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The Trap You Set For Yourself (codinghorror.com)
125 points by _frog on Mar 17, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 30 comments

> The way Lancelot motivates himself to get past self-doubt in combat is not to care whether he lives or dies.

As Ariely says: Lancelot fights better than anyone else because he found a way to bring the stress of the situation to zero. If he doesn’t care whether he lives or dies, nothing rides on his performance. He doesn’t worry about living past the end of the fight, so nothing clouds his mind and affects his abilities — he is pure concentration and skill.

This is "somewhat" similar to what Steve Jobs said in his commencement speech at Stanford:

> Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

Atwood closes with: "concentrate on the daily routine of doing what you enjoy, what you believe in, what you find intrinsically satisfying." What this fails to take into take into consideration is that unless you are focusing on the "right" things, this pattern can be more harmful. On most days I just want to meditate, catch up with family, exercise and perhaps hang out on the beach or travel to exotic places. I don't currently find work intrinsically satisfying (a majority of the working population don't find their work intrinsically motivating).

This is also bad advice if you are depressed. It just doesn't work then. Most days you want to sleep in, stay within your space, and think about darker stuff. Completely unrelated but the reason many people fail to quit smoking or quit eating unhealthy things is not because they don't know that these habits are bad for them but because in that moment, they are unable separate their desire from what they should be doing for the long term betterment of themselves.

I'm assuming that the author is primarily writing this post for programmers/computer scientists and how they can focus on increasing their skills in their chose field, but this post is generic enough that I though my comment may be relevant enough to add to the discussion.

It's also similar to what one of the older budo teachers said (the text is at home, I'm paraphrasing what I understood):

Mindsets for going into battle/duels can be:

1) Believe you are stronger and will win. It's weak because if it turns out you are not you will lose heart easily.

2) Convince yourself you are stronger without taking data into account. (As in, be positive.) Weak for the same reason.

3) Believe you are doing the right thing, and you want to do it regardless of outcome. According to this teacher, here lies true strength because you will not lose heart even against a stronger opponent.

Outside competing contexts, I tend to think you should give 100% regardless of outcome, but not dismissing it since it's also the greatest data to learn from.

Existential fulfillment, finding some meaning in work or contribution is a need. There's plenty of big hairy social problems that need help: teaching homeless skills, volunteering or getting involved in local stuff. Tons of meaning and joy through helping people for the joy in itself. Even if it's listening to a local colorful individual that lacks friends. Giving back gets more back.

I heard about the Way of St James and Peace corps might give pause for compass finding. I dunno.

> On most days I just want to meditate, catch up with family, exercise and perhaps hang out on the beach or travel to exotic places.

Is there something wrong with that?

As far as I can tell, there exist certain rare people who really, really enjoy things that the rest of the world finds tedious. These people get good at those things, not because they want to be the best, but because they enjoy doing them. It's not weakness to prefer to spend time with family, it's human...

Totally. Perhaps we have so many choices, (claim to) understand so much we are in tune with the banal futility of most of it. It's paradox of choice, extreme existential edition. Make the best of it and find something most interesting, also survivable and occasionally fix broken stuff other people accept by walking past.

How about we start paying attention to how we describe men? That quote was really unnecessary:

"They (women) aren’t just bad at behaving like arrogant self-aggrandizing jerks. They are bad at behaving like self-promoting narcissists, anti-social obsessives, or pompous blowhards"

which suggests men are mainly successful because they are those things.

I recently heard (in a finance lecture, but still) that 3% of men are psychopaths, and 1% of women. So yes, more men are psychopaths, but neither gender is off the hook, and the majority of people actually aren't psychopaths.

Throwing your gender under a bus is a primitive way of signalling that you're an enlightened bro. I find it rather sleazy.

I've realised that I have a tendency to fall into this trap when I find I'm working for someone, rather than with someone. It seems that distinction is important to me (subconsciously). It seems to come about when I start thinking 'just keep them happy and off my back' vs 'just do the right thing'. Thankfully, I've only been pulled into this thinking twice in my career.

My usual solution is 'just do the right thing even if it gets you fired' to that problem.

I don't mind working for someone but i can't do it without doing it properly if he wanted an obedient servant he probably shouldn't have hired me to begin with.

With all due respect to women, the notion that

"They aren’t just bad at behaving like arrogant self-aggrandizing jerks. They are bad at behaving like self-promoting narcissists, anti-social obsessives, or pompous blowhards, even a little bit, even temporarily, even when it would be in their best interests to do so."

suggests either a very limited acquaintance with women, or an unduly extensive experience with bad male behavior.

No, it's a "let's say this in a way that won't look too sexist" thing.

I don't know if it's sexist to make generalisations about women if it's clearly just a generalisation. And it might even be true, on average - though it's probably a result of nurture not nature.

But I think he didn't want to pour any more fuel on the fire than necessary.

Side note: Ariely's Coursera course has just started for the second time - https://www.coursera.org/course/behavioralecon

There is still time to jump in.

