Using tracking to develop daily habits


For quite a long time I’ve been trying to develop good daily habits, and tracking my progress. I’ve been tweaking and improving my system a lot, and at this point it has pretty much stabilized, so I think it’s time to share what I’ve learned.

For tracking I’m using a great app TracknShare, although a simple text file worked well for me too. For tracking with text I’ve used an Emacs org-mode and it looked like this:

I’ve been thinking a lot about the most important habits I want to develop, and ended up with this list:

  • Eating healthy. Not a specific diet, just no unhealthy junk food.

  • Exercise. Jogging every morning.

  • Creativity. Writing fiction, nonfiction, or jokes every day.

  • Programming. Writing some code, or learning some CS every day.

and later I decided to add:

  • Information diet. Minimizing inane rechecking of social media, internet browsing, TV. Reading books instead.

  • Meditation.

Diet and exercise are the most important habits for a healthy lifestyle, writing and programming are the most important skills I wanted to develop.

Here are some things I have realized that helped me a lot:

Keep it simple, develop one habit at a time

It’s best to develop your habits one at a time, starting with the most important one. I recommend to start with a list of 4 habits or less, otherwise it gets way too overwhelming and spreads your attention, slowing down the progress.

Arrange the habits in the order of priority, and start the day by accomplishing the first, most important one.

It’s good to dedicate a week or a month to one habit, then move on to the next one. Start with an exercise week, or a writing month.

Have 3 grades for each habit

Instead of simple yes or no checkboxes, TracknShare allows to select different “grades” for each habit. After some experimentation, I have found that having 3 grades works best for me:

When you are just getting started, it’s best to aim for the minimal, most basic version of the habit, just the action necessary to sustain it and keep thinking about it every day. This should be something you can’t fail at.

After a few days of successfully maintaining the bare minimum level, or when you are feeling inspired, you can strive to do more and accomplish the more challenging version of a habit.

For example for sport the minimal version would be “Do any sort of exercise of any kind”, and the excellent version would be “Go for a run in the park and run a certain distance”. For programming the minimal version is “Write a few lines of code of code of any kind, and commit them to github”, and excellent version is “Make progress with my AI projects”.

As you get better, the excellent versions of habit become normal, and you can set new challenges for yourself.

It’s okay to fail

Changing habits is hard, and you want it to be, because you want to set challenging and ambitious goals that make significant improvements in your life. If you succeed on the first try, you have probably set a goal that’s way too easy.

Sometimes you will fail, and it’s okay. I’ve been trying to develop my habits for years and I still often fail, nevertheless I see a massive improvement. Don’t beat yourself up, even if you have been failing for a long time — just keep tracking and strive to improve whenever you can. Sometimes it takes months to see the progress, sometimes you relapse into the old patterns, but as you look back you can clearly see a good trend, a solid improvement, and it’s extremely satisfying.

What matters is not never failing, but getting back on top of your habits quickly once you did.

If you keep failing — redefine the success. Start with a ridiculously simple, minimal version of your habit that you can’t fail to accomplish. Once you succeed with it for long enough — step up your challenge.

Your brain loves optimizing for achieving clearly established goals, every time you successfully accomplish your habit your brain receives some reinforcement, and you get better. Every time you fail it receives negative reinforcement, so this works in your favor either way.

Streaks

The longer you successfully maintain the habit, the longer your “streak” is, the more motivated you are to keep it going. So a nice visual representation is extremely helpful to keep up your motivation.

Habits vs Goals

Habits are like loops that you keep repeating every day, that’s their power, but it can also be a flaw. If you want to keep moving forward — you don’t want to keep doing the same thing over and over again.

Sometimes after successfully maintaining your habits for a few days you start feeling like you are stagnating, and you may lose your motivation.

That is why it’s important to set goals and new challenges, keep improving, and making sure that your habits don’t just maintain your existing skills, but keep moving you further towards your goals.

Some habits are okay to keep on a loop, for example I’m happy with the level of exercise I’m getting right now, and I don’t care to improve, as long as it keeps me healthy I just want to maintain it.

On the other hand to make progress in writing, just writing a certain number of words per day is not enough. You need to intelligently set challenges, try to craft longer, more interesting and elaborate stories, etc. You want to set goals and apply principles of deliberate practice, just repeating the same thing over and over again isn’t enough to make you better.

Rick and Morty writer’s room


I wanted to figure out how does the process of writing a Rick and Morty episode look like, and here’s the information I could assemble.

They have 3 boards in the writer’s room:

1. Brainstorming board

They start by brainstorming episode ideas and writing them down on the board.

These are general high concept story ideas that look like this:

2. Story Circle board

Then they work on a rough story outline. They use Dan Harmon’s story circle that represents the simplified version of Campbell’s Hero’s journey, and looks like this:

You can read more about it in the awesome series of articles about the story structure that he wrote, here you can read about the process of breaking a story in more details, and here Dan explains this process using a Community episode as an example.

