Four easy ways to create value for your friends

People in entrepreneurship circles talk a lot about creating (and capturing) value. It’s a pretty decent model for business: make something valuable, or perform a valuable service, and then “capture” enough of that value to be profitable. Value is created, on net, when the outputs of a system or process are more valuable than the inputs. Magic! Extropy! But this is a real thing, and it applies much more broadly than business.

So this post is basically a list of easy ways (aka ‘low-hanging fruit’) to create value in the lives of people around you. I’ve also considered reasons why people don’t do this more, and offered suggestions as to why those reasons don’t matter, and ways around them.

Massage

Me massaging a friend of mine.

Let’s bring grooming back.

I have an affordance for massaging shoulders. It’s also something I enjoy doing, at least for a few minutes. Also, most people I’ve met really like having their shoulders massaged. So I’ve started just casually massaging my friends’ shoulders (making sure they’re into it first of course) and I was struck by just how much value gets created in a few seconds of massage. The cost of me giving a massage is very low, and the benefit is massive.

So why doesn’t it happen more?

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Announcing the Effectivity Habits Project

In 2014, instead of trying to change 50 things at once for New Years’, I decided to try a serial approach, changing one thing each week. I made 47 such attempts (took most of August off) and had 13 wins and a bunch of other good stuff come out of the not-wins.

This inspired my friend and collaborator Brienne Yudkowsky to do her own version of this for 2015. She came up with a number of changes that I really like, and so I’m going to merge most of her fork back into my branch. But with one key change: a focus on effectivity.

I’m deliberately calling this project “effectivity habits” rather than “productivity habits” because I want to imply a focus on achieving important results, not just on producing a lot of stuff. Productivity is a really key component of effectivity, but loses sight of the end result in its heads-down focus on the process of d. Which is fine! Process is important. But I also want to deliberately install some habits that will make me pay more attention to whether or not what I’m doing is truly moving towards the goal. Nate Soares, in the linked article, writes:

My advice, if you want to be effective, is always be solving the problem.

Note that he says “effective,” not “productive”.

My original Habit-a-week project was totally random. That was fun! Each week, I chose a new habit to install based on whatever felt most juicy. » read the rest of this entry »

Cycles of Breath and Feedback

Context: this was a very stream-of-consciousness post, tapping into something I had just learned when I wrote it, yesterday. I don’t necessarily think that what I suggest here makes sense for everyone. But it spoke something really valuable to me, and I suspect there will be others who deeply appreciate it as well.

Today, my friend Matt and I found ourselves in a particular head-space as well as an intense and exciting conversation where we were speeding up, and were continually needing to remind ourselves to take a breath. I found each breath so powerfully pleasant that it made for a really interesting feedback loop. Note that all uses of “breath(e)” here refer to the act of consciously, mindfully, taking a breath.

I’m going to invite you to do that now, as you read this.

Inhale.

Exhale.

The “take a breath” piece of feedback is part of a much larger energy-awareness thing I’ve been working with for a long time—it’s connected with againstness and so on as well. Essentially, I’ve been working to overcome an experience I’ve sometimes had of myself where I’ve gotten slightly caught up in my own thoughts and slightly worked up, while interacting with people, in ways that have felt disconnecting and unpleasant for them. And in general, when people have given me feedback about this, I’ve had largely positive reactions in response.

What I realized today though, was that it could be even more positive. Or perhaps we might say positive “sooner”.

This is a topic for another post, but I want to briefly present a model I’ve been using for awhile to capture the process of human interaction with the world.

  • sensation: the raw sensory signals that we receive, after just the bare minimum of processing from the visual cortex or whatever. We can access this, but most of us usually don’t, instead being much more aware of our…
  • perception: the basic categories we draw experiences into. What we notice. What we don’t. What relations or causal connections we understand into things at a low level. These form the basis for our…
  • interpretation: the more conscious act of making meaning from what we’re experiencing, and understanding it. Modelling it. This interpretation will generate some…
  • » read the rest of this entry »

Eating Frogs or Playing Vicious Rock-Paper-Scissors

My blog post titles have been getting weirder and weirder. This one’ll make sense by the end, I swear.

At recommendation by Kenzi at the Center for Applied Rationality, I’ve been reading the book Eat That Frog by Brian Tracy right now, which is based around the following premises:

“You will never be caught up.”
“There is never enough time to do everything, but there is always enough time to do the most important thing.”

However, this only works if you actually have the focusing ability to turn [intending to do the most important thing] into not just doing it but finishing it. And you need to be able to trust yourself to do that. This post explores a particular kind of failure mode that occurs if you don’t have that kind of trust.

