Always be solving the problem

My cliff notes for “Moving towards the goal“:

This is simple advice, but sometimes that can be helpful.

When working towards an ambitious goal — say, ending aging — don’t ask what needs to be done right now, or what can you do right away. Rather, identify a goal. And if you can’t complete it literally tomorrow, identify what obstacles are in your way, and then simply move towards your goal by attacking those obstacles. If the obstacles are still large, break them down into small chunks, and so on.

This doesn’t mean working directly on the goal at all times. For example, perhaps getting out of debt first (focusing on this for years, even) will get you there in a shorter time span overall. There’s always some action you can take.

The challenge of staying motivated and focused when facing large problems makes moving towards the goal difficult.

But we humans can make a difference — when we try, we either succeed eventually, or die trying, having moved efforts closer for others to continue the work. So, to be effective, always be solving the problem, by always be addressing an obstacle between you and your goal.

This post is part of the thread: Replacing Guilt Cliffs Notes – an ongoing story on this site. View the thread timeline for more context on this post.

Abandon pursuit of the best possible action

My cliff notes for “The best you can“:

Protagonists in fiction often make the mistake in over-investing resources into focused actions with relatively low impact compared with broader actions that could have a greater impact. These narratives teach us a bad lesson.

We fall into this trap when aiming for the “best action” we can take, instead of accepting that the best choice of action apparent to us moment to moment, and acting on it.

Trying to identify the “right” action leads to decision paralysis, as the imperfect information and boundless uncertainty available to us makes it a very hard question to answer. “What’s the best action I can find in the next five minutes?” is easy in contrast. Identifying the actually best option is impossible, unlike the best-you-can-find option. Focusing on the latter thus spends much less energy.

This is especially poignant if you’re trying solve major problems: No matter what you do, you’ll never fix everything. Consider human history — with its hundreds of billions of lives already lost — and conclude that we aren’t playing to win here; we’ve already lost, so aiming for total victory is folly.

Without that pressure, you’re free to focus on doing all that you can do to make things a little bit better — and that’s literally all that you can do. So don’t let this what’s-the-best-action fallacy lead you into decision paralysis. Get on with doing what you can.

This post is part of the thread: Replacing Guilt Cliffs Notes – an ongoing story on this site. View the thread timeline for more context on this post.