I highly recommend it.

Thanks, just letting you know that you've inspired at least one person to join!

> They [women] aren’t just bad at behaving like arrogant self-aggrandizing jerks. They are bad at behaving like self-promoting narcissists, anti-social obsessives, or pompous blowhards, even a little bit, even temporarily, even when it would be in their best interests to do so. Whatever bad things you can say about those behaviors, you can’t say they are underrepresented among people who have changed the world.

Why not, instead of selectively adopting this behavior when convenient, instead work to create systemic disincentives for it, if not across the business world, then at least in one's own little corner of it?

Is there proof that that kind of behavior actually brings about good results? I think it might just be a myth. The quote is from a rant about some written application where the applicant sounded too full of himself. But I think such things can also backfire. It isn't at all obvious to me that who boasts the most is the most likely to get the job.

Although I admit there are studies that show in groups people tend to trust the people who claim they know the most.

Anyone interested in learning about human perseverance would do well to spend a couple hours reading Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning.

It's short. It's accessible. There is also a noticeable absence of Richard Gere.

“In psychiatry there is a certain condition known as delusion of reprieve. The condemned man, immediately before his execution, gets the illusion that he might be reprieved at the very last minute. No one could yet grasp the fact that everything would be taken away. all we possessed, literally, was our naked existence.”

The trick is that our naked existence is all we ever have. Learning to deal with this fact, to accept and and even rely on this fundamental truth, is the first step towards developing a real purpose in life. This is the kind of thing that will get you out of bed each day.


The book itself is amazing, yet I found it had the same effect as other books that hold similar messages - it just doesn't translate well into my day to day thoughts. After reading it I felt the sort of profound enlightenment one might expect when discovering what was written in the book, but woke up the next morning feeling the same as before I had read the book.

"Learning to deal with this fact, to accept and and even rely on this fundamental truth, is the first step towards developing a real purpose in life."

Perhaps I'll get there at some point, but I just haven't figured this out yet. I see the fact there, I understand it, but incorporating it into my daily thinking is just something I can't seem to grasp.

Integrating changes into your being is a slow process. Reading these kinds of books help plant the seed of change, but the seed grows at its own pace. Patience and self-forgiveness

"Step by step walk the thousand-mile road" - Musashi Miyamoto

I agree. It takes time and the reading of other books. Eventually, when you're ready, it just sort of clicks and you're there.

I honestly want to hope this article is an intentional bait, because otherwise choosing this moment to drop a blatantly sexist article seems strange, and based on my past experience out of character for Atwood.

I am genuinely curious how this qualifies as sexist. My understanding, based upon my own experience as well as some of the research I have read, is that there is something to the distinction Atwood brings up in this article. Whether or not such a distinction is fact though, I would like to think there is a way to discuss such possibilities without offending reasonable people.

Is the issue that he claims a distinction? The way he values the qualities he ascribes to either sex? Something else?

More importantly, is he wrong? Without a doubt utterly wrong, or is there room for debate? At the end of the day that is what strikes me as most important.

The sexist part would be where he states that men as a whole behave one way, and women as a whole behave another way.

Thank you for the clarification. Would it be legitimate for me to rephrase your position as "stating generalizations about peoples' behavior, based upon sex, is sexist"? For example, if I were to say "men, in general (though not in all cases) are more risk-seeking than women", would that be sexist?

I am not sure that I can accept your definition of sexism. What if that generalization is true? I can concede that the specific generalization I made above is debatable, but I don't think it can be argued that it is without a doubt false. The connotation of the term "sexist" is that the thing being labeled so is morally wrong. I cannot accept a stance that labels certain beliefs as blatantly immoral which are (at least debatably) true.

To propose a different definition of sexism, I would like suggest that making such statements is only sexist if one refuses to acknowledge that there are exceptions, or if one refuses to acknowledge such exceptions as morally acceptable. For instance, refusing to fund a startup founded by a woman because one assumes no woman is capable or because one thinks it is wrong for any woman to do so.

There are a few things I would like to note about my definition. First of all, it does not state what sort of legislation should be passed to prevent sexism. Indeed, I consider it quite probable that there could be instances of sexist behavior that, while immoral, would also be immoral or at impractical to legally prevent. Second, it does not require a person to be 100% accurate when applying generalizations. Third, you do not need to be all things to all people; you can choose to market to only those people who fit the generalization. Just be aware that, especially with the advent of the internet, it is quite easy to market to only those people who are the exception.

I could go on, but I hope that is a sufficient explanation of my position. If you are still following this thread I would like to hear your critique.

There are at least a quintillion ways to fail at different levels of strategic mistakes, with a few paths out by getting the big things right and making the best of change and uncertainty.

I've heard this alternately described as "Fake it until you have it"

Zen :

Jeff and Jobs .

First Knight is not a terrible movie.

You're right of course. It is a really really terrible movie!

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