The titular frogs refer to » read the rest of this entry »

Two Ways to Make Your Language More Conducive to Growth Mindset

Growth mindset is a thing. You can read lots more about it elsewhere, including Mindset by Carol Dweck, which has a 4.5 star rating with >500 reviews. I’m not here to explain in-depth what it is or why it matters. Enough people have done that. I’m here to show you how to do it—applied growth mindset. Importantly, this will include examples of fixed mindset that you can practice reframing to be more growthy.

But in case you’re unfamiliar, let’s start with one-sentence definitions, adapted from Dweck:

In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities are simply fixed traits, and use their performance to document those traits.
In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed, and improved upon, which creates a love of learning and a resilience.

But it’s one thing to know how to answer all of Test Your Mindset questions so that you get “Growth” as a result. It’s another to actually operate out of growth mindset consistently.

Spirally, self-reinforcing mindsets

First I want to note that both growth mindset and fixed mindset have the delightful property of being self-reinforcing. People who have growth mindset will tend to improve, which will reinforce the idea that ability is learnable. People who have fixed mindset will tend to stagnate, which will reinforce the idea that they’re stuck with whatever ability level they currently have.

This is exciting, because it means that to some extent, you can get out of this just by deciding to have the other mindset, in part by recognizing that all of the evidence you currently have is determined by the mindset you have and is thus untrustworthy as evidence of “how things actually, fundamentally work”. That there’s an explanation for the-experiences-that-come-with-fixed-mindset that makes sense in growth mindset too. So you can reinterpret everything and switch mindsets.

And, it takes practice to actually operate from a growth mindset, rather than just conceptually understanding that it’s a good idea to do so. In my experience, a lot of this practice can happen on the level of reframing verbal expression, where you can shift your language from fixed to growth mindset. This in turn will shift your thoughts. That’s what this post is about. The practice of thinking growthily. » read the rest of this entry »

How I’m reading 2× as much as last year with a smaller goal

In 2013, inspired in part by this post by Julien Smith, I decided to try reading 52 books over the course of the year. I was doing really well for a number of weeks, but then I fell behind, and ended the year with only 21. For 2014, I tried something totally different, and it has worked amazingly well: we’re now halfway through 2014 and I can count 15 books that I’ve finished. More importantly, I can count 61 that I haven’t.

What gets measured, gets done

Or, whatever you measure, you will optimize for.

The problem, in 2013, was that I only got points when I finished a book. I had started keeping track of all of the books I finished in a spreadsheet. I wish I’d done this sooner. If you haven’t done this but you wish you had—do it. The feeling won’t go away, and you’ll just feel sillier when you finally do start. If you have kids, start one for them. My old system looked like this:

  1. Objective: read 52 books in 2013 (a book a week, don’t get behind)
  2. Tracking: record finished books in a spreadsheet with a rating and remarks

I remember distinctly one book I picked up in 2013 that was not for me. It was called “Slack”, and I was excited at the possibility that it might help me with introducing more slack into my life, but it was extremely focused on management and it was clear that I wouldn’t be able to get much out of the book. I made a new tab in my spreadsheet called “Dismissed”. Slack is the only book in there, but it was a start.

The problem was twofold:

  1. I would avoid starting books because they didn’t look like they’d be worth reading in their entirety, and I didn’t want to waste reading time on books I couldn’t count.
  2. If I found a book wasn’t interesting me, I would typically try to finish it anyway so I could count it.

Laid out explicitly like this, my old tracking schema was quite obviously problematic. » read the rest of this entry »

Habit Models: Routines vs Reflexes

I feel like it’s valuable to distinguish between two types of behavior change: routines & reflexes. Both of these are based on creating a new pattern of action given a certain trigger. The distinction I’m making is that routines occur with a very predictable frequency (usually daily, also weekly/monthly) and so they have a kind of cyclic nature. Reflexes, by contrast, are conditioned responses to triggers that might show up dozens or hundreds of times in a given day, or sometimes not even once.

The reason I think it’s valuable to disambiguate between them is that I find that they are nearly polar opposites in terms of what approaches are effective for intentionally changing them. I’ll explain those approaches in the second part of the post.

Lexical/semantic note: I had been using “habit” to refer to reflexes, but it turns out that many people also use “habit” to refer to daily routines, so that would be immensely confusing. I think there can be value in redefining words, but in this case I’ve opted to concede “habit” as a more general term for behavior change, which includes both sporadic, frequent habits (reflexes) and cyclical habits (ie. routines). Edit: I originally published this as “Routines vs Defaults” instead of “reflexes”, but Brienne proprosed “reflexes” and I like that word better.

Examples

The follow examples are designed to help you map out the clusters of concepts, if you don’t already have an intuitive sense of the distinction I’m talking about. While not exhaustive, they might also be helpful starting points for brainstorming some habit changes you’d like to make.

