BedrocK: Predesplan (Why goals are stupid)
|April 5, 2014||Posted by Koanic under unity|
Goals are stupid, as I’ve explained before in great detail. My new “predesplan” paradigm, the correct replacement for goals, will prove this once and for all.
Not only goals, but also desires are stupid. What do I want? Dumb question. I want a hot feminine pliant attentive girlfriend. Two would be better. I also want solitude, which conflicts with the girlfriend(s). I want a huge bank account and steady income, but also free time and fulfilling work. More conflicts. I want lots of things. But what price am I willing to pay for any one desire? How do mutually conflicting desires trade off against each other? As soon as I define a desire, make it explicit, remove the context of price and tradeoffs and degrees of completion… it becomes wrong. It no longer reflects my true value matrix.
Plans are also stupid. Creating a plan invites one to rip a giant whole in the fabric of one’s existing habitual patterns. Secondly, a plan typically aims at a single desire or goal, and thus is myopic and suboptimizing. Thirdly, a plan doesn’t account for feedback and iteration, which makes it blind. Through a stubborn sense of commitment, one tends to follow a plan to an holistic outcome worse than the initial state. Worse, one often refuses to recognize that the outcome is worse, due to the cognitive bias commitment induces.
Recently, I did something right. I used an experimental framework to rapidly fix several errors in my regimen that were costing me huge losses in health. To do so, I had to disprove a strongly held belief in my mental model.
I named this health experiment+tracking method BedrocK. It gave me hope and a sense of control. Then I started thinking about how to apply the same process to other life domains. I realized that creating goals, naming desires, and sticking to plans had always created great cognitive dissonance for me. Perhaps a more congruent and explicit paradigm could eliminate this. So I drew a map of the abstract elements of the BedrocK process.
I will explain the diagram in a moment. But first I must address the beginning of all action – my desires. The desire matrix of an individual is not simple, but complex, like the demand matrix of a national economy. There are many possible configurations, many gradients of quality, many tradeoff relationships.
As I meditated on this, I realized that pursuit of any single desire was likely to create unacceptable tradeoffs in the matrix. In fact, it was very difficult to articulate ANY piece of this demand matrix into written words. What could I say about it that was absolutely true, and thus wouldn’t lead to suboptimization?
Did I even need to articulate something? In large measure, no. The subconscious processing mode unlocked by my koans was well equipped to handle this sort of rich, fuzzy complexity. Yet some degree of articulation was necessary for the construction of an hypothesis-result experimental iteration process – to combat cognitive bias and ensure forward progress.
In a national economy, prices serve to communicate information about the contextually-rich supply-demand matrix in a compressed, efficient manner. That option is not available within a single individual’s psyche. What could I do instead?
I reflected on my recent health achievement. A very simple, easy, free change in my regimen had lead to vastly improved health. The value of the new status quo clearly dominated that of the old status quo. Thus while the entire matrix cannot be described, one point on its possibility space can be be determined to dominate another.
This may or may not be “technical” dominance, in the sense that every measure of value has improved. But it is at least holistic dominance, in the sense that there is no doubt that B is superior to A.
Tim Ferriss recommends mapping out in detail the lifestyle one wants to achieve. This is wrong, because it fails to factor the costs and tradeoffs of that lifestyle, and further assumes that wants are static. By contrast, now I had a clear and accurate method for stating my desires. Predictively, I need simply target a fuzzily-defined B that dominates A. In post-facto analysis, I need merely honestly ask myself whether B dominates A. That is enough to determine whether an experiment succeeded or failed.
Thus, the statement, “I want x, y and z” is wrong. Rather, it is always, “I intend to move from point A to point B for x price with y method, because B’s value will dominate A.”
Next let’s tackle the diagram. As I meditated, I realized that the status quo has two elements – one’s map and one’s process. One’s map is a combination of conscious beliefs and unconscious expectations and attitudes about the world and potential worlds. One’s process combines one’s systems, habits, and freewheeling style when operating outside of either.
In general, it’s good to process, refine and enlarge one’s model with information management. It’s also good to make explicit and standardize one’s habits to reduce variance and friction. But both of these activities can be taken too far. They are not the primary generator of value, but a support activity. Cyborganize takes care of these support activities for me.
To some extent, therefore, one’s habits and model are self-improving. Free immersion in execution will improve one’s mastery. Wide reading will improve one’s model. However, these gradual cumulative benefits lack a crucial ingredient – hypothesis-result testing.
The reason the scientific method is so powerful is that human beings are masters of self-deception – by design. We are meant to propagate genes in a tribal paleolithic environment, not to maximize personal value in a modern economy. Our emotions and cognitive processing architecture hijack rational self-interest to achieve the genetic reproductive imperative.
A model is only true if it predicts. Hypothesis-result tracking forces accountability on the model. A human will do anything rather than be wrong, even alter his values to fit the bad results of his plan. By forcing accountability to flow to the model, one preserves the integrity of one’s values, and rapidly iterates one’s model closer to truth.
Thus the iterative experimental scientific method can generate outsize results, acting as a star shell flare during the night combat of human unreason. Suddenly the grey forms of advancing infantry stand out in naked relief, and are easily gunned down.
Next, the hypothesis. That’s easy when the domain is health. More health is better. Perhaps for some decisions one considers certain tradeoffs such as time and energy spent exercising, or cost of supplements, but even these are not excessively complicated. However, when one starts to consider questions of career, business, social and lifestyle design, the tradeoffs become quite complicated. One therefore needs a more robust paradigm.
At the basic health level, a hypothesis contains a plan which modifies the existing routine slightly, and a prediction on the results. The desire is clear – better health. But in overall life, the desire is no longer clear. More money? Or more sex? Or better sex? Or better relationships? Or more satisfying work? You can pursue one by sacrificing the others.
Thus, rather than a goal or a single desire, we must seek a point B that dominates the status quo point A. We must consider desire in the general sense, rather than focusing on a single particular desire. Thus the components of an hypothesis are (general desire) + plan + prediction.
When the experiment has run and it’s time to evaluate the truth or falsehood of the hypothesis, we do not ask, “Did I achieve desire X (e.g. rent a Ferrari)?” But rather, “Did B dominate A on my personal value matrix (Are the attention from women and feelings of status worth the price in time, money, liability, extra work, etc)?”
Thus the desire component of the hypothesis never changes. Just as the desire component of the health hypothesis is always to improve health, so the desire component of the life hypothesis is always to find a B that dominates A on the personal value matrix.
This may seem repetitive and obvious, but to me it is tremendously clarifying. It tells me what I should be doing. There are so many, many options. Previously I had no universal rule to sort them. Now I do. Work is a game of imposing my value matrix on the world, by finding the next dominant point through experimental iteration.
Next, the experiment. It should be as small a change as possible, to eliminate conflating variables, yet be expected to produce a large positive result. In general, the more you can stabilize your routine and environment, the more certain you can be that the experiment is responsible for the change in results.
Last, the tracking. It must be lightweight enough to be sustainable. The act of tracking itself should create value, to ensure adherence. It must be sufficiently comprehensive to yield clear results during the analysis phase. This may require tracking fuzzy variables – 1-5 rankings work great. Lastly, it should be standardized to the extent possible. But realize that statistical methods exist for converting fuzzy data into hard results. Lots of fuzzy measurements are better than a few precise but incomplete ones.
When one has a result, one can use it to update one’s model and routine. It is a hard datapoint in a sea of speculation. The faster one can accumulate these iterations, the better.
And that is the Austrian economic + scientific method way to improve your life.