Monthly Archives: September 2020

How to improve self-control

In this post, we’ll have a quick discussion on ways to improve self-control.

Life is a difficult game. The rules vary from person to person, and from group to group. To make things worse the definition of what “winning” means is murky. It’s not uncommon to see those to fit the description of winners to feel like losers, and for those who fit the description of losers to have the most rewarding lives. So it’s not surprising that the skillset required to win at this game suffers from the lack of clarity as to the game itself. If we can’t agree with the rules and the requirements for victory, how can we agree with the optimal way to accomplish the goal?

How to improve self-control

The goal might be blurry and the way to accomplish it unclear, but if there is one thing that can definitely help you get there, that is self-control.
Among the thousands of skills, one can have, self-control is the one skill that happens to be useful to most if not all challenges. The reason why I call it skill is because it is. Unlike popular belief, this too is something that can be improved. Like a muscle, you can exercise it, and the more you do it the better it gets. Below are a few tips for improving your ability to self-control.

1.Improve self-awareness


Self-awareness and self-control go hand in hand. There is a principle that states that if you can’t measure something you can’t improve it, and the same applies to self-control but only slightly. I would say instead that if you can’t observe something you can’t improve it either. Meaning that if you can’t observe and identify the instances in which you lack self-control you can’t improve your ability to self-control on those instances. The reason for that is that as humans we have two modes of acting: aware and unaware. The first is when you’re intentional about you’re behavior and the second is when you’re on autopilot, and when you’re on autopilot you might as well be unconscious since just like when you’re sleeping you’re not aware of what you’re doing, or aware of yourself for that matter.

When you improve self-awareness you can improve self-control because you can easily identify the instances in which you have to apply self-control in the first place.

But how do you go about that?
Well, there are two ways. The first is to force yourself to live more in the present. Someone once said that we spent most of our time either on the past or the future but never the present. Each time you force yourself to live in the present you practice an act of self-awareness which makes the muscle that much stronger.

The second way is meditation. The principle is the same. You set your mind to practice some kind of meditation, and each time your mind wanders and you bring yourself back the self-awareness and the self-control muscle get strengthened.

2.Take one step at a time


The #1 reason why people look for ways to improve self-control is that they want to improve their lives in a meaningful way. When you become motivated to change it’s very easy to fall for the temptation to overcommit. It’s important to be aware that change is hard. Especially when you haven’t successfully stop old and create new habits in the past.

This is to say that taking a small step towards the right direction doesn’t make it any less meaningful. The pressure for bold and ambitious action has done more harm than good to society. Now, little progress is looked down upon, and we forget that as Jim Rohn once said “Small changes can quickly add up to big changes”. A lot can be accomplished in a year or a decade through small and seemingly meaningless steps.

The same applies to self-control. If you struggle to control your appetite, the way to go is not to try to use your force of will to stop all your exessive eating tendencies overnight. The idea is to break down the effort to small steps, and if the small steps are still overwhelming, to break them into even smaller steps still. The goal is not to change behavior overnight but to get a few small wins. To build momentum and motivation to take even bigger and wider steps, and before you notice life is not the same anymore.

3.Remove temptation


The third tip relies less on your ability to self-control by making sure you use your self-control muscles as little as possible. It’s known by the scientific community now that self-control is a finite resource. The more you use it the less of it you have available for future use.
If you’re really struggling with self-control the simplest solution is to avoid that which requires you to use self-control in the first place.

While this might be an effective strategy short term, in the long run, it pays to stretch your self-control muscles by exposing yourself to temptation in varying amounts. The reason for this is that there will be a day when you won’t be able to avoid temptation.

4.Check your personal network


The fourth tip is to check your peers. We are more influenced by our environment and peers than we think or like to admit. Going back to tip #3 (Removing temptations), one’s peers can increase the pressure on willpower by making some behavior easier or harder to resist. Your peers can not only expose you to temptations but also have the same effect as the temptations you’re trying to avoid. So it’s important to keep an eye on your peers. Check whether your goals align with the kinds of behaviors their presence elicits or prevent.

Depending on the kind of people your peers are it might be the case that voicing your goals out is enough to completely eliminate the willpower pressure. If your goal is to lose weight and they happen to be understanding, instead of breaking up with them you might find a way to keep the relationship intact by making some modifications in behavior. If they expose you to junk food, they might be willing to stop doing so, and who knows they might decide to take the same path as you, and what used to be an obstacle to your vision could transform into enforcement. Now they are no longer an obstacle but a source of motivation and discipline.

