Venkatesh Rao+ Your Authors @vgr This is my conversational account. For my work follow @ribbonfarm, @breaking_smart, @artofgig. Tweets are 90% vacuous views, apathetically held. Mediocritopian. Feb. 15, 2020 5 min read + Your Authors

My lifestyle could reasonably be called stochastic semi-retirement, trading money for time in a very unpredictable way to make room for doing things for which there is absolutely no economic demand.

That, or it’s a very poorly tuned freemium hustle.

I’ve been frequently accused of choosing to make less money than I could, leaving money on the table, etc. This is really not true. Other people’s time-money tradeoff curves always look like they have a bigger possible range than they actually do.

I’ve come to believe that what people actually solve for is making the rest of their life desirable to actually live out, for their particular neurotype. When I look at it this way, I find that almost everybody is kinda doing what they have to to make life worth living.

You do have agency to change your life, but it’s rarely possible to change it with sheer will. You need an external circumstance creating a short window of opportunity to pull off a discontinuous change to your life. I tend to accept people’s solutions to their lives as a given.

Ie I don’t find it useful to preach at them based on my incorrect idea of their design space. You end up in the Bernian “why don’t you” game:

“Why don’t you...”

“Yes, but...”

It is a futile game of them explaining their “solve for life” answer

Much more useful to discuss specific live options. “You could do this specific thing X right now that’s a window of opportunity that fits you and might move your equilibrium in such and such ways”

Now that’s useful. I have influenced and been influenced in this live-option way.

This is real. It’s not game-playing. It takes imagination and creativity to spot or create, activate, and consider live options for yourself and others.

You don’t challenge people’s solutions. You create or point out changes in the constraints they’ve solved for.

It’s the only way I’ve ever changed my own behavior or influenced others’ behaviors. Live, real, new options that weren’t there yesterday. That’s it.

Sermonizing, advice, most of it is futile.

Assume their solution is correct, create a love option to change their constraints.

* live not love, damn Valentine’s Day autocorrect

The Godfather knew this trick. If you can make an offer they can’t refuse you’ve found a constraint movement option.

Often, but not always, money is involved. Makes sense because it is a very generic constraint-changer. But all sorts of things work.

This might be my basic psychological axiom: assume people have correctly solved for the best life they can, and use the structure of their solution to uncover their constraints. Then look for options to alter the constraints in their *environment* rather than their thinking

I think many people fail at this because they approach other people’s problems with an “if I were you” starting point. But that’s changing the whole essence of the problem: them being not-you. Might as well suggest “If you were a spherical cow...”

Why would your first step in solving a problem be replacing the most important part that you understand the least with an irrelevant substitute that you happen to understand the best?

This is the “yes, and...” improv approach to being changed.

It’s also Miller’s law applied to accepting subjective postures at face value. Assume their life posture is valid and ask what circumstances it could be valid for. Then look for ways to change the circumstances.

One sign you’re doing it right (or it’s being done right to you): the change is somewhat unpredictable. A whole life reorientation/reconfiguration. Not a simple stimulus-response or a cause effect goal-pursuit effect. This is not incentive shift in a fixed solution structure.

It’s an equilibrium shift. They’re restating and resolving their “life” problem in a new way around shifted constraints. Neither you, nor they know where they’ll land. It won’t be a simple “they’ll do more X, less Y” or “X instead of Y”. They’ll reinvent who they are.

True even for deceptively structured life changes like hiring someone away from another company. They aren’t just changing jobs for more money, to do the same thing for more. They’re usually reconfiguring their “life” solution.

Significance of this: positive change in a life usually means more creative freedom. Results unpredictable. You can go the other way with children or insecure adults (Ie add or tighten constraints to change their life solutions) but doing it to competent adults is coercion.

The only situation where it’s difficult to operate this way in is when the other person is a close/intimate part of your life. Because in that case your life solutions are entangled. You can’t shift a constraint in theirs without shifting it in yours as well.

This is codependency. You are part of their solution and they are part of yours. Change both or neither. And given the unpredictability, any shift could strengthen or weaken the connection itself.

Life trajectory agency is like space mission orbit design agency. There’s a small delta vee onboard fuel budget to work with after launch, enough for small course corrections. All bigger moves have to come from gravity slingshots.

Tip: if an idea seems to require “willpower”, don’t suggest it.

“Willpower” is the phlogiston or luminiferous aether of life advice. There’s no such thing. It doesn’t exist. Show me a sudden shift in “willpower” levels and I’ll show you a constraint that has recently moved.

Note. This thread is NOT about “changing incentives” in the economics sense. Changing incentives is about causing predictable changes driven by a fixed solution. That works for things like offering a discount to drive sales. Changing constraints causes an unpredictable re-solving

This is not a behaviorist approach OR a cognitivist approach. It’s a complex system gambling approach. You’re betting that disrupting an equilibrium is more likely to result in a better new one than worse. It’s a change-is-good bet.

One last point. Assuming you understand the constraint structure of anyone’s life, even your own, from the legible part, is like assuming you can guess the shape of the submerged part of an iceberg from the 10% visible

You can follow @vgr.


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