Useful maxims

post by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2012-07-11T11:56:57.489Z · score: 26 (27 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 111 comments

In a New York shop, I once got pressure-sold something expensive I didn't really want; when I said it cost too much, I was asked what I might be prepared to pay, and we ended up haggling.  Since then, I've had a rule:

and I have been very glad of it on many occasions.  I can go for a short walk to decide, and if I don't want it, I simply don't return to the shop.  This means I'm deciding in calm surroundings, based on what I want rather than on embarrassment.

Are there other maxims I could adopt that would serve me equally well?

(Personal note: I'm in the Bay Area for a week after minicamp, Sunday July 29th to Sunday August 5th. Let's hang out, go to things together, help make my visit cooler! Mail me: paul at Thanks!)


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-07-11T16:50:56.609Z · score: 18 (20 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

A few maxims that serve me well, which might or might not serve you well. include:

  • Reward the behavior I want, ignore the behavior I don't want.

  • Get enough sleep. It's amazing how much smarter and more pleasant other people become when I'm not tired.

  • Attend to likely motives. In particular, if someone says something, consider what they intend to accomplish by doing so. If I'm not sure, then I don't actually yet understand what they said, regardless of the words they used.

  • Attend to the next thing. That is, large projects and future goals and so forth just tend to distract or overwhelm me; to make progress, I need to know what the next action/decision is, and the one after that, and the one after that.

  • As K&P put it: "When you make a decision, do something. Don't just go somewhere or make another decision."

comment by philh · 2012-07-11T17:02:07.762Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

(That book is by Kernighan and Plauger, not K&R.)

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-07-11T17:31:29.992Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Whoops! I even looked it up because I couldn't remember the other author's name, and then got it wrong anyway. Humph. Thanks for the correction; fixed.

comment by Brigid · 2012-07-12T05:53:54.509Z · score: 17 (17 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The Marine Corps has two maxims that I find useful in beating akrasia:

-If you can’t get out of it, get into it.

-False motivation is still motivation.

If you have to do something, you might as well find a way to make it fun (even if its a stupid way). Being ridiculously overenthusiastic about whatever it is you don't want to do is often enough to make the activity enjoyable. In the Marine Corps, this usually amounts to Marines yelling silly sounds at the top of their lungs or doing things as fast as they can or in a overly exaggerated manner, but I can attest to the fact that the maxims work well in the my rest of life too.

comment by aelephant · 2012-07-13T00:36:29.550Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

At 1st read the 1st maxim struck a cord in me. On 2nd thought, the 1st part, "if you can't get out of it", seems to be encouraging avoidant behavior. If I rephrased it to be more in line with my goals, it would be something like, "if you're doing it, get into it" but it doesn't sound as clever that way.

comment by Brigid · 2012-07-13T21:55:28.486Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It is encouraging avoidant behavior, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Given a job you don't want to do at work? See if someone will trade with you; they might not mind it so much. Assigned a task for what you consider a bad reason, like covering someone's a**? Come up with a more productive solution and try to convince your boss. Trying to "get out of something" isn't negative; sometimes it just means convinving others to use common sense or pooling your resources (time, effort) with someone else.

comment by aelephant · 2012-07-14T02:38:16.413Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

That makes a lot of sense. Thanks for taking the time to re-frame it that way.

comment by Morendil · 2012-07-11T23:04:37.021Z · score: 16 (16 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Never sign a contract under time pressure. One day per page might be a usable heuristic.

Resist the urge to answer this email right now, especially if it's important. Treat emails as you would postal mail.

Before entering into an agreement with anyone, try to set up a small obstacle that they have to overcome in order to close on the agreement. (For instance: meet you outside of their office, or buy you coffee.) If they fail this dedication test, perhaps they don't really want this deal.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2012-07-12T14:04:05.646Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Before entering into an agreement with anyone, try to set up a small obstacle that they have to overcome in order to close on the agreement. If they fail this dedication test, perhaps they don't really want this deal.

