Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Ask HN: What are your “brain hacks” that help you manage everyday situations?
1322 points by simonswords82 on Dec 3, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 366 comments
I'm incredibly fortunate to have a chairman on our board who brings so much clarity of thought to the business.

He's unemotional yet thoughtful. If he doesn't have an immediate answer for something, he instinctively understands how to search for the answer. He has a natural sense of the real priority of work and discussions.

So I asked him for some of his favourite brain hacks...simple tricks he uses when he has a mental challenge to overcome. A couple of his insights were very useful to me, so I thought I'd share them here and ask HN for their personal brain hacks in response.

Artificial deadlines

He has a clever technique for bringing tough choices to a conclusion and avoiding procrastination. This is especially useful for life changing decisions such as moving country or taking that new job.

To put an end to the decision making process he sets a deadline for the decision to be made. Say 6pm on Monday. At five minutes to 6 he usually doesn't know the answer but in those 5 minutes something clicks, and by 6pm the answer is always there.

10/10/10 rule

This is something I've read before but he applies this. The 10/10/10 is the framing of the outcome of a decision across three timeframes:

How will he feel about the outcome 10 minutes from now? How about 10 months from now? How about 10 years from now?

The answers to these questions provide a different perspective and usually help him to find the correct answer without being misguided by circumstances at the time of making the decision.

This will all be over by 6pm

If there's an important meeting with stakeholders, a scary appointment with the doctor or a tough chat with an employee - he simply keeps in mind the fact that by "X time", the thing will have passed and won't matter anymore.

If it doesn't matter after X time, chances are it probably doesn't matter now.

Edit: Formatting.

My top 3, in order of how I try to apply them (i.e., if 1 doesn't help, move on to 2, etc.). I learned these all from reading various philosophy works, by the way, so perhaps cognitive hack #1 should be "read books".

1) Suspension of judgement (from Sextus Empiricus, Zhuang Zi, Ecclesiastes): avoid forming an opinion at all about things that are not evident. The way I do this is by thinking through an opposing argument or two, and using language like "it seems" or "it appears" rather than "I know", "I think", etc. This technique saves time and energy by helping me avoid getting wrapped up in opinion-based thinking and helps me develop equanimity.

2) Suspension of value-judgements (from Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, Zhuang Zi, Ecclesiastes): being aware and in control of the value-judgement loop (this thing is good or bad). I do this by shifting the language in my mind from "that is bad" to "I feel this way because..." Again, like #1, this is about inverting the locus of control in my cognitive discourse such that my mind can easily go its own way from there, only on a more productive path.

3) Awareness of the mode of thinking I'm in, and the kind of learning that's appropriate to the task or objective at hand (from Plato). There are several modes of thinking or learning (eikasia, pistis, dianoia, episteme, techne, phronesis, and noesis, for example). Simply being aware of which mode you should be in for a task is much more valuable than it might appear at first glance. I see these less as bins to put various kinds of thought in and more as tools to apply to a problem.

Reviewing this, a common thread is self-awareness developed to a point of disciplined introspection and intentional change by adopting these kinds of cognitive tricks. Also, reading is good for you. :)

0) Keeping one's mouth shut. Trying to not have an opinion until a) having enough information b) only voicing it if it is important. I am trying to spend more time perceiving instead of broadcasting.

I do this too and it works great in personal contexts cause people love sharing their opinions and hearing themselves talk generally speaking.

This is in stark contrast to the workplace where I've experienced that keeping my mouth shut in a meeting to gather my thoughts before contributing a well informed opinion, the loudest person in the room has already spoken a handful of times and left their mark and then continues to speak over people and dominate the conversation for better or worse (usually the latter unless they are a SME).

I'm then forced to revert to speaking ASAP to get a word in so I don't walk away from a meeting being perceived as contributing little cause I was getting enough words.

Maybe it's all in my head cause I'm an introvert and meetings drain my energy. Anyone else experience this? Got any tips?

> Anyone else experience this? Got any tips?

Sometimes. Some things i do to ensure correct question-answer contexts:

- When in a meeting with (loud person pushing) wrong answers, ask the right questions.

- People dont understand the answer if they dont understand the question.

- Use the above to give the obvious correct solution within their context.

(SME = Subject Matter Expert, presumably)

Yeah that's it, I'll spell it out next time for those who don't know.

Amen to that! I often end up in discussions and decision making at work were I haven't even scratched the surface with my knowledge of the problem. Trying to listen and absorb as much information from the people that know most about the problem is my way of trying to quickly be able to make a decision (if that's needed).

Agreed. And the harder aspect of this is to actively listen to all parties at the same time holding the questions in my mind and allowing time in the discussion for them to get answered. Notes really help here.

Watch women and men in a meeting, men will talk over people, interject wisdoms, either comments or questions. While women will sit back and let the questions get answered, and then when enough time will go by will ask the unaswered questions.

One of the hardest things for a group to do is leave enough dead air so that others can speak, esp over remote connections.

You should avoid voicing a judgment, but you can certainly air your thoughts and opinions as they arise. Just be open to being convinced.

exactly. if everyone is just in "absorbing" mode, who to listen to.

Per Baltasar Gracian:

"The greatest form of knowledge is, on occasion, not to know, or to affect not to know."

Listening is an important skill. To avoid being perceived as passive or absent, "active listening" [1] can be helpful. Just remember that you are communicating via a shared medium (half-duplex) so sending should be kept to the necessary minimum ;-)

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Active_listening

A corollary: if something is true, but not relevant, then why should anybody care if it is true? Know when you're putting your efforts into things that can't pay off.

unless you try to tap into xkcd effect if you see what I mean

"precher le faux" as they say in France

These are forms of adjusting for bias and one should be cautious when they (or anyone) think they're good at accounting for them. That said, there are times we do feel justified in our decision because we feel we have adequately looked at "all sides."

At times the process of taking a neutral approach and/or vocalizing that neutrality demonstrates weakness. "Plan X makes sense because of A and B, but it does have this trade off D. That said, Plan Y could make sense if we really value D." In meetings, another person often lays out a single POV strongly and wins. Ideally, this opinion is strong because it's well thought out (and bias-adjusted), but sometimes it's strong simply because it's stated as such. "Plan Y is right. Because D, which I didn't even consider until now. <No mention of A or B.>"

Here, one would hope the group or group leader checks and balances this type of behavior so that a single biased-person doesn't carry a generally clear-minded group, but of course that doesn't always happen.

Considering one's biases is a very good thing, but I wonder if the pragmatics of group dynamics render it something good for the soul, but poor for action.

I think the post was referring to individual projects, not group dynamics, but your point is certainly true of group situations. Sometimes aspects of the group harm the group's ability to reason or behave rationally.

I'd argue that even in a one person project, information becomes available gradually and one must learn to re-consider old conclusions again in light of new information, even to re-consider old questions that might have been easily dismissed earlier.

Human rationality is biased by our use of the heuristics that take a few milliseconds of brain time and work pretty well, but have failures when trusted too much when we have the luxury of more time to consider the information. Even things like a member of the group asserting something confidently can throw off the rational faculties a bit.

Agreed. I use qualifiers far too often. It's good to be open to being wrong, good to not convey over-confidence, but when you are the one operating outside the social norm it dilutes whatever point you were making.

I am trying to get in the habit of providing an overarching qualifier so that I'm not deceiving my audience and then making the rest of my statements without any qualifiers that would be covered by the overarching one. It is definitely a hard habit to change, however.

These techniques are more general psychological tools than specifically about controlling bias. They're also meant to be internally-facing, not necessarily for sharing outside yourself. In the context of the original question about "brain hacks" (not necessarily group dynamics) the underlying thread is finding ways to change your perspective in order to gain insight, which is a very useful "brain hack" indeed!

You're right, but for many people it's difficult to become a thought leader until they have first improved their skills in reserving judgment and combating bias. I've met people who seem to have a strong opinion on everything, and they convince some people, but their opinion meets an unfortunate end when they present to a more discerning group.

I agree 100%. In theory it’s good to consider all perspectives and not acquire hyperfocus/tunnel vision on any one plan or destination. But I n practice, people seem to find leaders with tunnel vision far more convincing and worth following than those who take a more multi faceted/ less focused approach to leadership IMO

Maybe that’s because, it seems like the practical reality of discussing ones attempts to be bias-free always comes off as disengenuous no matter how genuine those attempts may be. So fuck it man. Embrace bias :)

I liked this too, and given the sister comment asked for a more colloquial description, I came up with my own:

1) Instead of using firm statements attached to yourself like "I know" or "I think" use statements that are easier for you to contradict and discard without feeling like you are attacking or discarding yourself, like "it seems that..." or "it appears that...". Then you can say "it seems that X but in contrast it appears that Y". That is better than "I know X but I could be wrong because Y".

2) Don't immediately describe things as good or bad or the right way and the wrong way, that will prevent you from seeing an alternative solution because you will have automatically labelled it as wrong when you labelled something else as right. Instead of "that is bad" or "that is the right way" to "I feel this way because...". It is easier to change a decision based on knowing how you feel and have felt than when you have "money in the game" as having said (even to yourself) that something was the only right way.

[Note: In general, being able to step back and pick the right thing because it is right is useful, but only after you have honestly considered the situation in a fair and impartial way. Being too partial too quickly cuts off your ability to think and accept better solutions. If you already knew it, you could just choose, but the point is you are trying to think through it, which means you don't know but are evaluating how you feel and how things seem to be, but trying to uncover more.]

3) Understanding your current state of mind, and what state of mind would work better for the current task is important, so you can match those up, or at least understand more deeply. These are things like the appearance of things or imaginative situations (eikasia), good faith and trust or persuasiveness (pistis), discursive thought (dianoia), theoretical thought (techne), practical knowledge (phronesis), or intuition (noesis). [Note: my comments on the meanings of the Greek terms are probably wrong, but...] You could combine multiple of these to reach your goal; and you will often have a sequence of thoughts that are in different ones.

Introspection is _huge_. If you can understand and evaluate how you think and feel; you can start to move past that, or use it to your advantage, or see the flaw in your own reasoning, or be more observant, or form new habits, etc.

Personally, I like yoga for this reason; it helps to accept your feelings as they come and to observe them without immediate judgement. I think it helps in developing intuition, controlling your thoughts and emotions, etc.

Well put! :)

So, extending your thought about common thread, one needs to develop self-awareness. Hacks won't help much with this. But there is a systematic way of cultivating it, called meditation.

Another useful one coming right out of the Stoic tradition is the trisection into things that one

1) has no control over, such as weather, other people's actions, etc.: do not fret about those.

2) has complete control over, such as one's thoughts, judgements, response to events, actions, etc.: concentrate on these.

3) has partial control over, such as one's health, reputation, etc.: do not fret about the outcome, but prepare/do your part as best as you can.

This is well explained in William Irvine's Guide to the Good Life [0], but has already been proposed by Epictetus in the Enchiridion [1], 2nd century CE:

> Work, therefore to be able to say to every harsh appearance, “You are but an appearance, and not absolutely the thing you appear to be.” And then examine it by those rules which you have, and first, and chiefly, by this: whether it concerns the things which are in our own control, or those which are not; and, if it concerns anything not in our control, be prepared to say that it is nothing to you.

[0] https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/5617966-a-guide-to-the-g...

[1] https://standardebooks.org/ebooks/epictetus/the-enchiridion/...

(Note that standardebooks is pretty cool, a non-profit offering carefully formatted, open source, and free public domain ebooks!)

