This is the public group instrumental rationality diary for the week of January 7th. 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!  Happy New Year to folks; my resolution is to always post these on Monday evenings instead of letting them slip to Tuesday or Wednesday : >

Previous diaryarchive of prior diaries.


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My current life plan, which revolved around graduating college, failed miserably, so I ditched it. I'm going to bike about a 1000 miles, then reassess why what happened happened, and what I'm going to do next.

My current thoughts are as follows; It was a mistake to go to school when I did. I went because I was scared, and didn't really know what to do with my life. I thought college was a good idea because it would buy me time to figure myself out a bit more. Sadly, this only works out if school doesn't make you depressed and apathetic about life. While I'm convinced I picked a good major, possibly even the best one I could have taken, the mistake was thinking that after a lifetime of schooling, my best move was more school. I'm still not sure what I want to do with my life, but I'm no longer concerned about failing. Been there, done that. I wish I could have learned the lesson some faster, cheaper way though.

While in college, I thought I could fix my grades by being more disciplined, by having a schedual, by cutting bad influences out of my life, and by having fun hobbies that engaged and interested me. This didn't work. What happens is I have to do something I dislike, which I do, and ends with me being depressed and apathetic about doing anything other than mindlessly browsing the internet and playing video games. As a result, I don't socialize or do an interesting hobby, and so when I do that difficult, annoying task again, I come away just a little bit more apathetic and depressed. This continues until the apathy builds up enough that instead of doing the unpleasant task, I procrastinate instead. So the task doesn't get done, I'm just as apathetic about life since procrastinating doesn't make me happy, plus I'm not happy with myself as a person. The end result is a slow, downward spiral that ends with me endlessly browsing the internet and not talking to anyone.

I thought I was depressed, and if I could just find the right drug (coffee, mild anti-depressents, modafinil, that sort of thing) I would become motivated to do things I dislike. This also failed. Chemicals may help, but cannot be the main source of happyness/motivation. In retrospect, this seems obvious.

As for the future, the way I see it my options are:

1: Getting a job, like hotel night clerk, that doesn't require much effort on my part, so I can explore my interests on the side without getting stuck in that cycle of depression, lack of motivation, procrastination, and frustration with myself. This is the most likely outcome.

2: Be paid to do what other people want me to do, and hope I learn/am able to enjoy the work. This was my original life plan. I am currently avoiding this route, at least in the short term.

3: Create my own job by doing fulfilling work and finding people willing to pay for it. This remains a distant dream. That said, I am now much more willing to make the sort of sacrifices required for this to happen.

4: Go back to college. NO. But maybe in 5 years.

My goal for this bike ride is to do what I should have done before going to college; be totally free and financially independent. Carry everything I want and need in my life on my bike. Want to spend a day biking from nowhere to nowhere? Go for it. Want to spend the day in the library? Sure. Sleep anywhere? Of course; cars and houses are for chumps caught in the rat race. No deadlines (at least till the money runs low), no expectations, no goals other than the arbitrary one of reaching a certain physical location on my bike at some date in the distant future.

I should also make some friends, as my standard reaction to stress is to isolate myself. This is often a bad idea.

I'll re-evaluate all this 1000 miles or so from now.

Getting a job, like hotel night clerk, that doesn't require much effort on my part, so I can explore my interests on the side

If you decide to go this route, I would strongly recommend looking for something where you can multitask exploring your interests with working. As hamnox mentions, a job can eat up a lot of time, even if it doesn't require much effort. Hotel night clerk sounds like a pretty multitaskable job, but be careful about the negative effects of working night shift (my understanding is that you can counteract these by carefully managing how much light you're exposed to during the rest of the day).

Out of curiosity, what other interests do you hope to pursue?


Things I currently enjoy doing include modding video games, playing video games, reading books, and writing books (the last has been on hold for a while.) I'd like to try and expand on these interests. For example, read books I wouldn't normally read, and instead of fiddling with other people's programming, make more of my own. I majored in computer science, and I really enjoyed many of my early classes, so I know there is still plenty for me to explore there. The internship I had last summer was OK as well. Same with writing; I wrote roughly half a million words back in high school, and even though everything I wrote was rather terrible, I enjoyed writing it. I'll see.

As for working at night, that doesn't worry me too much. I seem to end up being nocturnal naturally anyway.


