Self loyalty

My cliff notes for “Self-signaling the ability to do what you want“:

The sunk cost fallacy can lead us to failures like overeating, where if there’s too little prepared food left to save after we are full, we eat it all, without recognizing that the costs of the food are the same whether we overeat or throw away the leftovers.

Willpower based solutions to this kind of problem, being manual, are weak; better to create a new pattern that consistently lets us see what’s in our best interest. For the above example, pre-committing to save the leftovers, no matter how small, can be an effective pattern interrupt. This worked for Nate (the author) by giving what the side of him urging him to overeat really wanted — food storage to stave off fear of scarcity — thus aligning all of himself toward the same goal.

Failing with abandon — “I’ve already failed a little so I may as well fail all the way and enjoy it” — is related to signaling failures.

The technique I’m describing — self-signalling an ability to do the right thing even if it seems too late — can address this failure mode in general.

Failing a little is a self-signal that you can’t succeed. By stopping after you’ve failed a little, before failing with abandon, you can send a new self-signal: That you can stop and do the right thing, even when it might seem too late.

Consistent self loyalty — doing the right thing by yourself in these situations (for example, being loyalty to the part of you that values not wasting food, over judging looks from waiters and other social norms pressuring you not to take home small amounts)  — builds self-trust. This is a virtuous cycle that disarms the impulse to fail with abandon.

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.

No, you could not have

My cliff notes from “Where coulds go”:

Willpower is scarce, and doesn’t work the way we think. When we find ourselves seemingly unable to stop a behavior we’d prefer to avoid (e.g. choosing to watch just one more episode of that show you’re binging on, long after you planned to go to bed), and think next time will be different — we’ll try even harder to stop — we give willpower too much credit.

Our real choice to stop, where we can focus more effective effort to change our behavior, occurs earlier, when making a choice to start down a path that test our willpower. If you have to apply willpower, you’ve already missed the choice to change.

A tool: Pretend you don’t have any willpower. Assume you won’t make the right choice when you start down a path where you know you’ll have trouble.

This requires awareness of patterns of behavior that lead to situations requiring willpower. Look for triggers leading to temptation to make choices you’ll regret.

I don’t treat myself as if I “could” stop binge-reading a good book, and therefore I don’t feel terrible if I binge. Instead, I say, “ah, I see, I binge-read engaging books; I will treat ‘read an engaging book’ as a single atomic action that takes five to twenty hours, with no choice nodes in between.” Where others are berating themselves for failing to complete an impossible task (“stop binge-reading halfway through and get back to real work”), I am learning what I am and am not capable of, and learning where my real action nodes are.

Our “coulds” are broken, in other words we often can’t make the right choice when we think we could. Our better judgement does not rule our behavior. Addiction, our lizard brain, being tired, our emotions — many things work against it. If you repeatedly make the wrong choice in a situation, that reveals that “you could make the right choice” in that situation is incorrect.

But we can win anyway, by “experimenting and identifying which action nodes work”. Make the choices that you succeed at, before facing the difficult decisions.

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.

Don’t Fail with Abandon

My cliffs notes from Failing with Abandon:

If you tend to miss a goal and think “willpower has failed me; I might as well over-indulge” — and girl, do I! — the author call this pattern “failing with abandon.”

You don’t have to fail with abandon. “When you miss your targets, you’re allowed to say ‘dang!’ and then continue trying to get as close to your target as you can.”

When you’ve missed a target, instead try to miss it by as little as possible.

Failing with abandon is like treating your Past Self as an unjust authority setting impossible mandates. Instead of doing that,

remember who put the target there, and you can ask yourself whether you want to get as close to the target as possible. If you decide you only want to miss your target by a little bit, you still 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.