How can one change what they consider "fun"?

post by AmagicalFishy · 2014-11-21T02:04:57.735Z · LW · GW · Legacy · 45 comments

Most of this post is background and context, so I've included a tl;dr horizontal rule near the bottom where you can skip everything else if you so choose. :)

Here's a short anecdote of Feynman's:

... I invented some way of doing problems in physics, quantum electrodynamics, and made some diagrams that help to make the analysis. I was on a floor in a rooming house. I was in in my pyjamas, I'd been working on the floor in my pyjamas for many weeks, fooling around, but I got these funny diagrams after a while and I found they were useful. They helped me to find the equations easier, so I thought of the possibility that it might be useful for other people, and I thought it would really look funny, these funny diagrams I'm making, if they appear someday in the Physical Review, because they looked so odd to me. And I remember sitting there thinking how funny that would be if it ever happened, ha ha.

Well, it turned out in fact that they were useful and they do appear in the Physical Review, and I can now look at them and see other people making them and smile to myself, they do look funny to me as they did then, not as funny because I've seen so many of them. But I get the same kick out of it, that was a little fantasy when I was a kid…not a kid, I was a college professor already at Cornell. But the idea was that I was still playing, just like I have always been playing, and the secret of my happiness in life or the major part of it is to have discovered a way to entertain myself that other people consider important and they pay me to do. I do exactly what I want and I get paid. They might consider it serious, but the secret is I'm having a very good time.

There are things that I have fun doing, and there are things that I feel I have substantially more fun doing. The things in the latter group are things I generally consider a waste of time. I will focus on one specifically, because it's by far the biggest offender, and what spurred this question. Video games.

I have a knack for video games. I've played them since I was very young. I can pick one up and just be good at it right off the bat. Many of my fondest memories take place in various games played with friends or by myself and I can spend hours just reading about them. (Just recently, I started getting into fighting games technically; I plan to build my own joystick in a couple of weeks. I'm having a blast just doing the associated research.)

Usually, I'd rather play a good game than anything else. I find that the most fun I have is time spent mastering a game, learning its ins and outs, and eventually winning. I have great fun solving a good problem, or making a subtle, surprising connection—but it just doesn't do it for me like a game does.

But I want to have as much fun doing something else. I admire mathematics and physics on a very deep level, and feel a profound sense of awe when I come into contact with new knowledge regarding these fields. The other day, I made a connection between pretty basic group theory and something we were learning about in quantum (nothing amazing; it's something well known to... not undergraduates) and that was awesome. But still, I think I would have preferred to play 50 rounds of Skullgirls and test out a new combo.


I want to have as much fun doing the things that I, on a deep level, want to do—as opposed to the things which I actually have more fun doing. I'm (obviously) not Feynman, but I want to play with ideas and structures and numbers like I do with video games. I want the same creativity to apply. The same fervor. The same want. It's not that it isn't there; I am not just arbitrarily applying this want to mathematics. I can feel it's there—it's just overshadowed by what's already there for video games.

How does one go about switching something they find immensely fun, something they're even passionate about, with something else? I don't want to be as passionate about video games as I am. I'd rather feel this way about something... else. I'd rather be able to happily spend hours reading up on [something] instead of what type of button I'm going to use in my fantasy joystick, or the most effective way to cross-up your opponent.

What would you folks do? I consider this somewhat of a mind-hacking question.


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comment by Natha · 2014-11-21T04:17:18.353Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Scott has some useful, if sobering, thoughts about this on his blog and I think I agree with him. He ends up positing that intrinsic motivation is more or less fixed and describes the whole process as a fascination lottery: there are certain things we find inherently interesting and motivating, and other things we could never really be interested in, even if we really really wanted to.

And my attempts to hack intrinsic motivation, which would be like a instant win condition for everything if I could achieve it, have been mostly unsuccessful and left me with severe doubt it is even possible. So I have pretty much given up on math.


But the thing is, I couldn’t choose to be interested in sports any more than I could choose to be interested in math or a huge sports fan could choose to be interested in psychology or a gay person could choose to be interested in women. I mean, there’s probably some wiggle room, maybe if I put a lot of effort into finding the most interesting sports and learning everything about them I could appreciate them a little. But would I have comparative advantage over the kid who memorized the stats of every pitcher in both leagues when he was 8? Barring getting hit by some kinda cosmic rays or something, I don’t think that’ll everhappen.