This sounds like the start of an interesting story! Please keep us updated as often as you can manage, I for one would love to read about it.

That said, I have to point out that not staying too long in any one place is also isolation in a sense, which may not be what you were going for. (Also, don't neglect personal hygiene.)

You're living the dream. That's amazing, and I don't want to do anything to discount that. You've done well in breaking your previous bad habits, and I think you certainly are smart and dedicated pull this off. What are your plans for sleep, weather, thieves, and explaining the job history gap? Improvising is half of what makes runs like that exciting, but it's probably better to have a plan in advance for the more predictable issues. Just because there is a plan doesn't mean you have to stick to it.

Your failure mode sounds a lot like what I just got out of doing, and yours is a more coherent explanation of why I can't do college right now than I've managed to articulate. You go [insert appropriate gender noun]! Your bike ride sounds similar to the fantasy I had about packing up (Well, mosting throwing away) everything I own and driving off to see more exciting places. I'd say the bike is a better idea because it provides a focus for your energy and gas is expensive, but I really do appreciate having a steady place to sleep and guard myself from weather's whims.

I'm currently stuck somewhere between 1 and 2. My job doesn't take much effort on my part, but I've become increasingly aware that it does take a good amount of time out of my day that I could be spending on things I actually want to do.


For theft: Everything I own that is expensive stays in my backpack, which never leaves my back. I have full weatherproof gear, so I'm not worried about rain either. If anyone enquires about my job history gap, I'll tell them I was traveling.

If you want to change some aspect of your life, like ditching everything you own and walking off into the sunset, all I can say is that you have to want it, and want it bad. At some point I got so depressed and fed up with my life that walking away became easy, because nothing I was leaving behind was worth it. I was too profoundly unhappy about my life to care about little things like where I sleep or if it's raining. It also helps that sleeping in strange places does not bother me overly much, and I live in California, so the weather is rather mild.


How do you plan to not get robbed (backpack and/or bike) while you're asleep? I suppose you will lock your bike somewhere while you sleep, which is probably? reasonably secure for one night at a time. The best way I can think of to prevent backpack theft is to physically attach it to yourself in such a way that moving it will wake you, but even that doesn't necessarily prevent someone from opening and rooting through it.

I should also make some friends, as my standard reaction to stress is to isolate myself.

Won't continuous biking and not being tied to a geogrpahic area make it harder to make friends? Unless you mean making friends with people you meet and practicing friend-making, in which case this may be a good way to go about it.

I'm going to bike about a 1000 miles, then reassess why what happened happened, and what I'm going to do next.

Hey, something like that worked for that guy!


A new version of spaced-repetition software Anki came out a bit ago, and the Android version updated as well. It's fixed my largest complaint about the original. (I had different decks for different subjects but when I went to study, I wanted to study all of them intermingled. The new version allows hierarchical decking which lets me do just this.) It's also got a bunch of new improvements and the interface (in particular the Android app) looks much nicer. It's also got a nice way to separate information and review cards that is much more approachable than in the previous version. LaTeX and other media is also now easier to get working with the Android version (or in any situation where you have multiple clients). This is a good excuse to try it out if you haven't already. (See Gwern's introduction for an excellent overview if you haven't already.)

As such, I've started using it again after having success this past summer studying for the GRE with it but then stopping after my driving goal was met. I hope to keep this up during classes this coming semester.

I hope to keep this up during classes this coming semester.

Has it helped?

So, after reading the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, I decided that I would try out his method of developing virtues. Art of Manliness has an extended list of the virtues, but if you want to read Franklin's description, search the text for "It was about this time I conceiv'd the bold and arduous project". Basically, he kept a spreadsheet where he would tally the number of times he failed to live up to each virtue that day. In order to make the project doable and gradually scale up, he'd only focus on reducing one particular virtue each week, just noticing failings along other axis without seeking to correct them immediately.

Here's a template; here's my record, which will start tomorrow.

I considered abbreviating some of the periods for the virtues- I'm already the most temperate person I personally know, and so spending a week focusing on that seemed silly. I decided to go with it a general resistance to exceptions, and I expect that it'll still be useful as training the habit of actually recording this every day.

