Yeah, this makes a lot of sense. I think mostly the challenges that are good are ones that help create a sense of meaning/broader life satisfaction even if they don’t necessarily increase moment-to-moment happiness. Challenges that don’t feel meaningful are just pointless pain.
Thanks for writing Hammertime and, among other things, providing me with an impetus to actually make a post! (I don’t expect I would have done so otherwise, in part because making a post is sort of an implicit claim that it might be interesting, but the pretext of the final exam provided a nice excuse that let me avoid making that implicit claim...)
I agree that life contains more than enough difficulties for us all. I’m honestly somewhat puzzled as to how Kierkegaard could think it didn’t—hell, things like refrigerators for home use didn’t exist them! Though perhaps he had servants and/or women to perform life-sustaining labor for him.
I think one thing that had prevented me from adopting the “accommodate yourself” mindset very much was a sense that I should be able to just do things, and that certain kinds of needs or limitations were not things it was valid to plan around because it is not acceptable to have them in the first place. (Though of course, those limitations become much more of a problem if you don’t plan around them!) It is in large part the neurodiversity/disability rights rationalist Tumblr cluster that helped me get past a lot of this.
Re: pendulums, when I had first read that in Duncan’s essay I was not convinced that that’s actually how societies work. But now that you mention it, on an individual level I think this model does make a fair amount of sense. I still think it is not quite accurate on the scale of entire societies, though I do think that there tend to be parts of societies that push “too far” on any given change.
I’m not sure I agree that only a smaller number of people need the reminder that the present exists (and matters as much as any future moment)! Maybe I’m typical-minding here or generalizing from a small and unrepresentative sample, but in my experience it seems like most people contain both type of error at once—e.g. in my case, the guilt about staying up late when it was actually a good idea to do so coexisted with a frequent failure to go to bed when staying up was a really bad idea. This is in some sense a system where the two biases keep each other somewhat in check—if you don’t have any other tools for reining in your present-focused bias, a pro-future bias might be better than nothing—but it’s in some ways not a great system as it not only can lead you to make suboptimal decisions sometimes (or push other people into suboptimal future-focused decisions—I think parents often do this) but also often comes with a guilt-driven motivation system which causes all sorts of problems in the long run.
I do agree that the native pro-present bias is generally stronger and usually more dominant in humans’ actual decisionmaking. Just, everyone knows about that already so it didn’t make sense to write about it :)
Done! Here: Accommodate Yourself; Kindness Is An Epistemic Virtue; Privileging the Future
(I spent much more than 5 minutes on each essay, oops.)
As a bonus, I’ve now gotten past the trivial inconvenience and mild social fear of posting things on LW, so thanks :)
likewise it can be obvious from looking that one’s particular school experience was net positive or net negative, but generalizing from one example is a bad idea
(in my case it’s not clear whether my school experience was net positive or net negative, so nothing is obvious at all, honestly)
I’m not entirely convinced that distinction exists. I would say that in general if certain information (whether object-level information or background knowledge) is not readily available to most people, then insights requiring that information are not obvious from looking.
That said, I can imagine the distinction existing, and yet even if it does I don’t think “education in the US is Just Bad” is in the category “obvious from looking but most people just haven’t noticed”. “the value of higher education in the US has a large signaling component” is fairly obvious from looking (to people who have interacted with relevant parts of the education system and/or labor market), but “ALL or nearly all of the value of ALL or nearly all mainstream education in the US is from signaling”/“the public school system’s existence is net negative” is not obvious at all; if true (which I’m not really convinced of) it requires evidence to prove.
It’s not obvious just from looking and I’ve had to have long arguments with people to be convinced that there exists a large-scale problem in U.S. education. (I was very lucky, of course, though in retrospect I see how I too was significantly harmed in some ways, though I still maintain that I also got a hell of a lot of value out of school.)
I was going to respond with basically this as well. I too don’t intuitively experience myself as multiple agents; instead, I feel like a single agent beset by a whole bunch of internal conflicts that don’t resolve (at some point I found myself describing myself as “made of internal conflict”); and I’ve so far in my limited experience found IDC quite helpful at parsing out the internal conflict. I don’t experience IDC as uncovering separate agents that were there all along, but the personification is actually a pretty useful tool just because (a) it forces me to give sufficient airtime to each side (b) debate (when civil and thoughtful) is actually just a good format for clarifying any kind of disagreements.