Sometimes, there are several circles for different characters or storylines.

If you look closely, you can see that they also have a print out of Campbell’s monomyth on their board.

Here’s how the breakdown of the “Close Rick-Counters” episode look like:

Outline

Finally they create an outline of the episode, these are just 2 acts broken down into scenes for A and B stories.

Anchoring Bias


Let’s say I spin a wheel, with numbers ranging from 1 to 100. Then I ask you to guess a number of countries in Africa. Turns out, statistically, your answer will be much lower if the wheel has showed number 16 than if the wheel would have showed 87. Why would that happen? The number is clearly random and has nothing to do with the correct answer.

Turns out, even when presented with the clearly false information, your mind will use it as an “anchor” — a starting point you will use to make a guess. Then you then “slide” up or down from that anchor, until the result seems reasonable.

People rely too heavily on the piece of information that they have received first. They use it to form the initial guess, and then make incremental adjustments based on additional information, but that is usually not enough, and the initial random anchor keeps a lot of influence over future decisions.

Often that leads to mistakes, and people who know about it can use it to their advantage. For example when you’re buying a house, the salesman will first take you to the expensive house he does not expect you to buy, so that the next offer he shows you would seem mich more reasonable, even if it’s still overpriced.

To get rid of this bias, the first step is to be aware of it, try to observe your thinking, and notice when instead of coming up with an independent guess, you are making adjustment from some initial anchor. Then — think about the anchor in the opposite direction. If the initial number was too large you want to think about the one thats too small, and vice versa. That should help you to come up with a more accurate estimate.

How do you come up with startup ideas?


Here’s my reply to a person who asked this question:

  • Read PG’s essay on coming up with startup ideas (http://paulgraham.com/startupideas.html) and books on startups (Start Small Stay Small, Lean Startup, Rework, Zero to One, Abundance).

  • Read Edward DeBono’s “Serious Creativity” — the most brilliant book about generating ideas I’ve ever encountered. Not about startups or apps in particular, but very interesting.

  • There are startup ideas threads on HN: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=9836508 and https://www.reddit.com/r/SomebodyMakeThis/

  • If you’re good at android development — please, PLEASE build a good text editor. It is the most important app for me, the first thing I look for in any new device, and all android text editors suck SO MUCH. I would easily spend 10−30 if you would build something like Editorial, that would be convenient to use on android smartphone.

  • Think if there’s something in your life that’s missing, some tool that you would like to use, and build that.

  • If that fails — think about the perfect niche, about people you like and respect, who use technology and/or could benefit from it; understand them deeply, identify their goals, problems, challenges; and build something for them.

  • If that fails — look for a different not tech-related hobby. Like music or writing or woodworking or something like that. Whatever makes you the most curious. That will help you with burnout, and will give you a great niche to work in. Then identify the problems you’re facing, and solve them with technology.

  • If that fails — talk to other people and ask if there’s anything they might need, if there’s any problems they have, etc.

  • Also — check out new mobile OS’es, like Ubuntu Touch, Firefox OS, etc. These are new, emerging ecosystems, where there’s plenty of apps to build. You can simply look at the most successful iOS/Android apps, and copy them to these platforms.

For those who are trying to find their passion


“Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked.”

Many people are having difficulty with “finding their passion in life”, and I think that this is the result of the misconceptions they have about how this process works. In this article I want to share some ideas that helped me to understand what I want out of life.

You don’t find your passion, you create it

People often think that there’s a magic “right” job waiting for them, and that if they find it, they’ll immediately recognize that this is what they were meant to do. Their problem is that they’re trying to judge all things in the abstract before they do them. That’s a mistake. It’s hard to predict what you’ll eventually love before doing it.

Trying to “find” your passion implies that in life there exists some preexisting purpose, and all you need to do is discover it. That is not true.

Feeling of passion is not where you start looking for your path, many people who love what they do started doing it without passion, and you are not supposed to be feeling exceptionally passionate about any activity when you begin learning. You do not have to be born with talents or passions, you can develop them.

There’s no inborn connection between you and some activity. You weren’t “destined” to do anything, you can do whatever you want. You pick a direction in life, make choices, set goals, pursue them, and as you go further on your path, you develop your skills and passions along the way.

Don’t start with passion, start with values

If you don’t feel passionate about anything — you don’t need to look for an activity that makes you feel excited right now, instead — understand what you value in life, and pursue activities that allow you to maximize your values.

What impact do you want to make on the world? What kind of skills would you like to develop? What do you want to create? What do you want to be good at?

You don’t have to know the ultimate answer for your life to start acting, all you need is a direction

Right now you may not have the necessary experience and information to make the perfect choice and set the best long term goals, but it’s okay not to know your ultimate destination when you begin walking your path.

