Hammertime Day 2: Yoda Timers

post by alkjash · 2018-01-31T05:10:00.279Z · score: 55 (22 votes) · LW · GW · 16 comments


  Day 2: Yoda Timers
      1. The One Inch Punch
      2. Lateral Thinking
      3. Permission to Try
    Five for Five
  Daily Challenge

This is part 2 of 30 in the Hammertime Sequence. Click here for the intro.

No! Try not! Do, or do not. There is no try.

There's a copy of Barney Stinson in my head who pops up every so often to say: "Challenged Accepted!" When Eliezer wrote about the biggest mistakes in the Sequences, my inner Barney started bouncing off the walls. Hammertime is a sequence designed to correct the three top mistakes by:

  1. Creating a program to actually practice rationality.
  2. Emphasizing doing better in everyday life.
  3. Focusing on rational action instead of rational belief.

This is going to be legen ... wait for it ... dary!

Day 2: Yoda Timers

Look, you don't understand human nature. People wouldn't try for five minutes before giving up if the fate of humanity were at stake.
Use the Try Harder, Luke

The Yoda Timer (CFAR calls it a Resolve Cycle) has three simple steps:

  1. Pick a bug.
  2. Set a timer for 5 minutes.
  3. Solve the bug.


Before we begin, I want to call attention to two ways to make the most of Yoda Timers.

1. The One Inch Punch

Pick something you're afraid of doing. Suppose I told you, "Try!" Try as hard as you can. What does that feel like?

Now suppose I told you, "Just do it!" Actually go and get it done. What does that feel like?

To me, trying feels like pushing hard against my own resistance. Doing feels like pushing hard against reality. The Yoda Timer is designed to teach (or remind) you to notice what pushing against reality feels like.

Bruce Lee was famous for his One Inch Punch, which had such explosive power because every muscle in his body aligned into the punch:

The one-inch punch is a skill which uses fa jin (translated as explosive power) to generate tremendous amounts of impact force at extremely close distances. This "burst" effect had been common in Neijia forms. When performing this one-inch punch the practitioner stands with his fist very close to the target (the distance depends on the skill of the practitioner, usually from 0–6 inches, or 0-15 centimetres). Multiple abdominal muscles contribute to the punching power while being imperceptible to the attacker. It is a common misconception that "one-inch punches" utilize a snapping of the wrist. The target in such demonstrations vary, sometimes it is a fellow practitioner holding a phone book on the chest, sometimes wooden boards can be broken.

When you're in doing mode instead of trying mode, the inner conflicts fall away and you can practice punching reality with your whole soul. Imagine how far you'll go if every move you make carries the entire weight of your being.

2. Lateral Thinking

It's easy to get tunnel vision and freeze up with only 5 minutes to go. To get maximal effect out of Yoda Timers, however, you'll need to get more creative, not less. If you had to fix the bug in five minutes to save the world, what rules might you break?

To get you started, here are a few classic approaches: How much money will make the problem go away? What email or phone call could you make? What external reward, punishment, or commitment can you set up in five minutes that will guarantee the thing gets done? What alternative course of action would achieve the same desired effect?

3. Permission to Try

If there's something you can do in five minutes to improve your life, as a fellow human being I grant you permission to do it.

Five for Five

Pick your 5 easiest bugs from yesterday's Bug List.

WARNING: There only one valid reason to skip a bug - if you're uncertain whether you actually want to fix it. Later on, we will practice techniques for resolving inner conflicts. Difficulty is not a valid excuse to skip.

For each one, set a Yoda timer for five minutes and do it. That's it. Just do it.

If it helps, imagine that Yoda is watching. Yoda doesn't care how hard you try.

Daily Challenge

Share your most successful Yoda Timer bug-fixes.

Here are seven things I did in the past couple days with Yoda Timers:

  1. Move furniture around and store unused junk to double effective floor space.
  2. Train myself to place my glasses on one fixed countertop in the apartment.
  3. Practice keyboard shortcuts for archiving emails and Chrome tab management.
  4. Send all the emails and messages I plan to (and already can) send in the next week.
  5. Order a white noise machine on Amazon and open the blinds to let in sunlight in the morning to optimize sleep schedule.
  6. Practice keeping a pen in my pocket at all times so I can penspin instead of picking my face.
  7. Plan and outline Hammertime.


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by SquirrelInHell · 2018-01-31T15:31:59.945Z · score: 20 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I wonder if all of the CFAR techniques will have different names after you are done with them :) Looking forward to your second and third iteration.

comment by alkjash · 2018-01-31T15:41:05.594Z · score: 17 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What can I say, I only have a few tricks and one of them is renaming things. :)

comment by Swerve · 2018-02-01T06:44:14.403Z · score: 17 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Putting all of my TAPS on post it notes on my wall so I see them when I wake up. This should make a good trigger for keeping them in mind during the day. It also gives some potentially free utility over time in the form of "see that wall? All those notes are different habits I was able to cultivate".

comment by TurnTrout · 2018-02-01T15:55:04.864Z · score: 14 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

One thing to be aware of is you probably need to make the reading of the notes intentional, as once they stop being new, you’ll stop noticing them.

meta-TAP: wake up and read post-its

comment by alkjash · 2018-02-01T21:26:57.697Z · score: 7 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

On top of this, you should probably just refresh all the notes on a weekly basis.