This resonated strongly with me; I read this just after finishing a commute during which I was listening to an audiobook that I had hurriedly downloaded for the explicit reason that my brain was currently an unbearable place to be and I needed to occupy it with something else.
Which brings up the important point that this can actually be a really helpful and important strategy, sometimes. If my thoughts are stuck in a rumination loop that’s not going to lead anywhere useful (and will, if left unchecked, keep ratcheting up my anxiety); if things feel intensely, painfully pointless; if a task I need to do feels impossibly boring and I absolutely cannot summon the motivation for it—then shutting off that misery for a time with music or a podcast or a book can be the best choice.
(I read HPMOR (and did next to nothing else) during a week when I was intensely depressed and my train of thought, if left uninterrupted, was full of self-hate and despair and hopelessness. I was really grateful that the writing was engaging and addictive enough to draw me in enough to distract me from my thoughts, and that the book was long enough to last me all week.)
I agree with you, though, that not being able to tolerate one’s thoughts is pretty bad even if you manage to shut your thoughts up most of the time, first because it limits your ability to do things that don’t shut up your thoughts (which can cause e.g. akrasia and procrastination spirals), and also because it limits your ability to pay attention to your preferences (other than “shut up my thoughts”) and change your life to better fulfill them.
It seems like you were able to jump headfirst into your thoughts once you noticed you were shutting them up. I think this strategy might not be available to everyone and may not always be wise, if the thoughts are just Too Much. I’m currently taking a gentler, two-pronged approach:
(1) practice tolerating your thoughts in controlled, constructive ways. For example: meditate; designate certain blocks of time to be in “being mode” (a mindfulness concept, in opposition to “doing mode”) - that is, not expecting anything of yourself and not trying to direct your thoughts and attention in any particular direction; sometimes practice radical acceptance and opposite action (DBT concepts I’ve found very useful); make a commitment to go to therapy and actually talk about your feelings; regularly engage with your bothersome thoughts/feelings in a constructive way (for me this can be writing, thinking aloud, or playing piano; thinking quietly usually leads to unconstructive rumination and makes things worse); sometimes give yourself days when you can do whatever you want, but pay close attention to what it is that you want.
(2) try making your cognitive/emotional environment more hospitable with physiological interventions like sleeping enough, improving sleep quality, exercising, eating nutritious food, taking meds. (this is sort of a “pushing sideways” solution—if you’re avoiding your thoughts because they’re painful, making them less painful is likely to make it easier to engage with them.)
I guess I can’t yet claim that this definitely works well, since I clearly still often need to distract myself from my thoughts. However, I definitely have been discovering feelings and preferences I didn’t know I had, as well as developing the ability to acknowledge some unpleasant feelings and go on with my plans (instead of feeling like I have to immediately escape into a distraction). I’m hopeful that I’m gonna keep getting mileage out of this :)
How, though, do you actually test whether someone will evaluate you poorly? I guess sometimes it’s possible to get that info but a lot of the time (I’d say most of the time) it’s deliberately obfuscated.
Praise: this “daily activity” structure is really useful and easy to follow! also you give good examples and ask good questions that elicit useful thoughts.
Criticism: the daily activities are of very different lengths, which makes it hard to calibrate how long I’ll need on any given day.
I don’t really agree about the Zeno thing. Yes, most projects fail near the beginning, but I think that’s because projects that fail near the beginning don’t also get a chance to fail later! Most projects contain plenty of potential failure points.
This is probably less true of projects where there’s a bunch of basically similar work that needs to happen—once you start your work and get the hang of it and get used to the idea that you’re doing this work, it gets easier. But many projects have variety all the way through—you need to email different people at different points with different questions, you have different stages at which you do different types of work, etc. Sending an email is a different kind of scary from writing a draft is a different kind of scary from editing the draft is a different kind of scary from showing the draft to someone for feedback is a different kind of scary from deciding you’re done and submitting the draft.
I guess there is a sunk costs effect where you’re more likely to try and force yourself to put up with the later difficulties just because of how much time you’ve already put in. But it’s still very possible to continue intending to do that and then keep gradually putting it off until it becomes a lot less salient to you and/or it’s not relevant or useful anymore.
