True Rejection Challenges

Summary: Find something you wish you did but don’t. List why you don’t do it. If someone finds a way to do it that avoids those issues, give it a try!

Tags: Small, Investment

Purpose: Understanding your true rejection to a statement is a useful skill. Practice it on an application relevant to your day to day life, and maybe find some useful workarounds in the process!

Materials: Writing supplies, such as a bunch of pens or pencils and index cards or paper pads. Some way to display the paper, such as a big table or a big corkboard and pushpins. If you want to let people type things, you could use google docs to write and comment on a shared document.

Announcement Text: A True Rejection is the real reason why someone rejects an idea, proposition, or belief, which may differ from the reasons they articulate. Often, people give reasons that sound good or are socially acceptable, but these may not reflect their underlying thought processes, emotions, or incentives. The True Rejection Challenge is to come up with something you wish you did but don’t do, and to articulate all the reasons you don’t do it. If someone else can explain how to do the thing without hitting any of the reasons you reject it, then you have a chance to do something you wanted to do!

We’ll be meeting to work on passing the True Rejection Challenge together. Reading the article “Is That Your True Rejection” will be useful to have a clearer understanding of what it is we’re trying to generate, but the required reading for this activity is actually “Beware Of Other Optimizing.” The audio version takes just under ten minutes to listen to!“

Description: 1, Pass out writing supplies as people arrive (or a link to a shared google doc, possibly via QR code) then describe what a True Rejection is.

“What is a True Rejection? Sometimes when you ask people why they do not believe something or agree with something, they will tell you a reason they don’t believe it. Perhaps you tell them about what artificial intelligence will be like, and they say they do not believe you because you do not have a Ph.D. Perhaps you tell them about what effects a diet will have, and they say they do not believe you because you are not yourself visibly fit. Perhaps you tell them that a land value tax would change society for the better, and they say they do not believe you because you bring this up every meetup and so you must be obsessed with it.

If you got a Ph.D., or became visibly fit, or didn’t talk about land value taxes for six months, then came back and asked if they changed their mind and they did change their mind, that would have been a True Rejection. It’s a crux of what they believe, and if it really was different then they would think differently. Often however, we find people (even ourselves!) give reasons for rejecting something that aren’t our true rejections. Perhaps these reasons are easier to articulate (even if it’s not the core objection!) or less contentious and rude (even if it’s not the actual disagreement!)”

2, Describe how the challenge works.

“The Challenge we’ll be undertaking today is to come up with our true rejections. Pick something you don’t do, but wish you did or agree is good to do. Examples might include working out more, studying a particular topic or in a particular way, working more or less hours at your job, or hosting rationality meetups. Write that at the top of your page, along with your name.

Now, write your list of reasons for avoiding this. If you think your list isn’t exhaustive- that is, if you feel there are other reasons for not doing it but you can’t call them to mind or find the right words to express them- mention that at the bottom. Ideally you will be able to write down all your reasons, but it’s better to know that you haven’t than to incorrectly think that you have. We’re going to take five minutes by the clock, and if anyone feels they want more time we can take more time.

Here’s the hard part. Once we have those lists, we’re going to put those lists where we all can see them and go around looking at each other’s lists. If you’re up for it, which you don’t have to be, precommit that if anyone describes a method to do the thing which avoids any of your listed reasons not to do it, you will try their suggestion at least once.

The way to win the True Rejection Challenge is to find a way to do something you wanted to do without the problems keeping you from doing it. It counts as half of a win if you try the suggestion once and realize afterwards that you have other reasons not to which you didn’t think of when writing the first list. If nobody can find a way to do the thing which avoids your rejections, then you don’t win but don’t lose either. If someone comes up with a suggestion which avoids the written reasons but you still don’t try it, you lose the True Rejection Challenge this round.

Losing generally costs you nothing other than maybe a bit of pride.“

3, Wait for people to fill things out. If using paper versions, encourage people to post them up or collect the papers and post them yourself. I think it will help if you go first, both to give people social permission and so they know what should be done with the papers.

4, Moderate. If everything goes smoothly, people will peruse the other challenges and write ideas down under them and it will be productive and collaborative. If someone gets pushy about an idea, remind them of the dangers of other optimization.

5, Wrap up and clean up at the end of the meetup. Make an effort to get each paper back to the original writer.

Variations: You can of course try finding True Rejections for other kinds of things. “I don’t believe cryonics will work, here are my rejections.” “I won’t vote for this candidate in the next election, here are my rejections.” I think the more straightforward version (where you’re talking about, say, not going jogging or not eating broccoli) is easier to practice on both because the feedback loop is faster and because it’s less likely to become combative; I might care strongly about how you vote, but I probably don’t care strongly about whether you eat your vegetables, so this is less likely to become an argument.

I suspect you will get better results the better your attendees know each other and the more comfortable they are with each other. Someone may be more comfortable asking about something they struggle with or that’s more private if they’re among friends, and those providing answers may have more context to work with. This suggests useful variations based on who you invite.

You can also narrow the range of topics for this. I wouldn’t do this for most meetups, but if for some reason you know your group cares a lot about workout routines or study methods, you could say that the challenges need to be related to that topic.

Lastly the wins and half a wins and losses phrasing doesn’t hook up to any kind of actual point system. Dropping it from the description is fine (as is making basically any other kind of change to this- take it and modify it however you like!) but you could also go the other way and record points, making a kind of True Rejection leaderboard. I don’t actually recommend this variation as I think it encourages a Goodhart’s Law kind of issue, but you could try it.

Notes: This pairs well with As Many Ideas. (As yet unpublished. Expect that to become a link at some point.) True Rejection challenges for more contentious topics may blur into Double Crux practice.

Credits: This is a straightforward adaptation of Eliezer’s Is That Your True Rejection and Alicorn’s True Rejection Challenge. Beware Of Other Optimizing is strongly recommended as required reading.