Hammertime Day 7: Aversion Factoring

Link post

This is part 7 of 30 in the Ham­mer­time Se­quence. Click here for the in­tro.

As we move into the in­tro­spec­tive seg­ment of Ham­mer­time, I want to frame our ap­proach around the set of (un­o­rigi­nal) ideas I laid out in The Soli­taire Prin­ci­ple. The main idea was that a hu­man be­ing is best thought of as a medley of loosely-re­lated, semi-in­de­pen­dent agents across time, and also as gov­erned by a panel of rel­a­tively an­tag­o­nis­tic sub-per­son­al­ities à la In­side Out.

An enor­mous amount of progress can there­fore be made sim­ply by ar­tic­u­lat­ing the view­points of one’s sub-per­son­al­ities so as to build em­pa­thy and trust be­tween them. This is the aim of the re­main­der of the first cy­cle.

Day 7: Aver­sion Factoring

Goal fac­tor­ing is a CFAR tech­nique with a lot of parts. The most res­o­nant sub-skill for me was Aver­sion Fac­tor­ing, so we’ll start there. I highly recom­mend Critch’s TedX talk on the sub­ject, where I first learned this way of think­ing.


Pick from your Bug List a habit you want to start but haven’t, or that you’ve been forc­ing your­self to do but re­mains a drag. What’s hap­pen­ing?

For con­crete­ness, let’s say the habit is “blog ev­ery day.”

At some level, you want to blog. You have good ideas. Writ­ing helps you think clearly. You’d reap the benefits of be­ing pub­li­cly wrong. If you blogged, other hu­man be­ings might benefit. But if you re­ally wanted to blog then why does it cost so much willpower ev­ery time? Why aren’t you leap­ing into it ev­ery day the way you leap into deep fried ice cream?

Aver­sion fac­tor­ing is about notic­ing and re­mov­ing the sub­con­scious road­blocks keep­ing Sys­tem 1 from want­ing the same things Sys­tem 2 wants.

1. Ar­tic­u­late Aversions

The first step to Aver­sion Fac­tor­ing is to ar­tic­u­late the aver­sions that are hold­ing you back. Be­gin by list­ing all the rea­sons you don’t like about do­ing the thing. Two things to keep in mind:

Be hon­est.

“I’m afraid my ideas aren’t origi­nal, my writ­ing hasn’t im­proved since fifth grade, and I’m ter­rified of peo­ple on the in­ter­net.”

Be­ing hon­est is difficult. How­ever, there’s a sec­ond cat­e­gory of in­sidious aver­sions: triv­ial, repet­i­tive an­noy­ances that leave a bad taste sur­round­ing the whole ex­pe­rience. See Be­ware Triv­ial In­con­ve­niences. Find­ing such aver­sions re­quires at­ten­tion to de­tail:

“I hate blog­ging be­cause of the awful LaTeX sup­port, be­cause ev­ery time I want to in­clude a pic­ture I get anx­ious about copy­right is­sues, and be­cause I re­cently dis­cov­ered a pop­u­lar blog­ger friend has the ex­act same WordPress tem­plate so if I change mine I lose and if I keep it the same I feel like a copy­cat so I’d rather just block the thoughts out agggh­hhh.”

The pri­mary fo­cus of to­day’s ex­er­cise is to find and de­bug the triv­ial in­con­ve­niences in our lives.

2. De­cide Whether to En­dorse the Aversion

For any given aver­sion, there are two ways to pro­ceed. En­dorse an aver­sion if it points to a real un­der­ly­ing prob­lem that needs to be solved. In my blog­ging ex­am­ple, I might de­cide that I care about writ­ing qual­ity and tar­geted writ­ing prac­tice is long over­due.

If you don’t en­dorse the aver­sion, then it’s un­nec­es­sary and should be re­moved. A com­mon class of such “bad” aver­sions is bucket er­rors about iden­tity. When de­cid­ing to re­move aver­sions, re­mem­ber Ch­ester­ton’s Fence! Figure out why you have the aver­sion be­fore you try to re­move it. Al­most any aver­sion can be re­moved by grad­ual ex­po­sure, so be care­ful (see Boiling the Crab).

3. Solve or Re­duce Aversions

Once you’ve figured out what the aver­sions are, it’s time to solve them as much as pos­si­ble, one by one. For en­dorsed aver­sions, the course of ac­tion is to mod­ify or up­grade the habit it­self to solve or sidestep the un­der­ly­ing prob­lem. To solve my writ­ing prob­lem, I might de­cide to reread and act on Strunk and White or Non­fic­tion Writ­ing Ad­vice. (Huh. That’s a good idea.)

Mean­while, un-en­dorsed aver­sions should be tar­geted with ex­po­sure ther­apy or CoZE. To ap­ply ex­po­sure ther­apy, build a path of in­cre­men­tal steps to­wards the aver­sion, each of which feels in­di­vi­d­u­ally safe. Take steps one at a time as gen­tly as nec­es­sary. I gen­tly amped up my blog­ging fre­quency over about a year to an au­di­ence of zero, then one, be­fore I got over my fear of y’all in­ter­net peo­ple.

CoZE is the up­grade to ex­po­sure ther­apy in which you build in ejec­tor seats: pre-com­mit to mul­ti­ple points along the route where you can re­flect on whether or not you en­dorse the aver­sion.

Aver­sion Fac­tor Three Bugs

For to­day’s ex­er­cise, please pick THREE bugs from your Bug List re­lated to habit-build­ing. Th­ese can be habits you want to pick up, or habits you already have but want to up­grade.

For each bug, set a Yoda Timer for five min­utes and Aver­sion Fac­tor it:

  1. Walk through the habit and list out as many aver­sions as you can, pay­ing par­tic­u­lar at­ten­tion to triv­ial in­con­ve­niences.

  2. De­cide for each aver­sion whether or not to en­dorse it.

  3. Solve as many as you can in the re­main­ing time.

Daily Challenge

I have a friend who stays in bed for hours in the morn­ing be­cause it’s too cold to make the voy­age across his bed­room for clothes. Share a triv­ial in­con­ve­nience in your life that might have (or has had) dra­matic con­se­quences.

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