It reminds me about the idea that people treat zero costs psychologically very differently than epsilon costs. (Dan Ariely: Predictably Irrational) This strategy changes the cost of your help from zero to epsilon.

comment by RomeoStevens · 2012-07-12T09:32:22.395Z · score: 13 (13 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

In a sense everything under about $300 is already mine in that I could have it if I really wanted it with no real consequences on the rest of my life. This relieves the need to buy lots of stuff, if I ever REALLY need it it will be there.

comment by purplerabbits · 2012-07-11T21:23:48.069Z · score: 13 (13 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

When you come to move, and a thing you're planning to move is still in a box since the last move, throw it out.

If you are keeping a thing 'because it might come in handy' and the occasion arises when it WOULD have been handy except you forget you have it, throw it out.

On smaller purchases I note that I have a danger zone of between £3 and £8 where it's easy to just spend money without discernible benefit (it's no coincidence that this equals about a coffee and a bun in Starbucks). So I have a rule that unless it's something I actually need Right Now, I make a maximum of one such purchase per non-working day.

comment by Xachariah · 2012-07-11T23:30:29.992Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

When you come to move, and a thing you're planning to move is still in a box since the last move, throw it out.

There's a neat little related lifehack regarding clothes that works similarly.

Each year at a good landmark point (ie, spring cleaning or 1st week of the school year if you're a student), sort through your closet and organize/clean your stuff. Then, when you put your clothes back into the closet, put the hangars backwards, so that you have to reach around and hook them behind the bar. As you wear clothes, place the hangars in normally.

The next time you organize your closet (ie, spring cleaning the year later or when the school year ends), note which clothes and still backwards and consider throwing them away or donating them. If you didn't wear them that year, chances are you won't wear them next year either.

comment by Alicorn · 2012-07-12T05:30:29.371Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If I did this, I would know exactly which clothes would still be backwards, and if I still didn't want to throw them out I'd wear them exactly once, effectively sabotaging the system.

comment by billswift · 2012-07-12T06:43:09.698Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It would still help you identify clothes you were overlooking rather than either wearing or throwing out.

comment by Benquo · 2012-07-12T13:45:21.521Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, if on reflection, you don't want to wear them, and don't want to throw them out, you could at least store them more compactly rather than taking up valuable closet space.

comment by MixedNuts · 2012-07-13T17:37:07.621Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If a given year is warm, you'll throw away all your warm clothes and be screwed the following winter.

comment by handoflixue · 2012-07-18T20:21:35.618Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Huh. You and I live in completely different climates - I'd be shocked to go through a winter that doesn't require warm clothes, or a summer that requires cool clothes. I might not put on snow gear each year, but I wouldn't consider that "clothes" for the purposes of this maxim.

comment by MixedNuts · 2012-07-18T20:59:18.019Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Portland has an unusually small thermal amplitude.

comment by handoflixue · 2012-07-18T22:07:09.698Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Is it really that unusual to expect both summer and winter clothes to get worn every year? I know it's true of Minneapolis and Seattle as well, and I've been lead to believe it's true for most of Canada and Alaska.

comment by MixedNuts · 2012-07-19T12:36:34.200Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think in terms of layers that can be added or shed. (So it's less "winter and summer clothes" and more "winter and year-round clothes".) They are in order: shirt or T-shirt, cardigan, jersey, other jersey, thick woolen monstrosity. This year I've never needed the outermost layer, but I expect to next year. I also wore a light coat, but next year I'll probably need a winter coat.

comment by David_Gerard · 2012-07-12T10:08:34.569Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

When you come to move, and a thing you're planning to move is still in a box since the last move, throw it out. If you are keeping a thing 'because it might come in handy' and the occasion arises when it WOULD have been handy except you forget you have it, throw it out.

Hell yes.

comment by CronoDAS · 2012-07-12T06:21:04.412Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently what should not be done at all.

