I just posted a new article at Less Wrong - "Steps to Achievement: The Pitfalls, Costs, Requirements, and Timelines." This is a little bit longer and more dry than I write for my blog, but I think there's some very important things in here.
If you're interested in goals and achievement, there's quite a lot of meat here. I'm putting the full version up here and please feel very welcome to comment here on this topic, but also consider heading over to Less Wrong, grab a free account, and start participating there. As I described in "You Should Probably Study Rationality," it's a wonderful community.
Reply to: Humans Are Not Automatically Strategic
In "Humans Are Not Automatically Strategic," Anna Salamon outlined some ways that people could take action to be more successful and achieve goals, but do not:
On this coming Monday or Tuesday, I'll be asking the Director of Sales and Marketing at one of the most prestigious local businesses for $100,000. I have all manner of charts, research, data, and numbers showing why this is an exceptionally good idea that will have a fantastic ROI - and it is a good deal. But still, it's mildly terrifying to present in that sphere.
Part of what I'm going to do is go in and ask for a considerable sum of money, but I'm trying to build a different sort of relationship than most people would think. If they choose my company, we'll be producing lots of good work for high pay - but I'm trying to build something other an exchange-based relationship.
What's an exchange-based relationship? Over the last 10 years or so, researchers have identified two kinds of ways trade and interact and cooperate. The first way would be through "market norms" - this is where two people clearly agree to make an exchange, and deliver what they agreed to exchange, and the deal is concluded. The second way is through "social norms" - where you're looking out for each other's best interests.
Let's go over quickly what market/exchange norms look like and how they push out social norms - then I'll have some ideas and guidelines for your own life.
If you like digging into primary source papers, this one from 1993 by Clark and Mills is pretty good. If you're more into books, this was covered in Dan Arielly's book "Predictably Irrational."
The largest mental gains I made in the shortest period of time were from studying rationality.
I was amazed to discover a couple years ago that there were people who regularly studied and discussed how to think, how to get correct and accurate beliefs about how the world works, how to understand how your mind works, and to get at the real reasons people make decisions.
The whole rationality thing is as addictive as crack-cocaine for me. I love it. The difference from crack, though, is you grow stronger and smarter the more you dive in.
Our minds are funny. We humans, we're "adaptation exercisers, not fitness maximizers" -
Fifty thousand years ago, the taste buds of Homo sapiens directed their bearers to the scarcest, most critical food resources - sugar and fat. Calories, in a word. Today, the context of a taste bud's function has changed, but the taste buds themselves have not. Calories, far from being scarce (in First World countries), are actively harmful. Micronutrients that were reliably abundant in leaves and nuts are absent from bread, but our taste buds don't complain. A scoop of ice cream is a superstimulus, containing more sugar, fat, and salt than anything in the ancestral environment.
I had a crazy long and good day today. I had a meeting with a potential client to show the specs and research we've got, and I had a blast. Very cool woman I met from their marketing department. I was running on low sleep since I stayed up last night polishing, formatting, and making the presentation aspect of the research look sharp. There's a huge opportunity for the company we're pitching to, and this could be a massively virtuous thing.
My adrenalin actually got up for presenting, which was great. I love adrenalin. However, adrenalin withdrawl kind of sucks, and 10 minutes after I was out of the building I was about to fall apart like a pile of jelly.
Somehow I managed to find my way into Dung Tailor, who I wrote about in "Is it cheaper to fly internationally to buy your next suits, luggage, etc?" I tried on a shirt and pants they made up, and they fit so perfectly. I thought to myself - wow, I just presented some specs and research to a massively successful client, and I just asked for a lot of money in budget to build for them. I should probably pick up a suit, I haven't had a proper suit since I left my home-office in Boston for the road back in 2008. So I picked it out, got it all done up, and I was amazed - $250 for a nice suit and two very nice shirts. Amazing. The Vietnamese are skilled tailors too. Anyway, Dung's contact info is in the "cheaper to go international for suits, luggage?" post. Say hi to Ming if you go, Ming is really cool and speaks English well. Dung is cool too - very stately, great vibe, excellent tailor.