That being said, it seems a little defeatist. Perhaps there's some way to really choose your fascinations...

Replies from: ChristianKl, Gunnar_Zarncke, solipsist, someonewrongonthenet, jimmy
comment by ChristianKl · 2014-11-21T08:28:25.761Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Scott basically observes that you can't do some thing through shear behaviorism. That only means that a certain tool doesn't work.

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2014-11-21T08:08:34.495Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I basically agree. Motivation seems to be a moderately deep thing (deep as in Seligman's personality depth scale). Depth means you can't just hack your superficial interest. You have to use your unchangeable deep interests to cover other topics.

At least that is what worked for me. My interest for problem solving, esp. clear cut ones as in math led to computer science, physics and - after having built a suitably encompassing world model - social science. By using my fascination for solving problems analytically I could apply this to social situations. Sure, taking social situations analytically is bound to appear awkward. But it fits my personality and it allows to build experience fast. And after some time routine smoothes the edges.

I wonder whether this could work the other way around. Say you are a game geek. If you'd like to be interested in math or physics you could hunt down suitable games. First ideas might be Phun, Crazy Machines, Dragon Box 12+ but there are probably more out there. You could get into educational games. You could try to look deeper into games. Download games for Unity or Scratch and look how the really work. Yes it is not easy, but games like other goods are made for consumption. See behind the screen thrown by the game optimizers. Try to see the principles behind the superficial game objectives. The game played by the developers and marketeers. See life as game.

If your fascination is with reading and writing move (slowly, very gradually) to books and topics that have a focus on the topics you'd like to have. To go to history first go to stories in the past then historical novels, then good biographical stories, and so on. For math/phsics read stories with more math in it. Science fiction might be an avenue. Make a plan. Get into a suitable community.

Social motivations probably work best by getting into a suitable community - except that this might break with your existing one.

I think plausible paths can be constructed easily for many motivations. How and which might be open to discussion.

comment by solipsist · 2014-11-21T15:59:16.035Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

From personal experience, I disagree with this. Many times I have thought "I could do that, but it wouldn't be fun", then done it, and found it to be fun.

Replies from: None, philh
comment by [deleted] · 2014-11-21T18:24:20.579Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This sounds like a separate phenomenon, where you fail to predict your preferences when you have little direct experience. But this is different than if you have tried, e.g. studying mathematics a large number of times, and find that you consistently don't enjoy it.

Of course, people often confuse the two situations: They think that mental simulation of an activity, or trying an activity once or twice, is enough to really claim that they don't enjoy it. For example: the person-who-doesn't-like-dancing but has only tried dancing once or twice in some high-stress public situation.

Replies from: solipsist
comment by solipsist · 2014-11-21T23:45:56.303Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I agree, it's a separate phenomenon, but I think it's the more common one. For example, I doubt Scott ever seriously tried to become interested in sports. I did not understand how I could possibly enjoy sports, at all, ever. Then I read up on American football and watched a few games to broaden my horizons. And do you know what? It was surprisingly fun. I'm still not a sports fan, but I understand how I could become one if I needed to.

comment by philh · 2014-11-21T17:58:44.805Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Finding something unexpectedly fun seems different from finding something unfun and then later finding it fun. (Which in turn is different from finding something unfun and subsequently causing yourself to find it fun.)

comment by someonewrongonthenet · 2014-11-23T01:33:57.765Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think "you can't condition yourself" is pretty different from "intrinsic motivation is fixed".

Ozzy was used as an example in his essay. If you ask me, Ozzy is fascinated by gender because Ozzy is of atypical gender. Gender Studies majors are often gender atypical themselves, and I think it's fairly obvious that this something borne out of life experience.

I'm sure some things are fixed, but there are environmental features here that can be hacked. Ozzy might be physically predisposed to interest in a broad thing like "people's feelings" or something, but there is some sort of psychodynamic process routing this to gender specifically.

I think the right question to ask is "what is that process, and why is it so hard to trigger on purpose?".

comment by jimmy · 2014-11-21T22:59:45.505Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That being said, it seems a little defeatist. Perhaps there's some way to really choose your fascinations...