The worst-case scenario is one in which they make you feel bad about your goals. Here, depending on how important the change is for you, it might be the case that you have to make the hard decision of breaking up. For this kind of situation, it’s important to check yourself, especially if you suddenly decide that your goal is no longer important. It’s important to ask yourself whether your decision to quit on the goal is because the goal is actually not as important as you thought, or because your peers pressured you into it. Which is it?

5.Watch your diet


The last and by no means least important tip is to pay attention to your diet. Just like temptations, the things you choose to eat can put a strain on your willpower. Some foods demand so much energy from the digestive system that there is very little energy left for self-control, and self-control requires energy. Lots of it.

Some foods can be beneficial for self-control simply because they make you more energetic. The question of what kinds of foods make you more energetic is a difficult one. The difficulty comes from the fact that your genetic makeup is the deciding factor. What’s one person’s “energy drink ” might be someone else’s kryptonite. This is in part why there are so many diets out there, each with people claiming the diet is the best thing that ever existed and at the same time also having people claiming it’s the worst thing that ever existed. We’re coming to a time in which people look less for a one size fits all solution for the diet problem, and more for a custom made solution tailored to each’s own genetic makeup.

Summary


Self-control is at the end of the day something we can always work on. The common belief is that one is either born with self-control genes or not. To take one step further, we not only assume that some kind of people is born with the trait but once we do we also begin to make predictions about the person’s overall personality. We start to think they might be inclined to subjects like mathematics, or engineering. We might assume that they are not as interested in enjoying life, and we might take it to the extreme that they might be even boring. Self-control is just one trait in the sea of many traits that makes us who we are and not someone else. Self-control is a muscle we can work on. One that gets better with practice.

It is all about knowledge and experience )
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How to use the internet for self-education

In this post, you’ll find a few tips on how to use youtube for self-education.

The world we live in today is very different from the past 10 or 20 years. Before the internet exchanging knowledge or experiences with someone from the other side of the planet was only possible in one of 3 ways: 

1.Travelling

2.Getting in contact with a traveler

3.Reading books

All 3 required either lots of money, luck, and/or time. So a person born in Germany would with no means, luck, or time was doomed to be limited to the experiences and information in their immediate neighborhood.

Today things are much more different. Yes, money luck, and time still play a major role in defining the kind of experiences one might have, but when it comes to information and knowledge the triad doesn’t matter as much. One might not be able to go to school and pursue a higher education degree, but for the vast majority of fields of study, something can be learned and maybe even mastered.

How to use the internet for self-education

The most important component of any kind of education is information. Most people falsely believe that a university building is the most important part of their formation. They believe the graduation ceremony really completes their studies and this couldn’t be further from the truth.

If a building is the only thing with the power to turn a beginner into a master, why is that so many people who pursue higher education quit, while some others manage to self-educate to such an extent that they manage to get an actual degree? This is a question for you just in case you thought self-education was impossible.

This post will be a description of a few of the many ways I managed to educate myself on a variety of subjects. Just in case you’re wondering, the answer is yes. I did pursue a higher education degree but that by no means contradicts this post. The core of what focused on school is what I learned by myself online and that is computer programming. I thought myself everything I know about computer programming and way before

I decided to pursue a computer science degree I was well-versed enough on the subject to get a job. So the point of this post is not to convince you to not go to college/university but to show how you can go about teaching yourself complex subjects regardless of whether you later decide to go to school or master everything by yourself.

1.Long lectures

The first tip on how to use the internet to educate yourself is through traditional university long lectures. This is good if you still crave the university experience and don’t have or don’t want to spend the money on it. Like with the next tips your best friend will be youtube and the minimum requirements are a computer/smartphone, internet connection, and a bit of discipline.

Today more and more universities release semester-long courses, where the lectures usually range from 30 min to – 2hours. If you’re lucky you might even have find the assignments given by the professor through a quick google search. I’ve personally found this very useful for the courses in which the explanation given by my professor wasn’t enough to help me understand the material. So many times I took the same course twice. Meaning that I would go to the real world live lecture in the morning, and to improve my understanding I would watch a similar lecture on youtube later at night.

The good thing is that like with quick tutorials you have the power to choose your professor and once you stop liking their teaching style/delivery you can quickly choose a different one without having to incur any penalties or telling anyone in advance about it.

