Cooperation Across Time:
I think most of the things I want to do in the self-improvement category involve interacting with myself across time.
When I want to remember things (or remember to remember them), I’m trying to access knowledge from my past. When I’m deciding whether or not to do something now, I consider if the “future me” has an advantage. My temporal selves prove to be an integral part of my present considerations.
When it comes to decisions and time, we know that our decision-making process can be biased in specific ways when it comes to viewing events from our past and future:
When it comes to the past, we’re too often cursed with hindsight, seeing the patterns only after the fact. We rue past decisions when it really wasn’t possible to see them at the time. Our recordings of the past are also shaky, often distorted in many ways, affected by our subjective perception.
When it comes to the future, temporal discounting means we give our future selves much less regard, and the planning fallacy has shown that we tend towards overconfidence on our future predictions. The difficulty of predicting far future events, however, may justify part of such discounting; but it brings with it more difficulties.
It’s a balancing act, switching between easing the burden of my future self and consuming hedons in the short-term. I think this could offer a better viewpoint than typical frames of decision-making, where everything is evaluated from the present standpoint.
By writing about this concept, I’m hoping to create a mental anchor for my thoughts on how versions of me, my goals, and time interact. Mentally, I’m envisioning a segmented tape broken up into squares, while the “present me” scans the current square, while directions of what to do next are weighted depending on time/current factors, sort of like a probabilistic Turing machine.
(Well, not really.)
Anyway, it’s nice to see convergence from this topic into other ideas I’ve wrote about before. Of course, this is probably because “temporal thinking” is a very broad concept that I can twist into many sections, so I’m careful not to turn this into a Theory That Explains Everything.
Cooperating across time aside, I’ve also been thinking about how to better weigh decisions. I’m trying to increase the detail in my causal modeling, to capture reality a little better.
(This is not really related to the above discussion on time and selves, but I needed a longer blog post.)
The quick-and-dirty heuristic that I’m currently practicing is thinking on the margin. I look to see which actions have the best net effect, given my current situation. This leads me to value unique opportunities more, and go through more shallow overviews, as the early gains in an area tend to be the greatest.
For example, say I am adept at soccer, but not at finance. When I have time to devote to either, I’d choose to do some finance. I’m already pretty good at soccer, so additional effort doesn’t make me that much better. In contrast, picking up some financial basics places me from zero to knowing the basics, which is a much higher gain for the same amount of effort.
There’s lots of caveats here, including arguments for specialization and against knowing “a little bit of everything”. But the main idea of looking at change, given where I am on the “progress curve” is the general gist of what I’m trying to practice.