Choosing fascinations is very much a system 1 game.

Ever notice how smart people are more likely to get into math and athletic people are more likely to get into sports? Heck, you can watch someone go from "sensitive artist" to "bodybuilder" about as fast as it takes to realize that their body would do well at the latter.

I've been fairly successful choosing my fascinations, both in the sense of system 2 successfully influencing system 1 and in the sense of being happy with what holds my interest. The trick is to get close to system 1 so you can understand what it's trying to say and so that you know how to talk so that it'll listen.

"Focusing" by Gendlin is probably a good place to start, even if it sounds a bit "new agey".

Replies from: pjeby
comment by pjeby · 2014-11-23T01:22:40.586Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Focusing" by Gendlin is probably a good place to start, even if it sounds a bit "new agey"

That's the same Gendlin, by the way, who coined the Litany of Gendlin. And there isn't actually anything particularly new-agey about Focusing except the name. (Which I think is horrible, because it gives the impression of a diametrically opposite mental state than the one required.)

In LW terms, Focusing equals Actually Being Curious, i.e. meeting yourself with an actual desire to know or discover something. (A rather basic prerequisite for introspection, actually.)

Replies from: jimmy
comment by jimmy · 2014-11-24T20:49:23.818Z · LW(p) · GW(p)


The concept is totally legit, but I do think more than just the name that comes off "new agey". I certainly got that impression when reading the book and so did a few people I recommended it to. So now I add that to the disclaimer so people will know to anticipate that and not take it as evidence that its not awesome.

The name didn't sit right with me for a while too since "focusing" as applied to mental processes usually makes you think of honing in on one particular thing while shutting things out. I think what he had in mind was more like looking at your mind through a microscope where you start seeing everything as a blurry mess that resolves into focus through this process - and that actually seems to fit to me, if not well spelled out by the word "focusing". If I had to pick a name off the top of my head, I might go with "mental grain refinement".

Agreed that it the payload is roughly equivalent to Actually Being Curious, but I think it's important to not let the book get rounded down to that. Not only does it paint a pretty clear picture on how to actually do it as well as giving you a frame work to work under, it applies to far more things than one might think (including, for example, "lotteries of fascinations"), so it would be a shame to get it pigeon holed.

By the way, you still working on all the mind hacking stuff? I have been for a few years and I think it's silly that I haven't yet approached you to chat and compare notes.

Replies from: pjeby
comment by pjeby · 2014-11-25T03:44:50.583Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

looking at your mind through a microscope where you start seeing everything as a blurry mess that resolves into focus through this process - and that actually seems to fit to me, if not well spelled out by the word "focusing"

Yep. It makes sense in that context, of course.

If I had to pick a name off the top of my head, I might go with "mental grain refinement"

I'd suggest "Tuning In", except that the youth these days don't actually turn knobs to tune in a radio station any more either. Even cameras auto-focus these days! ;-)

(The NLP and hypnosis folks tend to call similar processes "trans-derivational search", but I wouldn't wish that term on anybody who's not a specialist.)

applies to far more things than one might think (including, for example, "lotteries of fascinations")

I'm curious how you'd apply it. I mean, removing blocks to interest in a subject... boredom, disgust, etc. predicated on bad experiences or subliminally-absorbed stereotypes, I can see that. But building an interest? I guess I haven't done much research into more generative techniques.

By the way, you still working on all the mind hacking stuff? I have been for a few years and I think it's silly that I haven't yet approached you to chat and compare notes.

Sillier still that I haven't organized all my notes yet. (Granted, I'm coming up on ten years' worth now.) And yes, yes I am still working on all that stuff. I just haven't been seriously promoting anything for sale for some years now, as I've been focused on finding methods for dealing with my worst blocks. That work is getting really close to done now, though... I hope. ;-)

Replies from: jimmy
comment by jimmy · 2014-12-02T20:42:43.206Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

(The NLP and hypnosis folks tend to call similar processes "trans-derivational search", but I wouldn't wish that term on anybody who's not a specialist.)

I think the "focusing" thing is a bit more than just a transderivational search - or rather a specific application of the same thing. "focusing" contains a lot of instructions on where to point your curiosity and what you can get out of it.