-- Peter Drucker

Not doing something is almost always an option. Sometimes it's even the right one.

comment by shminux · 2012-07-11T20:24:43.888Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

My instinctive reaction, which is by no means a maxim, is

  • when pressured by a hard-sell tactics, disengage immediately

The justification, in retrospect, is that were the merchandise worth the price, chances are the seller would not have to resort to extreme measures. It has served me well when dealing with car salespeople and telemarketers. but is probably not applicable in many other cases.

comment by asparisi · 2012-07-11T16:33:57.657Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

One I find useful for interpersonal dealings, as well as a lot of other things is:

  • If you don't like the effect, don't produce the cause.

Seems like a simple rule to follow, but I'd say at least half of the mistakes I make are due to when I neglect this rule.

comment by billswift · 2012-07-12T06:48:55.000Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Closely related:

  • When you choose an action, you are also choosing the results of that action.
comment by sixes_and_sevens · 2012-07-11T16:49:49.263Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Earlier this year a dance instructor advised me "don't initiate anything you're not prepared to deal with".

comment by fubarobfusco · 2012-07-12T01:26:24.683Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Don't let your make promises your can't keep" — for various values of foo and bar.

comment by RobertLumley · 2012-07-11T14:38:45.554Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Related to your original maxim: If you want to buy something, always spend at least five minutes, by the clock, thinking about whether the you of three hours from now, three days from now, and three years from now will be glad of your purchase.

This is a maxim that I only just now formalized, but it's something that, in principle, I always try to do.

comment by RomeoStevens · 2012-07-11T19:25:29.682Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I find it useful to consider alternative uses of the same money.

comment by beoShaffer · 2012-07-11T18:44:41.022Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I like the thought, but unless you have a serious problem with impulse buys I would limit it to purchases that are at least moderately expensive.

comment by RobertLumley · 2012-07-11T19:04:00.355Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yeah, it pretty obviously shouldn't be applied to things worth less than 1/12th X, where X is how much you value an hour of your time.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2012-07-11T20:38:56.693Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)
  • Just because I'm wrong, that doesn't mean you're right.

The truth might be somewhere completely different.

comment by billswift · 2012-07-12T06:44:45.482Z · score: 19 (19 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The converse, "Just because you are wrong, doesn't mean that I am right", is harder for most people to remember.

comment by Dorikka · 2012-07-19T10:40:39.898Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Related, from a past rationality quotes thread:

“Just because you two are arguing, doesn’t mean one of you is right.”

~Maurog (from the XKCD forums, I think)

comment by fiddlemath · 2012-07-11T15:57:25.967Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm anti-impulsive by default. In the face of new things to try or do or see, saying no is easy, saying yes is hard. I usually enjoy new experiences when I have them, and I crave them in general, but I have to steel myself to have them. I'm afraid of doing things wrong because they're new, I'm afraid of looking silly because I don't know what I'm doing, I'm afraid of doing things suboptimally, or paying too much, or spending too much time at something, and so on and so on. Reflectively, I endorse none of these fears to the degree I have them. And so:

  • Awkward and fresh beats comfortable and stale.

I run this in my head, and get some distance from those little fears, and that often suffices to do awesome things.

comment by bentarm · 2012-07-11T23:55:12.595Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

My counter to this instinct, which is obviously less accurate, but perhaps more snappy is:

  • Always do everything.

In particular, if it comes to a choice between doing something and not doing it (as opposed to a choice between doing something and doing something else), you should always choose to actively do. Obviously, there are likely to be budget constraints, but it's only supposed to be a guideline.

comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2012-07-11T16:00:53.717Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Heh, the thing I try to think to myself is not always true, but worth thinking about.

The funny thing about regret is, it's better to regret something you have done, than to regret something you haven't done.

comment by billswift · 2012-07-12T06:53:05.356Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)
  • I have often regretted my speech, never my silence. - - Publilius Syrus

  • Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time; it is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable. - - Sydney Harris

  • My version: You will regret missed opportunities far more than anything you actually do.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2012-07-12T14:10:10.956Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You will regret missed opportunities far more than anything you actually do.