At the risk of substituting books with URL's... Do you have any to any of these concepts? For example I just tried googling "eikasia, pistis, dianoia, episteme, techne, phronesis, noesis" and I didn't, eh, come up with something precise enough to read.

EDIT: Someone down in the thread did the kindness already!

These are deeper concepts within philosophy and more precisely this is epistemology - and not layman terms.

Alas, they are described in Philosophy 101 or Examen Philosoficum, but are not very approachable terms to understand in an quick read format.

> At the risk of substituting books with URL's

It's substituting URLs for books — either that or replacing books with URLs. [0] This might seem pedantic, and I know that language evolves, but:

1. We risk confusing, and therefore we disserve, non-native speakers if we use the language in ways opposite the accepted standard meanings. (One could think of language as an API, and no matter what the API, precision and accuracy often matter.)

2. Like it or not, the brute fact is that people who use language in non-standard ways are often judged harshly — and silently — for it. One can rail against that, or one can shrug one's shoulders and simply conform to standard usages, at least in public- and quasi-public forums. (In other words: Pick your battles.)

[0] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/substitute

Not one to shy from grammatic pedantry, having almost won a spelling bee once:


“3) (transitive) In the phrase "substitute X with/by Y", to use Y in place of X; to replace X with Y as in ‘I had to substitute old parts with the new ones.’ (This usage was formerly proscribed.)“


“Traditionally, the verb substitute is followed by for and means ‘put someone or something in place of another’, as in she substituted the fake vase for the real one. From the late 17th century substitute has also been used to mean ‘replace someone or something with something else’, as in she substituted the real vase with the fake one. This can be confusing, since the two sentences shown above mean the same thing, yet the object of the verb and the object of the preposition have swapped positions. Despite the potential confusion, the second, newer use is well established, especially in some scientific contexts and in sport (the top scorer was substituted with almost half an hour still to play), and is now generally regarded as part of normal standard English.”

Who are we to argue with the Oxford English Dictionary? You can take it up with them. lol

Have a nice day :)

(I will say that the “sport” example is bad- the player is not being substituted with the time!)

The "sport" example does exactly what it is intended to do: showcase a grammatical ambiguity.

  substitute a player with X
is ambiguous, as demonstrated by the examples:

  substitute a player with another player
  substitute a player with half an hour still to play

[Grumbling:] So now even the OED is in on the global conspiracy to degrade the language, eh? [Expletive of your choice], what the [expletive] is the world coming to these days? :-)

This is one of the few cases where the words are very useful precisely because they're the originals.

Many of these (e.g. techne) are verbatim latin/greek terms and are probably used just as they are, in other languages.

You're talking about an intellectual endeavor (philosophy) which is VERY old.

> people who use language in non-standard ways are often judged harshly — and silently — for it

Yes. In my culture, the people who can't speak or write correctly are the ones who are uneducated - usually primary school or less. It's basically the local equivalent of rednecks.


Yeah :)

Oh, and appreciate the correction regardless because I too think English is hard enough for foreigners to learn without these extra introduced wrinkles

Do you blog? It would be great, and beneficial for most of us, to read more about your thoughts and reflections :)

Thank you, but I do not blog regularly. It's an interesting idea, though, and I appreciate the sentiment. However, none of these are my thoughts, and all of them are easily discovered in the same places I found them myself! :)

Or can we conference call to connect and explore these things further?

I'd say another common theme in these is language hacking (I'm assuming the different thinking modes come with their own language constructs).

And that's the big thing that's changed my life around.

Specifically, how I pulled off the first two was with a practice I'd do when I'd hear a word with an antonym. I'd shrug and say "meh...<original word>...<it's antonym>...meh." I came up with this practice because I wanted to learn to suspend/minimize judgment without learning about types of judgments or bothering with distinguishing them. I went as broadly as I could, instead. I noticed different effects that seemed to correlate with sets of words. Right/wrong helped me see other perspectives, stop demonizing others, and realize people do things because that's how they learned to be. Should/shouldn't helped me release shame. Good/bad helped me stay positive and withhold judgment of the moment. Like/dislike I think joined with good/bad to release judgment of things/experiences. What I mean by this is after maintaining this practice throughout each day for 3 weeks, I realized I'd accidentally abandoned my food preferences and things that used to trigger disgust in me no longer did. This effect included enjoying types of music/activities/people I used to hate. I came to regard like/dislike as judgement of something as good/bad attached to feeling enjoyment/disgust. I chose to believe I could enjoy anything I put in my mouth. Yes, even that thing you're thinking. No, I probably haven't tried it.

A question I've gotten about this is: "aren't you afraid you'll start enjoying how rotten things taste?" I can still taste when something's gone bad if I've learned to associate the taste with being rotten, but ultimately if I don't know how to identify if something's rotten I then get an opportunity to see if my system can handle it. I can explore the flavors and textures without swallowing, also, if I don't want to get sick. I can also search for how to identify it. Identifying if something is rotten requires learning stuff; it's not innate to us, or, if it is, there's another way to go about things.

I enjoy my life much more after doing this.

Other useful language hacks:

1. Learning to express myself in the pattern of nonviolent communication: When I <observation verb> <non-judgmental observation>, I feel [<emotion(s) without evaluations of others> because I need <need(s)>]. Would you be willing to do _____ to help me meet my need(s) for _____?

I used square brackets [] to indicate a list. Emotions with evaluations of others are things like "offended" or "used" or "abused." Each of these implies someone else did something. The idea is to identify what they did in the first portion & separate it from the emotions that followed. This approach is a practice in leaving behind the thoughts I attach to emotions. I highly recommend reading "Nonviolent Communication" to get more clarity on this.

2. Using "I" statements to describe my experiences, as opposed to "you" or "we" statements. By doing this, I maintain my independence.

3. I started using active voice instead of passive voice. In writing this comment, I noticed a few sentences were in passive voice (including this one, which I chose to not change). An active voice version of the previous sentence would be "In writing this comment, I noticed I'd written a few sentences in passive voice." Using active voice helps me take more responsibility for my actions, instead of blaming others.

4. I choose to use "responsibility" instead of "blame" or "fault." I define blame/fault as assigning 100% responsibility to a person or group of people. How people learn to choose their actions is, in part, a function of how they were raised, the cultures they've been exposed to, the rest of their environment. Those things are largely out of their control. Blame/fault denies these facts. I find it easier to take responsibility for my actions and find ways to improve using this concept. It also allows me to more easily see how others contributed to something, which leads me to holding them accountable by expressing gratitude for their part and asking them to either continue doing what they did or to make a change (see: Nonviolent Communication requests)

5. The previous trick is a way I specifically apply the idea that no complex system can be 100% accounted for. Apply it to everything.

6. This goes back to non-judgment. Problem/solution resolved into "learning opportunities." This, combined with an understanding of human needs (see: Nonviolent Communication), led me to realize every moment is meeting some needs of mine. At the very minimum, there's the need for opportunities to learn how to better identify and meet my needs. Since I cultivated gratitude for learning opportunities, the previous sentence means I can also meet my need for gratitude of the present moment, which meets my need for joy. Applying these meets my need for connecting with myself. So every unpleasant moment can now be enjoyable, which lays the foundation for figuring out what else I can learn from what's going on.

I could write more, but that's why I'm writing a book on this stuff. The other things are a bit trickier and require preparation for safety's sake because it's possible to get my brain/mind to do really kooky things. If I wasn't properly prepared, I could reconfigure myself in a way that doesn't sustainably contribute to my life. So I'm not sharing that stuff at the moment.

Would love to check out your book whenever you release it! I think a lot of what you do is similar to the Hindu/Buddhist approach of accepting the moment for what it is, and figuring out what you can learn from every moment and experiencing it without too much emotion attached to it. But you seem to have more practical advice on how to accomplish that, which I look forward to hearing.

If you have any specific questions, I'm available to either share what I've come up with if I think it's applicable or to suggest ideas for things to try. I have a sort of programmatic model of the human I'm playing with, so I consider these practices to be human programs. Trying to generate programs for people that have the desired effects is the only way I have to test the model right now, so it'd be mutually beneficial :)

Wonderful collection of techniques! :)

Yours, too! Can we be friends?

Oh, wow, I realized I started doing 2) a couple of months ago, because one of my coworker is thinking in completely different ways about code in general, which forces me think in completely new and different ways. I already questioned my judgement about "good" or "bad" and started thinking in terms of "different" and I'm truly starting to believe it.

Incredibly big fan and user of #2 so would be keen to explore #1.

Where can I learn more about 3)?

Thanks for the bits about eikasia, etc... Never heard about them before. About awareness, thinking of the fact that if someone has formed a perception about something, his perception being wrong or right doesn't change the fact that he has formed a perception and the fact that his perception exists, so there may exist at least some subtle particle of correctness in his perception, <next is the derived thinking that I have to avoid:> ...and this is a clue about something to be discovered and I have to think and analize...<> Ultimately, Be aware that the example's person perceptions are just perceptions make us aware that all our perceptions are just perceptions. No need even to go to Buda's and others theorie's pointing that everything is result of a chain of happenings, rolling since before dinosaurs and all, cause-and-effect-chain that you are just part and all your perceptions about everything are just result of what the chain has put in you, so ultimately you have no real independent wish and "you" don't even exist as an independent entity, if you consider "you" is your mind with all your perceptions in it.

I like this advice a lot, but the references and the formalized taxonomic names are a severe hindrance. Do you know any description of these ideas that uses more colloquial, modern terms for the taxonomy?

Sorry I was ambiguous in my first post. I meant to ask for reading material that synthesizes these different individual topics together into a more modern taxonomy of concepts that don’t need any reliance on these existing taxonomic terms at all.

I’m not seeking background reading on these concepts as they are already bundled into their own taxonomy, that’s the thing I find unhelpful and am seeking to avoid in favor of some other sources that put them into a more modern framework that obviates any need to reference these specifically except perhaps as historical footnotes or extra reading.

Really, it is the modern terminology, despite being over 2000 years old. Western philosophy is built almost entirely on a sequence of ideas dating back to Plato (and ancient Greek philosophy in general). Modern philosophers analyze the key concepts identified by Plato and his peers, whether they agree with Plato (or Aristotle, or Diogenes, or other writers of the era) or not.

Modern philosophers tend to be extremely dense and difficult to read. What I'd recommend is starting from the beginning - key works of Plato, such as Apology (the trial and death of Socrates), Republic (an ideal government, and Symposium (a friendly conversation about the topics of the day). These are all quite readable and enjoyable, and frankly as good as or better than most modern works.

I'm not aware of any, but I have thought quite a lot about creating a course on this subject. The key issue for me is that modern academic philosophy is perhaps more properly "philosophology", or the study of philosophy. It would be interesting to study and share more practical applications of philosophy, the way the great ancient philosophers perceived philosophy themselves (see John Sellars' The Art of Living for an in-depth analysis of the Greeks' perception of philosophy as a "techne ton bion", or perhaps "lifecraft").

Nassim Taleb covers some basics in his Black Swan and provides some practical suggestions. Nice read, btw.

The irony is he is one of the most closed-minded people around, if you see him on Twitter etc.

This also tripped me up for a long time. The issue (at least for me) is that modern English is poorly suited to extremely nuanced thought. The best modern language we have today for philosophical discourse is possibly German, and of course Greek and Sanskrit excel at expressing nuance and subtlety. An example of this is the observation that it often takes an entire English sentence or paragraph to express the meaning and shades of meaning that are encapsulated in a single Greek or Sanskrit word.

