Archives for January 2013

What I Wish I Knew in College

I feel like I only learned how to optimize effectively during my senior year of college. At that point I was mostly set into my college path: I was an economics major, I had already used my off-terms, I was involved in particular organizations, I had my group of friends, etc. What I could change was the entire course of my future, but I still looked back on the previous three years and thought about how I wasted so much time and possibility. I wished that someone had told me what I needed to know back when I was a freshman, it seemed like such a unique opportunity that I simply didn’t know how to optimize when I first got to college.

The typical advice about college is that it is a time to explore. You are expected to get to campus as a blank slate, try out a bunch of different classes (indeed this is often required), and probably settle on some liberal arts major. By default, you will hang out with the first people that you meet, and by mostly sheer chance your social group will be established for you. Thinking about your career is forbidden until junior year at the earliest. You definitely won’t be doing things like paying bills or cooking for yourself for at least four years. I think this is, in fact, almost diametrically opposite to what you should be doing. [Read more…]

IFS Unpacked Recap

On Tuesday, Divia and I did our first webinar on Internal Family Systems, a therapeutic technique that we’ve both gotten a lot of mileage out of. We briefly covered the model and some theory about how we think it works, followed by a live demonstration, and then a Q&A.

This time we actually did record the webinar, so click here to listen. [Edit: link now broken, sadly.]

There are also written notes available again, this time courtesy of Scott Fowler.

Thanks everyone for your interest, for attending, for volunteering, for asking great questions, and for giving great feedback!

Analytical Parts in IFS

When I do IFS work, one of the first things I have to do before I can really get somewhere with the person I’m working with is to disengage the person’s analytical part. I usually start by doing this implicitly. I choose my questions with the intent of bypassing the analytical mind, and that tends to work pretty well.

Questions about emotions, visually imagery, and feelings in the body are good for this, and there are some other rhetorical tricks that also play into the process. For example, if someone doesn’t respond to the question “what does that part look like?”, I sometimes have better success with, “if that part looked like something, what would it look like?” For some reason counterfactuals often let the analytical part relax.

On the other hand, “why?” questions are very likely to activate the analytical part. [Read more…]

Lessons From (and For) the Quantified Self Movement

The very first time I heard about Quantified Self I was excited by the world of possibilities contained therein. I pride myself on my self-awareness, and it seemed like adding quantitative rigor to this process would allow me to uncover new patterns below my current awareness – and ideally, to change them. Besides, I liked what I saw from this community: the ethos of self-experimentation and optimization that pervades my own life. You didn’t have to tell me twice, I was already sold. I joined as one of the original members of the NYC QS group, and dove into this world head first.

My Self, Quantified

Seeing some of the projects people were doing was intimidating. Lots of the people involved were the ones building the tools themselves, which was impressive in its own right. Others were gathering lots of esoteric data, combined with stunning visualizations, and I had no idea how to apply this to my own life. [Read more…]

The Exploration/Exploitation Framework

We all have a variety of mental models that we use to interpret the world around us. In many cases we have very specific models, e.g. I know that turning the key in the ignition makes my car turn on, and this does not assist me very much in my understanding of the world. At the same time, the concept of different keys fitting into different locks is a metaphor that we apply to other areas of life.

One of my favorite models comes from reinforcement learning, which is particularly applicable to how our brain functions. In the most general case, assume that you have many different options, and each of these gives you a payoff randomly selected from an unknown distribution. Your goal is to maximize the payoff you receive over a fixed time horizon. This type of game is epitomized by the multi-armed bandit problem, or the Wisconsin Card Sorting Test when that distribution changes over time.

So how do you optimize these types of tasks? [Read more…]

How to Network Effectively

Networking is a critically important skill. There is a great phrase that you are the average of the five people you spend the most time around. For humans, most of our environment is the social environment. Your ability to interact with others, and who those other people are, is most likely going to be your bottleneck on what you can accomplish in the world. Even skills like programming or engineering, where you’re creating something new in the world, are enabled by the web of social interactions you are embedded in – the greatest product in the world will never be used if it cannot be discovered.

Step One: Have a Goal

[Read more…]

Reflective Relationship Webinar Notes

Last month, Will and I hosted a webinar on how we stay close and happy in relationships. Two of our friends posted awesome notes. Here they are!

Michael Smith’s summary

Jasen Murray’s notes