But that's probably a bias. You often don't realize what you missed; and even if you do, the missed things are usually in a far mode.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-07-12T14:42:44.280Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

My version: You will regret missed opportunities far more than anything you actually do.

Totally not true. Things I actually do have far more salience. Things I don't actually do I usually don't even remember and if I do they certainly don't drag around much in the way of emotional weight. Perhaps my regret mechanism is different?

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-07-12T15:11:52.763Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I expect that people who regret missed opportunities more than actual behavior have higher estimates of the expected value of hypothetical actions than people who don't. That is, they believe the X they didn't do would have been totally awesome, whereas the Xes they actually did do have various flaws and blemishes.

comment by handoflixue · 2012-07-18T20:25:37.189Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I tend towards inaction, so I tend to regret inaction more than action - there's often been situations where I think I probably could have made a difference if I'd just gotten involved. That said, actions occasionally explode in BIG ways and form very lasting, intense regrets. I seem to handle the latter MUCH better than the former, though, so I'd still rather push towards action over inaction.

But, ideally, I'd like to push for "action, with 5 minutes of sane contemplation beforehand", because I almost never regret that - I often still have "learning experiences", but it's much easier to say to myself "Well, I did the best I could with the information I had at the time, and now I'll have a better model in the future".

comment by komponisto · 2012-07-11T17:25:10.482Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The (mostly sound) heuristic underlying this, I think, is: choose the action that will cause you to learn more.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2012-07-12T10:23:38.123Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Oh no, not another learning experience!"

comment by Jayson_Virissimo · 2012-07-13T09:38:24.135Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Wise men store up knowledge, but the mouth of a fool invites ruin.

-Proverbs 10:14

My personal version would go something like this:

More Anki, less debating politics on Facebook.

comment by Will_Newsome · 2012-07-15T02:06:47.330Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Give not that which is holy to dogs; neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest perhaps they trample them under their feet, and turning upon you, they tear you.

— Matthew 7:6

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-13T22:34:44.314Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Except for languages and stuff like that, I don't think the kind of learning you get from Anki and similar is that useful. I say I learn something when it becomes truly part of me -- which Anki cannot do. Merely memorizing stuff which I could look up on Google in a few seconds if I needed to doesn't sound like a terribly useful use of my time. (Einstein didn't see the use of learning the speed of sound in air when he could look it up, and he didn't have a cellphone with an Internet connection with him all the time.)

comment by Antisuji · 2012-07-17T04:20:20.907Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This has not been my experience with Anki, or at least not exclusively. The optimal way to use SRS is to build a complex, redundant network of associations. In other words, to do what you'd be doing anyway, but ideally in less time and with less effort. Each repetition of a fact is an opportunity to strengthen not only the connection represented therein, but the adjacent connections in your network.

You're not just memorizing facts; you're explicitly training your internal models.

comment by Benquo · 2012-07-17T04:24:29.188Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Do you have an example of where that's worked out well for you?

comment by Kyre · 2012-07-13T06:52:57.751Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Get the small serving size. I now have this as a reflex:

"Would you like a small, medium or large ?" "Small."

"Regular, large or jumbo ?" "Small." *

"Would you like to supersize that ?" "No."

"Would you like fries with that ?" "No."

Avoids being flustered by a waiter / waitress looking at you or a queue of hungry people. Avoids overeating regret or plates of of uneaten food. On the rare occasion I finish still hungry, I can usually get a doughnut or something.

(* you don't have to conform to stupid linguistic inflation games, they know what you mean)

comment by handoflixue · 2012-07-18T20:28:00.616Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Follow-up to this: It's much easier to purchase additional food.