I'm curious how you'd apply it. I mean, removing blocks to interest in a subject... boredom, disgust, etc. predicated on bad experiences or subliminally-absorbed stereotypes, I can see that. But building an interest? I guess I haven't done much research into more generative techniques.

Well, removing blocks is definitely a big part of it. With no blocks there it's just a conversation with system 1 about what's important - and that part can often just happen on its own.

I think your "organize your desk" video is a good example on the small scale. People aren't motivated to do it not just because they are blocking themselves with aversive associations but also because they're not associating the good of the clean desk with the act of organizing it. Applied to interest in a subject is just a larger scale application of the same stuff. Instead of one picture of a clean desk, it's a whole series of possible futures and possible payoffs and the like.

My strongest example - perhaps because I was most conscious of it having not yet integrated the skills - actually predates my departure on this mind hacking journey and in fact applies to the motivation I had to do it.

When I first realized that there's big low hanging fruit it wasn't a complete automatic takeover. I was still sorta interested in other hobbies which (according to system2) didn't really pay off the same. And like, do you realize how important it is if half the stuff it seems like hypnosis might be able to do is actually possible?

So I had to deliberately spend some time thinking about the alternate ways I wanted to spend my time and actually visualizing where they'd go and what I'd get out of it. And doing the same for the much more uncertain future where I dive into this with more than mild curiosity. And then having deflated alternatives and connected it more strongly with the potential rewards, it had earned my fascination big time (since then it has been a fairly automatically self reinforcing thing). And the motivating images have changed, of course, as I get a more realistic/detailed idea of whats doable/desirable.

Sillier still that I haven't organized all my notes yet. (Granted, I'm coming up on ten years' worth now.) And yes, yes I am still working on all that stuff. I just haven't been seriously promoting anything for sale for some years now, as I've been focused on finding methods for dealing with my worst blocks. That work is getting really close to done now, though... I hope. ;-)

Nah, that part is hard. I'm in a similar place myself, though not 10 years worth. I've been trying to organize them into blog posts as an easy to get down form of thoughts, but then I kinda got stuck tying the last pieces together and I'm backlogged 30 or so posts. But I'm "close" :). It tends to help when I have an interested person to bounce ideas off of and serve as a foil for organizing my thoughts (which I do have, and need to make more use of!).

Anyway, even if not as done as it "should" be for a vaguely meaningful sense of "should", I wouldn't call it silly the way it's silly to not have said "yo, you wanna chat sometime and compare notes?"

Yo, you wanna chat sometime and compare - er, I mean organize notes?

comment by Manfred · 2014-11-21T02:40:37.489Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The only thing that I've found to really change how fun something is for me is to do it with other people.

Replies from: AmagicalFishy
comment by AmagicalFishy · 2014-11-23T19:53:15.442Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You know, I consider myself to have pretty excellent social skills—but I just don't like doing things with other people. I can confidently say that doing mathematics, or any type of problem-solving activity with other people lessens the amount of fun I have doing it.

Maybe I just haven't found the right people? There are a couple of friends I have who I enjoy discussing problems with, but all of us similarly agree that the bulk of the work is more fun done alone.

comment by someonewrongonthenet · 2014-11-23T01:03:33.253Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Video games are actually a great example of things that train you to consider them fun.

I mean, they start out fun - not too easy, not too hard, often social or competitive in nature, and the action-based games probably stimulate a lot of the reward circuits intended to reward physical play without the constraints of physical bodies and the nagging instinct to stop moving around and wasting energy which constantly screams at all animals...

...and then they pile on the conditioning with randomized rewards, a flow of novelty, illusions of accomplishment, accelerating returns on investment... a well designed video game (by somewhat Unfriendly definitions of "well designed") is such that the gamer's passion for the game only deepens the longer they have been playing it.

You can't beat videogames in terms of sheer dopamine hijacking and ability to induce flow - you have to beat it on a different plane. My advice is to consider the distinction between wanting and liking, and try to choose liking, try to focus on the real-ness of accomplishments of math (or whatever it is you really want to do), start and start noticing the rewards, accomplishments, and returns on investment in real life events, even if there is no in-game notification telling you to notice them. Mindfulness, gratitude, yada yada.