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2018-02-01T16:43:24.806Z · score: 5 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm generally pretty wary of this sort of thing. When I've tried things like this in the past I generally end up ignoring what I've written over time, like TurnTrout says.

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2018-01-31T09:59:45.469Z · score: 15 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Many of my best resolve cycles boiled down to finding and ordering something on Amazon; thanks in large part to Andrew Critch leading by personal example this got trained into a TAP and now I do it more or less automatically. The most recent thing I ordered, after trying it at the last CFAR workshop, was a bunch of pedialyte.

comment by Richard Meadows (richard-meadows-1) · 2018-10-12T15:24:04.649Z · score: 11 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Starting the challenge today, making this comment for accountability. I have 48 bugs in my spreadsheet, with rows for the date added and date solved. I know I'm eight months late to the party, but I'll post updates and take part in the challenges as I go. Thanks for putting together a great sequence!

comment by Dominik Tujmer · 2018-02-03T12:52:35.094Z · score: 6 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is basically Allen's "Getting things done" 2-min method, I think. Just doing very short tasks right away to clear away the (mental) clutter. I think it's a good idea to practice this, but I also think that the opposite is also good, i.e. ignoring the small things and focusing all time and energy on one big thing, first thing in the morning. Unfortunately, that way, you will do your thing, but ignoring small tasks will also lead to a dirty apartment, eating crap and not practicing the guitar... So I think, for me personally, every morning has to be one big thing, with Yoda timers sprinkled throughout the rest of the day.

comment by alkjash · 2018-02-03T20:09:28.451Z · score: 31 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Adding to Qiaochu's point, Yoda Timers scale to pretty much any difficulty. There's a vast generalization which really works for me of the form: "take any given thing, imagine (inside view) the shortest possible time span in which a human being could do it, and set a timer to do it in that time." You might say Hammertime is me setting myself a 30-day timer to solve instrumental rationality.

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2018-02-03T19:28:58.164Z · score: 22 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Resolve Cycles has a somewhat different flavor. One thing we emphasize in the CFAR class is that you'll be surprised at the kinds of things you can get done in 5 minutes; you can just try to e.g. solve a bug, even a pretty big-looking bug, with a concerted 5 minutes of effort. We tell a nice story about a participant whose bug was "I don't have a job" and who in fact successfully acquired a job in 5 minutes (he called a friend).

comment by ryqiem · 2018-08-21T04:48:41.989Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

1. I plan to take a sabattical next year. Wrote an impressive researcher in a field I'm interested about to hear about any research opportunities in the pipeline.

2. Formalised my morning-routine in a document to decrease time spent reading about other's meditation before I start my own. Reviewing notes from last session, finding a relevant passage in my book.

3. Set up a routine to stay in touch with a far-away friend. Asking kindly about thoughts on a subject, and about what I can help him with.

4. I'm often distracted in my long study sessions by a desire for food. Made a routine to ensure snacks are in my room, not in the dorm-kitchen, without them spoiling.

2. consisted of many sub-items, so I count it as 2 separate items ;-)

It seems this method is very useful for meaningful tasks with some negative affect that I've been putting off without any good reason. Thanks for this!

comment by tcheasdfjkl · 2018-07-29T22:43:31.975Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Did this today. Results:

1. set a reminder every evening to make a schedule for the next day (problem this was solving is that lack of schedule means I procrastinate somewhat endlessly on things)

2. cleaned up the many bags lying around my closet door. now it is much easier to approach and use my closet.

3. looked into what grocery delivery services exist, made an Instacart account, decided to do the free trial of their annual subscription, and preliminarily decided that if that goes well I intend to just go ahead and pay for the annual subscription. (for this to be fully solved I still need to go ahead and actually try ordering some stuff; that's a more-than-5-minutes task probably)

4. I do a few weights exercises every day and I'd noticed that as I get stronger some of the exercises are no longer hard enough. so I thought through the exercises I do and decided on which ones I'd increase the number of reps I do and by how much. this also let to me adding a new exercise to the routine upon realizing it would be a good idea.

5. my tea drawer had too much stuff in it and was hard to use. I thought I'd need to fix this by just getting rid of some tea I don't care about very much, but it turned out that just consolidating the tea into fewer boxes sufficiently solved this problem for me.

I said yesterday that none of my many bugs felt like difficulty 1 because if something is actually quickly solvable I would have probably fixed it by now. All of the above were listed as difficulty 2 (except #3 which was 4 or so), but clearly they were in fact things I could fix right now, they just felt vaguely aversive or did not quite reach the priority level at which I'd actually make an effort to fix them. (I guess 1, 3, and 4 are not actually fully solved as I'll need to follow through with these changes to see if they're actually effective. But they at least have a good chance of already being solved, and if not then they're on a path that will almost certainly lead to them being solved.)

I guess 5 minutes is longer than I thought.

comment by Raemon · 2018-07-29T22:56:11.389Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I see this comment but not your other one – we're not holding comments for moderation. I'm guessing this was a random hiccup due to flaky internet (although possibly on our end).

comment by tcheasdfjkl · 2018-07-31T03:43:31.725Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)


comment by swift_spiral · 2019-03-14T16:11:20.696Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I ordered a new clock on Amazon, cleared my desk, sent several emails, and cancelled some email subscriptions I no longer wanted. I also decided on specific later times to do a few things, but I will need to wait and see if I successfully do those things.