After this, I'm totally exhausted. I do the math and realize I've slept less than 4 hours over the last 30 hours or so. But I'm in a weird zone where I don't want to sleep, I'm overtired. Grr. Okay, I'll stop to get a massage with some essential oils. It's like $10 at the spa. And there is playing this really lovely lullaby music with harp in it. It felt like flying. And I said - run with it. Daydream.
So I'm getting the kinks and lactic acid battered out of my legs and I'm daydreaming about flying with wings. If I had wings, I'd go skiing, and go off a crazy jump, and flutter down. My mind wanders. I think I'll go to the Opera next time I'm in Beijing. My mind wanders. I wonder what Oda Nobunaga thought before the Battle of Okehazama? What would I be thinking? I daydream, thinking about torrents of rain pouring down while riding against an army 10 times larger. Dismounting and sneaking through the woods to raid the back of the Imagawa camp, the fighting breaking out in the rain and mud, slaying Imagawa Yoshimoto and seeing the ranks of the Imagawa troops dissolve, saving the Oda clan from destruction.
"Life is suffering," said Buddha. His plan? Release your attachments to this world and end your suffering.
I'm not with Buddha on this one. Give me strife and suffering. And once I have grown stronger, tempered, hardened by the strife, give me MORE.
Life is strife, suffering, struggle. Your body and mind are kept alive by a series of violent chemical reactions, your heartbeat, the acid in your stomach, the cells constantly breaking apart and dying as new ones are created, the battle towards homeostatis with different bacteria and cells combating each other, all inside your body.
Your mind - your thoughts - may come into conflict, especially when you're trying to do meaningful things. It's easy to feel the pull of distraction and ease, and to choke up and pause in fear when you look at the mountain you're set to climb. The mind is not in harmony, especially at the beginning. Struggle, strife, conflict, suffering.
I say - give it to me! But not so fast that it will break me. I must be pragmatic. We must be pragmatic. We have our limits. We can expand them over time. It's not brave to go into the gym for the first time and try to lift 400 pounds. It's foolhardy, unrealistic, stupid. Being pragmatic, aware of our limits takes its own sort of courage.
One of the most enjoyable things about blogging is I get to connect with a lot of smart people. I get letters and emails, and sometimes the person reaching out to me is kind enough to let me share their insights with you.
This one comes Andy McKenzie -
Saw your post: How do I write so much, you ask? Well, glad you asked from a friend's link. I like your about me and this post, like that you are self-tracking and such, keep it up man. Just want to say, you are not the only one to discuss the equal odds rule! Quick google blogs search verifies that there are at least a few: [google blog search results]. I myself have written a bit about it. :)
It is interesting to speculate whether the EOR necessarily tracks over well from scientific productivity to the blogosphere. I didn't really see that connection, possibly because I didn't really accept the EOR at face value, I read it in Simonton's actual book and I remember at first being mostly confused about the math he was talking about! But now I think it is mostly true over long periods of time and for largish groups of scientists.
"What gets measured, gets managed." - Peter Drucker
There is so much power in this quote. If you've never tracked yourself, you don't even know how much power there is in tracking. I couldn't even explain it adequately. You wouldn't believe me. You'd think I was exaggerating. The simple act of paying attention to something will cause you to make connections you never did before, and you'll improve the those areas - almost without any extra effort.
I'm not a believer in "free lunch" and I don't think the universe vibrates things to you just by thinking about them. But the closest thing to a free lunch getting vibrated to you by the universe is writing things down as they happen.
Before I go any further, I need to give you one piece of advice - start small and build up, so you don't overwhelm yourself. This is just being pragmatic. You want to scale up gradually, as I wrote up in "The Evolution of My Time/Habit/Life Tracking." You want to build small wins, lock them so they become automatic, and then expand.
I'd have a hard time convincing you of the power of tracking, so I'll just show you. I fill this out every single day.
Wow. We've had over 10,000 visitors in the last 24 hours. It started with "How do I write so much, you ask? Well, glad you asked -" hitting the front page of Hacker News, but then there's been a steady stream of tweets and blog referrals. It's been crazy, and it's still going. After it settles down I'll do an analysis post on the traffic, comments, emails I've gotten, etc.
