This is part 13 of 30 of Hammertime. Click here for the intro.

“Omit needless words!” cries the author on page 23, and into that imperative Will Strunk really put his heart and soul. In the days when I was sitting in his class, he omitted so many needless words, and omitted them so forcibly and with such eagerness and obvious relish, that he often seemed in the position of having shortchanged himself — a man left with nothing more to say yet with time to fill, a radio prophet who had out-distanced the clock. Will Strunk got out of this predicament by a simple trick: he uttered every sentence three times. When he delivered his oration on brevity to the class, he leaned forward over his desk, grasped his coat lapels in his hands, and, in a husky, conspiratorial voice, said, “Rule Seventeen. Omit needless words! Omit needless words! Omit needless words!”

The Elements of Style

There is nothing more essential to the practice of Hammertime than repetition, and no rationality technique that requires more repetitive practice than TAPs. Although we pick only three days to focus on them, it’s best to draw out the repetitive drilling of TAPs over a lifetime.

Day 13: TAPs

Previously: Day 3.

Triggers that Notice Themselves

The real skill with trigger-action planning is picking the right trigger. The best triggers are not only easy to notice, but hard to miss. It should not require effort and conscious attention to notice the trigger – the only conscious action occurs after the trigger calls the action to mind.

Three ways to find great triggers:

  1. Sentimental value: there’s a process by which we naturally become attached to the items that accompany us through thick and thin. I am attached, for example, to the freckle on my right thumb, to a long-sleeve shirt gifted me by a childhood friend, to my Logitech gaming mouse – relic of a past life. Pay attention to these objects. Notice how they gain three-dimensionality. Inject them with meaning. For example, there’s a well of metaphysical space under my thumb freckle where I can store a preternatural calm for a minute of need.
  2. Novelty: surprise is the easiest way to notice. Last month I made a number of purchases for Design, and their presence registered as unusual for weeks. Take advantage of new possessions to build micro-habits. My new welcome mat is a reminder to check my keys and phone before leaving the apartment. My new bean-bag chair tells me to notice and relax any muscle tension. My new reading lamp wants me to read every night before bed.
  3. Felt sense (sneak peak for Gendlin’s Focusing): a felt sense is a bodily sensory experience attached to an emotion or idea. Many powerful cognitive habits amount to building smart TAPs for specific felt senses. Most of the felt senses I notice center in my chest and spine. A twisting in my heart that tastes like Sour Patch Kids signals romantic feelings. A buzzing of energy that travels up my spine signals excitement (this one’s probably just adrenaline). A physical pressing on the whole chest signals anxiety. Build plans for responding to each felt sense. Caution: suppressing is rarely the correct answer.

Sapience Spell Overloading

A general-purpose Sapience Spell has a large number of uses, and it’s best to overload one trigger with them all. The Sapience Spell should trigger throughout the day: it will be clear from context which usage is most applicable.

Here’s three new ways I’ve been overloading the Sapience Spell:

  1. Refresh: A conversation is going nowhere. You’re completely lost in an hour-long seminar on infinity-one categories. You lost sleep to AlphaGo nightmares and your whole day is fucked. You’re half-way through a week-long conference on the Python compiler and entirely tapped out. What demonic presence compelled you to sign up for that? At every scale, the Sapience Spell can be the refresh button you need to clear sunk cost, memory leaks, and bad vibes. A “step back and relax” button for heated political conversation. A Ctrl-Alt-Delete for a clever but content-free blog post. A System Restart button for a project worth nothing but sunk cost. A FACTORY RESET (WARNING: ARE YOU SURE?) for triggering that mid-life crisis you desperately need.
  2. Reality Check: I spent a week-long trip practicing lucid dreaming (to no avail yet). One of the main tools there is doing reality checks (“am I awake?”) regularly, and that’s now built into my Sapience Spell: look down at my hand and count my fingers. A reality check is a moment to notice your body exists and check for a bare minimum of sanity.
  3. Reinforcement Learning: Check out Tune Your Cognitive Strategies. Use your Sapience Spell to regularly pat yourself on the back for healthy thoughts and cognitive strategies. Fast feedback loops are key to fast learning. I like to incorporate the obvious physical motion for positive reinforcements: curling my fingers into a thumbs-up when I count them.

TAP Review

Set a Yoda Timer to review all the TAPs you’ve tried to install in the last month and figure out what works for you.

Daily Challenge

Have you ever hit the FACTORY RESET button? Share an experience about finally dropping a long-term project, long-held belief, or long-loved identity.


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5 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 10:47 AM

I hadn't consciously thought about the "using novelty as a bonus trigger" thingy, and it seemed particularly useful.

Great description of the Summon Sapience Spell.

Taking inspiration from this post after failing to set one up during the workshop, I've now attached a Sapience Spell to a freckle on my hand (which I always used to think was unnecessary visual clutter), with the imagery/sense of expanding my peripheral vision and seeing everything (think: clear sight, sensing everything at once, 'whole-universe comprehension' kinda feels), and the incantation simply: "Notice."

Switching majors in undergrad was definitely a "factory reset" moment for me. I came into college with lots of AP credits and the plan of being a chemical engineer. I started classes in the major right from the beginning of freshman year, and it felt great to be getting ahead. Of course, the disadvantage of that was that I didn't have any real chance to explore other interests before starting. I actually enjoyed the major classes, but it turned out that there was quite a bit of stuff I enjoyed better. It was soon pretty clear to all my friends that I would do better in another department, I kept denying that I should switch. I don't know exactly what changed in my brain, but when the time at which you fully locked into a major got closer, something finally flipped. I broke through the sunk costs mentality, switched majors, and ended up quite a bit happier. 

A few resets of differing magnitudes:

  • In the 6 months before I stopped believing in God I became extremely religious. Same sort of thing happened with my political beliefs
  • So that I could fund my music career, I was learning linear algebra and Python to get a better job. A few months into it I realized I wasn't working on music at all and may have been using programming and math as a pernicious procrastination mechanism. Now I'm still learning, but instead of letting it take my music time, I let it take my Netflix time.
  • Reading Infinite Jest taught me that I don't need to get caught up in a game of irony/sarcasm, signalling and counter-signalling, and pretending not to care. I don't need to signal intelligence though negativity or complexity for complexity's sake. Reading that book cleared out a lot of toxicity in me

Have you ever hit the FACTORY RESET button? Share an experience about finally dropping a long-term project, long-held belief, or long-loved identity.

A year and a half ago, I quit my job and dropped out of university within a few months of each other. I quit the job, even though I was still enjoying it, because I felt that the identity that my work gave me clashed with who I wanted to be, and I dropped out of university because I just didn't feel that the impact it would have on me as a person (that is, ignoring signaling incentives) was worth the money and time that it cost. That year (2019) was a year that I had themed as a way to better develop my identity and "discover" who I was, half a year before I quit my job or dropped university, and I think that the yearly theme contributed to me ultimately hitting hard on the FACTORY RESET button.