I agree with you, though, it seems like this language issue is a roadblock to many. The same could be said of mathematics and science, and most of my own learning has revolved around breaking through the initial barrier to entry to a given subject that's in the form of its technical language and notation.

“If I’m getting upset, I’m probably wrong.”

It’s a specific kind of feeling, when my brain starts protecting itself against information that proves me wrong. Kind of like a real threat. It feels like I’m under attack, and I’m losing. I get subtly upset (because I’m a know-it-all and I want to be right), which is itself quickly reframed as anger, probably by that same mechanism. Probably much easier to admit that I’m angry because of “that guy!” than that I’m gonna be a crybaby because I’m wrong. But them’s the breaks, son.

I find it hard, and I wish I could say it gets easier, but it doesn’t. It sucks being wrong, and it’s humiliating.

I’d describe it as: at any moment you feel a flare of anger, try and ask yourself, what if you were wrong? If you find it hard to even engage in the thought experiment, that’s probably it. On a normal day you’d have no problem doing it. Try it now: it’s just a thought. Try it when you’re upset: it’s practically impossible.

I've found that this is easy to flip on its head, at least for yourself. Convincing the masses to treat errors differently is another problem altogether.

People tend to get defensive about being wrong for two reasons. Either because they fear being punished, or they have associated the thing they are wrong about with their identity.

People don't tend to make mistakes knowingly. Either they were tired, uninformed, inexperienced, or whatever. Most often these things are out of their control. To attack them and say "What are you? Some kind of idiot?" is unhelpful and leads to the sentiments described in the parent. Next time they screw up, they'll lie about it, deny it, or blame it on someone else. Accepting that mistakes happen, and they're rarely intended helps you to be more empathetic when other people mess up, and helps you disregard the insensitive reactions of other people whenever you mess up.

When people associate ideas with their identity, this makes any attack on the idea an attack on them personally. This seems to be fairly common nowadays on the political landscape, especially with all the labels that people give themselves and each other. The matter of the fact is that ideas are only concepts, and their only attachment to a person is whether they think they are valid or not. A person can very easily change their mind, however the moment an idea becomes associated with their identity it becomes much harder. Allow yourself to be wrong, allow yourself to be convinced, and change your mind, and you likely won't care nearly as much when it turns out you were wrong - you just didn't know better, and you can't know everything, but now you know more.

One thing Phil Knight wrote in Shoe Dog that has stuck with me is something similar:

"If all you see are problems, you're not seeing clearly"

There are often times when I feel like "every way is up" and that there are only bad outcomes; this quote leads me to re-think whether or not I'm seeing the issue clearly or not.

Relevant: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_dissonance, https://www.simplypsychology.org/cognitive-dissonance.html

Similarly: if you are getting upset in such a fashion, it can help to take a literal step back from the situation (or idea) causing it—go for a short walk. From a long-term perspective, getting upset over one small thing is not worth the mental anguish and lost time.

There are many reasons someone could be angry. Someone might be impatient, low on sleep, frustrated they other person is being offensive. its as if one was debating flat earth theory and the other person was making ad hominem attacks, denying facts, picking at technicalities of your argument instead of the meat of your point (never say always or never because someone will find a single instance of that thing happening or not happening and suddenly they have side stepped the whole line of argument).

On the other hand if you are handling a skilled debater, and they have snuck in some false premises that have led you down a road to agreeing that abortion is objectively wrong and shouldn't be legal, that may make someone upset. It could just be that the person is upset because they feel strongly about their stance but they aren't sure where down the line of the argument they went off track. OR someone could actually be inconsistent with their thinking and when they are shown that they are wrong, they get upset.

It can't possibly just be that when you are angry you are probably are wrong, unless you only get angry when you are wrong.

Some of this strikes me as good advice; it's certainly always good to engage in the "what if I'm wrong?" thought experiment. But I don't find "am I upset?" to provide a very strong signal either way. I'm often upset when I'm wrong, but I'm also often upset when I'm right and the thing being discussed is simply upsetting.

“If I’m getting upset, I’m probably wrong.”

Perfect centrist mindset.

Write down what I'm going to do.

It happens that I can't really 'start' with work due to having too many things to choose from, or by not knowing how to really get started with it.

What always helps is writing down on a piece of paper a step by step guide of what I will do. this can be very general. But just having the steps written down helps me get started.

Kind of like a "todo list" except that I don't update it when I'm done.

This helps me when I need to make a choice for what to work on, but also to compartementalize the problems that I get stuck on.

For example, on my paper it says this at the moment:

     -> Extend importsystem
        -> Write parser for text-data
            -> check if data in system!
It's just a rough outline for what I should be working on at the moment (instead of being on HN, probably).

Choice/decision fatigue is a tough thing. I also write down my todo's. I also take time to pick days to do things.

I almost never follow the schedule I set, but I manage to get everything done (deadlines are an advantage of being in school still, I think).

In a more freeform environment I impose a lot of structure on my schedule when I have a lot of executive function to spare (morning, coffee, 8+ hours of sleep, enough food). Then, the rest of the week (I plan in 1 week blocks) I stick to the schedule, and I don't really have to think about what I'm going to have to do.

There has to be some sense of flexibility, though. I forget to schedule things, and sometimes stuff pops up on short notice. Having items on my todo prioritized (1:=most important).

This is, of course, an idealized thing. I still strive to be consistent and effective in my routines.

And the corollary: write down what you have done. It can be (for me) hard to remember, giving rise to the mistaken feeling that you’ve achieved nothing.

I bullet journal. (https://bulletjournal.com/pages/learn) I got my wife into it as well. Our journals are vastly different. She uses it to review and keep info. I use it as a task list and some notes.

It's a big motivator and important tool I've picked up.

The best part of the bullet journal method is the de-prioritizing of tasks. I don't give up on things to the point of detriment. With a bullet journal, I've learned to let go of stuff and move forward.

I struggle with distraction and procrastination, making it feel like nothing gets accomplished on average, even though there are some small steps each day.

I have a kanban/whiteboard with small post-its and the "done" column is a reminder that things are being completed, even if not always at the pace I'd like. Not so much a hack as a reminder to not be down on yourself - we can't all be hyper-focused life hackers :-)

If you go a bit further with this, it becomes documentation-driven development :-) Also fits the first point of Simon Peyton Jones’s talk on writing a research paper: https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/research/academic-program/wr...

I would add to write done where you are when you are done for the day or switch to something else. I have an incredibly hard time picking up where I left off without something like this as apparently I'm able to compartmentalize more easily than some of my peers.

Some mornings it's just hard to get started.

A trick I use is to start something "easy" towards the end of the day, but not finish it. That makes it easier to get the ball rolling the next morning.

To that end, Hemingway would stop writing for the day when it was going well, in the hope that resuming the next day would see a continuation of that ease.

How do you manage not to keep thinking about how you gonna finish it? Sometimes even the easiest tasks can make me daydream about the final outcome.

That sounds like the difference between the J and P traits in the MBTI system. J-types (judgers) like me (and probably you) tend to plan ahead a lot and like to have matters settled, whereas P-types (perceptors) prefer to keep decisions open and decide how to do stuff when the time comes to act. I would guess that pmarreck is a P-type, or would at least lean towards P.

Wikipedia has more details on MBTI, and there are online self-tests for your own MBTI classification.

Disclaimer: Note the "Criticism" part of the Wikipedia page. MBTI is AFAIK not a tool that professional psychologists would use. Nonetheless, I find it useful in order to find similar people on the internet. For example, if I want to learn a new skill, a search query like "[thing] tutorial for INTJ" gives me way better results than just "[thing] tutorial" because I get recommendations from people who think in similar ways.

Heh, you're right: I believe last time I took the MBTI, I was either INTP or ENTP, definitely not J though! Interesting!

What majewsky said (which was interesting!)

Basically I am able to (mentally and physically) walk away from work and let go of it and go home and game or work out or whatever. Then, the next day when I sit down again, I get my bearings and see where I'm at and then proceed!

There are a few exceptions to this, of course, but it's always with hard problems I become absolutely OBSESSED about. For example I couldn't find an XML parser in Elixir a couple weeks ago that I liked, so I was faced with writing my own... which I did... and then released as open source https://github.com/pmarreck/mega_xml but I was literally up until 4:30AM one night figuring out how to turn an event-based XML parser callback mechanism into an Elixir Map datastructure (something I had never had to do before, but which I somehow knew I was barely capable of figuring out, lol). It was extra tricky (for me) due to the lack of mutability

This helps me a lot as well, as I have a large variety of tasks which often run in parallel, and having essential info written down reduces time for context switches and allows me to keep my working memory clear.

My technical solution for this is using a personal Trello board. Each task is a Trello card, and for a new task I write a rough outline of what needs to be done. I keep these cards in separate stacks: To-do (not started), In-progress, On-hold (waiting for external activity), Done (for archival purposes). For longer running tasks I do update the cards with additional information and progress status. And I can put high-priority tasks to the top of the stack. Creating, updating, and moving cards is all low-friction in Trello, so I find it to be well suited for me.

I found a simple 3 columns list to be useful to visualize tasks.

| To Do | Doing | Done |

Wouldn't this be hard to move items if it's written down? Unless you're using some sort of program like Trello?

True, you need to erase and re-write items to prioritize tasks—that may or may not be a downside. Haven't found an elegant app that does this smoothly. I use a simple Markdown file or paper, sometimes both. The truth is apps often become a distraction. Simple systems like this may work better on paper. The material presence of paper makes your list more tangible, plus you get the little satisfaction of striking through things as you progress through your list. Maybe re-ordering and writing the same items over and over is a good thing too as you'll notice important tasks if they are due for too long. It works well in combination with the Eisenhower matrix, as it also keeps things simple and visual.

Any to-do list apps with labels should do the trick. I'm currently using Todoist but labels is a premium feature.

A wall and some sticky notes might be a good method.

Thanks for sharing this. I saw this post earlier in the week and have been applying it this week. I have been much more productive and able to refocus much quicker.

I do this with TODOs as well. It's really helped.

I also do this. Two handy upshots are: - At the end of the week, I have a list of most of the things I’ve accomplished - Tomorrow morning, I can hit the ground running because I can remember where I left off

1/ Whenever you can’t motivate yourself to start working on something, think about the smallest thing you can perform and make it your only goal for the day. It can be something as simple as « open the ide and compile the project once ». The trick is that after that first step you will naturally begin to do some real work, because the movement started.

2/ when learning a new skill or trying to improve , focus on one or two things only for the duration of the training session. Eg : this tennis game i’ll consider i’ve won if i’ve managed to stay relax for the whole match, on every point.

The "smallest possible thing" hack is a great one. It also works great for exercise. If your goal for example is to work out every morning before work, instead of setting ambitious goals for what's going to happen tomorrow morning when the alarm rings at 6am, promise yourself the following: "I will physically get out of bed. I will put on my workout clothes. I will do five pushups. If I don't feel like doing anything else after that, I will go back to bed."

When you've gotten up, gotten changed and begun to move, the prospect of going on to do an actual workout becomes like 90% less unpleasant of an idea, compared to how you perceived it from the comfort of your warm soft bed.

It works, try it.

Wow, the "If I don't feel like doing anything else after that, I will go back to bed." seems like the key part of it. Giving yourself a way out makes it even easier to commit to the small task. Good tip.

Seriously just did this earlier in the week. Had been dogging myself for a while to do strength training in the morning before work. Can't pull myself out of bed. Eventually I said "I just need to get to the gym, nothing more". If I get there an only get 5 minutes in, it's OK. Made it and had a 30m work out.

> Whenever you can’t motivate yourself to start working on something, think about the smallest thing you can perform and make it your only goal for the day.