My final, most important advice is to start. Start doing math/target habit, and once you're into it you get more into it. The thing about video games is that there is no initial exertion of willpower involved in starting - other activities are often equally fun but harder to start. I mean this in both the immediate sense, like jumping into a pool of cold water before having fun swimming, and the long term sense - as you do more and more math your skill-set expands, you hit the flow state faster, and your reward system gets sensitized to math because it has been trained to anticipate frequent rewards from that area.

(There are quite a few people who think things like video games/internet/porn and other addicting things do some sort of actual harm by altering dopamine circuitry in some way, although I don't know if this is true. There's always the whole "reward yourself with M&Ms / nicotine" route, although I don't know if that's effective either because I suspect the inner lizard brain is too smart for that. My other advice has been written by others - find things to make it fun, like adding competition or something - no sense writing more on that.)

Replies from: AmagicalFishy, bogus
comment by AmagicalFishy · 2014-11-23T04:18:03.499Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I really like this advice, and this view of video games. It may help to think of gaming (along w/ other things) in the same way one thinks of recreational drug use (where, often times, you'll get no "better" high from direct chemical stimulation).

comment by bogus · 2014-11-23T04:06:38.804Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I broadly agree with this. The basic recipe is to try and hit a "flow" state as quickly as possible. You can do this by (1) getting rid of unwanted distractions, and (2) fully immersing yourself in the mindset of whatever it is you're doing, before actually tackling the hard work. One straightforward way of getting started on the latter if you're prone to getting distracted is to reread introductory material on your field, even if you're already familiar with it. Introductions are often light on cognitive load and written to be mildly engaging, so they're the closest thing there is to a "fun start".

comment by Alexei · 2014-11-22T22:27:49.866Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My advice would be to stop playing games could turkey and direct that time and focus into what you want to do.

comment by Capla · 2014-11-21T18:07:54.012Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have one piece of advice: basic gamification.

Years ago, I wanted to write more. I was already occasionally, but I had lots of thought that I wanted to get out of my head so that I could systematize and so I could get the feedback of others's critique and get to higher levels of sophistication. I also wanted to become better writer.

I made log. It was a simple word document into which I entered everything that I wrote each week (I committed myself to writing something every week).

This was fairly effective. I got a hit of instant gratification every time I added something to my list and, over time, the log grew, and it was cool to look over all the the things I've written. Doing that was interesting because is showed what I was thinking about at various times and seeing how much I've already written is motivating (I guess because it reminds me that I'm the sort of person that writes?).

I've done somthing similar for the books I read. I keep a record of all the books I read in a year. It seems so silly, but just knowing that I get to list a book as finished motivates me to read more, even though of course, it's the actual reading is so much more interesting and worthwhile then the adding a book to a word document.

I've started experimenting with a daily point score. I've played with the formula, but basically, I have a list of daily trainings and I get a point for each one that I hit on a given day, I have a list of secondary skills for which I get a point for every half hour of work, and I get point for each of set of thirty pages I read. I want to maximize my score (and it provides a mostly objective measure of my productivity for when I'm experimenting with new routines). I think even just keeping spreadsheet in which you record the number of minutes you spend each day working on what ever matters to you, would help you get where you want to be.

I don't think this helps for accomplishing things that you just don't like doing, but in my experience, simple record keeping like this works wonders for the things that you do acctully like, when you' re doing them, and want to do more of from a global perspective, but that don't have the attraction to "pull you in" in the moment.

Replies from: AmagicalFishy, Will_BC
comment by AmagicalFishy · 2014-11-23T03:57:28.631Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm going to start keeping a list of... everything. It's strange, but I have a pretty easy time just imagining the sense of reward that comes from having a long list of crossed-out entries.

comment by Will_BC · 2014-11-22T07:58:11.060Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Have you heard of It sounds a lot like what you'retrying to do with your point system. There's already a LW related guild called the Bayesian Conspiracy.

comment by IlyaShpitser · 2014-11-22T11:40:04.772Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Try to build a map between something that has fun associations for you, and what you want to find fun. Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs has a famous opening paragraph comparing programming to conjuring spirits as a sorcerer.