Kinds of routines

  • morning routine: probably starts with waking up; from there, varies widely
  • breakfast routine: for some people, this is tightly coupled with their morning routine… for others,
  • commute routine: the route / mode of transportation, as well as what you typically do during it (read, listen to audiobooks, etc)
  • when-I-get-to-work routine: what you do when you arrive at the place you work/study… not everyone will have one of these
  • lunch routine: where and when you eat lunch, how you acquire it
  • supper routine: etc
  • » read the rest of this entry »

What I Learned From 20 Weeks of Habit Hacking

Finding myself one-third of the way through my 2014 Habit-a-week challenge, I decided to look back and critically assess the success of my various habits. You might want to keep that link open in a new tab so that you can refer to the descriptions of each of them. This post mostly isn’t about the content of the habits, but it’ll probably be hard to read if you don’t know what I’m talking about.

  1. Lowering the Lid
  2. Straight Gait
  3. Intentional Tabbing
  4. Perspective-taking
  5. Filler Killer
  6. Befriending my Judger
  7. Pausing before responding
  8. Yes, and…
  9. Eye contact
  10. Transparency & Trust
  11. Hands Off Face
  12. Cutting Corners
  13. Pausing Distractions
  14. Pomoeditation
  15. About You
  16. Revealing Patterns
  17. TagTime
  18. Expressing Appreciation
  19. Learning & Using Names
  20. Curiosity & Model Exploration

Of the 19 habits I’ve tried so far, 7 were successes, 4 were partial successes, and 8 failed. My theory of why this happened is that the first few went well because of phenomena such as the Hawthorne Effect. Essentially, the new-ness of my challenge itself made it exciting. Also, these were habits that I’d been meaning to install for a long time, and which I was 100% on-board with thinking they made sense as default behaviours.

Then… Intentional Tabbing happened. » read the rest of this entry »

How to eliminate words from your idiolect

Motivation

Why I’m writing this

I’m writing this a post because a friend and I were talking about how I’ve removed several words from my idiolect (the particular set of words used by an individual—kind of like your personal dialect). I mentioned that there are a number of factors that affect how hard it is to do this, and he was really curious to hear my advice on the subject.

Also, in attempting to do some research for this post, I googled how to eliminate a word from your vocabulary, and… nobody was really answering that question—nearly all of the posts were instead just lists of words to eliminate, with various justifications. So I thought I would step up!

Why might you want to?

There are tons of potential reasons to ditch words from your vocab. Off the top of my head:

  • because they offend people (or trigger them)
  • because they make you sound less confident (such as filler words)
  • because they’re considered jargony or buzzwordy
  • because you find they mask ambiguities (written about as Taboo your Words on LessWrong)
  • because you don’t like certain thought patterns that use those words

Thought patterns, are, I think, the most exciting one. » read the rest of this entry »

Mindfulness Field Training 2: Motivation

This post is a followup to my previous one on mindfulness field training, which talked mostly about againstness and filler words. This post is also about how to intentionally shape the direction your thoughts go, but it’s more focused on the act of motivating oneself: grit, persistence, zeal, perseverance, roundtoitiveness and so on.

In mindfulness meditation, typically one does not expect to sit down for a 10 minute mindfulness practice and actually be mindful the whole time. The work is actually in (A) noticing you’re not mindful and then (B) bringing your attention back to your breath or heartbeat. Similarly, if we’re going to apply a generalized mindfulness skill to grit and perseverance, my thought is that it makes sense to model the relevant skill as (A) being able to notice when you’ve pushed away from your work and (B) being able to motivate yourself to return to it.

The fork in the motivation road

Last night I was studying and at one point I just sort of turned away from my standing desk and flopped onto my stomach on my exercise ball. I found myself thinking, “Okay, this is interesting… I definitely didn’t make a conscious decision to do this… I just found myself here.” Why, I wondered, had I spontaneously pushed away from my work? Was it unpleasant? Or just, being work, was it more challenging than felt comfortable at that moment?

At that point I had a few options of what I could do, and I thought back to an experience I had on Monday, when I was bringing back about twice as many groceries as the 15lbs I usually carry back from the grocery store. (The main reason being that I’d just learned of an interesting DIY meal-replacement shake that required me buying a ton of broccoli, frozen blueberries, and protein powder.) The grocery bags were really heavy. In the past, I had sometimes paused to rest once or twice on the way home, but this week I was pausing every hundred meters.

There was a pervading sense of “I can’t do this,” I noticed. » read the rest of this entry »

A portrait of Malcolm Ocean

I'm Malcolm Ocean.

I'm trying to figure out how humans work so I can help make humanity work. More about me.

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