This is also useful for side projects if you are under time pressure from more important things. Every day, spend ten minutes doing something that will move the project on and keep you in touch with it.

> "you will naturally begin to do some real work, because the movement started"

This works. But only if there is a cadence that you comfortably settle into. Slow feedback cycles in your tools, real world blockers or other problem-domain bureaucracies can kill whatever sense of cadence you have, a bit like when a Parkinson's patient can walk forward quite well until they reach an obstacle -- and even upon removal of the obstacle, their motor cortex can't provide the necessary neurological oomph to get them back to cadence. This is how I currently feel where I work. I'm used to quick feedback cycles and a quick cadence. But am weighed down by endless blockers. It's a large company with lots of entrenched tooling, too, so not so easy to remediate the situation.

what I find is something similar while running long distances.

There's a point where pain and other senses disappear because you are so focused on the task.

I'd imagine it's similar, you fall in to a rhythm and then you sort of dissociate from the laziness.

Being suicidal depressed will also hinder things.

Hey man, you are loved. Wish I could have said this to my girlfriend. She used to say things like this in passing. I can tell you that the pain of missing her never goes away. Just remember that you are loved and don't be afraid to reach out to someone for help.

You can also help your future self by writing that smallest possible thing on a post-it for the next morning.

> « open the ide and compile the project once »

I find that I need to set at least few small tasks to get the ball rolling. If I set something like this as the only task I needed to do I would just play video games or waste time afterwards.

I recently started making to do lists that only include things I know I can ABSOLUTELY get done today, and I only make them in the morning. It includes a lot of things like "take a look at feature X"

At one point, I was making todo lists that included:

- things so easy they were guaranteed to be completed - things that I may or may not complete - things so impossible they were guaranteed NOT to be completed

This meant that every day I would defininitely finish some but not all of my list. This helped with getting started and also not beating myself up about the things I didn't accomplish.

Yeah I often find it best to start the day with the easiest jira on my list. Fix a typo or whatever. Once I’m started the harder tasks come easier.

wow....this is pretty powerful mind hack

I will definitely use it.

My hacks:

* Productivity: every day do at least one measurable thing that puts forward your project, even if very small.

* Expectations: don't care about the outcome of your work, as long as you tried to put a lot of good efforts into it. Focus on trying to do the thing instead of focusing on the result it will have, or what people will think.

* Stress: instead of being preoccupied about things, try to take care of them. During stressful situations, enjoy the small things of life, like eating or drinking a glass of wine, or playing with your daughter.

* Socialization: let your inner person go out in every occasion in order to immediately push away people that don't like you. Never try to fake being different (compared to what you are). This way you don't have any filter, which is great, nor you have any doubt about people staying around having different expectations.

* Life: it's too short to hang out with people you don't like or doing activities you don't like. Focus on what you want.

What if I don't want to be who I am and I want to change myself?

Apparently I am a very feminine man and I don't want to be like this at all. I can't stand how people treat me. When I am being myself I'd much rather not socialize at all than try to meet people.

I share in your pain. This world is openly cruel to men that don't follow gender norms, and we often have to wear uncomfortable masks to keep ourselves safe from all the jerks out there. It is exhausting to wear those masks all day, and sometimes we just can't take it anymore and have to withdraw from everyone.

But there are also lots of people out there that know better than to mistreat someone for their gender expression. There are people out there that even find it worth celebrating. If you there is a community of nonbinary/gender nonconforming/genderqueer organizers near you, that can be a good place to start looking. And maybe someday, with enough help from your community and possibly therapy, you can learn to celebrate yourself for how you express yourself too. You are worthy of it.

> If you there is a community of nonbinary/gender nonconforming/genderqueer organizers near you, that can be a good place to start looking.

I think this is completely the wrong advice for who you're talking to. From the sounds of it he's complely, unquestionably a man who wants to present as completely, unquestionably a man too, but doesn't for whatever reasons.

It seems like you're saying "yeah you're a girly man, that's what you are now, better learn to embrace it" rather than "learn to express yourself how you want".

> It seems like you're saying "yeah you're a girly man, that's what you are now, better learn to embrace it" rather than "learn to express yourself how you want".

It's true, I am saying that. I think the root problem is how the parent comment author is being treated, rather than how he is acting, since his main motivation for changing how he acts is to be treated differently.

He's free to reject my advice, but I know that when I was a younger person going through the same thing, it was exactly this advice that helped me survive after many years of only being ineffectively told that I needed to "man up."

Same, to some extent. It helped that I have a lot of queer friends and did when I was a teenager too. Some things I don't like about my expression but can't (easily) change, I've learnt to accept. Qualities which I once thought of as feminine, such as emotional expressiveness, I now see as gender-neutral and they fit a lot more comfortably into my masculinity... but I have also cultivated a lot of traits that are seen as traditionally masculine as I've grown into my 20s.

I did "man up", just in a very positive way aided by having a lot of female and queer friends, rather than the regressive 4chan way I was told to when I was a teenager. Your comment read not as encouraging that, but as, "you might as well accept your fate now and start wearing a dress."

I think it depends a lot on where you live. I live in a bigger city and, while I don't personally act in an overtly out of the ordinary way, there are tons of people here from all walks of life acting in all sorts of ways who are generally accepted by society. Of course there will always be the occasional asshole, but it certainly doesn't stop most from being the person they want to be.

I had the same problem for about 20 years of my life until I decided being alone is actually ok if you're ok with it. Have realistic expectations of yourself. If you can't stand people, then just don't. This doesn't mean you have to isolate yourself. You can still work, and if you find the right person, you can have one or two friends.

Replace "being yourself" with "being your best self". You can still try to improve according to your own values, but don't change who you are just to please others.

Being your best self has nothing to do with socializing by the way, hopefully you would be doing that even if you were alone in your room.

The other reply about "best self" is apt. It is perfectly reasonable, and at times even necessary, to not want to be yourself.

For example, if the OP advice of "let your inner person go out in every occasion in order to immediately push away people that don't like you" leads to a bunch of mean shit that alienates women, that's probably a thing worth changing.

The advice in that sentence is more for people who have fears like "I don't want to talk about my hobbies because I'm scared people won't respect me". All advice isn't right for all people, here's one of my favorite articles about that: http://slatestarcodex.com/2013/06/09/all-debates-are-bravery...

My advice is to examine why you don't want to be yourself: if you're living in a way that's incongruent with your values, or values that you want to have because you believe they would make your life and the world genuinely better, then yeah, start making changes in pursuit of those values.

If people are treating you badly for ways that you are, and, were you not being mistreated, you'd be okay staying the way you are? And nobody claims to be harmed by the way you are (highly unlikely, from the sound of it)? Stay you. Find new people. It is crazy how varied, and how sandboxed, groups of people are. The subculture switching cost is very nearly zero, and you'll never bump into the last batch once you make the jump.

Feel free to email me if you ever want to chat, it's in my profile.

Remind yourself that you deserve to take up space as much as many people. Confidence and owning your space are some of the most manly traits. When you're confident, you can also be ok with whatever amount of alone time you need.

Well there were and still are many things I don't like about myself and I tried to change myself over time.

I found for my PhD thesis that getting one thing done a day even if small was a big help, along with not beating yourself up if you didn’t get a lot done.

100% agree. I had a rule that I needed to write at least 1 page a day. 1 page sometimes became 10, but it always started with 1.

I don't necessarily agree with your expectations bullet point.

I feel that human beings are inherently focused on results/value. Instead of not caring about the result, I consider what the result is (or what it could be).

In a less roundabout way -- I am always thinking about what I am getting out of the current moment. Be it measurable impact or some sort of insight/learning. That way, even the most abject failures have value to me.

I like the idea of this:

Productivity: every day do at least one measurable thing that puts forward your project, even if very small.

But a bit confused on the "measurable" piece, if you write code, make a new feature or fix a bug, how can it be measurable?

It is measurable in that you can show it and somehow "count" it. Compare with a day if you just discussed back and forth what you should do or how to do it. If there is nothing concrete to show for it, it is not measurable. At least take notes in that case.

Really sharp. Will you please by my guru?

For work management...

Whatever task management system you use, never ever write down a "task" that cannot realistically be done in a single sitting of work. If you can't do it in an afternoon at worst, it's not a task, and needs broken down further.

Set a ceiling for the number of items in your backlog. When I was using Trello/Kanban to manage my tasks, I had a hard ceiling of ten things in the backlog. If something isn't important enough to rate being on that top ten list, it shouldn't even be formally acknowledged until you have space to acknowledge it in. (And if something sits in the backlog for a while unaddressed while new things come and go, admit it's not that important and drop it.) This doesn't need to be "ten items". Whatever number works for you, as long as it keeps you comfortable. This is about managing anxiety, not managing work. A backlog too large to even count is overwhelming. Don't let that happen.

Write everything down, preferably on paper. The physical act of writing does wonders for memory.

I've recently converted from Trello to bullet journaling for managing my life, and it works a lot better, for me at least. Paper writing, plus the loose-yet-structured nature of the bullet journal, is really powerful for keeping thoughts in order.

You've got some great advice here, but I went the opposite way from paper to electronic notes. I had about five years of project notes on paper that became totally impossible to manage or search. I've been doing it electronic now (simple text files) for about a decade and find it much more valuable.

For a focused project, electronic is almost certainly better (and if you initially write on paper, it's worth transcribing). But for my purposes, I'm mostly journaling my day-to-day activities. I don't think I'll ever want to search for that time I needed to get caffeine free Diet Coke and had to push it forward for three straight days (that would be today...)

A really nice thing about bullet journaling, relative to other forms, is the index. I can keep my old journals (labeled by date range) and look up stuff that might actually be interesting in the future, like "Jim Campignolo workshop notes".

I should add here that bullet journaling has been a big improvement on the problems of Kanban backlog management. By working from a daily log, I can separate tasks I'm working on today from the general backlog. Theoretically, this works with the "doing" list in Kanban as well, but I like it better in the journal. And I have all my stray thought notes that aren't up to the level of a backlog task in the same place that I'm doing my daily things. The acts of daily and monthly reflection encourage me to go groom that backlog in a more conscious way.

Utilize laziness:

It works like this: 1. Realize that most of the world is out to distract you. 2. Realize that part of the way to do this is to make distraction, and access to distraction, as easy as possible. 3. Actively set up "friction" to reduce that ease.

In practice: I don't install FB on my phone; I have to use the crappier web version. I block reddit on my laptop, so I have to use my phone. Just by making stuff not ubiquitous, you add a little mental friction to using it that dissuades it usage.

One more: I always log out of FB and any other "easy-to-use" distractions. The act of logging in is costly enough (given my long passwords) that even if I open up the tab, I'll bail because I'm too lazy.

I don't display the bookmarks bar in my browser. Suddenly I'm not visiting 6 different websites for 30 minutes every day. Adding friction is an awesome hack.

One can also 'grease the rails' (the opposite of friction) for difficult to get-to tasks. Set out gym clothes and bag the night before, or meal prep on the weekends (so that during the week, the easiest thing to eat is what you want it to be).

This is front-loading executive function, and I find it very effective in my life.

I took this one step further and disabled history based autocompletion in the url bar of Firefox. If I want autocompletion, I bookmark the site. This lets me avoid accidentally getting sidetracked on entertainment sites (reddit, etc) just because I typed the first character. And it still allows me to search my history if I need (though I do this surprisingly little).

> Adding friction is an awesome hack.

Somewhat related: that's the only way I've been able to get myself to exercise with any consistency. I set things up so that the only way I could get to work is by riding my bicycle.

