January 2021

Two new essays

Hello! Here’s the latest:

Two new essays:

Decision Fatigue

I have one kind of sock.

The more trivial things we think about, the less time we have to think about the few things that matter.

‘Decision fatigue’ exists.

For this reason, during periods of productivity in my life I try to reduce ambiguity and complexity.

Wouldn’t it be tiring to have to cook an entirely new recipe every time you cooked? Personally I don’t care about food much, so I tend to do the same things—and I prefer this.

  • Matching and losing socks was slightly, but often, frustrating, so I bought one kind of sock for everyday, plus an extra warm pair for the winter, and gave the rest away.

  • I have trouble deciding what to do in the moment I have extra time, so I schedule my time profusely. I don’t actively decide when I work, cook, do laundry, go outside, write—I just follow the recurring events on my calendar, and occasionally rearrange as necessary. I plan one to four days in advance.

  • When I first changed my diet I made the decision “no more cookies; whenever I see a cookie I’m not eating it and saying ‘no thank you’”. And that worked for me— I didn’t have to ask myself the annoying ambiguous questions each time I saw a cookie of “Should I eat it? Should I not?…”; instead, the decision was already made, and that was that. Simple. Deciding “zero cookies” was easier than deciding “less cookies but still sometimes” because there was no ambiguity.

  • Because often the most annoying aspect of executing an action is deciding the trivial choices it involves. (“What should I do next?” “When should I do this?” “How should this be done?”) But often a permanent solution works almost as well.

And for decisions that don’t have one constant optimal answer, make yourself a flowchart (“decision tree”) to simplify the decision instead. Bam, no more ambiguity.

There are places in life for variety of course, but I’d rather have most things be simple, habitually effortless, and as close to decision-less as possible. This is for those things. After all, we can only think about so many things; the more trivial things we think about, the less important and effective our average thoughts are.

After practicing this for several months, I’ve found that there’s something wonderful about having this kind of order in my life. And I can focus more on the few things that matter.


I made a list of questions I use to help reduce the decisions I need to make everyday, and hopefully it can help you too. Checklist.

If you walk into a dead end in a maze, you don’t go “Fuck! I’ve failed!”

If you walk into a dead end in a maze, you don’t go “Fuck! I’ve failed!” and get anxious. No, you turn around, back out, and make what looks like the next best turn. That’s all.

Life is an infinite maze. You’re trying to move through. You’re trying to maximize value. But the maze doesn’t have an end—it’s only ever you, and making the next best turn.

(And in this maze, at least you can, to a degree, predict which turn is better than another.)

Regret is inevitable, but by making what appears to be the best, least-regrettable decision we can minimize it.

Relax and make the next best turn, always.

Recent thoughts

A few weeks ago I started listening to audiobooks, and I think I will continue for a long time because I enjoy them a lot. Currently listening to Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss on persuasion and negotiation. I recommend the book. I may publish my notes and Anki cards when I’m finished.

What I like about audiobooks is how linear they are. There’s no “should I chase this footnote?” or “should I highlight this sentence?”—thoughts that typically bog me while reading.

I try to do the same in my writing. For example, lately I’ve moved all in-text links in my essays to a section after the essay, and hopefully this makes reading more focused. I frequently have the experience of reading “X levels deep” for clicking a link partway through reading an essay, several layers deep.

On the topic reading, I also don’t understand how some people read so much. Who could read all, or even a small fraction of, Gwern, Eliezer Yudkowsky, Scott Alexander, etc.? One could easily spend 50 hours on each and still not be partway done (excluding any other essays you might encounter along the way!). At the same time, I also find myself having trouble reading long texts without getting extremely fatigued. How do some people read so much? (Really, let me know!)

This frustration I have with reading most text motivates me to write succinctly, place links only at the end of essays, place extra details in toggle blocks, etc. Most things can be written shorter while being more helpful, in my opinion.

Your thoughts?

Do you experience something similar with reading? Thoughts on the new essays? Hit reply and let me know.

~ Chris