Replies from: AmagicalFishy, AlanCrowe
comment by AmagicalFishy · 2014-11-23T03:40:08.324Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A few friends and I jokingly make these types of associations, where invoking a theorem is like casting a spell. Now that you mention it, though, this seems like an excellent way to nudge one's internal perspective of something in a particular direction.

Henceforth, I am a wizard.

comment by AlanCrowe · 2014-11-23T20:31:42.972Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A computational process is indeed much like a sorcerer's idea of a spirit. It cannot be seen or touched. It is not composed of matter at all. However, it is very real. It can perform intellectual work. It can answer questions. It can affect the world by disbursing money at a bank or by controlling a robot arm in a factory. The programs we use to conjure processes are like a sorcerer's spells. They are carefully composed from symbolic expressions in arcane and esoteric programming languages that prescribe the tasks we want our processes to perform.

Frederick P. Brooks Jr. wrote something similar in The Mythical Man-month, 22 years earlier.

Finally, there is the delight of working in such a tractable medium. The programmer, like the poet, works only slightly removed from pure thought-stuff. He builds his castles in the the air, from air, creating by exertion of the imagination. Few media of creation are so flexible, so easy to polish and rework, so readily capable of realizing grand conceptual structures. (As we shall see later, this very tractability has its own problems.)

Yet the program construct, unlike the poet's words, is real in the sense that it moves and works, producing visible outputs separate from the construct itself. It prints results, draws pictures, produces sounds, moves arms. The magic of myth and legend has come true in our time. One types the correct incantation on a keyboard, and a display screen comes to life, showing things that never were nor could be.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-11-21T04:47:51.421Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've done this lots of times. The solution was shear willpower.

I took the hard road. Sorry to not be of more help :(

Replies from: ChristianKl
comment by ChristianKl · 2014-11-21T08:22:35.199Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Could you explain an example? I think it's very unlikely that you get the kind of curiosity that Feynman talks about by shear willpower.

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2014-11-21T20:11:07.625Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't know, maybe I'm different? Maybe I'm uniquely able to reprogram my mind? I find that anything can be made interesting just by evoking my curiosity and refusing to get distracted. You say "it's very unlikely that you get the kind of curiosity that Feynman talks about by shear willpower," but in fact I find it to be relatively straight forward to do just that. I don't know what else to say.

Replies from: ChristianKl
comment by ChristianKl · 2014-11-21T20:47:01.602Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That's interesting.

Could you get into more detail about what you do?

What do you mean specifically with "evoking your curiosity"? Do you have a process?

How many hour per day do you spent chasing something with that curiosity?

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2014-11-21T23:35:03.408Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Could you get into more detail about what you do?

Internal monologue when presented with a 'boring' task:

"Ok this sucks. Complaint time is over. Let's find something interesting about it. Oh that's funny, you could make that into a game. Or that's something I'd never thought about; I wonder if it is similar to ... Oh hey, I wonder if I can make this part of the process more efficient for the next round." etc. etc.

What do you mean specifically with "evoking your curiosity"? Do you have a process?

It's not a process so much as a frame of mind.

Imagine you were stuck on a desert island, with nothing but sand to keep you company. Ignoring survival concerns, a curious person might eventually resort to sorting sand to see if there is anything to learn from distributions of their shapes and sizes.

Imagine you are enslaved and tasked with carrying stones from a quarry to a defensive fortification, from dawn to dusk. A curious person might try to learn something about the local geology by inspecting and remembering aggregate information about the stones being carried.

Or with any task, you might just focus on doing that task better or more efficiently. There's a certain amount of curiousity involved in wanting to do a task better which leads to professionalism.

How many hour per day do you spent chasing something with that curiosity?

Every moment that I live.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-11-21T18:16:53.131Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Have you produced a list of examples (no matter how small) where how much you enjoyed an activity changed?

Veering into potentially dangerous advice: It may be easier to weaken an existing preference, than to construct a new one. If you feel one preference is overshadowing other (existing) preferences, then weakening the dominant preference may make the other preferences more likely to be expressed. The danger is that you weaken one preference, but other preferences don't up-regulate themselves as a result.

An example:

I felt that I was spending too much time reading low-quality news and link aggregation (so reddit and NYT style websites). In contrast to your example, I wouldn't say that I particularly enjoyed this over other activities; instead, I think these media sources were hijiacking some sort of ancestral instinct (e.g. few people actually like "click-bait" titles, but most people feel drawn to click anyway).