> don't display the bookmarks bar in my browser

For an even more powerful version of this, I recommend:

1) The chrome plugin Momentum

2) Internet-blocking apps like SelfControl, Freedom, or ColdTurkey.

I also recommend doing this with finances. Don't save your payment methods on websites. Don't use Amazon one-click checkout. Set up a pin on your Amazon devices for purchases. Make everything a little harder to buy.

I use this around junk food too: place stuff in an upper cabinet.

I'm usually too lazy to go get it.

Works great with beer. Leave it out of the fridge so you literally have to ice it.

Make it a rule to never put more than one in the fridge at a time.

I bought 2 monitors and a docking station because of this. There is no friction between my background music playing ( instead of tv in the past) and me working.

Best excuse ever

Why not set the clock 5mins forward.

The most effective trick is to write down whatever you are going to do. You won’t believe how effective is it before you start doing it. Just write them down. I prefer pen and paper. This is one of the things you hear a lot and you ignore it by default. Start making it a habit my friend.

The second trick is to learn to write a simple decision tree. Stop comparing pros on cons on your head for all critical decisions. Also do it as much as you can for anything that requires mental energy to save your capacity as much as possible.

And third is, to learn simple meditation breathing exercise. (probably 1hr video tutorial on YouTube is enough to learn simple breathing exercise. You don't need more than that. IMO) Then use this exercise anytime you need to switch to diffuse mode. Do it anywhere you have to. Even during the commute to work. I know proper exercises has some sitting and environment conditions. But F.. that. You still get a lot of benefits. I’m sure there are more benefits in doing the whole thing in the right conditions. But even with minimum impact is enough.

And forth just because I saw taking a shower as a recommendation. Make sure your shower time is just a refresher. Don't think about anything during shower. Sign your favorite song if you can't stop thinking.

The decision tree sounds a bit like what Ray Dalio lays out in this Principles book. I haven't had a chance to construct one yet but it sounds like a really interesting project. Can you share a bit more about yours?

I keep this on a small card in my office:


INBOX ZERO - Delete, Delegate, Respond, Defer, Do

ALWAYS BE KNOLLING - Put away tools, group like objects, align to surfaces

FOCUS - Work on one thing

FAST TASK SWITCHING - Work on the top of the heap

PERMISSION TO FAIL - Persist for 15 minutes

Continuous Improvement by SUBTRACTION

WRITE IT DOWN to relieve pressure

STRATEGIC PROCRASTINATION - Ignore your big audacious goal

"Always Be Knolling" reminds me of "Discipline of Do Easy" by Gus Van Sant https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eoOUBETTyMI

Actually is from William Burroughs, but yeah, a really good technique.

I break down hard problems I am working on into steps.


And I write down and refine many rules for myself to follow in life.


Eating whole food plant based diet, fasting daily for 13 hours and drinking only water and tea also greatly helped my ability to focus. I also do some exercise on my automated breaks.

Your second link is probably the most delightful and awesome thing I have read in a long time. I feel such kinship towards this, it's like all the things I've had in my brain but never shared. You seem really cool =)

thanks a lot for sharing this. I have accumulated somewhat similar notes over last couple of years but never got to a point where I was able to follow my own checklists. Often times I am too lazy to open the checklist on a web page.

I wish there was a simple app where I can keep these repeatable checklists and summon them at will depending upon the context.

Those are great hacks. Thanks for sharing. I have a few hacks of my own that are more about food and health:

1. Don’t abuse caffeine. I stopped drinking coffee and soda but instead I’ll have some dark chocolate when I need a pick me up. 80%+ and only break off a couple pieces. I also mix in cacao nibs into breakfast often.

2. I try to incoroporate blueberries into a lot of my breakfast. Not sure how affective it is but the flavonoids are supposed to be beneficial for brain function.

3. Avoid added sugar and keep simple carbs down on days I’m working.

4. Get at least 30min-1hr of intense exercise in every day

When I stick to the plan I feel like I’m operating at my best. I’m not insanely strict about this and on the weekend I throw out most of the rules. Except for abusing caffeine and the exercise requirement because cheating on those seem to affect the weekdays even if broken on the weekend.

Technical issues don't seem to require as much strategizing as people-issues, so from that category here are a few of my top ones:

- A person as you imagine them is likely completely different in truth. Since it is less work to imagine optimistic things about them, unrealistically high expectations can be a viable strategy since people seem to gravitate towards expectation and you are left with more energy to deal with real instead of perceived issues.

- If you find yourself having negative thoughts about someone, find a way to account for their perceived misdeeds as circumstance, so that you may direct your mind back towards creative solutions to your common problems as soon as possible.

- You don't need to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders. Even a small, net positive influence can be enough. Cultivate a sense for where your responsibilities begin and where they end.

Regular meals and stable blood-sugar is important for dealing with people. The self is a thin veneer over a strange and fickle animal. Do not forget that we are a planet of apes.

For anyone who hasn't read / listened to David Foster Wallace's This is Water speech, I would highly recommend it. It talks about point 2 of parents comment.

Great find! Thank you.

I like to keep "writing walls" of whatever problem I need to solve, either in work or outside of it. These are basically Google Docs without rules about structuring of content, it's mostly me type-talking with myself about what the problem is, what some possible approaches are for solving it, or even "arghs" and the occasional profanity if things don't work out. Also I paste in URLs for whatever useful resources I find which has saved me a lot of time when working on semi-related things in the past. There are no rules, I just write what comes to mind or whatever I don't wish to store inside my head anymore.

It's a simple thing but it has proven rather helpful in my process to have some place to rant and ponder things without needing to think about the correctness of that particular process as well.

Completely agree! I use org-mode for this, I start a new * section every day with a date.

I also use hashtags like #link, #question, #note, #todo, #done, so I can easily search through them.

When I encounter some error, I write down the error, add a hashtag by the topic (like #docker or #ubuntu or #stripe), then URL for a solution I found (like stackoverflow), then a snipped of code that solved it with a brief explanation.

At this point my notes.org is 7.7 megabytes long and contains all the notes from every day of the past several years. So when I encounter an error I've solved before I just do the search and immediately find the solution.

Also I mark all the important thoughts and insights with >> at the beginning of the line, so I can search for ">>" and find a summary of all the most important insights I've learned over the past month.

I like to do this but I find it difficult to go completely "free form" on a work computer that might be monitored. It's silly but but I don't like the idea of someone being able to see my inner thought processes like that because a lot of times you are stating the obvious just to put that on paper, but to an observer it looks like "man this guy has trouble grasping even the most basic concepts!"

Haha I understand where you're coming from with that, but I don't have that problem anymore. Everyone makes dumb mistakes and asks stupid questions; it's completely irrelevant, the only thing that matters is the outcome. I think if a person ever where to read any of my writing walls they may be relieved that they're not the only ones going through a process like that ;).

I've also followed this approach a lot, yet I still find myself searching for the right ways to format it and the right ways to 'promote' pieces of my docs to real documentation or public notes. Cue highlighting with bold, red text, etc.

Not actually sure how people design a solution to something without this style or something near to it... whiteboard session with yourself?

You can only split your energy so many ways before you become ineffective or only marginally effective at your goals. You're only human, you only have so much in the tank. As a husband/father I can only put about 2-3 things on my plate outside work/family. Working out, one side project/practice, maybe something else small. It took me a long time to stop fighting myself on this, but I feel like the reduction in stress has already paid off whatever I feel I've lost by missing out on this, that, or the other thing. If I want to fit something else in, I deliberately drop something else cold for a while--I don't balance them all.

Agree with what others have said about deadlines, I use that in tandem with the recognition about limited energy above. If I have tough hill to climb...nasty bug, difficult thing to write...I'll deliberately lay back and do really light work for the first part of the day, but I'll tell myself from 2 til quitting time or whatever I feel I can muster, I'm going to go all out. And then at quitting time, I quit. I find that I operate way more effectively this way than making myself "live" with a pain in the ass task from the beginning of the day to the end (or the end of it). Sometimes it won't take long in reality, but I could end up fighting it all day, and I find being motivated for a brief "charge" puts me in a much more effective frame of mind.

For me, it boils down to minimizing distractions and having a low baseline of stress and dissonance.

Default to "no." Simple math: if you say no to almost everything, you are free to say yes to the really important things. This is a skill you can practice and get better at. This is more specific to deals and opportunities than spending time with colleagues, friends, and family. However, if you find yourself constantly in meetings or going out, start saying "no" until it feels special each time, or you get home feeling energized instead of drained.

Determining who you are NOT matters more than determining who you are. It's easier to make a hard decision if you have established your own principles and developed a strong sense of personal integrity. You hear people and companies say what they will do to reach their goals, but you hardly hear them say what they won't do—which to me shows much more clarity in thought.

"Stressbox": Your mail has an inbox that all mail comes through and your brain has a "stressbox" that life keeps adding to. Just as it's okay to delete an email, you are totally fine removing a point of stress from your life. Unsubscribe from things that stress you out so you can have a lower baseline of stress.

"Life Tax": Shit happens... If you are prepared, it feels inconsequential. If you are unprepared, it feels like things spiral out of control or become overwhelming. You can't dodge or defer life taxes—so pay them as they come in. The people you see (or maybe know) who constantly have "bad luck" are likely not paying their life tax on time.

Diet, sleep, exercise, and a means to reflect are needed in combination. Your cumulative diet dictates how you feel next week. Eat generally healthy and you'll feel generally good—don't be afraid of a treat. The highest performers across many professions tend to sleep the most. Exercise helps make better use of the foods you are eating and helps produce the hormones you need to think clearly.

If I'm working on a project I don't have external motivation for, like a personal project, etc. I'll make sure I stop working only when I reach parts that are fun or at least clear. Next time I sit down, I want to either look forward to jumping back in, or not have to sit down and deal with a super weird edge case that had me hating life earlier.

This also applies to lots of things, you can quit, just do it after you made progress, regardless if it's shipping v0.1, running a marathon, etc. Don't quit when you're sad, get to a spot when you're happy then quit.

I do this. Some colleagues don't leave work until they've finished the feature/bug they're working on.

If it's 6pm and I'm stuck solving a bug, I call it quits and go home. Often the next day I have a new perspective and check that other place where the bug actually comes from, and solve it faster than if I had just banged my head until late.

With respect, your comment and the GP comment seem to be two different things.

(1) Stop work when the immediate path forward is clear, so there is less friction to restarting.

(2) Stop work when encountering a puzzling obstacle, with the expectation that ambient thinking will suggest a path forward.

I try to do both of these things. I'm more successful with the second.

I first read about (1) in a book on writing technical papers, where the advice was to NOT write until you've become confused about the way forward. Rather, leave off so you know how to begin on the next writing session.

The right strategy could depend on the application!

I'm OP, and you're right on the money!

Here is what has worked well for me until now : 1) Breaking down every task there is no matter how big into small sets of doable tasks.

2) Emailing myself about the problems, writing about it helps me think about the problem in a much deeper way and when it doesn't help me solve the problem sending it and then getting back to the problem next day has worked out well. You can send it to someone else with minimal effort if you still haven't figured it out yet.

3) Having a to-do list, there are tons and many people have so many opinions. What works for me is writing down what needs to be done on Sublime Text since that is where i note down all of my thoughts. Get a to do list you like and stick to it, you will be thankful.

4) Ask Why's all the time: I learn't this the hard way navigating a PM role. But drilling down into at-least 3-4 levels of Why's always give you a much better clarity. Biz,Life,Decisions anything can be broken down into simpler things that can be understood and dealt upon.