Over-ordering will lead to either waste or, more likely for most people, over-eating. Either way, you've wasted money, and in the latter case you're also suffering health effects.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-11T14:34:30.773Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Eat sleep and have sex before making any big decision. Getting into that emotional ground state is valuable.

comment by Rubix · 2012-07-13T21:29:22.011Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I like this one. My favorite maxim about well-being is to check if I'm Hungry (or thirsty,) Angry, Lonely or Tired if I feel generic discontentment. (Spells HALT.)

comment by Trevor_Caverly · 2012-07-11T15:08:04.308Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What if you're deciding whether to have sex?

comment by shminux · 2012-07-11T15:42:13.900Z · score: 18 (20 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Have solo sex first.

comment by handoflixue · 2012-07-18T20:28:22.335Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thank you :)

comment by shminux · 2012-07-18T22:21:48.101Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

For what? Did it work out well for you?

comment by handoflixue · 2012-07-18T23:11:25.365Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's a pre-existing practice of mine, I just like seeing others encourage it. There's often a stigma against the idea.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2012-07-11T15:43:18.794Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Eat and sleep.

comment by GoldenWolf · 2012-07-11T13:08:48.770Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Pillage then burn!

More seriously, the things you don't want to do right now are probably the things that you should be doing. Works for me.

comment by RolfAndreassen · 2012-07-11T17:03:33.375Z · score: 14 (14 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't want to repeatedly punch myself in the face with a large hammer. I suggest that your maxim may need a small asterisk indicating that a certain amount of pre-selection has happened. :)

comment by novalis · 2012-07-11T18:03:23.650Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Perhaps "the things you want to do some time, but not right now."

comment by pjeby · 2012-07-11T21:15:58.135Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Perhaps "the things you want to do some time, but not right now."

More like, "the things you want to have done, but don't necessarily want to do."

comment by Morendil · 2012-07-11T23:06:54.099Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

That too has at least one counterexample. Many people want to have written a book, while very few want to write a book. Yet, I'm not sure I would advise everyone in the first category that the optimal decision is to embark on the effort.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2012-07-12T06:35:10.364Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

That too has at least one counterexample.

Every generalisation has at least one counterexample.

comment by Xachariah · 2012-07-13T01:39:50.834Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Every generalisation has at least one counterexample.

Except for that one! Wait a minute...

comment by CronoDAS · 2012-07-12T06:12:26.598Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Think of the solution, not of the problem.

-- Terry Goodkind, Wizard's First Rule

Having your thoughts run in a loop about why your situation is horrible won't make it better. If you lock yourself out of your hotel room in your underwear, standing around in the hallway worrying about it isn't going to make going to the front desk any less embarrassing. You need a room key; go figure out a way to get one!

See also.

comment by OrphanWilde · 2012-07-12T13:21:05.382Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

A poorly-defined problem gets poor solutions.

I personally find that a well-defined problem almost always encapsulates the solution in its own problem description.

comment by fiddlemath · 2012-07-14T18:54:04.682Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I agree connotatively, but disagree denotatively. The version for LessWrongians might go a little more like this:

  • When you feel overconstrained, question your constraints, make peace with the consequences of breaking them, and attend your options, not your panic.

In particular, in situations where your panic at fearful outcomes is worse than one of those outcomes, just accept that outcome instead of accepting the panic.

comment by Jonathan_Graehl · 2012-07-14T02:41:49.696Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes (as you intend it). But I also see people discussing "the solution" all the time when they haven't understood a thing.

comment by OphilaDros · 2012-07-12T04:47:43.092Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This helped me to prevent clutter from creeping back into my house after a dedicated decluttering effort: Never put an item on your list of things to buy the first time you feel a need for it. Wait until you feel its absence it 2 or 3 times, because chances are, something you've already got can substitute well enough for the functionality you are missing.

If you ever declutter, you'll find a surprising amount of products that end up in the corners of shelves which were used only once ever and then forgotten. Chances are you'll find 2 or 3 copies of the same thing, because a lot of times you don't even remember you had bought one of them months ago.

Ciphergoth's maxim for purchases of expensive items is excellent. I'm going to be using it, thanks!