Don’t think about your goals as a lighthouse in the distance that you must travel towards, instead — think of them as a compass. Just pick the general direction you want to walk towards, and then correct the course as you go.

Make the best choice you can using the information that you have, and roll with it. Each step forward that you take enables you to see what’s in front of you more clearly, which enables you to make more accurate decisions. So make a decision now, you can always change your mind later.

Passion is a side effect of mastery

Don’t follow your passion, become very good at something instead, and passion will follow you.

Being excited about some activity is a side effect of being good at it. Adopt the Craftsman mindset — move your focus away from finding the right work and towards mastering your craft, and the passion will follow.

What one man can do another man can do. There’s no gene for being a great writer, doctor, artist, pilot, or whatever. If some activity works for someone else — then it can work for you too, you can develop your passion just like any other skill.

Passion is not some mystical power that only chosen ones possess, it’s just that passionate people are doing(maybe unconsciously) something right. If you haven’t “found your passion” yet it simply means that for now you haven’t found the right ingredients.

If somebody does something and really enjoys it — it means that you can replicate it and enjoy this thing as well. Try to understand what passionate people do right, and then consciously practice it.

You don’t have to feel passion 100% of the time.

Emotions are inconsistent and unreliable. When you don’t feel like doing your chosen work, instead of questioning whether or not you have “passion”, trust the decisions that you’ve made and keep working on your skill. If it is something you care about getting good at — just practice, and as you get better, you will feel passionate about it more often.

Align your current emotions with the goals that you’ve proactively set, not the other way around.

False Dichotomy


False Dichotomy means taking a complex issue, and boiling it down to 2 simple mutually exclusive choices, when in reality there’s more alternatives available. To make their side look more appealing, people present nuanced arguments as black and white, or take extremes and pretend like they are the only options.

This kind of thinking often leads to ignoring potential solutions, and prevents us from gaining an accurate understanding of the situation.

It also leads to polarization of opinions — people treat an argument as a battle against the opposite side, and as a result take more and more extreme positions. Sometimes people are afraid to offer measured opinions because their own side will call them a traitor.

For example a politician may demonize drugs and suggest longer sentences for drug addicts, because taking a more balanced view will make him look like he supports drugs.

Some other examples of this fallacy are:

  • Either you are with us or against us.

  • Either we improve this law or everyone will suffer.

  • Either you go to church or you are a bad person.

  • Either you are a republican or a democrat.

To overcome it, remember that in reality things are rarely one-sided. Most of the time complex issues have costs and benefits. Optimizing for values often requires trade offs. To get the most accurate picture, you want to see flaws and advantages of both positions.

Just because you support one side of the with one group of people, doesn’t mean you have to automatically agree with everything that side says and reject the opposite side.

Tips on achieving the flow


Tips on achieving the flow

Flow is an amazing state that you enter when you’re completely immersed into some activity. It is a state of high consciousness and full engagement. It is the reason people are doing complicated and creative things like art and science.

Flow is one of the best experiences in life. This is what makes you passionate about what you do, you get the core happiness in your life out of doing the thing you love. It gives you full immersion, extreme productivity, nonstop energy.

When you’re in the flow you’re completely focused, present, on top of your performance. You’re working at the edge of your abilities, all of your faculties are focused on one activity, your sense of time and of self dissolves, because your brain has no resources left to sustain it.

As a result you are extremely driven, and you get good at what you do fast just by naturally doing what you love.

So how do you achieve it? Here are the elements you need to make it work well:

Set clear and valuable goals

The first thing that you need is a simple, unambiguous goal that you value and know how to achieve, a challenge that you know how to solve.

If what you want to do is a big and complicated task — break it down into multiple smaller ones, then breakdown the first of them into several parts again, and do that until you have an easy first step that takes 20 minutes or less to accomplish. By the way this goal setting, breaking down, and planning often IS the first easy step to focus on.

Also notice that the goal should be at the right level for you, it should be simple enough for you to feel confident and competent, yet challenging enough to be interesting. Ideally, your task should be a little bit more challenging than you’re used to.

And make sure that what you do really matters to you. Your brain won’t engage into taking steps towards goals you don’t care about, so make it clear how valuable the goal is to you, and how the steps you’re taking bring you closer to it.

Take your time. Don’t resist being out of state. Build momentum.

In a sense, getting into flow is like falling asleep — it takes time, it is a result of particular actions, but you can not force yourself into it.

You’re not a computer, and you most likely won’t enter the state in the first 30 seconds. Usually it takes around 20 minutes, sometimes less(if task is very clear, interesting and engaging). Sometimes it can take longer, and you need to realize — it is perfectly normal.

Being lazy and uninterested(‘out of state’) at the beginning is perfectly fine, nobody can switch into a focused mode in seconds. Just trust the process and keep going through the right steps.

You can set up a timer(pomodoro technique can be very helpful) for 20–30 minutes, and decide to completely focus on the task for this time.

Focus and Presence.