There is still some improvement to be made- I think I'll record the duration of my feed period and see if I can bring that down- and perhaps the primary benefit I will get from this project is not the recording of my actions, so much as the deliberate focus on "what does it mean for me to be X?"

As is obvious from my record, I've stopped doing this, and figured I should do some sort of post-mortem.

  1. The immediate reason I stopped when I did was traveling; it was too much of a hassle to do it while traveling, and then when I got back it was too much of a hassle to do the days when I was gone, and I made the mistake of not doing today until I had done yesterday, which led to not doing either.
  2. The biggest reason I stopped was because I didn't have a good implementation / trigger. Doing it online was a mistake- yes, it was easy to make and publish the spreadsheet, but it also meant that I needed to be at a computer or on my phone. If I had been able to do it after I crawled into bed, I would have been much more likely to do it.
  3. Another reason was that the list of virtues wasn't particularly compelling to me. Each of them was something I endorsed, but it wasn't clear that each one of them was something that I wanted to actively work on. For some of them, I was able to think of a way to improve along that virtue (like switching to one meal a day for temperance), but for many of them I couldn't (for order, the main new thing I could do is spend time adding new systems to arrange my things/time/etc., and tracking lapses wasn't particularly motivating in avoiding those lapses in the future).
  4. Similarly, I prefer thinking in terms of systems to thinking in terms of goals (see Scott Adams on the subject).

Takeaway for me: I like the idea of daily reflection time, but if I want to record the results of my reflection I either need to schedule time for it on a computer (unlikely to work) or do it on a physical medium (likely to work, but then not as likely to get transcribed into electronic format). I like the idea of quarterly review and improvement for each virtue. I was surprised at my ability to think up ways to do various things better- I originally had thought "I've already developed X to the optimal level" for almost all of them but found that focused contemplation did come up with good ideas for several (but not all) of them. I think I got more from spending time inventing systems than spending time tracking myself, which suggests not spending the effort on tracking / not trying to spend the reflection time as tracking. I like the idea of having a dedicated aspect of myself to improve for every period of time, but I think that would be done better as ordering my list of 'lifestyle projects' and only working on one at a time (and switching to the next when I finish one) than as setting apart time to focus on things that I may or may not have a good plan of attack for.

Why Ben Franklin's list and not another one? I mean, they're good virtues to have, but why those?

Several reasons:

  1. Franklin was an atheist, and explicitly chose his list to be sure that no one would find it incompatible with their religion. That's solid evidence that the elements of the list will be chosen for practicality.
  2. With 13 subdivisions, it's more narrowly focused than the cardinal virtues, which are my next best candidate of practical virtues, and thus more likely to expose deficiencies.
  3. I get the impression, from the distance of centuries, that young Franklin is similar to present me, and old him is a good target to shoot for. Thus, anything he took seriously I should take seriously, and daily consideration of the list (and attempting to conform my life to it) seems like a more thorough introduction to it than just reading it and thinking about it.
  4. "A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week." Supposing there is a better set of virtues out there for me, I will be better prepared to tell after having done this.

5. Franklin is a high-status individual in American culture; emulating him may serve both to increase one's own motivation and to serve as defense against unpleasant criticism/mockery by others.

6. Franklin's rules are well-known on top of his high status; hence it saves effort explaining, and has other network-effect-like benefits (or maybe Schelling point is a better analogy) - you can probably find examples by other people and compare your attempt, which could be very interesting/entertaining.

Franklin was an atheist, and explicitly chose his list to be sure that no one would find it incompatible with their religion. That's solid evidence that the elements of the list will be chosen for practicality.

Where did you get this idea? As far as I know, Franklin was a deist until the day he died and even thought organized religions, such as Christianity, were necessary to maintain morality amongst the common people.

Where did you get this idea?

First, I think Deism pre-Darwin more closely resembles atheism post-Darwin than Deism post-Darwin, and so it's more informative to modern readers to use the more similar reference point. Second, I don't see strong reason to believe the self-identification of historical figures in cases where the truth would damage their reputation. Franklin, in particular, gives many examples of bending his public conduct to maximize his reputation.

For example, I take this line from his autobiography to be more significant than the one where he calls himself a thorough Deist:

and farther, that my indiscrete disputations about religion began to make me pointed at with horror by good people as an infidel or atheist.

As for:

even thought organized religions, such as Christianity, were necessary to maintain morality amongst the common people.

