This is the public group instrumental rationality diary for the week of November 27th. 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 everyone who contributes!

Previous diaryarchive of prior diaries.

(Sorry for being a day late on this one, life is really full of things lately!)


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11 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 9:04 PM

For 9 days now I have set up my computer as a makeshift standing desk, using a pair of $10 Ikea coffee tables on top of my actual desk, and two $3 rubber mats and some cardboard to stand on. I have an appallingly sedentary lifestyle and often catch myself sitting at my desk with a terrible slumped posture, so I'm hoping to catch back problems before they occur, and also exert a bit more energy just day-to-day.

Each day my feet take a little longer to begin hurting, but they still hurt a lot by bed time. I have to take a few breaks to the couch to watch TV through the day to get by. I am planning to set up something more serious so I can put a stool at the desk and sit down from time to time without disrupting my usual activities (at the moment I don't own a stool, and there's nowhere for my legs to fit under the desk in any case).

Currently the only things preventing me from taking the desk down right now and just waiting until I have sorted a better solution are 1) my feet don't start to hurt until the end of the day, when I usually can't be bothered rearranging everything, and 2) I'm worried that without the driving force of aching feet every day I won't feel compelled to go through with arranging a better solution.

If it's specifically your muscles getting sore (rather than e.g. plantar fasciitis or bad circulation), you could take some creatine, which slows down you getting sore fairly dramatically.

Shifting about between positions is more important than having one best position. If I were to sit like I'm sitting now all day, I'd be in the hospital tomorrow.

Something that's been working well for me for a few months: a computer on my desk at work, but a folding laptop stand next to it with my laptop on top. SSH/X11 on a fast network makes the two interfaces basically interchangeable, but multitasking between one project and another means that I spend about 4 or 5 hours a day standing and I switch between standing and sitting dozens of times over the course of the day. It turns out that "those tests displaying on the other computer are done running, I should look over the results" is a much better motivator for me to switch positions than "a window from one of those nag-myself apps popped up to warn me to take a break and stretch".

Qualitative definition of "working well": twice this spring/summer I'd developed moderate hip/lower back pain which would be most pronounced when sitting in my usual position and which would last for weeks; that hasn't recurred since I stopped sitting in the same position for 10 hours a day.


I posted in the Nov 1-15 open thread about my initial experiences with a standing desk (initially improvised, then I bought a proper one) to replace my old crappy desk. I try to alternate between standing and sitting when I get tired, and I plan to get a stool for the same reasons you stated. Even at work where I sit all day, I get up and walk semi-regularly (I'd estimate every 60-90 minutes) if only to refill my water or use the bathroom.

I moved apartments last month and didn't bring over a proper desk. I alternate between an armchair with a laptop on an Ikea Dave table and standing next to cheap standing shelf with the monitor on one shelf and the keyboard on another. I've been mostly sitting in the armchair since I tend to use my home setup when I'm tired after work.

I sometimes work in the armchair and then stand up to watch TV, since TV watching doesn't take up mental energy like working does, and extra mental energy is useful for sticking with the standing pose.

For the past 14 months my desk has been a bookshelf and my chair has been a bed. Sometimes my bed is also a desk, and my bookshelf is also a bookshelf.

I would recommend this setup for people who want to get outside more.

I started making a small monthly donation to the Against Malaria Foundation.

I realized that my success or failure at work does influence what I do in my free time more than I expected... even after I took measures to prevent it.

Specifically, in recent months I have built a habit to take a 20-minutes nap when I return home from the work. I set the alarm clock and go to bed; sometimes I sleep, sometimes I don't, but the rule is to forget the work and just daydream either about something pleasant or about my long-term goals, and what I could do in the remaining part of the day. Originally, this was supposed to be a preparation for later polyphasic sleep experiment; later I decided against polyphasic experiments, but I kept this habit as helpful. It does really reset the brain, and the rest of the day feels like a micro-weekend.

Anyway, I keep statistics of what I do each day, as a result of my self-improving attempt designed at the Rationality Minicamp. Essentially a list of "yes or no" questions (did I exercise on given day? did I meditate? did I learn something new? did I write an article for my blog? did I avoid eating sugar? did I avoid procrastinating on internet? did I socialize with my friends? etc.), and the daily score is the number of "yes" answers. -- And I have noticed that during the weeks where I have some problems at work my "daily score" is visibly lower than during the weeks where the work is OK. The difference is cca 3 points per day of a bad week versus 4.5 points per day of a good week. (Note: My success in work is not included in the score. This is the impact my success in work has on things I do outside of my work.)

Obvious or not? It feels likely that success at work improves one's mood, and a good mood is generally helpful for winning. On the other hand, I probably wouldn't make specific predictions of a kind: "I am more likely to exercise in the evening if I spend my work day coding in Java than if I spend my working day trying to fix a bug in NetBeans." But it seems to be true.

EDIT: This result is not completely experimentally proven: I keep records about my "daily score", but don't keep records about my success at work. There is a chance this is just a convenient excuse. However, if this is true, it gives me some insight into the mystery of "willpower". The hypothesis is that if I feel successful at doing X, I will have more "willpower" to work at Y. That the success seems to radiate into other areas of life, and so does failure. Instrumentally: "If you want to fix Y, fix X, even if there is there is no relation between X and Y other than that X makes you feel helpless and you can fix X now."

I started doing more deliberate meditation practice last summer and logging my sittings with the Android Meditation Helper app. I've been doing samatha jhana concentration meditation as described in Daniel Ingram's book. I've started hitting subjective states that resemble the description of the first jhana in the last few days. I've noticed that my concentration during the meditation has been consistently better than it used to be for a month or so. Before that, I had intermittent episodes of heightened concentration where I stopped having distracting thoughts, while most meditation sessions were a constant struggle to remember the meditation focus instead of having my mind wander.

My ideal meditation practice for a day is an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening, but I haven't managed that very often. The stats show 168 days since I started logging meditation with the app. From these, 34 days had zero meditation logged, the median total daily meditation was 45 minutes and the mean total daily meditation was 48 minutes.

So that's a tentative verification that a somewhat consistent meditation practice really can help achieve otherwise unusual mental states, with benchmarks for noticeable intense concentration states starting to show up around a month into the practice and preliminary jhana states of full-body feeling of pleasure around six months in.

EDIT: I've since read a more detailed article on the jhana states. The experiences I had resemble the pitisukha precursor states described in the article, not the actual jhana states described in that article.

I read about a jet lag cure where you reset your circadian rhythm by fasting for 16 hours and then having a big breakfast at morning time in your target time zone. Now I'm experimenting with doing this sort of intermittent fasting most of the time to normalize my sleep cycle, basically not eating anything after lunch. It feels like I'm having an easier time waking up at the end of the fast, but I'm not sure how strong or stable the effect is.