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2012-07-11T14:45:21.627Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This works for romance/sex, too. Have a hard wall on how far you'll go, and only move it when you're alone and calm. When you're in the heat of the moment, keep in mind that you can move it when you're alone and calm. You can even intend to do so -- and if when the time comes, you still think so, there you go.

Having that pressure release helps actually stay within the bounds you set. Otherwise it requires a great dal more patience.

comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2012-07-11T19:59:37.110Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have to say, I'm not sure I know why you would want to set strong bounds here, particularly when it comes to sex. I have never had occasion to think "I wish I hadn't done that sexual thing that seemed like a good idea in the heat of the moment".

comment by RobertLumley · 2012-07-11T20:07:23.554Z · score: 4 (10 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have never had occasion to think "I wish I hadn't done that sexual thing that seemed like a good idea in the heat of the moment".

This is much more commonly true for men than women.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2012-07-11T20:47:26.179Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There are some other people of whom this is true, but not in a good way.

comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2012-07-12T07:10:14.239Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Safety in general is a whole different thing. I think Luke's maxim is about regrets rather than safety.

comment by billswift · 2012-07-12T17:20:47.350Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

They are not mutually exclusive. I can't think of anything I would regret more than causing a permanent injury to myself or another person.

comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2012-07-13T06:04:47.980Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Is there a better word for the distinction I'm trying to draw?

comment by billswift · 2012-07-13T12:06:22.168Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Not really, because I don't think they are distinct in the way you suggested; rather, I think safety issues are a subset of "things I'll likely regret".

ADDED: Or at least safety issues where things actually do go wrong are "things I'll likely regret".

comment by handoflixue · 2012-07-18T20:31:11.985Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The set of regrets NOT related to safety, and the set of regrets over safety, are two separate sets. Or, if you must, two separate subsets of "things I'll likely regret."

Most people seem to intuitively understand the idea of "emotional" vs "safety" regrets when it comes to sex. i.e. the difference between "I wish I hadn't slept with her, because it ruined our friendship" vs "I wish I hadn't slept with her, because now it burns when I pee."

comment by CronoDAS · 2012-07-12T05:57:22.422Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Have you ever been in a position in which you were tempted to cheat on a significant other? (I think you've written about being in polyamorous relationships...)

comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2012-07-12T07:07:27.531Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've never been in a monogamous relationship. But that would seem like a situation where you already have decided on a bound in advance, and so a rule reminding you to set such a bound doesn't move you forward.

comment by CronoDAS · 2012-07-12T07:16:20.301Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Boundaries have a way of getting fuzzy in the moment. Is it cheating if you kiss someone? If you kiss with tongue? If you put hands on breasts? Etc. Slippery slope, and all that.

comment by RomeoStevens · 2012-07-11T19:27:02.752Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

this seems like a rule for permanently stifling the unadventurous.

comment by sketerpot · 2012-07-12T05:19:02.943Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Not necessarily! If you work out ahead of time what your reasonable limits are, this can serve as mental license to stop worrying and go right up to those limits -- and no one said you had to set them cautiously.

This has been one of my most effective tricks for having fun doing things that are kind of scary.

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2012-07-13T15:21:20.919Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If it ever seems stifling when you're not in the heat of the moment - which is almost all the time - then change your rule. Was I unclear?

comment by RomeoStevens · 2012-07-13T20:33:13.841Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Not unclear. My point was that some people will never do things they wind up enjoying until someone pushes their boundaries in the heat of the moment.

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2012-07-14T12:32:30.589Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Oh, sure. And in that case, such a person suddenly realizes that they WANT to cross that line. They'll remember wanting to cross the line and reconsider when they're calm.

It only gets to be a problem if someone's line is drawn so far away that they never even get a hint that they might want to cross it, and so never reconsider. I have seen one case of that, and it lasted a few years. It is possible that was from trauma, and the limit contracted once she recovered. I do not think being more aggressive in tearing down the wall would have been any help.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-07-12T04:59:31.119Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This works for romance/sex, too. Have a hard wall on how far you'll go, and only move it when you're alone and calm.