I don't think he thought organized effort was just for the common people:

My arguments perverted some others, particularly Collins and Ralph; but, each of them having afterwards wrong'd me greatly without the least compunction, and recollecting Keith's conduct towards me (who was another freethinker), and my own towards Vernon and Miss Read, which at times gave me great trouble, I began to suspect that this doctrine, tho' it might be true, was not very useful.

I get the sense he would have happily attended church if the local pastors were as good at other-improvement as he was at self-improvement, but they weren't, and so going would be a misspent hour. He still paid the subscription for them his whole life (as far as I can tell, as another reputation-preserving measure), and the Junto is probably the closest thing to a religious organization that he actively participated in.


I have a client!! Not just a one time thing that a mentor referred me, but a result of my own marketing efforts (and thus evidence that the business is sustainable).

Makes me happy because it is some evidence that I'm being rational in opening the law firm - which is very reassuring. Still, more marketing / networking is necessary. And getting good marketing habits has been a struggle.

I've started applying some LW-flavoured lessons to my long-time recreational pursuit of swing dancing.

I suspect the goal of most people in the swing dance community is simply "get better". This makes sense in context, as a large component of social status in this community is one's talent as a dancer. However, as a nebulous and ill-defined goal, and with semi-pro and professionals in the scene who will always have more time, effort and commitment towards improving, it's a recipe for perpetual status anxiety.

As a result, this year I've begun setting achievable projects and goals in my dancing, and started thinking about how I might optimise it hedonically. I may be conflating it with general new year enthusiasm, but this does seem to have given me a lot more enthusiasm for the whole thing.

Several of my old friends and I have started a YouTube channel where we document, in whatever fashion we choose, our achievement of our 2013 New Years goals. My goals are

  • Win a programming contest
  • Learn to cook 8 impressive vegetarian dishes
  • Be able to complete 100 consecutive push ups
  • Sign up for Cryonics
  • Learn 5 songs on the drums
  • Write a first draft of a novel
  • Learn a simple magic trick
  • "Figure out the stock market"
  • Finish the goddamn PhD

The goals vary considerably in scope and difficulty, and this is intentional. It will be nice to be able to "knock out" some of the smaller ones to build up momentum.

The YouTube channel has been a really fun way of focusing my mind on the goals. I admit that we are only 10 days into the year and might not last. On top of this, I'm going to be writing up a Stikk-esque commitment contract for most of these goals. I became sort of ... depressed ... when I read another LWer's New Years goals paired with their own probability assessment that they would actually acheive them. I realized that if I took a similar Outside View assessment of my goals, I probably won't achieve any of them. So I resolved to not give myself a choice. I figure something like $1000 hostage to the Church of Scientology should force me to behave more strategically.

Regarding the 100 pushups, have you taken a look at one hundred pushups? I found it very helpful (together with logging everything on Fitocracy); I went from ~25 to ~50 before I got distracted by finals.

Regarding the novel, NaNoWriMo might be a good time to knock that one out.

Thanks for the link to the push-ups website. I was using an iPhone app which is essentially identical, but the web-based solution is actually better for my purposes.

Regarding the novel, NaNoWriMo might be a good time to knock that one out.

NaNoWriMo, while it has a lot of social pressure associated with it, is a really accelerated schedule. If moridinamael isn't able to produce ~2k words on a normal day, they will fail it, and then only have a month to catch up. So... start early, finish early!

"Figure out the stock market"

The rest of your goals here seem well-defined, but I'm not sure what you mean by this one. Can you elaborate?

I am in the position that I know enough about investing to understand that I should do it, but not enough to know how to do it well; consequently I am poorly diversified. I would like to remedy this in 2013.

That goal is in quotes because I am aware that it is a silly phrasing; part of the goal is to clarify what I should want to do.

Being well-diversified is a good goal here. The best way to do that is to invest in a portfolio of low-cost index funds. Target date funds are a great way to do this, because they automatically re-balance for you (caveat: some of them are expensive, although there are plenty of low-cost ones available).

