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erm comments on Akrasia Tactics Review - Less Wrong

56 Post author: orthonormal 21 February 2010 04:25AM

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Comment author: erm 21 February 2010 06:24:28PM *  20 points [-]

After having suffered procrastination and possible ADD symptoms for a long while (I left revising for my Finals exams to the evening before each paper, two months after most others), I have recently begun to find some strategies that work for me. In fact, they work so well that I decided to quit my job for a year to capitalise on my new-found capacity for hard study and upgrade myself.

  • Think it, do it: as soon as I become aware of something that needs to be done and can be done (without major disruption), then I do it right away. This frees up working memory, saves on paper and, to an extent, cuts down on guilt (as that process by which things to do come to my conscious awareness is not taken to be under my control) +7

  • Monomania/monoidealism. If I want to learn something quickly, then I aim to do nothing but what needs to be done. Then it becomes very easy to spot off-task behaviour in myself. +8

  • Create addiction: monomiacal focus on something can lead me to become dependent on it, usefully so. +4 (this seems to work better with some activities than with others)

  • Create shame (of my lack of mastery). Can be stressful, but is useful for eliminating smugness and setting very high goals. I guess that this is a variation on being watched, except that I always imagine myself being observed by sneering experts. (it is always a pleasant surprise subsequently to meet the concrete instantiation of these experts and find that they are reasonably reasonable people) +6

  • Be my own guinea pig ('being Seth Roberts'?): I refer to my brain in the third person and aloofly set and assess the effects of programs of protracted periods of study. I can quite easily drive myself to the edge of burnout doing this (and consequently can now identify those feelings that anticipate it (in my case, feeling tearful, oddly-located headaches, mild disorientation). +5, as is reasonably high risk.

  • Perform like tasks. If I need to do slow, careful, focused work, then I avoid any work and play that is of unlike character. For instance, fast, careful, focused speed Scrabble is different enough to be deleterious. As for fast, haphazard, focused internet browsing, weeell... +6

  • Know what it is to 'work well'. I find it easier to get work done if I focus on maintaining the experience of working hard ie. immersion in the matter at hand, high cognitive load, high novelty and rehearsal rates, rather than consider the completion of tasks (as the latter can lead to drops in intensity, which undermines monomania/addiction). +6

  • Dual-n-back training. I can rely on this to drastically reduce anxiety, flightiness, improve concentration. It also seems to whet my appetite for intellectual work and increase purposefulness across the board. +8

Comment author: Kevin 24 February 2010 01:10:09PM *  5 points [-]

In case anyone wants to give dual-n-back a try: http://cognitivefun.net/test/5

I would try and play until you can at least do the 2-back. You can feel your mind and memory working in a different way that it usually does.

Are there any other cognitive games with positive evidence in their favor? http://www.pnas.org/content/105/19/6829.full

Comment author: cupholder 07 June 2010 11:12:09AM *  2 points [-]

Throwing in some new evidence: a poster presented last year at the 50th Annual Meeting of the Psychonomic Society reports on a similar study in students, showing that single n-back and double n-back performance improves with training, and that this improvement in thinking transfers to the BOMAT and Raven's Advanced Progressive Matrices.

Comment author: [deleted] 23 February 2010 07:26:50PM 2 points [-]

Dual-n-back training. I can rely on this to drastically reduce anxiety, flightiness, improve concentration. It also seems to whet my appetite for intellectual work and increase purposefulness across the board. +8

I'm skeptical. How do you know it improves anxiety, flightiness, and concentration?

Comment author: erm 24 February 2010 12:08:37PM 7 points [-]

Hi, well this is just from personal experience so ymmv, but I've been playing the game off and on for the past two years and am convinced of positive effects.

I do know that, beforehand, I had never been able to study for protracted periods of time and enjoy the experience - for me, studying had always been a fight against intellectual and physical restlessness (=restless legs, itching, shifting about on my seat). DnB seems not only to permit me to sit down and focus for long periods, it actually makes me want to study - I feel compelled to learn and get annoyed if prevented from doing so. And when I do study, I can now put in serious hours (typically three or four chunks of 2 1/2hr blocks).

I'm sure that this sounds somewhat implausible, but there have been many occasions on which I have been overwhelmed yet again by the determined demons of dilettantism and distraction only to remember what I had let slip from my routine.

I would not be so sure of positive effects if, after having trained for a few days, I had suffered an exacerbation of symptoms, but this has not occurred.

The simplest explanation that I can think of is that it is the only activity that forces me to use the entirety of my attention, encouraging me to eliminate distracting thoughts (as in meditation?) whilst also providing a tightly-defined focal point (the stimuli in space and time) and overarching purpose (to find order (as organizing my impressions helps me remember)). Perhaps this is where my feelings of increased purposefulness come from: the game trains me generally to enjoy drawing connections, and I begin to want to organize the world around me.

Comment author: [deleted] 24 February 2010 09:19:46PM 7 points [-]

I guess another question I'd like to ask is whether you enjoy dual-n-back. I've tried it a couple of times and consistently disliked it precisely as I would dislike a cold shower.

Now that I think of it, there are many mental activities that I dislike precisely that way. (Or, at least, there used to be many; now there are fewer.) One of them is the Gunnery puzzle in Puzzle Pirates. To try to extract a general trend here, I tend to dislike things that require me to react quickly. I used to loathe such things, along with a host of other things: asymmetry, discontinuity, permanence. If I had been omnipotent when I was a kid, perhaps I would have replaced the world with a sphere.