Plug off. Remove distractions, both external and internal.

When you start, your mind usually tends to wander away and get distracted from the task. Realize that it’s normal, don’t beat yourself up, just gently get your attention back to the question you’re thinking about.

This kind of focus is similar to meditation, by learning to meditate you learn to “turn off” all of the unrelated thoughts, and get into the present moment, focus on the process.

Also — think ‘inside’ the process, don’t be ‘meta’. If you’re writing — write, if you’re painting — paint. Don’t get distracted on organizing your workspace or trying to figure out the best tools and techniques to do it. It feels productive, but it often isn’t. Don’t confuse being focused on the process itself with being focused on figuring out how it’s done.

Intent + freedom from outcome

In creative work, you often can not control the outcome of what you’re doing. When you’re just learning to write, code, or paint, you can not directly control how good the end result will be.

That is why it’s best not to worry about the final outcome, and focus on taking the right steps, optimizing your process, learning your skills, and deliberate practice. These are the things you can directly control.

Measure the results you can directly control, and gain satisfaction and rewards from that. Outcome that you get is a side effect of your actions, and you can not directly control it. Judge how well you’re doing based on your actions, not the results.

Manage your expectations to make your emotional state go up.

Enjoy every little step forward that you take.

It is important for taking steps forward be fulfilling and satisfying for you, that keeps you motivated and enjoying the process.

You want to feel happy and excited after accomplishing every task, instead of just getting tired and exhausted.

Manage your expectations. Learn to enjoy taking steps forward, don’t beat yourself up, instead — pat yourself on the back for every bit of progress. That makes you more engaged and keeps you loving the process and wanting to do it more.

Don’t worry about how fast you are going, or how well you’re doing. Just taking action is all that matters and all you can do. Action and going through the process is what gets you into flow and gives you results. Consciously focus on feeling good about yourself after taking each little step.

Here’s a great talk on applying this principle in pick up:

Immediate gratification

To get into the flow, you need the actions you take to feel rewarding. You need to find a way to immediately see results of your actions, to measure how well you’re doing, and receive positive reinforcement once you accomplish it.

Understand what you do.

Don’t just go through the motions, this is the best state-killer. Have a clear plan, clear goal, understand each step that you take.

Make sure that you’re in charge and in control of what’s happening. Flow is about thinking and working with your mind, solving tasks, and knowing what you do and how you’re doing it.

Don’t try to replace this by going through random motions. Realize that rushing does not makes you more effective. What makes you faster and more effective — is skill, careful and calm thinking, planning, understanding, consciously applying the principles.

Let go of or get back to basics.

Once you’re already in the strong flow constantly checking out the principles may become a distraction. So once you’re in and it’s working — you may want to let go of the principles, and just enjoy being in the flow.

On the other hand, if it stops working and you’re feeling like you’re falling out of the process — don’t try to bruteforce through it. Stop. Think. Look at the checklist of the main principles.

  • Do I have a good task?

  • Am iI focused or distracted?

  • Do I jave a crystal clear understanding of what I’m doing?

  • etc.

Find out what you’re not doing. Fix it. It’s not about power, it’s about simply going through the right actions.

Principles of learning


Here are my favorite principles of learning, ideas that will help you to acquire skill in the fastest and the most efficient way.

Massive action.

First of all — take massive action. Learning without doing — it’s like reading books about body building without ever going to the gym.

Your knowledge about the subject is like a map that shows you how to get to the goal. Action — is actually moving forward and walking a way towards it. Find a minimum of necessary knowledge to be able to start acting — and then act. Don’t procrastinate by reading tons of books before you start. You will learn all the information that you need along the way. Come up with a practical challenge, figure out the first little step that you need to take — and then take it. If you’re reading information for a good practical reason you will learn it so much faster.

This is the main force behind progress, this is the source of real experience.

Deliberate practice.

Second, and equally important principle. Deliberate practice means consciously setting challenges for yourself and solving them. Constantly pushing forward instead of just going through the repetitive motions. Always figure out how to do new things that are a little above your current level.

Set new challenges that are hard to accomplish, understand how to accomplish them, and then repeat it until they feel automatic.

Cultivate your passion

Enjoying what you do is crucial. You need to love what you do to get really good, it is not optional. If you don’t love what you do — you’re doing it wrong. Getting mastery at anything is a long process, it’s a marathon, not a sprint, and you won’t get too far relying only on your will power. They say that you need 10000 hours of practice to become a pro, nobody can put so much effort into something if it’s not fun.

And also life is to short to do things that you don’t like.

But if you don’t feel a strong passion now — don’t worry. Passion is not a preexisting quality that you either have or don’t have. It is something that you can learn and develop. Look for ways to do that.

Thinking. Understanding first, speed and efficiency — later.

Don’t rely on your subconsciousness. Don’t expect to get good by mindlessly doing something over and over again, without understanding how, hoping that you’re “training your subconsciousness”, hoping that mere repetition will make you better.