If you're American, a good approach is to:

  • Invest as much as you can in your 401k and IRA. It's usually (but not always) best to max your 401k first, then Roth IRA if you qualify, and finally traditional IRA if you don't qualify for a Roth account. All of these accounts get massive tax breaks, so take full advantage.
  • For your 401k, see if there are low-cost (expense ratio < 0.20%) target date funds available. If there are, put everything into whichever one best matches your expected retirement date. If there aren't, look for whatever low-cost index funds are available. How much of each you should get depends on the specific funds, but basically you want to mimic the general allocation of a target date fund.
  • For your IRA, once again, a target date fund is generally a good idea. I don't know enough to say which is best, but Vanguard is probably a reasonable choice.
  • If you max these out and have additional money to invest, put it in SPY (an ETF that tracks the S&P500). It's certainly not a perfect solution, but it's reasonably diversified, low-cost and has the tax advantages of an ETF. I use Scottrade as my broker, and they're good enough that I don't find it worth seriously investigating alternatives.

I've started using intermittent positive reinforcement to increase my motivation. In the morning I do my Anki reviews in chunks of 100. After 100 reviews, the program will stop me and display a screen. I flip a coin. If it is heads, I get a reward, if it is tails, I get nothing. My current rewards are a cup of coffee or a piece of dark chocolate (I get to choose). Do another 100 reviews, get another flip. It seems to be helping me to study more, particularly Mandarin, which I fell off of.

I'm experimenting with nicotine lozenges as a concentration aid. Will update here with my progress. I've never noticed any effect from cigarettes, but after seeing articles on Gwern and examine I thought I'd give it a try. Somewhat verrous about risks of addiction or health effects, more from a cultural negative association with cigarettes than from the reported health risks f nicotine itself.

Any advice from others who have tried this is appreciated.

How has this been going?

I noticed that I cache a bunch of negative self-image thoughts related to things I think I'm supposed to be good at. For example, I've gotten pretty good at a sport but I don't practice a lot while I'm in school. So during the time that I didn't train, I internalized that I've gotten much worse that I used to be which made me less inclined to start training again. But then I went to practice during the holiday break, I noticed only a very manageable rustiness that was nowhere near the horrible failure I was projecting in my brain. So I'm going to try and not trust my negative self-estimates too much when they stop me from doing productive things.

I made a spreadsheet. I want to do certain things every day, or at least monitor how often and for how long I do them. A lot of times, I get these ideas and I think "oh! I ought to learn this!" but then I forget what the "this" is after a few weeks, since I'll either get distracted or find something else more interesting. The spreadsheet will track what I want to learn, and if I keep it updated, I'll never forget exactly what it is that I want to learn. So far, its been helping.

So, I'm writing this here because there isn't a new diary... Update: The spreadsheet is working! The list keeps growing and growing, though! There are so many things I want to learn, though I figured out the best way to not make myself miserable at all the 0's (I didn't do x today!) is to add a column that adds up that day's "points" and if I get over ten "points" I reward myself. If I get over twenty "points" I get a better reward. (Skittles/piece of chocolate etc...)

I'm trying to learn at least 1 new recipe a month so that by this time next year I will be able to create 12 passable meals. I am now on number 3.

I bought a pocket pencil and notebook in order to record things that occur to me as I don't like the workflow of taking notes on my phone. But I am not yet in the habit of pulling it out of my pocket because the fact that I have it doesn't occur to me. Going to try setting alarms and writing down random stuff when the beeper goes off until I ingrain the habit.

I've been reading, stretching, and practicing 3 times a week for 16 months and today I finally did a barbell squat with perfect form.

I am continuing to fail at figuring out optimal cardio. I obviously need a new incentive pattern.

I'm trying to learn at least 1 new recipe a month so that by this time next year I will be able to create 12 passable meals. I am now on number 3.

Good going. I've done this myself (for different reasons) and it's interesting how outsized an effect eating real food instead of instant stuff has on one's apparent quality of life.

I am trying a new commitment mechanism, vaguely modeled after the Beeminder concept. I want to keep a journal every night, but the last few times I have tried this I have failed to maintain the habit. In order to maintain it, I am offering my girlfriend $5 for any night that she reminds me to write in my journal but I don't. I think this approach offers the following advantages:

  • Like Beeminder, it makes the cost of failure more salient by including a financial penalty,
  • It incentivizes someone to give reminders, both through the financial incentive and by signaling that I care about maintaining the habit,
  • It may create social pressure to maintain it.

I will post again when I have some results to report.