Gosh, I was a really messed-up kid back then.

Comment author: erm 25 February 2010 08:01:36AM 3 points [-]

The things that I enjoy in a game are repetition, speed and simple strategy. I guess that dnb has the first two. When I started playing it I think I found it 'intriguing,' as it felt so odd to play. What I enjoy about it now is the way in which it highlights my distracting thoughts and pushes me to disregard them - this can be relaxing after a tough day at work.

Comment author: [deleted] 25 February 2010 05:37:36PM 2 points [-]

It sounds like the games you like are precisely the games I don't like.

Comment author: wedrifid 24 February 2010 01:03:31PM 2 points [-]

What do you use to do your dual-n-back training?

Comment author: erm 24 February 2010 02:08:33PM 3 points [-]

I have been using the cognitivefun site and, more recently http://www.brainboffin.com/, which permits me to do more than 9-back. There is a multimodal version at http://cognitivefun.net/test/24 that I also occasionally use.

I would use the downloadable Brain Workshop but am running an inflexible OS on decrepit hardware and do not have the wit to get it to work.

Comment author: wedrifid 24 February 2010 08:20:30PM *  0 points [-]

You are able to do more than 9-back? I just have to say: Wow!

I'm downloading Brain Workshop as I speak. I'll have a play and see how it compares to the Luminosity games I've tinkered with.

Comment author: arundelo 24 February 2010 08:55:52PM 0 points [-]

Seconded. (I find dual 1-back challenging and dual 2-back nearly impossible. I have not practiced much, though.)

Comment author: cupholder 07 June 2010 12:30:39PM *  3 points [-]

Weird. I find 2-back pretty easy, but 3-back difficult (I normally get 50-80% accuracy) and 4-back quite tough (20-50% accuracy). I wonder what a typical dual n-back level is.

Edit - OK, pulled up some actual data for anyone else who's curious. The 35 University of Bern students trained in the 2008 study by Jaeggi et al. had a mean dual n-back level very close to 3. After 8-19 days of training that increased to 4-5. The 25 National Taiwan Normal University students who trained on dual n-back for this 2009 Studer et al. poster went from a mean n-back level of 2.0 (with a standard deviation ~1.1) to ~4.6 (standard deviation ~2.3) with 20 days training.

Comment author: Pablo_Stafforini 16 March 2010 12:23:26AM *  2 points [-]

I'm surprised by the discrepancy in scores. I can also do more than 9-back and personally know people who are considerable smarter than I am (e.g., Nick Bostrom and Robin Hanson). I suspect that the n-back game does not very strongly correlate with IQ, or else that scores in this game can be dramatically boosted by the use of certain subtle mnemonic and visualization strategies, which even intelligent people may fail to adopt.

Comment author: gwern 23 February 2010 05:53:11PM 1 point [-]

Dual-n-back training. I can rely on this to drastically reduce anxiety, flightiness, improve concentration. It also seems to whet my appetite for intellectual work and increase purposefulness across the board. +8

Can I use this for my/the DNB FAQ?

Comment author: Kevin 24 February 2010 01:08:50PM *  1 point [-]

Yeah, is this published yet? Whatever you are working on, or something similar, could be a top-level post here.

Comment author: gwern 24 February 2010 03:10:21PM *  3 points [-]

I don't think my FAQ is appropriate for the top-level, as DNB is to me still in the twilight zone of effectiveness - unlike, say, melatonin.

Part of the problem is that the academic research (specifically Jaeggi 2008 and Jaeggi 2010) is flawed (see the Moody section of the FAQ), and the time consumption is massive: I'm willing to stump for melatonin because the time consumption is 1 or 2 seconds a day and the effects are clear; I'm not willing to stump for something with unclear (if possibly much more valuable) effects and consuming on the order of 20 minutes a day.

Comment author: wedrifid 24 February 2010 01:06:26PM 0 points [-]

Where is this FAQ? Is it something here that I have missed?

Comment author: gwern 24 February 2010 03:07:36PM *  1 point [-]

It's a FAQ I've been compiling/writing for the Dual N-Back mailing list; you can find the latest link here: http://gwern.net/DNB%20FAQ

(That's just the static HTML version, though, which I sometimes update; the real latest Markdown is in my Darcs repo: https://patch-tag.com/r/gwern/Gwern/home .)

Comment author: erm 24 February 2010 12:11:09PM 0 points [-]

You may do, but you might end up including me twice, as I have posted similar thoughts elsewhere, under a different name (cev).

Comment author: gwern 24 February 2010 03:05:25PM 0 points [-]

Oh; I do have you already then, under

“I think I’ve put my finger on a particular benefit of dnb training: it seems to help my brain’s ‘internal clock’ - I am better able to order my thoughts in time."

But no reason I couldn't quote you twice as the quotes differ?

Comment author: erm 24 February 2010 03:12:57PM 0 points [-]

Yeah, sure - I couldn't remember what I may have said earlier.

Comment author: orthonormal 21 February 2010 10:32:57PM 1 point [-]

Thanks! Lots of intriguing techniques here. I hope you don't mind if, in order not to have too long a list in the post, I try to consolidate and cluster your ideas. Would the following be a fair condensation of your top tactics:

  • Think it, Do it
  • Monoidealism
  • Third Person Techniques (imagine being observed, self-experimentation)
  • Preserve the Mental State
Comment author: erm 22 February 2010 08:37:02AM 0 points [-]

Yeah, that looks fine.