Start with doing things slowly, understand each step. And then your brain gets used to it and automates the process, which enables you to do it faster or focus on more precise details. But don’t try to skip to this part, don’t hope that you can get good without detailed understanding of how you’re doing it, understanding always comes first.

Learn to get in the flow.

Flow is a state of being completely immersed in what you’re doing. When you’re in flow you’re completely focused, present, and very efficient. This state feels incredibly good, and makes you extremely productive. Read this post for tips on how to achieve it.

Consistency(is more important than speed)

Getting good at something is a long term task. Getting better consistently is a lot more important than getting better fast. Approach everything you do with that idea in mind. Do not rush, keep in mind the big picture. Make sure that you’re not stressing yourself out so you won’t quit.

Take care of your health. Make sure that your lifestyle is sustainable. You need to keep steady pace, you need to be able to keep doing what you’re doing years down the line.

Develop habits that you can do every day that will naturally lead you to where you want to be in a long term.

Learn Inner game

Every activity has “outer game” — things that you do physically, your technical skills; and “inner game” — your attitudes to what you do, your mindset, everything that happens in your head while you’re doing it. Inner game is equally important, so learn it, pay attention to it. It includes your ability to focus and deal with stress, your state of mind, your emotional intelligence, your ability to focus, proactively set and accomplish goals, etc. If you’re stuck or unable to move forward — it is possible that your problem is not in knowledge or in technical execution, but in your inner game.

Using goals

Set SMART goals. Have a plan.

This is most useful way to move forward and not get lost. Reflect on your major life long-term goals, break them down into smaller ones, that you can accomplish in relatively short period of time. Breakdown smaller ones even further — you can set your weekly, your daily goals. This is amazing way to make any task manageable, to track your progress, to be effective.

This will help you to be sure that you know what you do and that you can do it.

Know that you can

If you’ll do anything for 10 years straight — there’s no way you won’t become a master(of course, some level of brain usage required). Understand that if you won’t quit — success is inevitable. Don’t let anybody mess with your confidence, to tell you what you can’t do.

There’s a difference between intelligent course-correcting and irrational fears/doubts. It’s a cliche — but “believe in yourself”. Once you have made a decision — don’t doubt it. If failing is not an option for you — you won’t fail.

Don’t compare yourself to the masters and think “I’ll never be able to do this”, it will just stand in your way and waste your time. Just focus on practice.

Tips on self-control and will power


How to be proactive, stay consistent and do what you think is right.

Self control and being proactive is hard. Trying to follow through on your decisions is one of the biggest challenges you will face.

One of the most important skills to achieve your goals and become an awesome person is being able to stay consistent, to act based on your decisions, not on the emotion you’re feeling in the moment.

Of course, the best situation is when you’re “naturally” driven to do the right thing, so you do that just because you want to. And I think you should always try to do things that way — it’s more fun and efficient.

But often to make cool lifestyle easy and natural you need to implement some habits, switch your old action patterns and get used to new behaviors. I came up with some ideas that helped me to make this process much easier. Here they are:

Learn to distinguish rationalization from the “real” thinking. Realize that it’s not a logical issue — it’s an emotional one.

Often you can spend a lot of time and energy just on deciding whether you should act the right way or “cut yourself some slack” and do what you feel like doing. For example you decided to get on the diet, and on the next day you start thinking “well, one little candy is not a big deal”, “so what, now I will never eat a cheseburger in my life? that’s not cool”, “well, coffee is kind of healthy, energy drink could make me leaner”. And you start thinking that you have logical dilemma here. At that moment you need to recognize: This is not a problem of logic or understanding, it’s an emotional one.

Rationalization is a psychological tool that everybody uses every day to maintain the illusion of being in control of his actions. We think that we act based on our logic, but very often we don’t. What happens is that we act based on our feelings/emotions, and then our brain tries to rationalize — logically justify these actions.

And what you need to do — is to learn to distinguish the “real”, rational thinking, when you use reason and logic to find out what’s best for you, from rationalization — when you are basically just coming up with excuses to do what you feel like doing, excuses that look so similar to logic, but aren’t it.

You can think rationally and make real decisions about diet when you’re in a comfortable, not hungry state, but if you get hungry — don’t trust your brain, what you’re thinking about has nothing to do with logic.

Another good way to call this is “trusting in your higher self”. There are moments in your life when your mind is bright, sharp, alert — when you can think clearly and make the best decisions. That’s your “higher self”. And then there are moments when you’re angry/hungry/horny/lazy/sleepy/etc, when you’re in haze and out of state, when you can’t think clearly.

Make decisions when you’re in your higher self, and when you’re in the mode of lower consciousness — just trust them and don’t argue, understand that now it’s not the best time to change the plan that you’ve developed when you were much smarter.

