#48 Out of The Armchair and Into the Field

The challenge I’m about to undertake for a month has been proposed through mail by my good friend Sid, also known as the guy with the smile. Sidney and I share our love for giving talks, positive psychology, studying cognitive biases, hugging, and having been through the same teenage years.

It is harder than The Auricle’s suggestions, which involved assessing charities, or writing about the benefits of routine for a month. It looks more frightening, gives me stomach butterflies, and will definitely make a huge difference in my life.

Without further ado: #48 Out of The Armchair and Into the Field

Sid used to live here, far from the anglophone world. He moved to New York, and his challenge was basically telling me that I should get the hell out of here. Applying for many courses abroad is great, if it works, yet he is convinced that the culture of self-improvement, of challenge, of rationality is so much more intense in the Bay Area, New York, and Oxbridge, UK,  he is convinced that I should simply leave. Keep pursuing the rest of the challenges, that is for sure, but get into the field, move away from a culture where individual development is as valuable as speaking Estonian backwards. I am therefore leaving my country on the second week of August, to the Bay Area, and from there, to wherever my challenges and external incentives take me.

The role of incentives and reward systems: it is said that the famous (but not so great) psychologist Burrhus Skinner used to teach his classes in Harvard while pacing to the left and right of his professor podium. His students, eager to test his theory of reinforcement, began to smile and pay attention whenever he paced to the left, and stop focusing and doze off when he paced to the right. Sure enough, in less than two days, they made him fall from the podium area.

Despite Skinner stumbling on on his own ideas, and taking his theory too far, trying to explain pigeons, chimps and people with a theory that at best could encompass the behavior of two-headed Planarians, the fundamentals of reinforment are an important way to keep track of your challenges.

Two Heads, nearly no brains...

It may feel diminishing at first to train oneself with rewards, like you’d train a dog or a monkey. But even bestseller books on motivation use rewards, and if you are a bestseller on motivation, the last thing you want to do is to make people feel diminished.

If you are not going for a completely radical life-changing, continent changing decision, you can still change your reward systems in many ways. The most effective ones are increasing the activation cost of what you want your future self to avoid, and decreasing the activation cost of what you want to do, as recommended by Harvard Psychologist Shawn Achor.

I want to exercise daily, so I decrease the cost of doing it to become just opening this video link, which takes about half a second to do and one click with my right hand’s indicator finger.

Once the video is on, it becomes pointless to be listening to those songs without actually exercising, they are not exactly the hallmarks of musical history, only a good way to chuckle while exercising. The video itself compacts my daily exercise into the minimal amount of minutes possible. Any day I can’t do exercise that is really awesome, like Ultimate Frisbee, Tennis, sex, or bike-riding through a sunny muddy park, it guarantees base-level with the activation cost of a single click.

Conversely, my TV set is nearly never connected to the plug, nor is the cable network connected to the TV. If all TV is free and downloadable, commercial free, and tailored for my interests, why would I make it easy for my future self to become a mindless couchpotato? I’d rather watch a million TED talks, animal documentaries, blockbusters and ridiculous comedy movies prior to having to deal with one instance of that awful moment when the TV’s volume suddenly doubles so you pay attention to commercials.

Basically the idea is to put your reward in the far future, if it is for something you don’t want to do, and to make getting it easy and accessible after what you want to do. After every pomodoro (25 minutes) of focused, non procrastinated work, why don’t you let yourself drink your favorite warm tea, or indulge in whichever food you are thinking about right now?
You may not need to travel 10 thousand kilometres to super-radically change your surroundings like I will. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t change your surroundings as much as you can to get your challenges actually done. Just go for it!

Previous Challenge Tracking

Finding awesome applications everywhere (Challenge #49 Send Those Applications Out!) has been really challenging. Because I’ve decided on taking the challenge of moving (#48), my main criterion for applications has been location (Bay Area and Oxbridge) and all else was tuned down a bit. The Filipino monks of #49 will have to wait. These 15 days have been a great awesome chaos. My birthday, followed by my girlfriend’s birthday, as I write this I am less than 2 days away from qualifying my Master thesis in philosophy, in less than 10 days I’ll move abroad for two months, maybe more. Can’t blame the world for giving me nothing to do, only maybe for no time to sleep. I have noticed though that there’s no way I’d actually get all the best applications done by the 15th if I did it during this cataclysm. But I am deadly serious about challenges, so I did what anyone who loves A J Jacobs’s experimental lifestyle would do, I got myself a Virtual Assistant to help me. If you didn’t know Virtual Assitants exist, check out his writing about them. Not only there’s someone doing my task for me while I contact the best professors in the world and ask them about PHD grants and schedules, but also she motivates me to compete with her for who finds more and better academic places to apply to. I can also tell her to lie and make deadlines 15 days before they are. Except one or two. The uncertainty makes me have to apply by that time. I’m protected by my ignorance, and will be ahead of time for sure. I could get used to this!

Writing here (Challenge #50 Stop Learning, Start Doing) is just a lot of fun, the clock spins and I worry about nothing on Earth. If doing something, anything, gets you relaxed prior to showing your Masters progression to three of the tough guys, you better take it! This challenge is officially over, though I’m pretty sure the habit will last for quite a while. After all, there’s 47 amazing challenges out there waiting for me. You get to decide 23 of them, do your best when you suggest!

Tracking you

I said I would and here I am. Petra, how did you do with your donation agenda, is that wardrobe a little emptier?
The Auricle, how is your writing going? Are you getting those words a day written?
Paolo, did you get all the way through the writings you said you would? Did you arrange the coffee you were planning with that blog’s author?

Its time for you to create your own challenge again. Make a comment to publicly commit to it. Move to India and meet my Virtual Assistant. Get a six pack. Convince your advisor of coauthoring with you. Talk to a leader in your field of research. Commit here, and let’s do it! 

If you just arrived at fourhourscience, take a look at the first challenge as it is the only one you have to go through to jump straight on to the current challenge. Do challenge yourself on the comment section, and every first of the month, I’ll start a challenge chosen by my readers, and ask how they are going at their own self-challenges. Every 15th, I’ll choose one for myself. If you want to give me a challenge, make a comment in the most recent post, which is where I’ll get them from every 1st of the month. To subscribe to fourhourscience.com and keep track of your challenges, click on the blackish square on the bottom right that says follow.  If you are logged in a wordpress account, check the top left instead. – Neotenic


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