Hope this helps :)

Temptation bundling - If there's something that I really don't want to do, that' I'm putting off - I bundle it with something I really do want.

As an example - I won't allow myself to take that break and grab that shot of espresso until X thing that I'm working on, that I'm soooooo close to completing, is done.

I call this "first, then."

- First <tidy up the room>, then <play games>.

This is a basic self reward system that works.

When I'm annoyed at myself or somebody else and I notice it, I do somebody a five-minute favor. At the office, it can be answering a question, being the duck in talk-to-the-duck debugging, getting somebody coffee or even tidying up the restroom. Even answering a question on SO or Hacker News qualifies. Shifts my mindset out of "annoyed."

(This doesn't work if you keep score on the doing of favors.)

I use sensory cues that get me into the correct mode for each situation. The most simple examples are music and environment. If I'm starting a challenging task, I'll listen to particular tracks and lock myself away. My brain then "knows" to get into gear. Same with relaxation, I reserve some particular music and locations that I use strictly for relaxation. It works like the flick of a switch.

The other thing is lists of tasks to complete in a particular day. I keep it really simple, just a text list. I tell myself "when I get through this list, I can relax and do something I enjoy". It's important for two reasons, first is that it minimizes the costly context switch between completing tasks and high-level planning, second is that my brains "knows" that the sooner I complete the tasks, the sooner it'll get that dopamine rush which the human brain craves.

Overall, I find it very important to have my brain chemistry working for me rather than against me!

Optimize behaviors, not outcomes.

You can directly control the actions you take, but not the results they lead to.

Because there's often luck/uncertainty involved, the results are often not even a good way to measure the quality of your decisions, sometimes good decisions can lead to bad outcomes and vice versa, be aware of this and notice when it happens.

Reward yourself based on taking the right action, use outcomes as analytics to learn from.

Confusing the two leads to anxiety, frustration, and beating yourself up over things you can't change.

Don't burn your mental energy on things outside of your circle of control, instead - try to spend all of it on taking actionable steps.

Heres some algorithms that I actually use in my life. I don't know if they fit the bill, but whatever, I'm sharing them.


If there's a thing that you want to do but you can't do it now, set a reminder to do it, and include how long you are waiting to do it in your note. If the reminder comes up and you can't seem to fit it into your schedule before the next wait time is up, set a new reminder but double the wait time.

This ensures that you don't forget about the possibility of doing something just because you don't have time, but also ensures that you don't spend excessive amounts of time worrying about finding time to do something if you don't really want to do it, or can't prioritize it.

Moreover it allows you to schedule many events without worrying about your schedule getting too crowded.

B) TRYING NEW THINGS. (using a menu at a restaurant as an example)

1. set n = 2. 2. Every time you go to the restaurant, pick a random natural number between 1 and n. 3. - if it comes up 1, pick something you've never tried off of the menu to try. If you don't like it, increase n by 1. otherwise add the item to your list of things to get and set n=2. - otherwise select an item at random from your list of favorite things. You can optimize selection from this list as well, but I don't.

This is hard to keep track of, naturally, so I only use it when I feel like I'm in a rut, but I trust the algorithm, more or less, and it pushes me out of my comfort zone in a way that I am, paradoxically, very comfortable with.

Set your profile picture (Slack/Twitter/GitHub/etc) to something happy. You’ll see it thousands of times a day as background noise, but it will affect both your own mood and how other people treat you.


"I may be wrong. I am often wrong." I say this out loud all the time, any time my knowledge/expertise is involved, and I'm trying to be better about saying it in writing as well. It works like an affirmation, only to encourage recognizing my own fallibility, rather than boosting my confidence.

Closely related... recognizing that everyone, including me, is just a thin coat of reason smeared on a dumb animal brain. Everyone's decision-making, including mine, is governed by a lot of reactionary, low-energy thinking patterns driven by instinct and bad assumptions, not reason - and our "reasoning" is often just thinking our reactionary assumptions are actually something we came to from careful thought. Recognizing that others are irrational helps me work with their interests and biases. Recognizing I'm also irrational helps me avoid the smug belief that everyone who disagrees with me is hateful, greedy, and stupid.

My reasoning is often conjured ex post facto as well, with my brain tricking me into thinking I had good reasons to do something before I actually thought of the reasons.

Our brains use reason to justify what we already did more than it uses it to choose what we will do.

In The Righteous Mind, in a small section, Jonathan Haidt talks about this with the analogy that reason is a mahout riding the elephant of emotion. After reading that book and some others, I wondered if I could train my feelings so I’d respond instinctually and instantly to things in the ‘right’ way.

Often when we see code, we have a feeling of ‘dirty’ or ‘clean’. An internal reaction that pushes us in some direction. It’s worth questioning why we think that about some things, but I think we eventually develop a sense of what is a good pattern and what isn’t and we actually use the emotional reasoning of our brain to guide us effectively in writing code. Perhaps we wouldn’t even be effective programmers if we had to actually think through full reason each time.

Less applicable when reviewing code, of course.

You're on the right path, I think. It's the same thing I do with my "I may be wrong, I'm often wrong" anti-affirmation. I'm training my mind - and training the minds of people I work with - to recognize my fallibility in advance, so it's not such a shock when I actually am wrong. Because yeah, I'm often wrong.

And for my own purposes, recognizing the possibility that I might be wrong in advance, and being comfortable with it, heads off a lot of wasted effort from defending my wrongness.

Everyone does it. You're just aware of it. Most people think it's because they're smart, not because they're dumb.

If I am stuck in a problem, and I'm close to mental exhaustion, I turn off the computer, do something entirely different, get some rest, and come back to it tomorrow.

The next day, I often discover a solution I didn't realize before, or that same problem/bug goes away somehow, most likely because I was too tired and overlooked something.

Yes, definitely. If I'm tired and behind, my instinct is to try to power through. But generally the smart thing for me is to quit early and truly rest.

“the only motivational advice anyone has ever needed: You don’t have to feel like getting something done in order to actually get it done.“


Seems close to the Dilbert geezer's Goals vs Systems. I work on systems more than goals myself and it seems to work for my humble tasks.


Corollary: you can be a good doctor and have a terrible attitude as long as you internalize the latter.

Do the daily Mind Dump!

I try to start every day by opening a GSuite doc. It's synced to my phone so I can edit wherever. It's a running stream of minutiae.

What I've discovered is that by logging my ideas, no matter how trivial. It instantly frees my cognitive load for new thoughts to take hold. I no longer have to cling onto the old to remember them.

It also represents the first step in transmuting the abstract into something physically manifested ;)

Decision-bias: More situations are made worse by not making a decision than making the wrong decision. Most decisions can be rapidly undone. Therefore, always bias to making a decision.

Anti-schlep-blindness: Look for the thing you're avoiding thinking about. It's probably the most important thing.

Not taking any action is often better than taking the wrong action, in my experience.

Not taking an action, though, IS a decision so i’m not sure how exactly this compares to your statement.

I agree. I would bias against implicit no-action because a decision couldn't be made. Explicit No-Action or Explicit Action are superior.

How to speed up your epiphanies:

- Quiet room in the afternoon, with a bed

- Lay down but don't sleep. Drink coffee first if you need.

- Close your eyes, picture the problem, and relax. Visualize it existing in the world. Tweak it. Imagine others' reaction to it.

- Give yourself 20 minutes. If it takes longer, go for a walk.

This technique works well with large architectural decisions, and occasionally helps with debugging stubborn problems.

When dealing with clutter, I pick up an object and go "where should I put this?", and of course this doesn't work, because if I knew that, I would've put it there in the first place. It's clutter because I didn't have an answer.

So instead, I say "Where should this be a year from now?"

For some reason, this elicits entirely different answers. It cuts through the paralysis and imagines a future where the needful has been done.

1. Troubleshooting - I'm not sure if this counts, but my troubleshooting method involves cutting problems in half recursively. I think that's basic troubleshooting, but it seem like many people do not understand it.

2. Understanding that there is an emotional impact to actions. One reason I procrastinate is because of negative feelings when I approach work. Often I sit down to mentally make a list of things to do, and then I will immediately think of all of the roadblocks and problems. Knowing that these are emotions helps to deal with them.

3. Long walks. Taking long, boring walks helps me to unwind and also to reconsider problems that are hard in the present tense.

One of my favorites is, "If not now, when?" If there's something I should do that I don't want to do now, I have to come up with a specific time or condition when it's really going to happen.

It made me realize how much "later" is a fictional time rarely arrives.

"By the time you realize you won't live forever, it is likely your time here is already running out."

"No time like the present."

I've found pondering mortality to be an excellent motivator. Existentially frightening (sometimes), but motivating.

"If we wait until we're ready, we'll never get started."—Eleanor Roosevelt

I use earplugs when doing work in any environment that's not quiet.

What's nice about earplugs is (1) it cuts off only a 'layer' of sound that I find inhibits focus and (2) your hearing adjusts; you can still hear virtually everything happening around you.

Being in the city, I find myself actually sporting earplugs virtually everywhere I go .. There's just soo much noise.

Earplugs don't work for me any longer due to tinnitus. It really sucks.

But now I have some musical tracks that play with headphones that work just as well for me.

Which earplugs do you use? I find that my ears get very irritated using earplugs for extended periods.

I use CVS Superior Soft Foam Earplugs ~ https://www.cvs.com/shop/cvs-superior-soft-foam-earplugs-pro... .. nothing really fancy, though maybe the nicest ones that most CVS' sell.

Sometimes, I will experience minor discomfort if I've pushed them too far in my head, but pulling them out just a little usually relieves any problem.

I've had them in all day (again), only taking them out once for a long conversation I had .. and I sleep with them too.

Honestly, reality in a city, IMO, is by & far way too noisy. And I don't think from an evolutionary standpoint, we're super-well-suited for processing (consciously or not) all the different directions of noise washing across us ..

Or maybe I'm just too easily distracted/overwhelmed ;)

Best earplugs IMHO: Mack's Pillow Soft Silicone Earplugs: https://www.amazon.com/Macks-Pillow-Soft-Silicone-Earplugs/d.... I've tried EVERY type on the market over the past 55 years and have been using Mack's for at least 30 years.

1. Learn how to say "no."

2. Learn how to say "I was wrong."

3. Learn how to say "I don't know."

4. It is ok to change your mind

By "learn how to" I mean "gracefully and confidently".

Longer version: I have learned to care immensely about what I'm working on but not get stressed. I constantly step back and affirm that most things just aren't a big deal. That gives me clarity of thought and allows me to do really good work and have a lot of fun doing it. No matter what happens, nothing can take away my ability to learn and self improve. Therefore, I will always be ok.

When I am stuck on a issue/decision/bug I just stand up and go "walk about it" with my dog.. Most of the times I come back with something to get started.. All of the times my dog comes back with a wagging tail.

Hammock Driven Development by Rich Hickey touches on this subject. Great talk.

Just start. Even spending a few minutes on a problem you've been avoiding will help make the issue clearer, plus you're more likely to keep going once you've started (see also: pomodoro technique).

100% agreed. I can get very resistant about doing some things. Committing to doing one pomodoro today has been very helpful. At worst, I've broken my not-doing-it streak, and it will be easier to return to later. And at best I'll get into it and charge on through.

I'm not sure if this falls under "brain hacks" but here's something for the folks who work remotely.

What helps me a lot is to start working within 15 minutes of waking up (9AM). No reddit, no hackernews, no any other kind of news before noon. This usually results in the majority of the work getting done before early afternoon. After that, I work at a more relaxed pace until 5PM.

