silentbob

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The Point of Easy Progress

Thanks a lot for your comment! I think you're absolutely right with most points and I didn't do the best possible job of covering these things in the post, partially due to wanting to keeping things somewhat simplistic and partially due to lack of full awareness of these issues. The conflict between the point of easy progress and short-sightedness is most likely quite real and it seems indeed unlikely that once such a point is reached there will be no setbacks whatsoever. And having such an optimistic expectation would certainly be detrimental. In the end the point of easy progress is an ideal to strive for when planning, but not an anspiration to fully maintain at all times.

Regarding willpower I agree that challenge is an important factor, and my idea was not so much that tasks themselves should become trivially easy, but that working on them becomes easy in the way that they excite you. Again that's something I could have more clear in the text.

but you need to encounter this uphill part where things become disorienting, frustrating and difficult to solve more complex problems in order to progress in your knowledge

I'm not so sure about this. I like to think there must be ways to learn things, even maths, that entail a vast majority of positive experiences for the person learning it. This might certainly involve a degree of confusion, but maybe in the form of surprise and curiosity and not necessarily frustration. That being said, 1) I might be wrong in my assumption that such a thing is realistically possible and 2) this is not at all the experience most people are actually having when expanding their skills, so it is certainly important to be able to deal well with frustration and disorientation. Still, it makes a lot of sense to me to reduce these negative experiences wherever possible, unless you think that such negative experiences themselves have some inherent value and can't be replaced.

Simultaneous Randomized Chess

Very interesting concept, thanks for sharing!

Hammertime Postmortem

Update a year later, in case anybody else is similarly into numbers: that prediction of achieving 2.5 out of the 3 major quarter goals ended up being correct (one goal wasn't technically achieved due to outside factors I hadn't initially anticipated, but I had done my part, thus the .5), and I've been using a murphyjitsu-like approach for my quarterly goals ever since which I find super helpful. In the three quarters before Hammertime, I achieved 59%, 38% and 47% respectively of such goals. In the quarters since the numbers were (in chronological order, starting with the Hammertime quarter) 59%, 82%, 61%, 65%, 65%, ~82%. While total number and difficulty of goals vary, I believe the average difficulty hasn't changed much whereas the total number has increased somewhat over time. That being said, I also visited a CFAR workshop shortly after going through Hammertime, so that too surely had some notable effect on the positive development.

My bug list has grown to 316 as of today, ~159 of which are solved, following a roughly linear pattern over time so far.

Hammertime Day 10: Murphyjitsu

Where I find Murphyjitsu most useful is in the area of generic little issues with my plans that tend to come up rather often. A few examples:

  • forgetting about working on the goal in time, due to lack of a reminder, planning fallacy etc.
  • the plan involving asking another person for a favor, and me not feeling too comfortable about asking
  • my system 1 not being convinced of the goal, requiring more motivation / accountability / pressure
  • the plan at some point (usually early on) requiring me to find an answer to some question, such that the remaining plan depends on that answer; my dislike for uncertainty ironically often causes me then to just flinch away from that whole plan as opposed to just trying to find that one important answer

It's arguably more of a checklist than real "by the book Murphyjitsu", but still, taking a goal and going through these things, trying to figure out the most trivial and easy to fix issues with the plan, often allows me to increase the likelihood of achieving a goal by 10-20% with just a few minutes of work.

Hammertime Day 9: Time Calibration

I've mostly been aware of the planning fallacy and how despite knowing of it for many years it still often affects me (mostly for things where I simply lack the awareness of realizing that the planning fallacy would play a role at all; so not so much for big projects, but rather for things that I never really focus on explicitly, such as overhead when getting somewhere). The second category you mention however is something I too experience frequently, but having lacked a term (/model) for it, I didn't really think about it as a thing.

I wonder what classes of problems typically fall into the different categories. At first I thought it may simply depend on whether I feel positive or negative about a task (positive -> overly optimistic -> planning fallacy; negative -> pessimistic -> vortex of dread), but the "overhead when getting somewhere" example doesn't really fit the theory, and also one typical example for the planning fallacy is students having to hand in an assignment by a certain date, which usually is more on the negative side. But I guess the resolution to this is simply that the vortex of dread is not different from the planning fallacy, but a frequent cause of it.

  • we tend to overestimate how long things take that we feel negative about -> vortex of dread
  • this causes us to procrastinate it more than we otherwise would -> planning fallacy (so the "net time" is lower than anticipated, but the total time until completion is longer than anticipated)

Which leaves me with three scenarios:

  1. positive things -> planning fallacy due to optimism
  2. negative things -> vortex of dread -> planning fallacy due to procrastination
  3. trivial things I fail to explicitly think about -> planning fallacy due to ignorance/negligence 

And thus there may be different approaches to solving each of them, such as

  1. pre-mortem / murphyjitsu, outside view
  2. knowing about the vortex of dread concept, yoda timers, scheduling, intentionality
  3. TAPs I guess?
Hammertime Day 8: Sunk Cost Faith

I'd probably put it this way – the Sunk Cost Fallacy is Mostly Bad, but motivated reasoning may lead to frequent false positive detections of it when it's not actually relevant. There are two broad categories where sunk cost considerations come into play, a) cases where aborting a project feels really aversive because so much has gone into it already, and b) cases where on some level you really want to abort a project, e.g. because the fun part is over or your motivation has decreased over time. In type a cases, knowing about the fallacy is really useful. In type b cases, knowing about the fallacy is potentially harmful because it's yet another instrument to rationalize quitting an actually worthwhile project.

