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Self-improvement through imagination (pretending)

Altering the distant past

Altering the distant past was easy, you just had to think of it at the right time.

— Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality (HPMOR), Chapter 12: Impulse Control (hpmor.com)

I like this phrase. What it means is that you can alter the distant past of future-you, by thinking of it at the right time. By thinking of it now.

That’s the essential promise of self-improvement (“self-modification” in the psychologists’ parlance). That by using “willpower”, you can “alter the distant past” by doing what you should do rather than what you would like. (Willpower is an inadequate construct, but that’s beyond the scope of this short post.)

Twelve months from now, twelve months will have passed, no matter what, so what are you going to do with those twelve months? Formulating a question like this is how considering “alter[ing] the distant past” can be useful.

What if X, Y, or Z in your life had turned out differently?

How would things be different? We’ve all been torn by those questions. Such questions can haunt you, but maybe there’s a simple way of transforming it from a depressing question into an inspiring one.

You just need to move the frame of reference to the future. Instead of thinking ‘what if X had happened differently in the past?’, you think ‘Let’s pretend this is the future, say three months from now: How could things have gone differently?’… and then…. ‘And what can I do now so I won’t be thinking that?’

We are literally helplessly myopic–hyperbolic discounting–but can maybe partially ameliorate this bias. But is the future any less real than the present? So long as you’re going to be alive, it is. (And if you’re young, in a first world country, and looking just a few years ahead, it’s extremely probable you’ll still be alive so that factor is negligible).

Alternative you

According to the most popular quantum mechanics interpretation, all possible worlds exist. Honing in on you, that means all possible you’s exist (the philosophical question of identity involved is beyond the scope of this post). Every action you’ve ever taken–or not taken–there is someone pretty much exactly like you who did something good that you didn’t. [I should clarify that this many-worlds considerations is a source of imagination to consider alternative you’s as a useful reflection for the present, but nothing more, and that’s good enough].

Role models

I’ve found it useful to compare my standards to other peoples’. When you realize that someone is doing something you’d like to do, or more of it, and it’s not even a challenge for them, you wonder if perhaps it shouldn’t be a challenge for you either.

Doing different: maybe boredom is a problem, and it can be fixed

Finally, you can focus on what else you could do (as opposed to be). And maybe you’ll realize that you’re just really bored when you find yourself depressed and lethargic and uninspired, and that that is holding you back from being You 1.1. As this highly-upvoted comment on Reddit reminds us, we can do more and do not often realize what is possible. That we can solve our boredom.

— Reddit user bikewithoutafish on sub-reddit how not to give a fuck (original here)

Happiness = Excitement = Better you?

Tim Ferriss (author, entrepreneur, life-hacker) would say that the opposite of happiness isn’t sadness, it’s boredom, in much the same way that the ‘opposite’ of love isn’t hate so much as it is indifference. He proposes that happiness=excitement. (And of course increased happiness is self-improvement.)

What do you think of happiness=excitement? Leave a comment.

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