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Comment author: ig0r 06 December 2016 12:21:23AM 0 points [-]

This is derivative of meditative insight practice. You may be interested in looking into Vipassana practice. With some time spent building concentration skills this kind of sensation noticing practice is far more powerful (think, LSD-like power) and can be extended to get you a lot more than just joy

In response to comment by ig0r on Finding slices of joy
Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 06 December 2016 12:45:37PM 1 point [-]

Yeah, I've done Vipassana which I'm pretty sure has made the practice a lot easier.

Comment author: Viliam 05 December 2016 01:06:21PM *  0 points [-]

Even for people familiar with the big idea, there may be some new previously unknown details, such as that TAP can actually harm some people (and which ones specifically).

Also, it's worth repeating the basics. Sometimes people chase new epiphanies when they should apply the 80/20 rule instead. The upvotes may express the feeling that having the basics written well, and bringing them back to attention is useful.

But... yeah, even this article could be considered "yet another epiphany", unless people will actually use it in their lives. And we have no evidence that someone actually used it; only that many people liked seeing it.

I wonder how much would it take to bring this to more productive level; to actually make people use the stuff. For example, if the article at the end would repeat a specific sequence of steps people are supposed to take, and then encouraged people to post the results in top-level comments below the article.


So, here are a few examples for myself:

  • When I get to my job, I order a vegetable-based lunch.
  • When my child goes to sleep, I start exercising. (Specifically, the first step is that I bring a cup of water from kitchen, and open my exercise log.)

But it is also interesting to see some of my bad habits as a kind of TAPs installed by a malicious agent in my brain:

  • When I turn on the computer, I start the web browser and go to Facebook.
  • When I am sitting at the computer, and not sure what to do next, I also look at LessWrong and Reddit.
  • When I enter the kitchen, I look at the place where cookies are usually stored, and take one.
Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 06 December 2016 12:44:56PM 1 point [-]

But... yeah, even this article could be considered "yet another epiphany", unless people will actually use it in their lives. And we have no evidence that someone actually used it; only that many people liked seeing it.

I wonder how much would it take to bring this to more productive level; to actually make people use the stuff.

Real-life workshops and study groups. :-)

I'm not even kidding here. This is basically the reason for why you didn't get a writeup of this from CFAR earlier: actually teaching the stuff in person is so much more effective in getting people to use it than just explaining it online is.

Comment author: sen 04 December 2016 02:21:08PM *  1 point [-]

That's not what OP says, and it's also a non-sequitur. Obviousness and intuitiveness does not imply that all goals should be turned to TAPs or that vague triggers shouldn't be used. It's obvious and intuitive to anyone that's flown on an airplane that the Earth is spheroid, but that doesn't mean I should use geodesics to compute the best way to get the the grocery store.

TAPs are useful for people that have problems following through with intentions. OP mentions three example indicators of such problems. If you don't have problems following through, then there is no reason to "make all of your goals into TAPs" or "never think anything with a vague trigger". Putting effort into solving a non-problem is a waste.

To answer your question, hell no. It's clear why this would help certain people, but it's certainly not optimal for people that can look ahead a bit into a future, keep things in mind for later, or... you know, stick to things. The general idea behind TAPs is that people are lazy when they have planning left to do, and they can't remember to do things. Yes, I'll set up notes sometimes, but for the vast majority of things, my brain just reminds me without any explicit triggers. It's not like I feel lazy either, and I don't feel off-put by non-concrete goals, not even a little.

I'm satisfied with my level of productivity, I don't get discouraged by planning or non-concrete goals, and I don't have trouble remembering to do things. TAPs has nothing to offer for me other than ideas on how to model certain aspects of people's brains.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 05 December 2016 05:55:46AM 0 points [-]

Fair enough.

Comment author: sen 03 December 2016 01:21:39PM *  1 point [-]

Reading through this, it seems completely obvious and intuitive, and yet I see a lot of "thumbs up" (or whatever the LW colloquialism is). For the sake of metaoptimization, I have to ask... Has this post actually helped anyone here? Reading through the comments, it seems again like everyone already knew this, and that people are just commenting with their own experiences. If this post didn't actually help anyone here, the obvious follow-up question would be whether the "thumbs up" signal is actually conveying the intended meaning.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 04 December 2016 01:10:29PM *  1 point [-]

Complete obviousness and intuitiveness would imply that you already make all of your goals into TAPs, and never think anything with a vague trigger like "I'll do this later". Is that the case?

Comment author: jollybard 01 December 2016 03:23:50AM 4 points [-]

Personally, I am still eagerly waiting for CFAR to release more of their methods and techniques. A lot of them seem to be already part of the rationalist diaspora's vocabulary -- however, I've been unable to find descriptions of them.