So — learn to distinguish true thinking from rationalizations, recognize when you’re in the lower consciousness. And once you do — realize that you don’t have the logical problem, you don’t need to “understand” anything right now, you know exactly what’s the right thing. You just don’t feel like doing it.

And now you don’t have doubts anymore, you trust the decisions that you’ve made when you were in the higher state, you can clearly see what you should do. And instead of dealing with understanding and emotion, all that’s left is to deal only with the emotion/mood, make yourself to take the right actions.

You know what’s right, and your task is clear — get yourself to do that.

Replace

You need to know that whatever negative habits you having — you’re having them for a reason. They’re satisfying some of your needs, and that is good. They’re just doing it not in a way you like, for example dumb, unhealthy, or counterproductive.

Like TV satisfies your need for stimulation and adventure, or like crappy food satisfies your hunger and desire for salt/sugar. And you can’t just reject that need, unless you’re like 120 years old yogi, or the hulk of the will-power. So the first thing you do — find a good and healthy ways to satisfy all of your desires, that will make your life so much easier.

First step of starting the diet — stuff the fridge with healthy food and fruits. First step of quitting TV — buying bunch of cool books you’ve always wanted to read. If you’re thinking about eating some junk food—the first thing to do is to eat a ton of healthy food.

If there’s a craving — don’t reject it, satisfy it. In a healthy way.

Direct your focus. Use meditation to direct your thoughts. Master your emotions.

Marshmallow experiment— cool experiment done by Stanford scientists. They put kids in one room with a tasty marshmallow, and told them that “I will walk away now, if you won’t eat this marshmallow in the next 15 minutes I will come back and give you another one, so you’ll have 2.″ And walked away.

Then they observed how kids were trying to avoid eating the marshmellow. Turned out that the ones who succeeded did the same thing — turned away from it, found some distraction, way to stop thinking about it.

Understand — no way in hell you will act right if you’re constantly thinking about marshmallow. This will deplete your will power in no time. If you want to do the right thing — consciously direct your focus away from thinking about doing the wrong one.

The best way to learn to do that — is to learn meditation. This will teach you to control your thinking, and think only the thoughts that you want.

Will power is more emotional issue than an intellectual one. Trying to convince yourself to act right is fine, but don’t “argue” with yourself, it’s futile and only burns your will power. Stop the “thinking” about whether you should do the right thing, don’t question it, and switch to thinking about something productive as fast as possible.

Learn to control your emotions, develop the emotional intelligence, learn to feel what you want to feel at will.

Right associations. Pain/pleasure. Value.

We’re evolved to seek pleasure and to avoid pain. Our actions are controlled by the oldest and dumbest part of our brain. This thing can not do any sophisticated reasoning, it just makes you to go where it thinks the value is.

Of course it developed to help us to survive, but, especially in modern times, this mechanism is very often misfires. So — don’t associate value with wrong stuff.

What you need to do is to train your mind to associate the pain/pleasure with the right thing. Condition yourself to associate the good things with the joy of life and fulfillment, with the ultimate pleasure. And bad things with pain.

If you associate hamburger with tasty nutrition it is almost irresistible, if you associate it with heart disease and cancer — it’s becomes lot less tempting.

To make right associations use

Reframing

Reframing is simply looking at things from the different angle, perceiving the world differently.

For example you can reframe feeling hungry into the feeling of getting lean. You can actually learn to enjoy being hungry(to some extent), because you choose to perceive it as pleasure, as something valuable. Make a connection in your mind “I’m hungry = I’m getting prettier and healthier”.

Same thing with exercise or with work — reframe the feeling of being tired into feeling of getting stronger.

Realize that it’s a bigger choice. Upwards/downwards cycles.

Realize that this little decision affects a lot more than you think. It’s very easy to do some little thing wrong, like eat a little cookie when you decided not to, precisely because it’s “not a big deal”.

But you need to see that in fact it’s a much bigger deal than it seems. All of your decisions and actions depend on each other, and every little step either triggers the positive chain of events, or negative.

“Well, I ate a cookie, I might as well eat this chocolate/watch this movie/etc”.

For example you go to the gym -> your self esteem grows -> you’re proud of yourself and inspired -> you decide to read a good book instead of watching tv -> you’re even more proud, you want to eat healthier -> next day you feel even better so you’re more likely to go to the gym again.

Or you eat hamburger -> you feel bad, your brain works worse -> you’re less likely to exercise -> you’re even dumber and in lower state -> you’re less likely to do exercises and eat properly -> you’re more likely to eat one more hamburger -> you feel even shittier and dumber -> etc.

Bad decisions mess with your vision of yourself, your identity as a proactive happy person, they harm all the areas of your life.

You know that it’s true. Eating a little cookie is not just about consuming little amount of calories, it makes you MUCH more likely to screw up in other areas of your life.

Always be aware, every little decision triggers chains of events, so when you decide to fail in executing some “unimportant” action — you need to see how it may really fuck you over in a bigger picture.

