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How much do people make their own decisions?

I commented on an article at New Scientist a bit back called, "You say sin, I say disease" -

Here's my comment -

More and more, I'm starting to come to the awful conclusion that most people have very little control over how their lives go. They maybe have a few key decision points in their life - but maybe not all that many.

And the rest is autopilot. They watch some subset of the new movies, new TV programs, websites they stumble across. They eat whatever's more or less served near them and eaten by people they associate with. They pick the political party that matches their friends and relatives, or no party, or maybe they pick up a book that has an emotional impact on them and swear loyalty to that. Maybe.

I hate this idea, because it seems to subtly advocate for totalitarianism, which I've been against my whole life. But then there's nagging voice that says, "well, just ban all the food that's unhealthy, and people will eat better..." - but we know where that road leads.

Trajectory vs Position

On Aesop

One habit that I have found very disheartening is that of comparing myself to other people. I have a tendency to try to think of myself as being in the most favorable reference class* that makes any sense, and so then when I compare myself to other people, I naturally pick people from that reference class. Since I picked the nicest reference class in the first place, these comparisons usually don't work out well for me. I end up feeling depressed about my position in life, and it's very unproductive and unhelpful.

I have two strategies that I use to counteract this. The first is to try to think purely of myself in relation to myself, and not in relation to other people. Comparing myself to my past self is almost always a favorable one, and more helpful than favorable comparisons against other people, because it doesn't breed a superiority complex, and it demonstrates to myself that I can improve. So that's a better tactic.The other one that has helped me a great deal is thinking about myself in terms of trajectory instead of position. Focusing on position isn't actionable. It tells you that you're better than other people or positions you could be in, so you can rest on your laurels. It tells you that you're worse than different people, or alternate versions of yourself, but suggests no methods of improvement.

Thinking about your trajectory, on the other hand, changes all of that. If you're thinking about trajectory, you're not thinking about where you are currently, you're thinking about how your position is changing. So it doesn't matter if you're in a really bad situation, what matters is if your situation is improving or getting worse. And this lets you go meta, which is always a good thing: the second derivative, how how your situation is changing is changing.

This is really useful because, while the thing you actually care about is your position in life, you can't choose your position at any given moment. But you can, more or less, choose your trajectory. And your trajectory now determines your position later.

For instance, a few months ago I was in a really good position, but just sort of treading water. Not really improving or getting worse. Now I'm in a really similar position (that's what happens when you don't have a positive or negative trajectory, you're still in the same position later!), but I've started a new project (this blog), have two more projects that will be starting soon (National Novel Writing Month and a youtube channel), have made significant progress on two new games for my business, and am moving to Brooklyn in three weeks. My present situation hasn't changed much, but I'm setting myself up to have a lot more success in the future.

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