Avoid negativity, Learning to recognize toxic people and situation would be the hack. Then exiting quickly not to return. My life is an order of magnitude better after cutting off two toxic friends and actively avoiding new toxic people and situations.

What are the red flags to quickly bucketize relations into toxic?

My benchmarks are these:

- They'll try to make you feel guilty about something that is otherwise not a big deal

- They tend to be negative about almost everything and invite drama from all spheres of their life

This is in contrast to:

- When you mess up, they'll either call you out on it or let you know without really making it personal (it's about what you did and not about you). I believe a true friend is one who tries to make you hear what you need to hear and not just what you want to.

We all have plenty of tasks that we kind of don't want to do, or feel they're a burden, or they somehow take us out of our comfort zone...

This is a trick I learned that works like a charm to get myself into the right mindset and wanting to actually do the task: think how finishing the task will make you feel.

Try really hard to envision a great outcome of a given meeting with customers. What it will mean for you, your project, your company...

With some exercise you will really fool your brain.

Apply it with everything. Even with personal stuff. Don't want to wash those dishes? Think about what a nice, tidy kitchen looks and smells like.

It's one of those weird hacks in my life that actually make me get stuff done.

Ask (yourself) questions.

Given a question, our brains will automatically start searching for an answer. But if you don't have a specific question in mind to a problem then it will be harder to dig for solutions.

Trivial example: Looking for a place to eat You can spend a lot of time randomly thinking about foods you like or you can start asking yourself questions...how hungry am I? what type of cuisine do I feel like having...how far am I willing to go...etc

Applying Occam's Razor and Hanlon's Razor.

Also I look at everything through the filter of evolutionary psychology. I call it "you in the grass" and mentally take myself all the way down to it's just you and your tribe in the grass, you're tired and hungry, theres nowhere to sleep and everything is dangerous. Then I analyse things through that filter first and slowly add the additional layers of society back on.

Those have been helpful for me:

- Everything as practice (great thread IMO https://www.reddit.com/r/getdisciplined/comments/8zf5uw/need...)

- “Without adversity there is no advance”, just offer the boring parts of your job as sacrifice or use as mindfulness practice, or execute them now with 100% of your attention (eg making coffee at the office say)

- Don't complain about stuff you can do in two minutes (mentally), just do it and be glad to serve others instead. This has been a great "energy conservation" trick for me, when I can do it..

- Remember Parkinson's Law...

- Just start it, a few minutes is enough. If you can cross a first small task in the beginning, that will get you going. (read here I think: https://sivers.org/book/PersonalMBA)

- Set a maximum time for some task (20min, say - good if a little unrealistic) and work with 100% intent/focus (But I can't work 8 hours like this...)

Oh, there's another one.

Prioritize Information Exchange: I hope to provide useful information to other people. I don't want to convince them, just to give them what I know. In exchange, I try to find people who will give me what they know. Essentially, enable the Postel principle for yourself, and always invoke Crocker's Rules upon yourself. If other people don't or persist in being wrong then allow them to be so.


I learned this from being in combat and trying to hit on girls way out of my league in highly competitive environments where they would verbally test me.

When tension increases, voices move up an octave, and conflict looms ...breathe... focus, let time slow down, move slowly and with purpose.

You can control the most complex and high emotion situations, the ones where everyone is freaking the fuck out by breathing and focusing your mind. It’s amazing, like watching time slow down. You gain control and can manipulate the situation as desired. With practice you can do this without thinking and can speed up or slow down the tempo at will. It’s like a super power. I encourage you to practice it.

Then you get to a point to where you can artificially accelerate the tempo for others (saying something taboo, challenging someone directly, body language) while you remain in “bullet time” able to control the situation while everyone struggles with the rush of endorphins. It’s pretty crazy. Try not to be too nefarious with this.

Two things: I use brown/white noise a lot to quiet my ADHD and general mental chaos. Whenever possible I steal myself away and just bask in the low, dull roar of the noise in some earbuds.

The other, cannabis.

I'm glad to see someone else mention cannabis. It honestly has helped me so much with slowing down and making sure I put in the time to search for answers. It's helped me creatively and passionately. It's helped me calm down my anxiety in stressful situations and be clearheaded with my thoughts.

It's not for everyone but for those that do use it, I sincerely believe it works.

Be carefull though, even though it's not chemecally addictive (at least the 2 people around me who used to smoke everyday successfully stopped within a two-week period without difficulties), there are some unknowns around cannabis effect when mixed with tobbacco. If you're already at risk for heart issues (genetics, overweight, male, black), you'll want to slow down consomption (cake, pure pot seems to be still okay). Also, like psychotrops or anything that numb your sensations or slow your brain (alcool, keta, fenta), it might have an effect on developing brains, so don't take too much until you're 24-25. Again, studies are pending (the war on drugs really killed of research at some point).

That said, it is a valid brainhack for anxious people from my experience.

Getting a little high at the end of my workday once or twice a week has done wonders for my stress levels and my ability to mentally recover from the day. Not only am I better at my job, but I actually have more time and energy for personal fulfillment.

I use small amounts of cannabis and avoid caffeine and sugar. Some people respond well to caffeine, but I don't. Gotta listen to your body and figure out what feels healthy.

Having never tried it, I'm curious, isn't there a chance that it turns into an addiction ?

Not an addiction like an addiction to nicotine, alcohol, or heroin. However it can absolutely be habit-forming, and habits are difficult to break.

Like any psychoactive substance or even any form of escapism, there is a certain amount of personal responsibility required for safe usage. The user needs to be self-aware enough to be able to gauge when they should stop.

For most people, this shouldn't be a problem. but if you find yourself using it as "an escape" or "a way to cope" on a regular basis, I believe you are somewhat at risk. The same is true for video games, junk food, and collecting baseball cards.

It will never get to a point where you are sleeping in the streets robbing people just to get another hit of marijuana. But it may get to a point where you are smoking too much every day after work, and you start to have a hard time falling asleep without it. Maybe you spend too much money on it. Maybe you stop caring about other hobbies and interests.

Again, most people, especially relatively mature adults who don't have the unlimited free time to be stoned too often, probably don't have that issue. I suspect (without proof) that one is more likely to get addicted to soda or junk food. Like any psychoactive drug, it's not a substitute for mental health resources, whether that be family/friends or a professional therapist. In my opinion, even the temptation to overuse is a warning sign into yourself that maybe you should pause and figure out what's actually causing the temptation.

That said, if you just wanna get a little stoned on Thursday night after the kids go to sleep, you will be fine.

My sister used to be an almost daily user for 3 years, and augmented consomption again after a rape (2 joint a day when she started living at my place).

Still, after a year, familly support, a diploma, a great job, a non-abusive boyfriend and now an appartment, she is "clean" since early november, after her first try at stopping. I'm pretty sure she'll smoke again on some weekends or for new year eve, but it will be for fun and giggles, not because of any addiction.

Imo if you're well, it is not really addictive. Carefull though if you're at risk for heart problems (again: genetics, overweight, male), don't take it with tobacco. And like any drug, do not take it alone the first time.

That reinforces my suspicion that taking even mildly psychoactive substances (pot, alcohol) when you are depressed or "in a funk" is generally a bad idea. Those are the times when substance abuse is most likely to rear its ugly head.

If you possibly can, limit your use of those substances to the "good times": celebrating accomplishments, or winding down after a long successful day.

That's my two cents; I'm open to hearing other opinions.

I agree with you. When you use them in bad times to get by, they become coping mechanisms that you NEED. The problem is sometimes bad times are REALLY bad and, in those instances, a drug is better than the alternatives. The trick is to use it during that time but hang onto some semblance of moderation in the future.

Last I heard it can be psychologically addictive but not physically addictive. For me, I treat it similar to how I treat coffee. Good for an occasional boost when I’m in need of its effects, but I don’t personally find myself indulging often.

Not addiction per say… But there is a great dependency with it. In my humble opinion, cannabis reward you for doing nothing. If feels wonderful and it keeps that do nothing reward loop going.

what is the dosage? are you smoking joints mixed with tobacco? do you smoke daily or just once or twice a week. can you elaborate? i've been a daily user for past few years but I think i see only negatives but I am too into to it to quit the drug for good.

Sorry the late reply but I figured I owed an explanation.

I am a long-time user (~10 years.) When I wrote my original comment I had not smoked in a few days to try and cleanse my mind and body. Quitting for any period of time has never been a problem for me. I simply put it "out of sight and out of mind" and I've had no troubles. I cannot speak the same for everyone. Addiction affects everyone differently.

To directly answer your question, I have PAX3 I'm in love with and I tend to "microdose" with a hit here and there throughout the day. Sometimes I'll treat myself to a joint with a friend on the weekends but I tend to enjoy the small doses during the week a lot more as I can still be productive and have a more imaginative mind. I used to smoke everyday but I've since cut back. I don't feel any ill effects from doing so.

I don't smoke everyday anymore since taking a break and I've been filling the time with drinking more water, taking walks, and stepping away from the computer. As I mature in my career and in life, I find those are the things I enjoy more instead of "forcing" myself to be creative.

For what it's worth, I encourage people to avoid being a daily user of anything. I first discovered this with caffeine. It's really amazing if you have it like once a week. But if I have it every day for a month, not only does it not help much, but when I quit I have to climb out of a hole. But I now apply the principle much more widely.

ADHD here too. I used to have a huge problem with switching to new tasks. It was like mental inertia. I found that listening to podcasts made that go away and I was able to get a lot more done. Now I put one on whenever I'm faced with something mundane.


If you like white/brown noise, this is one of my favorites. I hope you enjoy it. I saw a link on HN for another one...

Here it is: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18427538

Here's a good HTML5 one I use: https://playnoise.com/

I'll once again recommend https://mynoise.net. In my eyes, it's the best because you can customize every single sound generator to your liking.

+1 to brown/white noise. As much as I love listening to music, glorified static calms down my brain while I work. It's also great for quieting down the office... no cubicle wall is high or thick enough to drown out the guy with bronchitis who won't work from home OR the other guy who conducts remote trainings from his desk.

Whew, that got specific.

For this purpose (ADHD quieting), do you tend towards a sativa or an indica-dominant product?

It depends. Sativa variance have a real calming affect when it comes to the anxiety that’s induced by my ADHD. So for day-to-day use, I stick with sativa’s. When I’m trying to settle down and go to sleep, I’ll switch to an Indica

Being able to install a good habit and replace a bad habit is really the "ultimate" brain hack. On forming a habit: Basically you start with a very small habit that doesn't take a whole lot of willpower to do and consistently do it...like do 1 sit up, and do it EVERY DAY. I like how this idea is outlined in mini habits. https://minihabits.com/about-mini-habits/ Once you have a habit formed, it's AUTOMATIC and you don't have to think of it anymore. When you learn to CHAIN related habits together, even small ones, the changes are LIFECHANGING. Making big complicated techniques for managing yourself is just plain tiring and your working against your own human nature. Keep it small and simple and you will see significant changes over a short period of time.

Thank you for this thread. I had been feeling pretty bad and had a mental block because of too many things piling up. I found some really nice ideas that I hope to try out.

I have used a particular method that I first learned from Tony Robbins for making decisions. I've been using it for 10 years, but I recently saw an article about it in the NYT.

"How to Make a Big Decision" - The New York Times


(Mostly, you figure out what values affect your decision, rank the values, create a matrix with each row corresponding to a possible choice, and each column corresponding to a value, and each entry in the matrix gives a numerical value of how well the row choice contributes to the column-value. Now do a weighted sum of each row to figure out which is the best choice.)