Here’s how I did the exercise:
1. Naïvely write down the major steps in completing the project.
2. Rate each step by difficulty, 1-10. (this idea is from the bug hunt, thank you)
3. Find the most difficult step and break it down into easier sub-steps, then rate each sub-step by difficulty and cross out the parent step.
4. Repeat step 3 until all your steps are of a very manageable difficulty and/or you can’t think of ways to subdivide them any further.
Within subtasks, I think difficulty does sorta increase as I go down the list, but that’s mostly because any step of any difficulty begins with easy steps like “take a deep breath”, “create and title a Google doc”, “start an empty bullet-point list”, “set a 5-minute timer”. For me the timer is more helpful in getting me working than just writing a first letter or word—I will often write a word and then delete it out of uncertainty. And as I go down the entire list of tasks, there are easy things interpersed with hard things, just because there’s a lot of hard tasks involved that I need to prepare myself for before starting them for real.
Anyway, this is a useful technique and I think it will help me with this project :)
I’ve also had this problem. I think the following things help:
1) making the specified time 10 minutes rather than 5 − 5 never feels like a real break to me
2) doing social pomodoros with other people, so the return time is coordinated with others (this is by far the most effective intervention)
3) doing a breaktime activity that doesn’t immediately suck me in (e.g. stretching and listening to a song, or talking to people, rather than social media)
4) if I encounter something during the break that feels important or urgent, write it down so I know I won’t forget it and can come back to it later
5) …not being terrified of the task in question. I haven’t yet quite gotten the hang of this, for a lot of things. For tasks that are not very scary to me, returning to work is much easier.
6) having enough other time in the day to do things just for fun so I feel less like I have to steal productive time in order to have any fun at all (this is kinda hard to arrange though, sometimes)
I guess I have acquired a mantra!
My only goal is just to be. -Mimi from Rent
the idea of which is to put myself in a “mindfulness” kind of frame of mind and to remind myself that I don’t have to try and regulate what I’m thinking and feeling all the time, that I don’t necessarily have to do anything super important with my brain right now as I walk down the sidewalk, that I am allowed to relax even if there are things I could be worrying about and even if I’m having some feelings I don’t like. (by default I have a mental habit of constantly trying to force my thoughts and attention and feelings in particular directions and fighting myself a lot, which contributes to anxiety and makes it hard to enjoy things.)
(side note: my high school English teacher also used Mimi’s part in this song to teach us about how existentialism doesn’t have to be depressing all the time :) )
bug report: hovering over a comment’s score displays “voteCount Vote”
My scores on the challenges here:
Typeracer: 113, 108, 111, 101
(I’d done this before—not for training, just for fun. I expect my speed is pretty good largely because of piano. I do wonder how fast it might get if I trained for speed on purpose—though I am not sure it would actually matter very much to my life?)
Arithmetic game: 12, 7, 16, 5
(this depends primarily on how many division problems there are especially how many times I need to divide by 7. I realized I don’t actually remember any actual methods for division, so all I can do is decompose the dividend into more easily divisible numbers somehow. I guess it would plausibly be useful for me to relearn how to actually do division, though it doesn’t actually come up often.)
I don’t think there are any things that I’m very fast at, so nothing to share for the daily challenge.
I’m pretty bad at doing things quickly, but I think my roadblocks are less mechanical skill and more anxiety, executive function, and most of all perfectionism. I know you mention perfectionism as useful for increasing speed, and I think for mechanical skills that’s true, but in a lot of tasks I am hugely slowed down at decision points (which are many) by a felt need to make the best possible decision every time, even when the decisions are fairly trivial and/or multiple paths forward are valid and/or perfection is not actually helpful. In this sense I most need to cut down on perfectionism for increasing speed.
Timers are indeed a useful tool for this, though. If I decide beforehand that it’s more important to do the task quickly than to do it perfectly, having a timer helps me satisfice more readily (usually a good thing for me, given my baseline) because I’m more aware of how much time I’m spending.
Then, of course, I just need to decide wisely when speed is more important than making good decisions and when it isn’t...
No dramatic improvement from Hammertime for me, but I do think it’s been helpful for increasing my sense of agency—that I can solve problems (and it’s often much easier than expected), that I can make and keep commitments (at least sometimes), that I have tools for working on issues in my life. (But also Hammertime isn’t the only thing I’m doing right now with somewhat similar goals, so tracking causality is maybe especially hard.)
There are apps like Toggl that can be used for basically this with much greater automation/less manual labor.