So look atthe big picture. Eating a little candy is not a big deal, but you know that the fact of eating this candy will affect your self-respect, consistency, and will damage your other areas. It’s not just about a candy. It represents all the bad things in your life, shitty patterns of behavior.

And at the same time — see all the beautiful things, all the happiness that good decisions may lead to, even very little ones.

Gradually build macro momentum.

Watch the video above, Tyler explains this idea amazingly. See the level that you’re at, and gradually build up your powers to do more and more complicated stuff. Don’t expect to get amazing in a matter of days, take right but simple actions that will make you great in a year. Start simple and improve gradually.

Avoid micro fuckups.

Idea related to previous one. It’s so easy, and so destructive to fail at little things. Learn to see the moments when you make a small wrong decisions, they’re easiest ones to miss, and they’re the ones that bring you down. When you have a great momentum going on — no way you will start screwing up with something big — you see the harm behind it too clearly.

Nobody ever starts taking drugs from heroine. When you’re doing good — you won’t just go and eat at McDonalds or get depressed, but it is very possible to gradually slide down into that. So be aware of micro-fuckups, little failures that are turning into a large trouble over time. See the pain behind them, focus on it. Pay special attention to failures that seem like “not a big deal” and don’t allow them to happen.

Identity change.

Don’t just try to change your behaviors, try to change your identity. Instead of just developing your habits you also need to develop the right beliefs about yourself.

It’s easy for you not to murder people, or to not steal, or not to do drugs — because you know that you are not “that kind of person”. You’re not prohibiting yourself to do that, you just believe that you’re not a guy who would do such a thing.

What you need to do is to develop similar kind of beliefs about any kind of behavior that you want to change.

  • “I’m not the kind of person who eats shitty food”

  • “I’m inspired and do what I do because I love it”

  • “I’m not forcing myself to act right, that’s just the way I do things, because I’m awesome”.

  • Etc.

Knowing that you can.

Your desire to do some particular activity is calculated by a simple formula: (Perceived value, how much do you want to achieve something)*(probability of the result).

If your chance to get the reward by doing certain thing is 50/50 — it means that you will have half as much motivation as you would have if you would be 100% sure of the reward.

That means that the more optimistic you are, the more you believe that what you do will give you results that you want — the more motivation you will have.

Know that “last time” is always a lie.

How many “last times” did you have already? Saying that “I’m doing this for the last time” is always a lie. If you don’t have enough reasons to act right today — you won’t have enough reasons to do that tomorrow, in the same situation.

Turn bad habits that you enjoy into reward instead of eliminating them completely.

Instead of quitting TV forever — decide to watch an episode of your favorite show once you’ve accomplished some task. That way you won’t feel pressure of cutting something that you like out of your life completely, and at the same time — have a nice little motivation to do the productive things.

Make it natural.

Don’t overestimate your will power, it can get you only so far. Strive to achieve the real joy from what you’re doing, act right because it feels good. No tricks will keep you motivated fo a long time unless you’re doing something that “works” for you, unless you’re getting a joy out of it, at least on some level.

Find ways to make doing the right thing “naturally” fun and easy for you. Always look for ways to do what you love and love what you do.

Expected Utility


Imagine I offer you a gamble. I will spin the wheel that looks like this:

And you win the amount of money that it will choose. If it hits a negative number you owe me that much. Should you play or not?

This is the kind of problem you are solving every time you are trying to decide whether or not to take any risky action.

It comes down to figuring out whether the action has a positive or negative value to you, so called Expected Utility, whether it’s benefits outweigh the potential risks.

To find out the answer, you need to know the sum of all the potential benefits multiplied by their probability, and compare it to the benefits and probability of the risks.

So first we estimate probabilities of each outcome:

And then we calculate our upside:

$20 * 0.3 + $15 * 0.2 + $5 * 0.2 = $10

And the downside:

-$10 * 0.2 - $30 * 0.1 = -$5

So now we can see that the expected utility of playing this game is

$10 - $5 = $5

So now we know that if you play this game many times, on average, you will be making $5 every game, so that’s a good deal.

This is a very useful concept, because when you think like that about every action you take, you end up making much better decisions. You don’t take dumb risks, and you don’t miss great opportunities.

In life, we need to make decisions under uncertainty. When you know your values, and take actions with maximum expected utility, you can take the optimal way towards achieving your goals.

Rationalization


You see this beautiful girl standing across the room. You would like to approach her and start a conversation, but then you think to yourself “Nah, she probably has a boyfriend. Also she wouldn’t like me anyway. Not to mention that I need to focus on studying, I don’t really have time for relationships.” So you look away, go home, play World of Warcraft, eat a pizza, feed your cats, hump your human-sized action figure of Chewbacca, go to sleep, and die alone.

Were your excuses the actual reasons for not approaching? Imagine if you’d know with 100% certainty that you will not get rejected, would you still decide that you’d rather focus on studying?

