TAP Inventory| 753 words
The acronym TAP stands for trigger-action planning/pattern and describes roughly what people think of as “habits.” A particularly interesting application of this concept is to mental habits, patterns of thinking that might robustly cause individuals to have better reasoning and decision-making abilities. Here are some of the mental habits that I’m trying to acquire for this purpose:
- If I think of an idea or something I should do, I try to write it down. The usual place for this is my todo list, so when I go through my list, I can file it away in the right place. This is pretty much taken directly from the book Getting Things Done as a way of achieving “mental inbox zero.” In this state, I don’t have to worry if I’m forgetting anything, I only have to remember to check my todolist regularly, which I already do anyway.
- If I need something, I just buy it right then. This can be thought of as an extention to the GTD-style “two minute rule”, which says that you should do all tasks that take less than 2 minutes immediately. I don’t like this rule in general because moving to different places often interrupts context, but generally I can just buy things on my phone so buying things is cheaper. For example, if I notice that I’m running out of soap, I’ll just buy some more immediately. I sometimes spend more time to think about things if they cost more than $20.
- If I’m thinking and it feels hard, I get out some paper. This particular habit is often difficult for me to execute in practice because sitting and staring at a wall is cognitively easier than trying to write down my thoughts on paper/computer/whiteboard/etc. However, I’ve routinely noticed that making progress on the problem I’m trying to solve is much easier if I don’t have to try to remember the necessary context, can draw pictures on paper instead of in my head, etc. Thinking on paper also makes it easier to not be distracted by other stuff because the paper is right in front of you and also easier to return to thinking after you’ve inevitably gotten distracted.
- If I think a piece of information is important, I’ll put it into anki. Anki is spaced-repetition software that helps me remember stuff. Gwern claims that the average time spent on an anki card is about 3 minutes, so if I think I’m willing to spend three minutes of my time knowing that in 2021 Africa has about 1.4 billion people living in it, which I am, then I’ll put it into anki. Other facts that I find helpful are: various key historial milestones, like the industrial revolution, various distances, like between the Earth and the Sun, and some economic indicators, like gross world product.
- If it feels like I’m “losing control over my brain”, then I’ll start writing about what’s happening. It’s sort of difficult to describe what “losing control over my brain” feels like, but a typical example is feeling like nothing is particularly interesting and that all I want to do is watch youtube videos or something. Another example is feeling pretty tired in a way that doesn’t make sense given how much I’ve slept and what I’ve been doing. The goal of this particular habit is to “reanchor” myself. Often times, writing about what’s happening in my head makes it more obvious what things don’t make sense, e.g. I’m often not interested in doing anything because I don’t remember what sorts of things might be fun to do, but if I look at my list of projects I want to do, often I become more motivated.
- If I’m thinking about a claim, I try to put some numbers onto it. For instance, I was recently reading a book that claimed that a cubic centimeter of air has a million billion molecules in it. I know that one mol of air is 22.4 liters, or 22400 cubic centimeters. I also know that 1 mol of air is 6 x 10^23 molecules. Dividing, this gives about 3 x 10^19, more than a billion billion. You may notice that this is much larger than a billion billion (by a factor of a thousand!), so the book I was reading made an arithmetic error. More generally, doing this type of sanity check allows you to check various parts of your understanding of the world against each other, gradually developing a more consistent and accurate picture of reality.