Using willpower worked a bit. What worked equally well was consciously criticizing the material I wanted to spend less time reading, noting that the information wasn't causing me to change my beliefs, and (more than I would like to admit) reading the low-quality comments and developing the feeling of "I don't want to be like these people". This didn't feel good, but after I was able to bring my activity to a more normal level, my preferences adjusted themselves such that I naturally wanted to do other things (and enjoyed them more) relative my earlier preferences.

I'm not sure if this is a good approach. Certainly, many people have reported that they have unintentionally destroyed their ability to enjoy something. For example, a bad work environment, stress, or insecurity can all destroy the enjoyment you take in your career.

Replies from: AmagicalFishy
comment by AmagicalFishy · 2014-11-23T04:12:38.653Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Actually, I wouldn't mind weakening the preference for video games. There have been strange times in the past (before I targeted video games as this much of a detriment) where I'd start to think of playing a game as me sitting infront of a screen wasting time slapping buttons to move pixels way with zero reward outside of some kind of immediate psychological masturbation that's 100% useless outside of the context of the game itself.

If you can believe it, my immediate reaction was akin to someone thinking of something immoral: "No, no. Don't think that way—it's wrong."

It's a thought I've been purposely cultivating now. Maybe not as harshly, but I want to use it as a tool.

comment by MathiasZaman · 2014-11-21T10:31:36.145Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I really doubt there's an easy way to do this, especially since the odds are stacked against you.

The real enemy are things that were designed to be fun and engaging: video games, fiction... There's very little chance that I'll be as engaged reading non-fiction (even fun non-fiction) as I am reading Worm or Snow Crash. Good non-fiction's first priority is to be informative. Engaging and fun are secondary.

Similarly, learning math is fun, but it doesn't have fun as its first priority. Being able to comprehend mathematics is the first priority, with fun being second. A lot of "have fun while learning math" video games parents force on their kids have this problem as well.

One thing that might work is going cold turkey on video games. Give them up now and vow to never play them again. (This is what I ended up doing with World of Warcraft.) I can't advice this route (unless a video game is taking over your life), because you'll just end up doing something else that's more fun than studying. It's hard (and probably impossible for most people) to avoid all things that were created to be fun and engaging.

One way to salvage your time playing video games is to fulfill goals you want by playing the game. When I play Guild Wars 2, for example, I only do it when I can lead a PvP team. This way I can improve my leadership abilities and learn how to better make good decisions with bad information. (Incidentally, if any LW members want to start an EU PvP team for the weekends, that would be pretty cool.)

Replies from: Capla, pjeby
comment by Capla · 2014-11-21T18:12:30.969Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'll note that I stopped playing video games in 9th grade and never looked back. I don't know if you need to do this or even if it would be optimal for our overall enjoyment, but I prefer building my awesomeness in real life than building it in a game.

Replies from: MathiasZaman
comment by MathiasZaman · 2014-11-22T00:05:41.751Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've always found that an unfair comparison. Unlike real life, games are designed for you to become awesome. In games, you have nearly infinite agency for reaching your goals and the only thing hold you back is either time or willpower, but games are created in such a way that you want to spend time in them and to minimize the willpower needed to complete tasks.

Getting new armor that looks cooler in Guild Wars (for example) can be easily broken down into simple, manageable tasks that have very little chance of failing. A similar task in real life (say, buying an expensive suit) has a lot more complications. If you want I could break that distinction down step by step.

Replies from: Capla
comment by Capla · 2014-11-22T00:20:05.429Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not making any claims about it being "a fair comparison."

I prefer building my awesomeness in real life than building it in a game.

This is a statement about me and my preferences. The tradeoff may be different for others.

Replies from: MathiasZaman
comment by MathiasZaman · 2014-11-22T17:06:27.229Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Apologies. I had the debate about "you should be awesome in real life instead of being awesome in video games" before and I pattern-matched it to your comment. Probably shouldn't have done that.

Replies from: Capla
comment by Capla · 2014-11-22T21:22:03.674Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Apologies are unnecessary, but I heartily accept them.

comment by pjeby · 2014-11-23T01:28:19.385Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Good non-fiction's first priority is to be informative. Engaging and fun are secondary.