Consider modifying the habit -- maybe journaling at night is harder for you to maintain than in the morning, or around lunch, or something like that? (This was my experience - I tried journaling at night for years and repeatedly failed; now I journal in the morning, and it's been easy and pleasant. I don't know any special reason why this would work for you, but it's cheap to share the idea.)

It seems to me that journaling at other times of day would be less useful, because the day's events would be either less fresh in my mind.

Oh, agreed! Still, journaling in the morning has been rather more useful than failing to journal in the evening.

You might want to set a specific deadline now about how many nights count as enough results worth reporting. And decide what victory looks like before the data comes in (losing $5 a month? $0? $20?).

I think having a specific deadline is a good idea, since it decreases the bias in whether I will report anything. I will report my results in the early February rationality diary, which will be ~4 weeks worth of data.

As for a definition of victory, I don't think victory is a boolean variable here; keeping the commitment 7 days a week is better than 6 is better than 5..., and I don't expect there to be any threshold or satiation effects worth caring about.

Also, I intend to report my results regardless of what they are. Failures provide useful information, and selective reporting makes reported result less trustworthy.

Last night I decided that since my current schedule of classes goes from noon until 10pm, I should treat all times as though they are 4 hours earlier and use this as my intuition for when to go to bed, which will allow me to do things like actually eat dinner at a reasonable time.

Then I got up this morning and realized that I have something at 10am today, and I stayed up far too late to be okay with that.

Minus one rationality point for adopting a change without thinking about it for five minutes.

Plus one for even being willing to break with habit and consciously adapt your sleeping habit though. I mean, isn't your recent thing at 10 AM just like the equivalent of having to wake up at 6 AM on a normal schedule? This still seems like a viable strategy.

I've been looking into beeminder and procrastinating about using it. The irony of this has not escaped me.

There is a class of things I don't want to do so much as have done, such as exercise; this is the sort of thing I'd like to use beeminder for. The internal fear leading to the procrastination seems to be "oh, crap, if I take step X that is likely to override my defenses against doing Y, I might actually do Y."

My brain goes to remarkable lengths to undermine me.

Attempts to exercise because I want to lose weight have failed me, every time.

Attempts to exercise because I had already reached the point where I enjoyed the exercise, however, succeeded. When I worked a manual-labor job, I got in terrific shape, exercising outside the job itself on a regular basis; I'd go jogging with the flu, in the rain, whatever. I didn't even notice I was in great shape until a couple of months after I was.

I've had trouble putting myself into the mindset that "If I keep this up, I'll eventually enjoy it," using the enjoyment of the exercise as a terminal goal. But I think that it might be more successful than using a goal which is distinct from the action that leads to the goal.

Don't choose ends; choose means, as ends into themselves. The means are what you spend all your time doing, after all.

Are you sure that you really want to have done Y? Maybe you just think you do.

I suggest picking exactly one thing you'd like to track, and put it into Beeminder just to track, without enforcing a goal on it. That is a good way to get started. (It will require you to set a goal, but you can set it to be something you can trivially meet. I.e. if you're tracking 'how many minutes I ran today', just make the goal zero minutes.)

So what happened to this?

I posted my current conundrum on the mentoring thread (, but since that's a pretty old thread, I figured I'd post a shortened version here, if you don't mind...

Here's my preliminary conclusion: I've been pursuing a profession that has (from what I've been able to tell) about a 1% chance of making a living at it. These are horrible odds, but since there's nothing I'd really rather do, it's like choosing between $5 and a 1% chance of getting $500, except that even if I don't get the $500, I still get the $5 ($5 representing, in my case, a job I'm not really interested in).

Does this sound rational? :\

EDIT: In a way, it's like the "just lose hope already" thing, but hopefully I'm avoiding that pitfall since I'm going to be adjusting my goals and strategy.

I'd like you to drill down a bit on what you mean when you talk about these probabilities, because I think you may be glossing over the information that really answers your question.

It seems that there are at least three different reasons why people would say following a given career path leads to a low probability of a desired outcome.

The first is that the supplied probability information is giving an incomplete picture of the situation. If 0.001% of people attempting this path succeed and it just so happens that this 0.001% happen to be the only ones whose parents run multinational corporations, then the problem isn't that "the probability of success is low," the problem is that "the probability of success for you is zero." If this is the case, just lose hope already.