For example, you mention "TAP"s and the "Inner Simulator" at the beginning of this article, yet I haven't had any success googling those terms, and you offer no explanation of them. I would be very interested in what they are!

I suppose the crux of my criticism isn't that there are techniques you haven't released yet, nor that rationalists are talking about them, but that you mention them as though they were common knowledge. This, sadly, gives the impression that LWers are expected to know about them, and reinforces the idea that LW has become a kind of elitist clique. I'm worried that you are using this in order to make aspiring rationalists, who very much want to belong, come to CFAR events, to be in the know.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 01 December 2016 08:35:32PM 6 points [-]

Decided to contribute a bit: here's a new article on TAPs! :)

Making intentions concrete - Trigger-Action Planning

22 Kaj_Sotala 01 December 2016 08:34PM

I'll do it at some point.

I'll answer this message later.

I could try this sometime.

For most people, all of these thoughts have the same result. The thing in question likely never gets done - or if it does, it's only after remaining undone for a long time and causing a considerable amount of stress. Leaving the "when" ambiguous means that there isn't anything that would propel you into action.

What kinds of thoughts would help avoid this problem? Here are some examples:

  • When I find myself using the words "later" or "at some point", I'll decide on a specific time when I'll actually do it.
  • If I'm given a task that would take under five minutes, and I'm not in a pressing rush, I'll do it right away.
  • When I notice that I'm getting stressed out about something that I've left undone, I'll either do it right away or decide when I'll do it.
Picking a specific time or situation to serve as the trigger of the action makes it much more likely that it actually gets done.

Could we apply this more generally? Let's consider these examples:
  • I'm going to get more exercise.
  • I'll spend less money on shoes.
  • I want to be nicer to people.
These goals all have the same problem: they're vague. How will you actually implement them? As long as you don't know, you're also going to miss potential opportunities to act on them.

Let's try again:
  • When I see stairs, I'll climb them instead of taking the elevator.
  • When I buy shoes, I'll write down how much money I've spent on shoes this year.
  • When someone does something that I like, I'll thank them for it.
These are much better. They contain both a concrete action to be taken, and a clear trigger for when to take it.

Turning vague goals into trigger-action plans

Trigger-action plans (TAPs; known as "implementation intentions" in the academic literature) are "when-then" ("if-then", for you programmers) rules used for behavior modification [i]. A meta-analysis covering 94 studies and 8461 subjects [ii] found them to improve people's ability for achieving their goals [iii]. The goals in question included ones such as reducing the amount of fat in one's diet, getting exercise, using vitamin supplements, carrying on with a boring task, determination to work on challenging problems, and calling out racist comments. Many studies also allowed the subjects to set their own, personal goals.

TAPs were found to work both in laboratory and real-life settings. The authors of the meta-analysis estimated the risk of publication bias to be small, as half of the studies included were unpublished ones.

Designing TAPs

TAPs work because they help us notice situations where we could carry out our intentions. They also help automate the intentions: when a person is in a situation that matches the trigger, they are much more likely to carry out the action. Finally, they force us to turn vague and ambiguous goals into more specific ones.

A good TAP fulfills three requirements [iv]:
  • The trigger is clear. The "when" part is a specific, visible thing that's easy to notice. "When I see stairs" is good, "before four o'clock" is bad (when before four exactly?). [v]
  • The trigger is consistent. The action is something that you'll always want to do when the trigger is fulfilled. "When I leave the kitchen, I'll do five push-ups" is bad, because you might not have the chance to do five push-ups each time when you leave the kitchen. [vi]
  • The TAP furthers your goals. Make sure the TAP is actually useful!
However, there is one group of people who may need to be cautious about using TAPs. One paper [vii] found that people who ranked highly on so-called socially prescribed perfectionism did worse on their goals when they used TAPs. These kinds of people are sensitive to other people's opinions about them, and are often highly critical of themselves. Because TAPs create an association between a situation and a desired way of behaving, it may make socially prescribed perfectionists anxious and self-critical. In two studies, TAPs made college students who were socially prescribed perfectionists (and only them) worse at achieving their goals.

For everyone else however, I recommend adopting this TAP:

When I set myself a goal, I'll turn it into a TAP.

Origin note

This article was originally published in Finnish at kehitysto.fi. It draws heavily on CFAR's material, particularly the workbook from CFAR's November 2014 workshop.


[i] Gollwitzer, P. M. (1999). Implementation intentions: strong effects of simple plans. American psychologist, 54(7), 493.

[ii] Gollwitzer, P. M., & Sheeran, P. (2006). Implementation intentions and goal achievement: A meta‐analysis of effects and processes. Advances in experimental social psychology, 38, 69-119.