You can use a hammer to drive nails into walls, or you can use a hammer to hurt people. The sunk cost fallacy may be a "tool" with higher than usual risk of hurting yourself. This is probably a very blurry/grayscale distinction that varies a lot between individuals however, and not a clear cut one about this particular tool being bad. But I definitely agree it makes a lot of sense to talk about the drawbacks of that particular concept as there is an unusually clear failure mode involved (as described in the post).

Hammertime Day 6: Mantras

"When in doubt, go meta". Thanks to my friend Nadia for quoting it often enough for it to have found a place deep within my brain. May not be the perfect mantra, but it is something that occurs to me frequently and almost always seems yet again unexpectedly useful.

Hammertime Day 1: Bug Hunt

It's not that easy to come up with strange bugfix stories (or even noteworthy bugfix stories in general).

One that's still in progress is that I've been using gamification to improve my posture. I simply count the occurrences throughout the day when I remember to sit/stand straight, and track them, summing them up over time to reach certain milestones, in combination with a randomized reward system. While I wasn't too convinced in this attempt at first, it happens more and more often that I remember to sit up straight and realize I already do so, which is a good sign I guess.

Quite a few bugs could be solved for me using spreadsheets. Tracking stuff and seeing graphs of development over time often provides just enough motivation for me to stick to new habits.

The bug of occasionally watching too many youtube videos has been partially resolved by me initially being too lazy to connect speakers to my computer. I'm now more or less deliberately keeping it that way just for that advantage.

Hammers and Nails

Going through Hammertime for the second time now. I tried to figure out 10 not too usual ways in which to utilize predictions and forecasting. Not perfectly happy with the list of course, but a few of these ideas do seem (and to my experience actually are; 1 and 2 in particular) quite useful.

  1. Predicting own future actions to calibrate on one's own behavior
  2. When setting goals, using predictions on the probability of achieving them by a certain date, giving oneself pointers which goals/plans need more refinement
  3. Predicting the same relatively long term things independently at different points in time (without seeing earlier predictions), figuring out how much noise one's predictions entail (by then comparing many predictions of the same thing, which, if no major updates shifted the odds, should stay about the same (or consistently go up/down slightly over time due to getting closer to the deadline))
  4. Predicting how other people react to concrete events or news, deliberately updating one's mental model of them in the process
  5. Teaming up with others, meta-predicting whether a particular set of predictions by the other person(s) will end up being about right, over- or underconfident
  6. When buying groceries (or whatever), before you're done, make a quick intuitive prediction of what the total price will be
  7. When buying fresh fruit or vegetables or anything else that's likely to spoil, make predictions how likely it is you're going to eat each of these items in time
  8. Frequently, e.g. yearly, make predictions about your life circumstances in x years, and evaluate them in the future to figure out whether you tend to over- or underestimate how much your life changes over time
  9. Before doing something aversive, make a concrete prediction of how (negative) you'll experience it, to figure out whether your aversions tend to be overblown
  10. Experiment with intuitive "5 second predictions" vs those supported by more complex models (Fermi estimate, guesstimate etc.) and figure out which level of effort (in any given domain) works best for you; or to frame it differently, figure out whether your system 1 or system 2 is the better forecaster, and maybe look for ways in which both can work together productively
How to have a happy quarantine

One game/activity I generally recommend because of its potential 11/10 fun payoff in the end, which also works in relative isolation, is having fun with gap texts (just figured out this is apparently known as "mad libs", so maybe this isn't actually new to anybody). The idea being that one person creates a small story with many words left out, and then asks other people to fill in the words without knowing the context. So "Bob scratched his <bodypart> and <verb> insecurely. 'You know', he said <adverb>, 'when I was a(n) <adjective> boy, I always wanted to become a(n) <noun>, but I couldn't, because my <bodypart> is/are too <adjective>" might be part of such a story. You pick these gaps in random order and query people for the thing you need (or if you're alone, you can even do this yourself given you manage to hide the context from yourself). Afterwards you read the story out loud to everybody involved.

I've done this a few times both with groups and just with my girlfriend and it never disappointed. Usually takes some time to write and fill in the story, but I think it's very much worth it. Also, this gets funnier with experience as you figure out both what kind of text works best (involving body parts is certainly a great idea) and also what kinds of words to fill the gaps with (e.g. very visual ones, or such with certain connotations).

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