Rethinking Planning

Plans are important. To author our lives instead of being a pinball, we need to project into the future. Problem is, it’s often overdone.

Much human behaviour is an attempt to tame the mind. Wether it’s meditating, cleaning incessantly or working 50 hour weeks. Planning has therapeutic too – a sense of direction creates mental order.

A common assumption is that success is simply the execution of a superior plan. The domino’s are carefully placed and the lead is simply flicked. A man with a plan flicks a persuasive switch too.

But design is often an illusion.

Superior planning matters, but to become better decision-makers we need to overcome to-do list addiction. We need to overcome the domino myth.

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The Qualified Self

It’s a race against the clock.

Bill wants to get to the finish line, but there’s a wall in the way – a big one. Going around isn’t an option, so he generates as much momentum as possible, presses down with force and explodes skyward.

Nope.

Again? No.

One more time? Nah.

Instead he jumps down some plumbing pipes, pops out the other side, runs to the next screen and saves the princess.

Billy is a 6 year old scientist.

He formulated a hypothesis: ‘To get past the wall I need to jump over it’. Billy conducted the experiment as best he could, but it didn’t yield the result he hoped (a different story if he chowed some shrooms earlier). He then formulated a new hypothesis, tested it and got the result he wanted.

Science is a word used to describe lots of different things. Done well it’s typically falsifiable (Popper), predictive (reproducibility) and has a hard to vary explanation (Deutsch).

Science is usually assumed rigorous. This prevents us from being scientific and asking questions about it. Instead, with a simple enough definition the scientific method is a natural mode of thought. It therefore predates science, humanity even.

This mode is a keeper, problem is it’s just one of many. So smart people double down on it.

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2 Types Of Rational Thought

Most think rational thinking looks like this.

The evidence is examined with a microscope and then a smart conclusion is formed.

In fact it’s probably the opposite, we form an opinion and then look for evidence to back it up. Locking prior beliefs in a box before weighing evidence is rare, if not non-existent.

Also, I think I’m rational and everyone else isn’t. So do you and so do stupid people.

But ignoring human bias for a second, the evidence based approach makes sense.

There are domains where we have figured it all out. With enough diligence, we’ll get the right answer. Problem is, these domains are often simple and boring. People transfer this same approach to areas we haven’t figured it all out yet. It doesn’t work so well here.

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Six Heuristics For Judging Intelligence

The challenge is no longer finding information, it’s trying not to drown in it. Today, how we filter defines much of our intelligence.

To avoid being an intellectual pinball, we need heuristics to figure out if someone’s worth listening to.

Here’s six:

Intellectual Humility

‘Anybody who doesn’t change their mind a lot is dramatically underestimating the complexity of the world’ – Jeff Bezos

What’ve they changed their minds about? What’ve they been wrong about? What aren’t they sure about?

If the answer to all 3 is ‘nothing’, they care more about thinking they’re right than being right. Confidence is important psychologically and socially, but it’s often the enemy of good ideas.

Confidence in specific areas doesn’t disqualify automatically. Some things we can be quite sure of. Smart people can distinguish between simple and complex. They know which types of things to be sure and unsure about.

Either way, if they aren’t good friends with cognitive dissonance they’re out.

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Directing Your Subconscious

Like a video game character, I’ve got a energy bar suspended over my head. So do you. If it’s full we do stuff well, if it’s empty we’re basically turds. Doing healthy things keeps it full longer, but I’ll save that for another time.

When’s the last time you had to study for something?

Maybe you procrastinated and had to catch up. Or maybe you wanted to crush it. Either way you sit down for a monster study sesh, like 4 hours. After an hour your bar is empty, so you spend the next 3 hours mashing buttons that don’t work. Your a turd for 3 hours and it’s no fun. This frames the experience negatively and you procrastinate next time.

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A Stoic Blueprint For Chronic Pain

I didn’t make this thing to talk personal stuff. The following is about useful ideas, but I do need to paint a quick picture.

I had urination problems and couldn’t sit down without a doughnut cushion. My sore back and guch (don’t google image) meant I spent most of 5 months laying down. After seeing multiple experts I still don’t have a good reason as to why.

It sucked but some people are much worse off.

Here’s how in some ways, it’s made my life better.

Dystopian Holograms

Anxiety is largely the distance between expectation and reality.

If you expect a promotion at work and don’t get it, life sucks. If you expect everyone to be nice and they’re jerks, it’s a bad day. If you don’t expect your back to hurt and it does, it’s stressful.

Pain sucks but what sucks more is the domino effect is creates. Why does it hurt? Will it be like this forever? Will it get worse?

Beginning every day I prepared myself for it.

Not just a little but worse than I’d ever had. There was no gap between expectation and reality. By preparing myself I couldn’t be disappointed, I could only be pleasantly surprised. On an average day I now felt lucky.

Now there’s just one domino.

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Why The Middle Ground Isn’t Reason

Negotiating is dumb isn’t it?

Two people are bullshitting and both know it. Two extreme anchors are set, so when they end up in the middle both parties leave feeling good.

The same thing happens when we reason. We feel like we’ve conducted thinking if we take the middle ground.

In a debate we assume our favourite ideas are placed there for a reason. Lots of people have thought hard about this stuff. Maybe they have. But dig deeper into the origins of any belief and it’s more like a bottomless laundry basket. The anchors for these beliefs are probably more arbitrary than we’d like to think. Perhaps they’re built on holograms.

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