[iii] Effect size d = .65, 95% confidence interval [.6, .7].

[iv] Gollwitzer, P. M., Wieber, F., Myers, A. L., & McCrea, S. M. (2010). How to maximize implementation intention effects. Then a miracle occurs: Focusing on behavior in social psychological theory and research, 137-161.

[v] Wieber, Odenthal & Gollwitzer (2009; unpublished study, discussed in [iv]) tested the effect of general and specific TAPs on subjects driving a simulated car. All subjects were given the goal of finishing the course as quickly as possible, while also damaging their car as little as possible. Subjects in the "general" group were additionally given the TAP, "If I enter a dangerous situation, then I will immediately adapt my speed". Subjects in the "specific" group were given the TAP, "If I see a black and white curve road sign, then I will immediately adapt my speed". Subjects with the specific TAP managed to damage their cars less than the subjects with the general TAP, without being any slower for it.

[vi] Wieber, Gollwitzer, et al. (2009; unpublished study, discussed in [iv]) tested whether TAPs could be made even more effective by turning them into an "if-then-because" form: "when I see stairs, I'll use them instead of taking the elevator, because I want to become more fit". The results showed that the "because" reasons increased the subjects' motivation to achieve their goals, but nevertheless made TAPs less effective.

The researchers speculated that the "because" might have changed the mindset of the subjects. While an "if-then" rule causes people to automatically do something, "if-then-because" leads people to reflect upon their motivates and takes them from an implementative mindset to a deliberative one. Follow-up studies testing the effect of implementative vs. deliberative mindsets on TAPs seemed to support this interpretation. This suggests that TAPs are likely to work better if they can be carried out as consistently and as with little thought as possible.

[vii] Powers, T. A., Koestner, R., & Topciu, R. A. (2005). Implementation intentions, perfectionism, and goal progress: Perhaps the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 31(7), 902-912.
Comment author: Vaniver 28 November 2016 08:04:10PM *  4 points [-]

How many problems has the second sort solved?

Too many for me to quickly count?

Have you considered that there may be a lot of endless hashing out, not because some people have a preference for it, but because the problems are genuinely difficult?

Yes. It seems to me that both of those factors drive discussions, and most conversations about philosophical problems can be easily classified as mostly driven by one or the other, and that it makes sense to separate out conversations where the difficulty is natural or manufactured.

I think a fairly large part of the difference between LWers and similarly intelligent people elsewhere is the sense that it is possible to differentiate conversations based on the underlying factors, and that it isn't always useful to manufacture difficulty as an opportunity to display intelligence.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 29 November 2016 10:44:47AM 2 points [-]

Too many for me to quickly count?

Name three, then. :)

Comment author: Alexandros 27 November 2016 10:40:52AM *  58 points [-]

Hi Anna,

Please consider a few gremlins that are weighing down LW currently:

  1. Eliezer's ghost -- He set the culture of the place, his posts are central material, has punctuated its existence with his explosions (and refusal to apologise), and then, upped and left the community, without actually acknowledging that his experiment (well kept gardens etc) has failed. As far as I know he is still the "owner" of this website, retains ultimate veto on a bunch of stuff, etc. If that has changed, there is no clarity on who the owner is (I see three logos on the top banner, is it them?), who the moderators are, who is working on it in general. I know tricycle are helping with development, but a part-time team is only marginally better than no-team, and at least no-team is an invitation for a team to step up.

  2. the no politics rule (related to #1) -- We claim to have some of the sharpest thinkers in the world, but for some reason shun discussing politics. Too difficult, we're told. A mindkiller! This cost us Yvain/Scott who cited it as one of his reasons for starting slatestarcodex, which now dwarfs LW. Oddly enough I recently saw it linked from the front page of realclearpolitics.com, which means that not only has discussing politics not harmed SSC, it may actually be drawing in people who care about genuine insights in this extremely complex space that is of very high interest.

  3. the "original content"/central hub approach (related to #1) -- This should have been an aggregator since day 1. Instead it was built as a "community blog". In other words, people had to host their stuff here or not have it discussed here at all. This cost us Robin Hanson on day 1, which should have been a pretty big warning sign.

  4. The codebase, this website carries tons of complexity related to the reddit codebase. Weird rules about responding to downvoted comments have been implemented in there, nobody can make heads or tails with it. Use something modern, and make it easy to contribute to. (telescope seems decent these days).

  5. Brand rust. Lesswrong is now kinda like myspace or yahoo. It used to be cool, but once a brand takes a turn for the worse, it's really hard to turn around. People have painful associations with it (basilisk!) It needs burning of ships, clear focus on the future, and as much support as possible from as many interested parties, but only to the extent that they don't dillute the focus.