This leaves me scratching my head - hmm, I now have a lot of new visitors and readers (hi, welcome, glad you're onboard). And like I said in "How do I write so much?", I don't think someone can exactly control the quality of their output. You give your best, but you're not always firing at your highest level.
So I'm cheating, and I'm producing a best-of here. I took the best posts on here, and grouped them in a way so you can find exactly what you're looking for. I'd also like to invite you to comment on which you like, make suggestions, ask questions - I read every comment. Alright, here we go -
Want to get more done?The Evolution of My Time/Habit/Life Tracking (probably my best post on getting more done)The Joys of Public AccountabilityMore About Intek – Knowing a Skill vs. Living a SkillSome General Life GoalsGuest Post: On Being On-Track With Obsessive TasksWhy Isn’t My Book Done?Fill Up Your Dead TimeNew Word: intekPositive Sum Games Don’t Require Natural TalentQuitting Spectator SportsBecoming Prolific
My Philosophy:Me? I’m a strategistI think greatness is something you do, not something you areGuest Post: Greatness and HumilityBecoming a Liberal and Magnificent TipperWhy Build? Because I Like HumanityProducing is a Million Times Better Than ConsumingLuck Doesn’t ExistRule an Empire, Fistful of RiceBad Stuff That’s Happened to You = Expensive Lessons You’ve Already Paid ForIf luck doesn’t exist, then should we give way to fatalism?Cowboy ScienceWe All Get 24 Hours…Watching the LightningObserving the PainA Lot of Victory is Just Walking Around
You'll see a theme in history - armies that train for "worst case scenario" eventually kick the hell out of armies they don't. Command and control based armies, that only fight well in formation, tend to do really well until their ranks get broken. Then they get slaughtered.
If you look at George Washington or Napoleon Bonaparte, their forces knew how to fight out of formation. That's why they were able to win important battles against larger, more well-equipped forces. They stirred up a bunch of chaos because their forces were able to handle chaos better than the enemy.
I think if you want to do creative endeavors like writing, painting, whatever - you need to learn to fight out of formation. By that, I mean you need to learn how to do it without having "formal expert tone" or being highly polished. Ideally, you can communicate well without necessarily obeying grammar and punctuation. After all, the point of writing is to communicate - the language is supposed to serve you, you're not supposed to serve it.
It takes a lot longer to get into formation if you're out of it than to just fight slightly wild and crazy. Of course, you should learn discipline and how to fight in formation, and should be able to do well in that role. It might even be your bread and butter. But if you're editing every memo you send, every blog post you write, every rallying talk or speech you give - then you're burning a lot of time.
Yes, fighting in formation produces better results much of the time. But sometimes ranks get broken, and then you're screwed if it's the only way you know. I think it's better to learn to fight out of formation before you ever need to. The quality of out-of-formation output is going to be lower at first than in-formation output. You need to learn how to deal with a chaotic messy environment. It doesn't have to be the only way you do things; in fact, sometimes you ought to use proper grammar and punctuation. But you also should be able to handle not doing it, just throwing things together with commas and dashes, slapping some rough thoughts down, and figuring it'll turn out okay. As long as what you're saying is clear enough, you don't have to bow to formality.
A few of my friends - three friends, to be exact - mentioned to me that I write a heck of a lot on here and they're impressed. I have convinced the ultra-smart Sami Baqai to start blogging, and he just got the holy-shit-this-is-hard-I'm-overwhelmed feeling. Ah, yes, I have been there Sami. Perhaps I can share some thoughts.
First and foremost, I am a huge devotee of the Equal-Odds Rule. As far as I know, I'm the only person talking about it outside of academia. This Amazon review covers it pretty well:
The equal-odds rule says that the average publication of any particular scientist does not have any statistically different chance of having more of an impact than any other scientist's average publication. In other words, those scientists who create publications with the most impact, also create publications with the least impact, and when great publications that make a huge impact are created, it is just a result of "trying" enough times. This is an indication that chance plays a larger role in scientific creativity than previously theorized.
So I read that, and I'm like - whoa. You know Neo in the Matrix? Whoa.
If you want to make excellent stuff, you need to make a lot of stuff.