2.Quick tutorials

The next tip is to watch quick 5-20 min tutorials. The benefit of this kind of learning is time. If you have a day job and don’t have the time/energy to spend on the long 1-2 hour lectures you can still improve your knowledge of a subject by watching quick tutorials.

I find this particularly useful when I’m trying to learn a new programming language. Instead of trying to study for a long time, I just commit to one quick tutorial per day. I noticed that if done over an extended period of time such as months or even years, you’ll be surprised by how much you can learn as a whole. On a day to day basis, the learned content is sometimes so small that you feel you’re not learning anything but be assured that you are learning something.

Another benefit of short tutorials/lectures is that you get to assimilate difficult concepts one brick at a time. Because the material is so short understanding is also easier and maybe even quicker. You get the feeling that each day is a victory because you not only learned and understood something new but because you’re a little bit smarter.

The downsides of quick tutorials vs long lectures are that:

  1. It might take you longer to go through a subject
  2. You might give up depth for brevity

3.Podcasts

The third way to self-educate through the internet is by taking advantage of the now so common podcasts. The thing about podcasts is that they might not be as focused as long lectures or tutorials but they can help you gain a more general understanding of a subject because they often touch on so many topics within their usual 30 min – 3h long stretch. I also noticed that their diffuse nature helped me find out about topics I wasn’t aware of, which I would later focus on with long lectures/tutorials.

Another benefit of podcasts is that they tend to be much easier to consume in comparison to long lectures/tutorials. If you’re prone to boredom podcasts will likely be your best friends in learning because it’s often very easy to spend 3 hours listening to them.

4.Audiobooks

The next tip is to take advantage of audiobooks. Among all the options, this is the one that tends to require some money from you, although lots of audiobooks and be found on youtube for free. Some of the most popular sources of audiobooks are amazon’s audible and the app audiobooks.com. There are also some apps/websites that give away free audiobooks, but from my experience, few are the instances in which the books I’m actually interested in are available.

The reason why I say audiobooks instead of just plain old paperback/electronic format books is that audiobooks have a definite advantage over other formats. For starters, you’re not forced to block some time to listen to them because you can always listen to them while doing some other task like a chore. There is also the benefit that most of us can listen faster than they can read, and most apps have a built-in feature to speed the narration speed to 2 or 3x which allows you to complete the book much quicker and as a result increase the number of books you can consume in a one month period time. There is also the fact that a good narrator can make a piece of content much more enjoyable to listen to, sometimes to such an extent that it makes you want to take your time with the book instead of speed listening through it as well as making it much more likely that you’ll come back to it again and again after you’re done with the book.

Summary

Self-education can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. Just like exercise, the day-to-day work can be unpleasant but over time you get to see your life and career improve in ways you could never imagine. Unlike exercising what you learn today remains with you forever and it builds on itself indefinitely. This is a journey ni which yo succeed you need exactly two things:

1.The belief that you can get smarter with time

2.The discipline

I found that discipline is perhaps the most important of the two, since the sense that you can get smarter with time comes naturally the more you learn about new things and master new skills. The internet is an ocean of information from which you can master pretty much anything if only you’re able to be disciplined at the art of learning.

It is all about knowledge and experience 😉

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Law of the instrument

In this post, we’ll have a quick discussion on the law of the instrument.

As humans what differentiates us from other animals is the degree to which we can extract knowledge/information from our experiences. We all face the problem of survival but with the passage of time, this enhanced ability to learn and use what was learned is ultimately what gave humans the survival advantage over other animals. With each technique or lesson, a world of possibilities is opened. When before there were some things out of your reach, now you can not only grasp them but also make them a part of your life. With each technique or lesson we learn, the law of the instrument lurks in the shadows making it more difficult than we will misuse our most recent piece of knowledge.

Law of the instrument

So what is the law of the instrument? The law of the instrument to put simply is the tendency to assume all problems can be solved by the new tool or technique. Another name for the same bias is the expression “for a man with a hammer all problems look like a nail”. The more powerful the tool the more likely you are to assume that all problems of the same kind can be solved by the same tool.

Why is the law of instrument a problem?

The reason why the law of the instrument is a problem is that for the most part, anyone size fits all solution tends to not address the uniqueness of any particular problem. This tends to be more and more likely as the solution becomes more and more general. You might be able to solve a given problem but not in the most efficient way possible.

