself to improve on the object level.

For a while the "weirdness" of Less Wrong made me want to shy away from really engaging with the people here, but I'd love for that to change. If everything is a solvable problem, and we only want to solve things that are problems, then either Less Wrong is just fine (and I can improve my perception), or it is sort of actually weird but can be improved. And I wouldn't mind contributing wherever this is possible.