Excuses and validity

post by Elo · 2017-03-13T03:44:03.970Z · LW · GW · Legacy · 7 comments

Original post: http://bearlamp.com.au/on-excuses-and-validity/

We learn't yesterday about what is a problemI want to talk about one specific aspect of the barrier.  The part of the barrier that is inside your head.  The one that makes excuses.

The barrier inside my own head.  The barrier that says, “ice-cream, but I would have to get up out of my chair for that” and decides against it.

Another way to think about one of the classes of in-head barrier is to call them excuses.  The reasons your mind makes up as to why you can't do the thing.  If we create a class of "excuses", we can talk more about it.

Let's take the simple goal of going for a run in the morning, and look at some of the excuses that might arise from trying to avoid it:

The thing about excuses is that they are all equally valid.  "not feeling like it" is just as valid as, "I have a broken leg" as "I don't have the time".  But also the thing about excuses is that they are all equally invalid as well.  "It's too dark" is just as much an invalid excuse as "it's raining out", as "I have a broken leg".

What really is an excuse that is valid?  Well on a day that you got to bed at 4am and you need more sleep than waking up at 7am to go for a run; then yes.  "I wanted to sleep in" is a valid excuse.  On a day where you sleep from 7pm and wake up at 7am refreshed with a 12 hour sleep under your belt.  Well then.  Less of an excuse then.  Which is to say; The validity of an excuse depends on the situation in which it is made.

As I said above, any excuse is a valid excuse.  And any excuse is an invalid one.  To a person who gets sick easily; "it's raining" is a real excuse, to someone who can probably run in the rain; that's not much of an excuse.

All excuses are real excuses.  There are no rules for which excuses are valid excuses and which excuses are not valid excuses.  The solution lies in sorting out the goal and the counter-goals.  I have referenced Kegan's immunity to change beforemore than once.  I have talked about barriers before too.  I previously said:

What we are doing with our time is everything else that we are choosing not to do with our time.

This is what excuses do.  They (sneakily) say, "I am not going to pursue that goal X, because I am instead going to pursue that goal Y".

The simple "I don't want to go for a run because it's raining", is really the more complicated and long winded, "I considered my preference of making sure I don't get sick by avoiding cold and windy conditions and I compared it to my preference of exercising in the morning by going for a run and I decided that I would rather not go for a run, and instead avoid the cold and windy conditions".  Which is fine.

Ideally any excuse that you make can be written out in it's long winded form.  In this form the self melts away, the guilt melts away, the shoulds disappear.  all that is left is several goals or several preferences battling it out for what is ultimately the action you take.

What about when we take the long winded of, "I don't want to go for a run because it's raining", and we get something like this, "I weighed up my preference for not getting dripped on while I go for a run alongside my preference to exercise by running in the morning and I realised I don't want to go running in the rain anyway".  Well, maybe then it's time to consider if this is a valid excuse for you.  Or maybe it will be completely obvious whether it is or is not a valid excuse when you lay it out like that.

Putting it to use

0. Be willing to try this.  Precommit to giving it a shot for the next 10 times you notice you make an excuse to not do something.

  1. Noticing.  I can't really explain how to notice when you make excuses.  But in order to do something about it; you need some kind of trigger, some kind of voice in your head that goes, "hey, wait...  Am I sure that's not an excuse?".  Look for times when you say no.  Look for times when people challenge your automatic actions.
  2. Make it a long winded excuse.  Take the surface reasons and trace them back to the goals at the root of the statement.
  3. Lay them out against each other.  You can do this in your head, you can do this on a piece of paper, or a spreadsheet.  In a conversation with a friend.  It doesn't really matter how you do that.
  4. Choose.  Pick which goals you want to fulfil.  Or investigate how to do all the things you want to do.  Maybe there's an indoor exercise routine that isn't running outside that still is exercise but doesn't get you rained on.  Ideally meeting all the goals is the intention.
  5. Share.  Write back if it worked, if you discovered excuses you make that you can now stop making.  

The funny thing about excuses is that they don't feel like you are making excuses from the inside.  They feel like you are making decisions.  If you hold certain goals strongly enough, then it's clear when you fail to carry them out.

The great part about this process is you get to say, "yes!  I don't want to go for a run because I care about not getting sick", you get to feel good about your preferences.  Even as they take your other preferences and smush them into the ground.  You can feel good about choosing that path because it is your choice.

If that's not what you want - then it's time to change your preferences!  Wilfully and because you want it.  with your active brain, not with your passive-whatever "more junk foods" brain.

Next up: Noble excuses

Meta: this took two hours to write.  About half way I got tired and distracted and the rest took a lot longer to write.


