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The first time I read the sequences, they were earth-shattering revelations that upset my entire life. The second time I read them, I could only make it few a few posts, because everything they said was obvious. So one gain for me is that existential/religious questions no longer bother me. I got answers that satisfied me, and I've moved on with my life. I suppose you could argue that I could have found the same answers somewhere else, but honestly, I doubt it.

Another big change is how I argue with people. One of my favorite Less Wrong ideas is the Taboo a word sequence. I use this all time. Whenever I encounter some vague statement like "Freewill is nonsense" or "We should live in a more just society" or something like that, I taboo the word and try something else. I approach words differently. I don't know if this has improved my life, but I no longer feel as though I am incapable of expressing myself and my position.

I think I may be more rational. I know, without a doubt, that participating in LessWrong has caused me to self-identify as a rationalist, more than I would have if I had not come here. I feel that this self-identity is enriching and has made me a better person.

I try and do something I have never done before every other week. This habit was inspired and reinforced by Less Wrong. This has made me less afraid to do new things.

I often catch myself rationalizing. This didn't used to happen, I think.

Are you serious? What exactly is the positive emotion of berating yourself? If you really mean it, I guess you simply have no idea about what a positive emotion feels like.

I worded that poorly. The idea I was trying to convey was that you can either work to strengthen a certain trait, or work to remove whatever is preventing you from having that trait. I'm going to retract that idea, since the more I think about it, the less sense it makes.

Also, chocolate cakes don't exist; there is simply the absence of non-chocolate non-cakes. And it feels really good, trust me.

Happiness doesn't exist; there is simply the absence of unhappiness. Darkness doesn't exist; there is simply the absence of light. That is the idea I was getting at. Looking back, you're right, it's all just word games. Playing with definitions. So I will just agree with your statement that unhappiness is stronger than happiness, and affirm that my goal is to eliminate unhappiness, then go from there.

That feels to me like instead of turning off the radio, you turn on the TV even louder. And then you don't hear the radio. (But you also don't hear the birds. But that's okay, because they don't really exist; they are just the absence of the radio.)

To clarify: Radio = negative emotions tv = random noise to drown out rest of mind. *bird = positive emotions

You mention turning off the radio, and you suggest doing so by isolating the root sources of emotions and dealing with them by understanding that they are wrong or useless. This is excellent advice, and is the core concept of how CB therapy works. Your mistake is thinking that once you understand a thought is useless or wrong, it will go away. It won't, at least not for me. When I am afraid, when I am apathetic, when all choices feel equally meaningless and bereft of happiness, I overpower the radio with the TV. Without a listener, the radio turns itself off. My meditation session is finished, so I turn off the TV as well. In the resulting silence, I hear the bird song. That is the purpose of the TV.

Thank you for your comment. I just read an article claiming there was no such thing as happiness, and I guess I got a little carried away and didn't think things through.

Last time I posted on one of these rationality journals it was about 9 months ago. I said I was going to go on a couple month long bike trip. I'd been having a lot of trouble setting and meeting goals, and after failing so many important goals ended up pretty depressed, so I decided to just not set goals anymore and just peddle my bike for a while.

My bike trip ended up being just three days, as I got bored rather quickly. It turns out that just biking all day was not as mentally stimulating as I had hoped it would be. The bike trip wasn't a complete waste; biking to the ocean has been a life goal of mine, and I finally pulled it off. Also, I got lots and lots of exercise, which helped with my depression. Finally, I slept in a ditch on the side of the road, something I have never done before. I no longer fear being homeless. If you have food in your stomach, a warm coat, a place where you can rest undisturbed, and a deep exhaustion that makes worrying about social conventions impossible, it turns out that the rest of life will take care of itself. Of course, I was biking through a rural area, so that made sleeping undisturbed a lot easier. The other big thing was the ocean. Oceans and libraries always settle the thoughts in my head.

After all that, I went home and got a job. They don't pay me much, but on the plus side expectations and stress are very low.

I went from generally depressed to generally happy all at once, when I got that low stress job I previously mentioned. It turns out that spending several months sending out tons of job applications, getting exactly 0 responses, and then having LOTS of free time to stew in your thoughts is not healthy. In the future, I will treat large blocks of free time as being a potential risk, and make sure to fill them up with productive activities.