The law of the instrument in social occasions

One example of the law of the instrument being a problem is with regard to social problems. One basic strategy for making people like you is to give compliments. In essence, the more you compliment people the more they’re likely to want you around. When you first learn this lesson you might feel the urge to use it on every social occasion. You dream that people will be drawn to you in droves and all your social problems if you had any will be solved. This remains true until you realize that some people are either neutral or tend to have the complete opposite reaction. The more you compliment them the more they feel repelled by you. Why is that? You wonder. You realize that some people are immune to compliments for many reasons. Some can see through you and they know what your end goal is, while others don’t see themselves in a positive light. So they have a hard time believing you actually mean what you say.

The law of the instrument in problem-solving

For those of us who have to solve problems for a living, the law of the instrument couldn’t be more present. In fields like computer programming for example where one needs to keep on learning new technologies to remain useful and productive, it’s very easy to find the new technique or strategy to be the tool of all tools. You can easily find something new and shiny to be the philosopher’s stone of all tools. As I said before, general solutions might solve lots of problems but they do it at the expense of precision or efficiency. If you take a given tool as a religion you will always lose when those of us who are better versed on all kinds of tools and techniques come to compete. If one size fits all solutions were always the most appropriate to the occasion there would be no such thing as mastery. The master of a field is not that who knows one major and hidden secret to effectiveness, but that who learns and internalizes lots of smaller and trivial pieces of knowledge, and figures out the most opportune time to apply each.

How to overcome the law of the instrument

Like any other cognitive bias, this too is engrained in us. We have the tendency to prefer the tools that can solve our problems requiring as minimal effort as possible. So with each technique, we secretly wonder if that’s the one that will require no more learning or effort. Most of the time we quickly realize that’s not the case and move on. Sometimes however we falsely conclude we found the philosopher’s stone.

To overcome the law of the instrument you have to be aware of its influence in your life. Like with AA, you have to admit there is a problem to be able to solve it. 

After admitting you might have a problem, the next tip to overcoming this problem is to force yourself to keep on learning more and more about your field of choice. The problem caused by the law of the instrument is more prevalent in people who are not experienced. The novice is the one that’s much more likely to falsely assume that one given tool or technique will solve all problems. This is partially due to the Dunning Krueger effect, which states that “people of lower ability tend to overestimate their ability”. You know little and assume you know more than you actually do, and now you just found that which you consider is the greatest of all tools. The more you know, the smaller the likelihood that you will fall for this bias. The reason for this is that the more you know about a given field the more your expectations about the field align with reality. As you get to know about the unsolved problems of the field the more you realize how much can the current techniques actually do.

One example of this is computer programming. For the outsider, once you learn and master the art of coding, you can easily break into banks and steal millions of dollars with a few lines of code and a press of a button. You might think you’ll be able to automate anything and solve any kind of problem. The truth is more complicated. While you might be able to do wonderful things, the more you learn about coding the more you realize how much you can do, but only up to a point. Eventually, you get to the moment in which you realize the limitations of the field. Like every field in life, there are still some mysteries. There are some limitations no matter how smart the smartest person on the field is. For any field, you’re likely to hear the sentence “there are still things we don’t know or understand”, from experts. This realization is good. Good on the sense that it opens your eyes to reality while making you less prone to falling for the law of the instrument. You might still find yourself looking for the ultimate tool/technique but you’ll know enough to see when what you have at hand is not it.

Consult experts

While learning more and more is the ultimate way to reduce your suggestibility to the law of the instrument, the most effective way to deal with it in the present is to consult experts. When you think you found the ultimate tool ask an expert if that’s so.

The reason for this is that experts like you are likely to have fallen for the illusion and had to learn it either the hard way or from another expert. They will not only let you know when you’re wrong but also why you’re wrong.

Summary

This post is an attempt to help people not being victims of the law of the instrument, but I realize it can be taken a bit differently. Just because I say that when you think you’ve found the ultimate tool chances are you didn’t doesn’t mean the ultimate tool doesn’t exist. Time and time again humans have found something resembling the ultimate tool for lots of things. Examples of that are any instances in which one technique/tool was completely replaced by another. Not partially but fully. For the small problem, the new technique became a miniature of an ultimate tool, and nothing prevents us from finding that one tool/technique that solves all the problems of not only a category but also an entire field.

Finding this tool is what any research effort is ultimately about. The goal of this post to help you distinguish when you didn’t find it and when you finally did. The goal of this post is to rid you of delusion and give you a better and firmer grasp of reality.

It is all about knowledge and experience 😉

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