This would severely interfere with most people's ability to comfortably maintain hypocritical inconsistent ideals. Not recommended.

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2012-07-13T15:18:55.266Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Please elaborate.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-07-13T19:37:23.505Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Please elaborate.

For most people their instincts have far better judgement than whatever abstract ideas they have floating around in their head. It takes a lot of self awareness and rational thinking for "far mode" thinking to be as useful as "near mode" when it comes to actual behaviors.

comment by Rubix · 2012-07-13T21:22:44.394Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This somewhat makes sense to me. Note that I still think consent is extremely important; it's a terrible idea to e.g. sleep with someone who has never let themselves think in far mode that they want sex, but who would probably like it if they had it - way too risky. But if one knows that a person wants, in far mode, to get laid, I think it's generally okay to push the idea onto them in near mode.

ETA: I'm not disagreeing with OP, just pointing out that for some people, near-mode doesn't impel them to go further, it impels them to hold back.

comment by MixedNuts · 2012-07-13T17:44:55.780Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

wedrifid excuses his lax morals by claiming that others act like him but pretend not to want to.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-07-13T19:42:15.326Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Excuses are for those who fail to live up to their own ideals.

comment by Jonathan_Graehl · 2012-07-14T02:43:44.251Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It took me some effort to link "this" to "never buy when you're in the shop" :)

comment by MixedNuts · 2012-07-13T17:50:51.736Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Note that you can also move the walls to go less far. (A little harder to explain to your partner, though.)

comment by OrphanWilde · 2012-07-11T13:20:10.993Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

In the same vein, never be the sole arbiter of expensive purchasing decisions; pick another person to discuss the decision with. If you're married or dating, you have a good choice there.

This has several advantages; one which may come in particular handy for you in high-pressure situations, is that you can honestly say that you have to discuss the purchase with somebody else. Another is that discussing the issue forces you to articulate your reasons, which will give you a clearer idea of whether or not you really want it.

comment by Grognor · 2012-07-13T02:06:57.634Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Working Mantras

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-12T15:57:30.113Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Quote from Tom West (guy in Soul of the New Machine): Not everything worth doing is worth doing well.

The courage mantra: Courage is being well calibrated with respect to risk; for small games you play often (ie social interaction), if your scariest actions aren't failing as hard as they succeed, you're not being courageous enough.

If you can't predict the outcome with the outside view, do it just to get the data. (Be sensible: don't if you suspect large negative payoffs)

Model people causally, not morally.

comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2012-07-14T06:56:28.191Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

"If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly" - G K Chesterton

comment by Daniel_Burfoot · 2012-07-11T19:24:44.177Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

My recent favorite maxim is "stabilize, modularize, upgrade". It means first get a working prototype or proof of concept built, then make sure the components are as modular and independent of each other as possible, then upgrade each module one by one until you have a complete system. It applies most directly to software engineering, but probably works in other domains as well.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-15T19:05:01.030Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)


comment by arundelo · 2012-07-14T07:24:56.653Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2012-07-12T10:19:07.529Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Incidentally, probably the biggest mistake I have ever made could have been avoided by a similar maxim. I should have said "Yes, let's meet up to discuss these issues and try to make sure it will go well if you move in, but we won't decide while we're both in the room; we'll talk about it, then I'll sleep on it and let you know the next day."

comment by David_Gerard · 2012-07-12T10:15:36.687Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)


comment by keefe · 2012-07-13T13:15:14.451Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think high level generalizations are found in aphorisms and teaching stories from all around the world. They can sometimes be shorthand for a whole story, for example I often remind myself not to eat my money referencing this story:

Mulla Nasrudin, as everyone knows, comes from a country where fruit is fruit and meat is meat, and curry is never eaten. One week he was plodding along a dusty Indian road, having newly descended from the high mountains of Kafiristan, when a great thirst overtook him. "Soon," he said to himself, "I must come across somewhere that good fruit is to be had." No sooner were the words formed in his brain than he rounded a corner and saw sitting in the shade of a tree a benevolent-looking man with a basket of fruit in front of him. Piled high in the basket were huge, shiny red fruits. "This is what I need," said Nasrudin. Taking two tiny coppers from the knot at the end of his turban, he handed them to the fruit-seller. Without a word, the man handed him the whole basket, for this kind of fruit is cheap in India, and people usually buy it in smaller amounts. Nasrudin sat down in the place vacated by the fruiterer and started to much the fruits. Within a few seconds, his mouth was burning. Tears streamed down his cheeks; fire was in his throat. The Mulla went on eating. An hour or two passed, and then an Afghan hillman came past. Nasrudin hailed him, "Brother, these infidel fruits must come from the very mouth of Sheitan!" "Fool!" said the hillman. "Hast thou never heard of the chillis of Hindustan? Stop eating them at once, or death will surely claim a victim before the sun is down." "I cannot move from here," gasped the Mulla, "until I have finished the whole basketful." "Madman! those fruits belong in curry! Throw them away at once." "I am not eating fruit any more," croaked Nasrudin, "I am eating my money."

--Idries Shah's "The Pleasntries of the Incredible Mulla Nasrudin

comment by tut · 2012-07-14T10:28:52.833Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

So "Don't eat your money" is a warning against the sunk cost fallacy.

But wouldn't the rational response in the mullah's situation be to start selling the "fruits" for about the same price as the one you bought them from.

comment by keefe · 2012-07-14T12:36:36.895Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Interesting point...

it's worth noting that he bought them for 2 pennies and the vendor is now gone, but yeah, sunk cost fallacy seems to be about right. For me, the visualization of the story is more real and powerful to me than remembering an abstract idea. There's quite a lot of these stories and most of them are rather old, some more of them are here...

comment by RichardKennaway · 2012-07-13T12:06:13.484Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)
  • I am not interested in what someone is against until I have seen what they are for.

A rule I have just applied here. It's easy to be against things. Anyone can do it, there are whole blogs created just to be against something or other. I don't read sucks blogs.

There are only so many words it is useful to expend on explaining why X sucks. Once you've given all the reasons, there is nowhere to go but to repeat yourself. To whine. It's the safe thing to do, because if you thought about what, specifically, you want instead ("Not X" isn't it), then you would be faced with the task of creating it.

(I won't go into an alternative way of avoiding the work, which is to magnify what you do want into an impossibly huge and far-off goal, except to say that it's a standard transhumanist failure mode.)

comment by buybuydandavis · 2012-07-11T21:38:49.498Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Most people seem to giving a lot of rules of thumb, or even imperatives, instead of what I'd call maxims.

My rule of thumb: write down your maxims, and review them often.

Maxims that cheer you, maxims that motivate you, maxims that kick you out of bad habits, maxims that encourage good habits.

The most important are the maxims that touch you and move you. The best in that regard are quotes from a character in a movie or a book - that quote becomes a touchstone for a full context of meaning.

Two of my new favorites:

Sucker Punch (Sweet Pea)

Who honors those we love for the very life we live? Who sends monsters to kill us, and at the same time sings that we will never die? Who teaches us what's real and how to laugh at lies? Who decides why we live and what we'll die to defend? Who chains us? And Who holds the key that can set us free... It's You. You have all the weapons you need. Now Fight!

HPMOR (Harry)

And someday when the descendants of humanity have spread from star to star, they won't tell the children about the history of Ancient Earth until they're old enough to bear it; and when they learn they'll weep to hear that such a thing as Death had ever once existed!

comment by Logos01 · 2012-07-11T15:39:32.361Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)
  • Be comfortable in uncertainty.

  • Do whatever the better version of yourself would do.

  • Simplify the unnecessary.