Hammertime Day 3: TAPs

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This is part 3 of 30 in the Ham­mer­time Se­quence. Click here for the in­tro.

A run­ning theme of Ham­mer­time, es­pe­cially for the next two days, is in­ten­tion­al­ity, or de­liber­ate­ness. In­stru­men­tal ra­tio­nal­ity is de­signed to in­ject in­ten­tion­al­ity into all as­pects of your life. Here’s how the 10 tech­niques fit into the in­ten­tion­al­ity puz­zle:

  1. Notic­ing and hav­ing more in­ten­tions (Bug Hunt, CoZE, TAPs).

  2. Re­solv­ing in­ter­nal con­flict about what you in­tend to do (Goal Fac­tor­ing, Fo­cus­ing, In­ter­nal Dou­ble Crux).

  3. Learn­ing how to con­vert in­ten­tion to ac­tion (Yoda Timers, TAPs, Plan­ning).

  4. In­ject­ing in­ten­tions into Sys­tem 1 so you can do what you in­tend even when you’re not pay­ing at­ten­tion (TAPs, De­sign, Mantras).

  5. In­ject­ing in­ten­tions into re­al­ity so that re­al­ity pushes you to­wards, and not away from your goals (De­sign).

Trig­ger-Ac­tion Plans (TAPs) are the if-then state­ments of the brain. In­stal­ling a sin­gle TAP prop­erly will con­vert a sin­gle in­ten­tion into re­peated ac­tion.

Day 3: TAPs

Recom­mended back­ground read­ing: Mak­ing in­ten­tions con­crete – Trig­ger-Ac­tion Plan­ning.

1. TAPs 101

TAPs are micro-habits. Here’s the ba­sic setup:

  1. Pick a bug. Again, skip bugs you’re con­flicted about.

  2. Iden­tify a trig­ger. An ideal trig­ger is con­crete and sen­sory, like “wa­ter hit­ting my face in the shower,” or “when I press the ele­va­tor but­ton.”

  3. De­cide on an ac­tion you want to hap­pen af­ter the trig­ger. Pick the min­i­mum con­ceiv­able ac­tion that counts as progress to­wards solv­ing the bug. Thus, “look at the stair­well” is bet­ter than “go up the stairs,” and “sit up in bed” is bet­ter than “force my­self out of bed.”

  4. Re­hearse the causal link. Go to the trig­ger and act out the TAP ten times. If the trig­ger is not cur­rently available, vi­su­al­ize it. Fo­cus on notic­ing and re­mem­ber­ing sen­sory data that will help you no­tice the trig­ger.

  5. Check the TAP in a week. Write down the TAP when you in­tend to do it, and check back in a week to see if its in­stalled. TAPs can re­quire a lot of tweak­ing.

TAPs take a cou­ple days to in­stall suc­cess­fully. To­day, we will prac­tice in­stal­ling two TAPs.

2. The Sapi­ence Spell

Many bugs in life can be solved by merely pay­ing at­ten­tion to them. The most im­por­tant TAP to in­stall is a meta-TAP, or Sapi­ence Spell, that wakes you up pe­ri­od­i­cally into Ker­nel Mode and re­minds you to pay at­ten­tion.

Here’s how to learn the Sapi­ence Spell:

Find­ing the right trig­ger is of ut­most im­por­tance. Treat this step with the grav­ity that a wiz­ard puts into pick­ing his wand or fa­mil­iar.

The trig­ger should be con­crete and con­stant in your life. Ideally, an item on your per­son at all times of sen­ti­men­tal value: a ring, a watch, a tat­too, a mole or birth­mark on your hand, a spe­cific ges­ture you make reg­u­larly. If not, it can be an at­trac­tive pic­ture or bauble on your desk. Take your time to pick one that feels mean­ingful.

Once you’ve picked the trig­ger, it’s time to pick the ac­tion. The ac­tion should be a men­tal move in the cat­e­gory of pay at­ten­tion, but per­son­al­ized: breathe, re­flect on my goals, be pre­sent in the mo­ment, col­lect my­self.

Now, set your­self a Yoda Timer for 5 min­utes and prac­tice the Sapi­ence Spell with the five steps above. Walk around as if do­ing your daily thing, no­tice your trig­ger, and re­hearse the ac­tion. Do that ten times. Vi­su­al­ize your­self in differ­ent situ­a­tions where a Sapi­ence Spell would help. Let your mind wan­der a bit and then snap your­self back with the Sapi­ence Spell.

For my own Sapi­ence Spell, I picked a mole on the in­side of my right thumb that I’ve had since child­hood. After star­ing at it for some time and in­ject­ing feel­ings of at­ten­tive­ness and in­ten­tion­al­ity, I find that no­tice where it is in phys­i­cal space even with­out look­ing at it. I hope it proves a con­stant and com­fort­ing note in the fu­ture.

3. One Con­crete TAP

If you have any kind of habit or rou­tine, you’re do­ing TAPs already. To­day we will build one con­crete micro-habit with TAPs.

Pick the eas­iest bug on your Bug List that might be solved by some kind of reg­u­lar ac­tion. For ex­am­ple, I picked “for­get­ting things when I leave home.”

Set a Yoda Timer for five min­utes to de­sign and in­stall a TAP to solve that bug us­ing the check­list in TAPs 101 above.


  1. It’s best to pick nat­u­ral, con­crete TAPs that you no­tice already. For ex­am­ple, I pay a great deal of at­ten­tion to bound­aries and thresh­olds. The trig­ger I picked is “step­ping across the thresh­old of my apart­ment.” Another ex­am­ple too good not to men­tion: I fre­quent a restau­rant on cam­pus called The Axe & Palm. Every time I go I re­flect on all the TAPs I’m cur­rently in­stal­ling.

  2. Be re­al­is­tic and pick baby steps for ac­tions. Difficult habits should be built out of mul­ti­ple TAPs. If your TAP is “After brush­ing my teeth, go run­ning,” make it “After brush­ing my teeth, take a walk” or “After brush­ing my teeth, go out­side” or even “After brush­ing my teeth, look at the front door.”

  3. Keep re­hears­ing/​prac­tic­ing the TAP un­til five min­utes are up. Yoda Timers quickly re­mind you just how quickly you give up.

Keep build­ing one TAP a day over the course of Ham­mer­time. If you’re lost for ideas, try ex­tend­ing solid­ified TAPs into longer se­quences of ac­tions, one step at a time. Soon you’ll have com­plete rou­tines for spe­cific situ­a­tions. We’ll check in again on TAP progress on Day 13.

Daily Challenge

If you don’t mind, share your Sapi­ence Spell.