I've had "find meaningful tasks to occupy my time" as a life goal since about age 7 or so, though back then I phrased it as "don't be apathetic". Basically, I want to be the sort of person who goes out and does things and has an interesting and meaningful life, but instead I do the easiest, laziest thing instead, which usually means browsing the internet. Up until now, my strategies have included (starting with my first strategy and ending in my last) praying to god to change me, swearing every night that I would totally be a different person, berating myself when I failed, using physical impediments to prevent myself from failing, reading lots of books about reason and psychology and keeping a journal in which I listed things like goals and reasons why goals were not being met, and using mind altering drugs to chemically force the emotions I wanted. All these plans failed, and as you can likely imagine by the time I was willing to use the mind altering chemicals I was pretty desperate and upset.

The thing that all these strategies have in common is that they are attempting to promote the positive emotion. I read some books on meditation, and one concept that stood out to me was this idea that happiness doesn't exist; there is simply the absence of negative emotions. Remove all negative emotions, and you will discover that you are happy. My new strategy is that I am going to practice removing negative emotions. When I detect negative thoughts, I will focus all my attention on the sensations I am experiencing present moment, starving the negative emotions of the brainpower they need. It's like that old question; "Quick, think of anything other than white elephants!". The way to prevent your mind from thinking unwanted thoughts is to focus your mind so intently on another, different thought that there is no space left for the first thought. Poof! White elephant gone.

My new plan for "find meaningful activities to spend my time on" is to meditate until I eliminate the negative emotions that are preventing my from enjoying myself. Once my mind is a place of peace, I will being to naturally enjoy certain activities again, and find them more compelling and interesting then just browsing the internet.

So far this plan seems to be working well, and I have even had some success in starting a meditation habit. I'll report back in a couple months.


One last thing; I've often thought that flossing would be a good idea, but was too lazy to bother. Then I learned that the water in my district was not fluoridated, and that mouthwash actually works, so I went and bought some mouthwash. Swishing funny-tasting liquids around my mouth is a lot more fun then dragging a string between my teeth and having it sometimes come back bloody, so I've successfully added "use mouthwash" as a habit. That's neat. And hopefully it'll save on dentist bills. I've had a cavity pretty much every time I visited the dentist for as long as I remember, so if I suddenly stop getting cavities I'll have clear proof that this works.

Reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from the quotes thread.

At home there was a game that all the parents played with their children. It was called, What Did You See? Mara was about Dann’s age when she was first called into her father’s room one evening, where he sat in his big carved and coloured chair. He said to her, ‘And now we are going to play a game. What was the thing you liked best today?’

At first she chattered: ‘I played with my cousin . . . I was out with Shera in the garden . . . I made a stone house.’ And then he had said, ‘Tell me about the house.’ And she said, ‘I made a house of the stones that come from the river bed.’ And he said, ‘Now tell me about the stones.’ And she said, ‘They were mostly smooth stones, but some were sharp and had different shapes.’ ‘Tell me what the stones looked like, what colour they were, what did they feel like.’

And by the time the game ended she knew why some stones were smooth and some sharp and why they were different colours, some cracked, some so small they were almost sand. She knew how rivers rolled stones along and how some of them came from far away. She knew that the river had once been twice as wide as it was now. There seemed no end to what she knew, and yet her father had not told her much, but kept asking questions so she found the answers in herself. Like, ‘Why do you think some stones are smooth and round and some still sharp?’ And she thought and replied, ‘Some have been in the water a long time, rubbing against other stones, and some have only just been broken off bigger stones.’ Every evening, either her father or her mother called her in for What Did You See? She loved it. During the day, playing outside or with her toys, alone or with other children, she found herself thinking, Now notice what you are doing, so you can tell them tonight what you saw.

She had thought that the game did not change; but then one evening she was there when her little brother was first asked, What Did You See? and she knew just how much the game had changed for her. Because now it was not just What Did You See? but: What were you thinking? What made you think that? Are you sure that thought is true?

When she became seven, not long ago, and it was time for school, she was in a room with about twenty children – all from her family or from the Big Family – and the teacher, her mother’s sister, said, ‘And now the game: What Did You See?’