The second possibility is that success only happens to 0.001% of the participants because there are only a discrete number of pots of gold and way too many people chasing rainbows. This only implies that the probability of a randomly selected individual, with no prior information, would be 0.001%. This does not imply that the probability of you finding a pot of gold is 0.001%, if you happen to know that you have some advantage or disadvantage relative to your peers. If you know what types of things you could be doing to increase your odds of finding a pot of gold, then do those things and ignore the naysayers. However, it sounds like the problem is that your field of choice involves either a lot of inherent uncertainty about what qualities lead to success, or a total glut of maximally-qualified peers, so this may not help or may not apply

The third possibility is that there really is a dominant effectively-random aspect to the situation, something which you literally cannot usefully engage with. I am honestly having a hard time thinking of things in the real world other than actual lotteries where this is strictly the case.

My point, in sum, is that talking about the probability of success can be misleading. It is often intentionally used to mislead people when making career choices - sayin "Your probability of making over $100k/yr with this degree is 10%!" when in reality your probability of making over $100k/yr is actually 80% if you went to an Ivy League school and 2% if you didn't.

Hope this helped in some way.

Right, yes, those factors definitely do affect people's odds in my field. The facts that my parents aren't major players and that I didn't go to the right schools definitely hurts my chances. However, those aren't the only determining factors. Many people who did go to the "right" schools have not succeeded and many people who did not, have.

One major factor, however, is my age. Some say that it doesn't matter, that I'm still young, but the majority of people who succeed in this business get their first significant job in their 20s. Having just turned 30, I failed to achieve that milestone, which I would imagine lowers my chances significantly.

Supposedly, from what I've heard from multiple people in the business, if someone creates a great product, no matter who they are, they will be noticed, but I guess it's the very odds that I'm even capable of creating a great product on par with my maximally-qualified peers that worries me. I've had some indications of ability (e.g. getting into one of the top grad schools), but constant rejection has made me question that. This is why reading about deliberate practice, as I mentioned above, has given me a smidgin of hope.

However, the third possibility (pure luck) is indeed true as to some extent well. There's just no predicting what will "hit" and what won't. And typically those things are sort of mindless or trendy or otherwise somehow seize the popular zeitgeist, and unfortunately I tend not to think in that way. Although I'm thinking of basically training myself to do so...

As a post on 80000hours said about entrepreneurship, it's a game of poker, not roulette. In that case, I can't say I've been dealt the best hand, but I can try to play it right.

Anyhow, those are the reasons I estimate that my personal chances--not just those of the general public--are about 1%. But who knows, they may be much lower.

there's nothing I'd really rather do

How confident are you about this? (And how well-calibrated do you think your confidence levels are?) Seems like it would be worth your time to verify this.

The short answer is that I'm fairly confident about it and I'm fairly confident in the calibration of my confidence levels.

The long answer relies on my clarifying, I think, what I mean by "would rather do." I'll define it as "interesting enough to me to want to spend a significant number of years of my life on." I actually started getting really burned out on my current pursuit, so if you'd asked me this question about a week ago, I would have answered that I'd rather just get some dumb job and play video games in my free time for the rest of my life, but now I feel much more invigorated about it (primarily due to reading about deliberate practice), and when it comes to actually applying myself to something, this is the thing I'm most interested in.

The only runner-up, as I mentioned in the linked post, is something involved in charity work, ideally something a bit analytical and strategic. I've also toyed with the idea of doing something more math-related, but math has always been a weakness for me, though I enjoy it, so I doubt it would be best to pursue that professionally.

Through, I learned that I could have just been suffering from familiarity bias--i.e. that I'm only considering types of jobs I'm aware of when there could be something I'm not aware of that I would love--so I looked through the descriptions of a bunch of careers, and I just couldn't bring myself to care about any of them. From what I gather about human psychology, I'm sure if I chose, at random, a career that I'd be likely to be good at, I'd come to like it and be happy, and that's pretty much what I'll do once it's clear that I've failed at my current pursuit, but there's no strong argument for jumping to that stage prematurely. I'll be a few more years behind in that case than if I quit and jumped to something else now, but since I don't currently value succeeding in other fields anyway, it seems as though I may as well continue rolling the dice for a while.