Really? If non-fiction doesn't hook the reader and make them want to read more, and it isn't System 1-persuasive to get people to actually act on the information, then how "good" can it really be?

I mean, if you're writing a reference book, sure. But there is no reason educational non-fiction has to be dull.

Replies from: MathiasZaman
comment by MathiasZaman · 2014-11-23T08:56:25.110Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

But there is no reason educational non-fiction has to be dull.

It certainly doesn't and it becomes better if it is engaging. Influence: Science and Practice is well-written, interesting and flows well. It's one of the most engaging non-fiction books I've ever read, and yet I'd still rather read A Song of Ice and Fire (to stay in the realm of social manipulation).

Currently I'm reading A Republic of Pirates. The author does a great job at crafting a story around the facts. Pirate history lends itself to Great Man History so it's easy to focus on a couple of people and weave the narrative around them. But because the book is intended to inform the reader on historical events (as opposed to simply be entertaining), it can't cheat to make things flow better than they do. A story can bend the rules a little, have Blackbeard be somewhere he really wasn't. Non-fiction doesn't have this flexibility.

Fiction and non-fiction play by different rules, and fiction's rules make it easier to be fun and engaging.

comment by Gleb_Tsipursky · 2014-11-26T15:02:58.175Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

For context, it might be interesting for you to check out a brief video of my research on how the Soviet government shaped its population's idea of fun, and also how the population pushed back against these efforts. I'd be glad to discuss this further as well, and give you further references on socialism, fun, shaping tastes and emotions, etc.

comment by byerley · 2014-11-23T04:50:42.783Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Before an area of interest becomes a passion it must be rewarding. Enjoyment may come intrinsically, e.g. just doing the research is the reward in itself. By the sound of it this new method of analysis you speak of does not provide the amount of intrinsic enjoyment required to pursue it without extrinsic reward. Enjoyment may also come extrinsically; by this I mean fame, glory, money and acclaim. It's the difference between a cyclist dedicating his life to the sport because he "loves riding his bike", or a cyclist dedicating his life to the sport because he believes pursuing his/her significant talent would be the best way to acquire money and thus support his/her family and meet his/her other life goals.

Acquiring mastery for a subject is near impossible if you do not gain enjoyment from it. Although you say this new method of analysis could prove useful, would the rewards from pursuing it be enough to dedicate the amount of time and energy required to see it through? Subconsciously you may have already had this debate and decided against it.

As you asked for our personal opinion, I will give you mine. Since this issue is causing you some distress, go cold turkey on the video games and dedicate perhaps a week to looking into this area of interest further. If you are still struggling for motivation, I suggest you reconsider pursuing this area of interest.

I have recently developed a passion for something that may reap significant financial rewards in the future. This passion happens to be for a topic I found particularly interesting as a child. Due to the intrinsic and extrinsic motivation this area of interest gives me I have since developed a passion for statistics, mathematics and research. The passion for these other topics would not have been there otherwise. I do not think of learning as a chore, I do not wish to play video games (I haven't played my Xbox in over a year), heck I even socialize less because of it. I am truly driven to acquire mastery of my area of interest and dedicate my life to learning more about it.

comment by L29Ah · 2014-11-21T07:42:36.499Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Video games are nicely described by I'd try make the disgusting part of the gaming, like the resources spent per utility achieved and the methods they are capturing my attention, the most sailent when i go over my decision three to do something.

Regarding "learning to want", it is a matter of constructing and applying a model of your motivation (like i did ↑, but subjectively tailored).

// hey wtf lw.c doesn't respect rfc1738

comment by aausch · 2014-12-02T00:28:57.502Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

you quote feynman, then proceed to ignore the thing you quoted.

you're ignoring two options that fall right out of the quote:

  1. get people to pay you to play videogames. if you're any good, IT'S EASY. if it's not easy, maybe you're not that good.
  2. time box exploration for other things you might find interesting.
comment by mgin · 2014-11-28T16:25:01.290Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You need to be thoroughly convinced that what you want to do is the right thing to want. Then you just treat your other impulses like an irrational addiction that you must overcome.

If you get your mind right you should be able to go cold turkey.