I saw a "how do you make a good pick from an unknown selection?" article a couple of decades ago in the Observer which basically boiled down to "Always reject the first item; then pick the one which isn't glaringly worse."

Seems reasonably sound, statistically, based off some Monte Carlo simulations I did.

I ended up automating my brain hack. I found that some tasks can be complex, overwhelming, or just plain unpleasant. So I wrote a script that looks at my To-Do list, and gives me a series of top-ranked articles by people who already completed a similar task. So this isn't necessarily about getting some guidance on how to perform a task... but seeing a firsthand view from someone who lived through it can be very motivational.

I was surprised at how effective it was at both small tasks (choose a smart thermostat), and complex tasks (prepare for a trade show).

I wrote it for myself, it runs on my home server, so I can't give you a link yet... so here's a few screenshots. Python, Google Search API, some basic NLP.


Whenever I’m anxious about something, my thoughts immediately go to the worst case “what if” scenario. I obsess over it, I lose sleep, and I’m generally miserable until the situation resolves.

Lately I’ve started instituting a practice where whenever I think to myself “what if it goes horribly wrong in this specific way?” I think “yes but what if it also goes right in this other, equally specific way?” I find simply the act of thinking of a positive outcome distracts enough me from the horrible outcome to allow me relax. As an added bonus, at the end of the day my good case scenario and my worst case scenario are often about equally likely to occur given the scarce information I might have in the moment.

I find this exercise makes me less anxious, more able to handle stressful situations, and more resistant to uncertainty.

Some of the other comments in here have overlap with mine, but worth sharing nonetheless imo.

I always stop working when I know I have something to continue. Doesn't mean I don't finish anything but I always have something to return to and don't have that paralysis to start working based on a fear of not knowing what to do.

That leads me to the second point, I keep markdown journals of all my projects as a history of what I was thinking and how things developed. I also make reference points in the journal regarding things I 'could' do the next time I open it.

I am a creative, so often the problems look like...

- Find new B-Format for Ambisonics - Re-factor gesture code

That way I always have something (usually small) to attempt when I need to start work the next day and this will help me tackle the bigger problems as I go.

Sitting down to the work is half the problem.

Brain hack: Formulate your thinking in terms of positive statements.


* Negative statement: Don't use object inheritance, it leads to confusing code.

* Positive statement: Try to make your inheritance tree flatter, this helps make more straightforward code.

The negative statement is both discouraging and ambiguous. When you tell someone or yourself to not do a thing, it begs the question, "What should be done instead?" Meanwhile, the positive statement is incisive and gives the listener better direction.

If you can spot something to not do, you can probably come up with something to do as well. This shift in thinking seems small, but has had a profound impact on how I interact with the world, and improved my outlook on life, work and relationships.

Begin with the end in mind. It's clichéd (from 7 habits) and yet works wonders for getting me to even start, and actually finish.

Simple and recent example - I'm putting on weight for the first time in 40 years. Sure I want to lose the fat, but that's not enough. Thinking about the end is what did it for me.

First, exercise gets rid of the fat. Second, when I'm finished I should have more muscle than I do now. Third, and what I've somehow always thought was awesome, was to reach a stage where I can so a one-handed push-up.

I hate exercising. Every minute of it. But thinking about that/those outcomes make me do exercise to myself.

It's been a very useful technique in all sorts of places. Especially in meetings.

I hesitate to offer advice in this area, but you should be able to find some kind of exercise that you like.

Thanks for the offer, I know what I like - Krav Maga. There's just no decent class close to me. And strength training is both better at burning fat and the thing I need to do if I'm going to do a one-armed push up one day. I dislike gyms and weight training, which leaves body weight training. Which is no fun but less offensive than the alternatives.

- Spend 5 extra minutes when the details matter, to focus on the details.

- Beliefs are not binary; treat them like probabilities more than certainties. "Think in bets", like Annie Duke's recent book on the subject.

- Your beliefs, opinions, work - all of it is not connected to your identity or self worth. The more you can disconnect from it (non-attachment), the less ego-driven your work will be, the more likely you are to seek truth.

- Knowing about blind spots doesn't make you immune to them. Balance yourself with other opinions, and seek out people who respectfully disagree with you.

- Remember that the world is bigger than this piece of code, this job, this decade of your life, your entire life, all of your friends and family's lives, all of humanity. And the universe is bigger than the world. Take things in stride, less seriously; this reminds us to be delighted in our work, not stressed about it. Even when we fail, if we can see the expiration date clearly, we realize it doesn't matter enough to waste our little bit of time worrying about it.

- Your feelings about reality often distort your experience of reality. This is how depression and anxiety (loosely) work. We feel something, physically, that changes what our brain sees as truth. Remind yourself of this when you are catastrophizing, as well as when you feel on top of the world.

For me:

1. Telling myself that if I don’t do it now I probably won’t get it done today, so I better do it now. The reason I say this to myself is because I have a toddler who always wants me around so when I have time, I have to use it to maximum capacity or I won’t get that chance again.

When dealing with work I don’t want to do for a client - I put myself in their position and pretend I have hired me. How would I feel knowing I’m not doing my best (probably like I’m paying for nothing). Even though a lot of my work is not tracked by the hour it helps put things in perspective by pretending to be the other person.

When facing multiple task I start with the hardest one first. The reason being is I know many developers who will work on small ticket items first to build up their momentum but stop at the hardest task. To me this is highly irritating so I try to get the hardest tasks done first just to “show them” how it’s done. Of course, I’m not actually showing anyone anything but it gives me reason to take on the hard work.

Knowing when to take a break - sometimes my work starts suffering and my instinct is to push through. From experience I know that if I don’t put things down and walk away I’m bound to make sloppy mistakes that will make me look like an amateur. Knowing that I’ll look unprofessional, I immediately put down my work and walk away. In any case, I’d rather spend time with my son and come back with a fresh mind.

I don’t know if these qualify as mind hacks but these are thought processes I go through. There are others but that’s all I can type up right now.

> Artificial deadlines

Artificial deadlines has always been my go-to phrase to describe a situation where people try to hold to a deadline that isn't reality-based. Everyone stresses about a fake deadline that won't be hit and won't matter and burns out. The deadline should if at all possible move with actual status and nature of the work.

So your boss giving themselves a fake deadline and deciding things in the last 5 minutes... I will be honest, that story doesn't make them look smart.

Totally agreed on the fake deadline front.

Have you ever been torn between two options and left it up to a coin flip? Only to find that mid-air, you realize which one you really wanted it to be, without even necessarily checking the coin? In the "last five minutes thing", I think the broader point there is that, A) you will need to make an actual decision, and that B) you can wallow about being indecisive for as long as you willing to let yourself. That last point feels more about deciding to make a decision to avoid prolonging B indefinitely.

I think of the coin flip solution as being honest with yourself: it only works if you really decide to follow the quarter's answer, and its that little sense of satisfaction/reluctance when you unmask the coins that points out the truth (at which point you ignore the quarter and do the correct thing)

and ofc if you feel nothing, then coin has already provided you a default to work with.

My main 2:

* Start with the low-hanging fruit. I learned this from my old job moving furniture: some days I simply didn't have the energy to step up into the truck or climb stairs (maybe I had worked overtime the day before, etc). Just grab a box or anything at all, and walk as far as you can to the house or up to the truck you have to unload. Too often we focus on loading up both arms and tucking something under our armpit to maximize our efficiency, when doing 3 small tasks can be done stress-free individually but lead to the same result.

* Let your subconscious do the work. To stay in zen, it's as much about building the practices and habits that let you work as it is about doing the tasks themselves. Try loading a problem into your mind and then taking a break or sleeping on it without solving it (I almost always preload a problem this way before bed). Most of the time, my brain solves the problem for me and in a better way than if I had tackled it the "hands on" way. I'd say the majority of my work is subconscious now, so I effectively have a partial I've spun up to assist me - similar to pair programming but my partner is the universe.

I try to avoid using my brain for anything I can automate using all the classic technics: GTD, checklists for so many things, 5S, labelling/attributing places, delegating, 5 seconds rules, etc. Just like the code with less bug is the code you don't write, the thoughts with the fewer errors are the ones you don't make. Plus it saves time and energy for the thinking that matters.

Honestly, this should be taugh at school.

Hi, I’ve re-discovered GTD recently and I’m blown away by the depth of the book and the possibilities it has opened for me. I’ve got a few people interested and started on GTD. I’m yet to finish my first weekly review, but that’s not my point...

I’d like to ask you to share more info about those other things you’ve mentioned, because if you consider GTD valuable, then I’d like to know about what else have you benefited from and why.

I know about the 5 second rule. I’ve read the book.

Thank you.

P.s. it was weird finding only one comment about GTD.

Do what's right for the company, not what's right for you. It will make it easier to win people over to your side and combat those who are only thinking about their own politics.

If a user tells you the data is wrong then follow the data. Trust but verify. The data may lead you to other data and the solution.

If there's no indicator of bad data then follow the code. There's always a reason. You'll be amazed at what you find.

Corollary: work at/for people/places that reward this.

You will do yourself no good if you optimize for the company but in ways that management doesn't care about. For better or worse, companies are little command economies and the things management cares about don't necessarily correspond to what's actually good for "the company" (the shareholders?).

Been there, done that.

It helps to distance yourself from the situation. Like you've said, "If it doesn't matter after X time, chances are it probably doesn't matter now."

The way I think of it is "if it doesn't kill me or my loved ones, who cares." Let the leaves fall the way they will. Good and bad will come out of it.

If you're too focused on the wall in front of you, you won't see the opportunity sitting besides it.

For very bad moments, it's important to bring perspective. I love "Oh dear.", because it encompases the terrible and puts it into a cute little bottle.

Medias and exposure wants us to have skin in the game and nothing feels worth doing unless it's a big deal. That rush and fear will end up being blinding you from the obvious and keep you from achieving your best (imho).

On people, it's important not to be a dick to anyone, even in the most stressful situations. That's because relationships will supersede situations. And relationships is often what will get you out of a mess. So keep that boat floating, communicate as best you can and know that shit happens. Unless it kills you, ride on like nothing can stop you.

Here are some tips for mentoring or pairing/collaborating with fellow engineers:

- Use whiteboards to discuss anything. This way you're solving an abstract problem without being bogged down by implementation (which should be very straightforward once the solution exists on the whiteboard

- Take notes liberally for everyone's benefit. During interviews and other whiteboarding sessions I write "Notes" down on the side with bullet points listing the requirements, keywords, or questions I have for future discussion. Of all the things I do, this gets the most praise from just about everyone: "this over here is really awesome!"

- Ask lots of questions in the beginning so you don't inadvertently make assumptions that they're too afraid to address. Often times it'll take 30 minutes for them to properly phrase it in a way that gives me enough context so I can start helping.

- Do a teach-back afterwards: "we spoke about X, Y, and Z, and tried 1 and 2. We saw that although 1 works, it is too clever to maintain because of A and B, so 2 is a better solution."

I use earplugs when doing work in any environment that is not quiet.

What's nice about earplugs is (1) it seems to cut off only some 'existentential layer' of sound that I find inhibits focus and (2) your hearing adjusts; you can still hear virtually everything happening around you.

Being in the city, I find myself actually sporting ear plugs virtually everywhere I go .. There's just too much noise.

I've not researched but read that prolonged in-ear headphone wearing (and in your case ear plugs) can increase in-ear bacterial growth. Unsure how problematic it is, but something to be aware of.

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact