Lately, I’ve been musing on the nature of self-improvement in general. When I notice that something I’ve been doing– be it mental or physical, the next immediate chain of thought is “Okay, how do I improve my life now, knowing this phenomena exists?” In doing so, I’ve recently realized that this is missing a crucial distinction that can lead to more confusion later down the road.
This important divide is the question of optimizing around, or powering through. So before figuring out what actions I should be taking, it seems important to ask myself, “What am I trying to optimize for?”
If the negative biases and habits I manage to identify are rocks, then the question is whether or not the best plan of action is to plan around these rocks, or crush them entirely. This is far from a clear-cut division, however.
It appears that breaking bad habits–powering through is going to be more costly in terms of resources spent. Additionally, a successful plan for overcoming these errors will probably have a mix of these, especially if ridding oneself of the tendency entirely is the goal.
For an example of how these two are often blurred, take the planning fallacy for instance– the tendency of people to underestimate the time things will take and the tendency to assume best-case scenarios.
One strategy may be to overestimate times when planning, pushing through the “it feels wrong” feeling to develop a better sense of how long things take. To augment this, there are also planning techniques, like Murphyjitsu designed to get you considering “hidden factors”. It’s far from clear how much actions that compensate for biases by countering their effects actually reduce the bias entirely, especially if the helpful action also becomes second nature.
But overall, I think this is an important distinction to keep in mind, because I’ll often be stuck asking myself “Should I work around X, or should I actively try to defeat X?” I think I can worry a little less now, as the two seem more intertwined than I had first thought.
(Though this shouldn’t absolve us of deliberate practice!)