Most of the children had played the game since they were tiny; but some had not, and they were pitied by the ones that had, for they did not notice much and were often silent when the others said, ‘I saw . . .’, whatever it was. Mara was at first upset that this game played with so many at once was simpler, more babyish, than when she was with her parents. It was like going right back to the earliest stages of the game: ‘What did you see?’ ‘I saw a bird.’ ‘What kind of a bird?’ ‘It was black and white and had a yellow beak.’ ‘What shape of beak? Why do you think the beak is shaped like that?’

Then she saw what she was supposed to be understanding: Why did one child see this and the other that? Why did it sometimes need several children to see everything about a stone or a bird or a person?

Doris Lessing, "Mara and Dann"

I used to think that making failure more costly might be a good source of motivation as well. I ended up failing out of college and spending several months in a haze of depression and total apathy about life.

I'm doing a lot better now, but I've learned my lesson, and no longer use negative incentives as sources of motivation. For a person of my mindset, there is no such thing as "failure so costly one can't help but succeed."

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.

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.

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.

For as long as I can remember, I have suffered from a lack of motivation. Trying to understand and fix this aspect of myself has been my project for the past several years. The following are my attempts to find a source of motivation.

Fear: Doesn't work. At first, the fear of getting a C in a class was enough to get me to study. Then it was the fear of failing the class. Then it was the fear of failing out of college entirely, which nearly happened. I gave up on this strategy two years ago.

Creating an environment that encourages productivity: I am severely lacking in whatever personality aspect allows other people to do things they dislike, with the result that instead of doing the thing I disliked, I'd browse the internet. I tried to treat this by blocking the internet, leaving the laptop at home, and things of that sort, but all these strategies backfired, as I just found other ways to waste my time. Like staring out the window and daydreaming. Other strategies, like time and task management programs, I just ignored. That's not to say that creating a positive environment is useless; It does work to some extent. Just not well enough. I moved on to the next strategy one year ago.

Behavior modification: It was around this time that I joined less wrong and read a great many books on how the mind works. One comment about a person on this website using nicotine gum to reinforce positive habits caught my eye, and I have since done a great deal with nootropics and the like since then. Also started meditation, and journaling, in an attempt to understand myself better. This strategy has been the most successful by far. By this point I had built up some very strong negative associations with school, and would characterize myself as depressed. Journaling helped me to see these issues, and meditation and careful use of mood altering substances allowed me to dispel these issues. A reductionist model of my moods ("My current stress is just a symptom of a lack of GABA"), a strong understanding of how habits and mood work, in addition to mediation has allowed me to halt negatively reinforcing emotions by "seeing-through" them.

So this is my current situation. While I've gotten rid of my bad habits and thoughts, I have yet to replace them with good ones. I spend less time on the internet, and the time I do waste isn't quite as wasted as it used to be, but I'm not reading the books I want to read. I'm not writing the code for the game I want to write. I'm not writing the fantasy story I want to write. And most importantly, I'm not studying enough for the classes I need to study for.

With this in mind, my current strategy is two-fold.

First, treat myself as being mildly depressed due to being unable to find enjoyment in activities that I ought to enjoy. This is a change from my previous view, which is that nothing is wrong with things like being unable to enjoy doing well at school, and that enjoying this sort of success is simply not in my nature. I've ordered St. John's Wort, a mild anti-depressant, which I will be taking soon. I am not expecting much out of this experiment, but it only cost me $8 and a bit of time spent reading about depression, so I think it's worth a shot.

Second, to continue working on using behavior modification type stuff. Record whenever I meet a goal, and why ("It seems the internet and video games suck my will to study, while fascinating books, less wrong and writing restore it.") Continue writing in my journal, encouraging myself to build discipline and good habits, not being upset when I fail and rewarding myself when I succeed. Sharing my progress in the rationality journal. Telling myself I will not give up. That sort of thing.

Done it twice so far, using this as a guide. Fell asleep both times. That said, it was a positive experience, and I plan to make it a habit. Really helped be more aware of how easily distracted I am, and how often my minds runs in tracks, thinking the same thoughts again and again.

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