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2017-03-13T20:13:19.984Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You say all excuses are equally valid and then turn around and say they're more or less valid. Do you mean that excuses people would normally think of making have a largely overlapping range of possible validities?

Replies from: Elo
comment by Elo · 2017-03-13T22:44:05.133Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Do you mean that excuses people would normally think of making have a largely overlapping range of possible validities?

The validity of an excuse is entirely circumstantial. There could be valid times where, "I don't feel like it" is a good excuse and valid times where, "literally have a broken leg" is not a valid excuse.

You say all excuses are equally valid and then turn around and say they're more or less valid.

The same excuse is all parts valid and invalid. Excuses do not "excuse" the way they might be used. They lack explanation power and they don't make anyone feel better to hear them. They are just really bad ways to think about problems. And have all this sneaky brain stuff that let's you think you are justified or safe with making excuses.

Have you ever been on the receiving end of an invalid excuse and felt better about your situation? How about a valid excuse? By who's judgement was that excuse valid or invalid? If only by the person giving an excuse is an excuse valid it fails to be useful to the rest of the world. And moreso, if your excuses are only valid to yourself and they arise from your internal voice telling you the reasons why; who is winning from your internal delusion?

comment by dglukhov · 2017-03-15T13:03:39.959Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

To strip situations of choice simply down to the merits of all goals contained within a situation is the best approach. To inject excuses into the situation is the easy approach. At the end of the day, if you constantly checked yourself for the presence of competing goals, you'd see that, with practice, it will get easier and easier to notice that your goals may be at odds with your comfort zone. Chances are, a LOT of goals lie outside your comfort zone. If they were in your comfort zone, they wouldn't even seem like goals, when the barrier to doing them is trivial.

Its interesting to notice this analysis. A lot of trainers (fitness, in my case) will strip the situation down to this kind of a framing. However, that's the easy part. In my experience thereafter, the best advice given was to practice the technique of getting outside that comfort zone, without really any direction in mind as to how to do it or when. This can be dangerous in some ways, extremely beneficial in others. Exercise caution.

EDIT: Therapists trained in cognitive-behavioral therapy would have a much better time guiding and directing those willing to engage in this kind of exercise than athletic trainers, now that I think about it. Definitely worth exploring that alternative if personal attempt become unfruitful.

Replies from: Elo
comment by Elo · 2017-03-15T23:15:30.703Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I wrote about comfort zone before:


Namely that pushing yourself out of comfort is going to cause harm, whereas expanding your comfort zone until it includes the things that you previously wanted to do but were not comfortable doing is a reasonable way to expand comfort zones.

With regard to training: injuries are for life. It's very costly to make mistakes that cause injury.

Replies from: dglukhov
comment by dglukhov · 2017-03-16T16:13:00.247Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm having a hard time distinguishing between your technique and strictly finding ways to AVOID stepping outside the comfort zone.

When you take the time to analyze why the uncomfortable thing is uncomfortable, then seeking solutions to accommodate those discomforts rather than confronting them doesn't seem to change anything for the person.

People form habits, sometimes good ones, sometimes bad ones. Habits require three major components: a signal, a task, and a reward. You seem to suggest that existing habits should be there, stay there, lest we harm ourselves. But how can one establish NEW habits, new tasks we have no training in, when those habits and tasks are not even allowed to be made when your logic dictates doing the routine is a failure mode.

To allude to the bar example. If the routine needed is developing experience BEING comfortable in a bar setting (perhaps a bar is your best chance to meet new people given time constraints or demographic preferences), avoiding the bar altogether won't be conducive to developing the routine. Perhaps learning to feel uncomfortable but still functional is a necessarily required skill in life, and your criticism doesn't seem to account for such a need. You can't always have time to analyze components of a situation and you can't always prepare for everything. Sometimes it pays to think on your feet.

comment by Dagon · 2017-03-13T20:45:41.134Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm confused about the meta - is it intended to be an algebra problem? Was the halfway point in words or time? I guess only words makes sense - if it took 2 hours total, and you slowed down considerably 1 hour in, how could the second hour take longer than an hour? You must mean you wrote quickly for some time X, during which you got half the text completed, and the second half of the text took Y time, Y > X and X + Y = 2h.

Or you mean it should have taken two hours to write, but actually took longer because after an hour you slowed down.

Replies from: Elo
comment by Elo · 2017-03-13T22:33:05.554Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You must mean you wrote quickly for some time X, during which you got half the text completed, and the second half of the text took Y time, Y > X and X + Y = 2h.

y>x, X + Y = 2h.

Sometimes information is hard to get concise the first time. I have to get up, walk away, do somthing else and come back with the right words in the right order.