In the spirit of the above, I consider Alexei's hints that Arbital is "working on something" to be a really bad idea, though I recognise the good intention. Efforts like this need critical mass and clarity, and diffusing yet another wave of people wanting to do something about LW with vague promises of something nice in the future (that still suffers from problem #1 AFAICT) is exactly what I would do if I wanted to maintain the status quo for a few more years.

Any serious attempt at revitalising lesswrong.com should focus on defining ownership and plan clearly. A post by EY himself recognising that his vision for lw 1.0 failed and passing the batton to a generally-accepted BDFL would be nice, but i'm not holding my breath. Further, I am fairly certain that LW as a community blog is bound to fail. Strong writers enjoy their independence. LW as an aggregator-first (with perhaps ability to host content if people wish to, like hn) is fine. HN may have degraded over time, but much less so than LW, and we should be able to improve on their pattern.

I think if you want to unify the community, what needs to be done is the creation of a hn-style aggregator, with a clear, accepted, willing, opinionated, involved BDFL, input from the prominent writers in the community (scott, robin, eliezer, nick bostrom, others), and for the current lesswrong.com to be archived in favour of that new aggregator. But even if it's something else, it will not succeed without the three basic ingredients: clear ownership, dedicated leadership, and as broad support as possible to a simple, well-articulated vision. Lesswrong tried to be too many things with too little in the way of backing.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 28 November 2016 06:11:28PM *  5 points [-]


For the benefit of anyone else who'd need to Google: Benevolent Dictator For Life

Comment author: Gram_Stone 28 November 2016 03:39:02PM 4 points [-]

I've always really liked this idea. I already do the toothbrushing thing. Hygiene's a good category to pull from. A few others I use:

  • Feeling of cold air
  • Warmth of sunlight
  • Warmth of water, be it bathing, dishwashing, etc.
  • Smell of clean laundry
  • Smell of coffee/warm beverages
  • Feel of wearing freshly cleaned clothing
  • Feel of a fresh shave
  • I often have long hair, and notice that my hair actually starts to feel heavier the longer it goes unwashed, so, the lightness of freshly washed hair
Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 28 November 2016 04:18:34PM *  1 point [-]

Nice list! I've used most of these as well, but I have a pretty weak sense of smell, so I often forget to pay any attention to the smell ones in the first place. Could add those to my own list. :)

Comment author: Elo 27 November 2016 10:19:37PM 2 points [-]

"It is dangerous to be half a rationalist."

It is dangerous to half-arse this and every other attempt at recovering lesswrong (again).

I take into account the comments before mine which accurately mention several reasons for the problems on lw.

The codebase is not that bad. I know how many people have looked at it; and it's reasonably easy to fix it. I even know how to fix it; but I am personally without the coding skill to implement the specific changes. We are without volunteers willing to make changes; and without funds to pay someone to do them. Trust me. I collated all comments on all of the several times we have tried to collate ideas. We are unfortunately busy people. Working on other goals and other projects.

I think you are wrong about the need for a single Schelling point and I submit as evidence: Crony Beliefs. We have a mesh network where valuable articles do get around. Lesswrong is very much visited by many (as evidence by the comments on this post). When individuals judge information worthy; it makes its way around the network and is added to our history.

A year from now; crony beliefs may not be easy to find on lesswrong because it was never explicitly posted here in text, but it will still be in the minds of anyone active in the diaspora.

Having said all that; I am more than willing to talk to anyone who wants to work on changes or progress via skype. PM me to make a time. @Anna that includes you.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 28 November 2016 10:29:02AM 5 points [-]

It's true that articles pass around the rationalist network, and if you happen to be in it, you're likely to see some such articles. But if you have something that you'd specifically want the rationalist community to see, and you're not already in the network, it's very hard.

Some time back, I had a friend ask me how to promote their book which they thought might be of interest to the rationalist community. My answer was basically "you could start out by posting about it on LW, but not that many people read LW anymore so after that I can help you out by leveraging my position in the community". If they didn't know me, or another insider, they'd have a lot harder time even figuring out what they needed to do.

"The rationalist network" is composed of a large number of people and sites, scattered over Tumblr blogs, Facebook groups and profiles, various individual blogs, and so on. If you want to speak to the whole network, you can't just make a post on LW anymore. Instead you need to spend time to figure out who the right people are, get to know them, and hope that you either get into the inner circle, or that enough insiders agree with your message and take up spreading it.

Heck, even though I count myself as "an insider", I've also frequently wanted a way to specifically address the "rationalist community" about various topics, and then not knowing how. I mean, a lot of people in the community read my Facebook posts so I could just post something on Facebook, but that's not quite the same thing.

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