Rationalization means coming up with seemingly logical/rational explanations for irrational behavior. We do whatever feels good, or whatever is easy/convenient/profitable, and then come up with explanations that make us feel better about our decisions.

Imagine you want to buy a new car. You don’t know much about the recent models, so you research, select a few options, look at their specs, make the list of pros and cons of each one. At the bottom the list, you finally write down your decison.

Now let’s say you’re a salesman, and your job is to sell a certain model. You take a sheet of paper, and at the bottom you write “and that’s is why this is the best car ever”. Then you do your research, compare options, and above the bottom line, you write a list of reasons why that’s the best model.

You are not lying, all the reasons are true, but you started thinking about them after the choice has already been determined. Your answer was already either true or false before you came up with explanations, and they could not change your choice. Your actualreason for making it was “that’s my job to sell this car”.

It is impossible to make a choice or belief rational even by using the smartest, most convincing arguments. The purpose of rationality is not to argue convincingly for a position, but to decide which position to argue for. Once your position is fixed, it can not become more rational. Rationality takes evidence and knowledge and looks for the best, most accurate conclusions. Rationalization runs in reverse, it starts with the conclusion and searches for reasons. If you already know your answer — thinking about it doesn’t matter.

Your success is determined by how good your decisions are, and when you are rationalizing, the actual algorithm you are using to make decisions is “whatever feels good”.

So how do you defeat rationalization? First of all, it comes down to being aware of it, and being honest with yourself. Always ask — what are the actual reasons for my beliefs/decisions/actions?

  • Are you eating this ice cream because “well, it has nuts in it, so it’s actually kinda healthy” or because it tastes good?
  • Are you playing this computer game because “life is to be enjoyed”, and this game actually brings you joy? It is the best thing you want to do with your life right now, or just the easiest?
  • Do you skip gym this time because it’s the best day to take a break and let your body rest and restore, or because it’s raining outside?
  • Now that you didn’t get that job, it doesn’t seem that great, is it because didn’t actually want it anyway?

And be suspicious when your explanations conveniently happen to give you the permission to do the thing you wanted to do before coming up with them, or make you feel better about doing/believing things that you like:

  • Do keep your religion because it’s a “good moral guidance”, because it makes sense, or because your parents believed in it?
  • Are you defending piracy because “it actually helps companies to promote their content, so it’s not a big deal, also information should be free”, or because it’s really convenient to watch a free movie?
  • Is your city or country actually the best place in the world, or do you like it because you were born here?

Also notice that when you are looking for answers that you don’t already know, you feel curious, you are craving to know the answer, yet rationalization usually makes you more confident/comfortable/justified.

Sunk Cost Fallacy


Let’s say you’ve been planning to go see a movie this Friday, and have already bought a ticket, but now that it’s time to go out you realize that you don’t want to go, and that you would rather enjoy spending your evening at home. Should you go or not?

Most of the people say yes, after all, the ticket has already been paid for, and it’s nonrefundable, so you wouldn’t want it to be wasted, right?

That is called a Sunk Cost Fallacy — the ​idea that people tend to stick with the courses of action they have ​invested ​money, ​time, or ​effort in, ​even when continuing is not the best thing to do.

If you think about it, it’s irrational to let the costs that we can’t recover to influence our decisions, only future costs and benefits should matter. But we don’t want to admit our mistakes, to “waste” our investment, so we often stick by our past choices that continue costing us more.

The movie example may not make it seem like a big deal, but this fallacy often leads to more significant consequences. Many people stick with professions they dislike because they have spent that all this money and time on getting their degree. They often don’t consider that starting over is better than being miserable for the rest of your career. Or people stay in unhappy relationships because of all the time they have invested in them.

To overcome this fallacy — be aware of it, ask yourself where do I fall victim to it. Learn to recognize it, and once you do —admit that it’s irrational.

People often commit this fallacy not because they think it’s logical, but because they are emotionally invested in the effort they put in, so you need to understand that sometimes it’s better to let go. Imagine that you’ve just been dropped into your current life situation with no warning, and do what is in your best interest.

  • If you have realized half way through reading a book that it’s not useful or interesting — give it up.
  • Are you trying to finish eating this sandwich because it’s already been paid for, even though you’re not hungry? Throw it away, it doesn’t benefit anybody.
  • Do you keep going to a bad/useless class that you’ve paid a lot of money for? You probably don’t need to.
  • Did you put so much sweat in writing this scene in your screenplay, only to realize that it doesn’t make the movie better? Cut it out.

By the way, I don’t mean to say that you should be wasteful, it’s always wise to try anticipating such things in advance and to avoid doing them in the first place. But once you did, don’t spend even more energy on it, realize that putting more time into it wont make it more worth it, cut your losses, and move on.

You can’t get your money, energy and time back, but you can still make yourself happier.

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