Mental Heuristics

mental heu

A heuristic is a “rule-of-thumb”, advice that helps an Artificial Intelligent program or human think and act more efficiently by directing thinking in an useful direction.

Some of these heuristics are age-old wisdom, bordering on cliche, but most are actually helpful.


If you want something done, do it yourself

Comment: Obviously true, and doing it is usually very good for your self esteem. A surprising amount of work can be done this way, and experts are not always necessary. However, there is a risk of becoming overworked if you try to do everything yourself – we all need other people after all.


Never procrastinate anything you can do right now

Comment: Very powerful. There are many things that can be fixed or solved with a minimum of effort, but are often pushed aside as unimportant. Unfortunately they won’t go away, and in time the feelings of guilt for not having done them will make you even less likely of fixing the problems.


When you have several things you could be doing and don’t know which to do: Just do any one of them!

Comments: If you cannot decide between two or more possibilities, then there is a good chance that the differences don’t matter. However, most people begin to hesitate in this kind of situation (Fredkin’s paradox). If you are conscious of this, you can just choose one choice randomly or according to some standard method.


Always assume that you will succeed

Comments: If you don’t expect to succeed in an endeavor, then you will not do your best and will not notice possible solutions, while if you feel that you will eventually succeed you will concentrate all your power at the problem. Of course, there is no point in attempting what you cannot do, a certain amount of self-knowledge is always needed.


If you can’t find a solution, change the rules.

Comment: Remember that there are no no-win scenarios.


If you cannot do anything about something, there is no point in worrying about it.

Comment: Worrying is stressful, and in most situations doesn’t accomplish anything – it just wastes energy. Instead of worrying about things, either do something about them or find ways around the problem. One useful idea is to write down your worries on slips of paper, and then put them away in a box. Regularly, once a week or so, you open the box and see what you can do about the worries that are still relevant.


Do not rely on conscious decisions for speed – Just Do It

Comments: The conscious mind is surprisingly slow, conscious choices and actions are delayed for a significant time (a reflex acts within some tens of milliseconds, an unconscious reaction to external stimuli circa 100 milliseconds and a conscious choice several seconds). The duty of the conscious mind is usually to inhibit rather than start action, and if you become too conscious of what you are doing in a tense situation you will hesitate or slow down.

It is a good idea to learn to rely on your non-conscious mind, since our conscious mind is slow and has very low bandwidth while the other systems in our brains have a tremendous capacity and actually do most of the real work anyway.


Don’t try to explain away your actions for yourself

Comment: While we often do things we do not want to explain our real motivations for before other people (out of fear of embarrassment, anger or loss of image), it is a bad idea to try to convince oneself that the motivation was anything different from what it was. It will only reduce your self-knowledge with deliberate misinformation, and it is often valuable to understand what motivations you have (even if you dislike them or would never admit them in public).


Listen to your intuition, but do not believe it unconditionally

Comments: Intuitive or emotional thinking, analogies, “gut feelings” or “flashes of inspiration” can sometimes give fantastic new insights or show problems from a new direction. Unfortunately such thinking isn’t always reliable, and quite often completely wrong! Such insights should never be accepted because you admire their beauty or they are intuitive, only because they fit with reality.


60 Ways To Make Life Simple Again

simple life

When we were young life was easier, right?  I know sometimes it seems that way.  But the truth is life still is easy.  It always will be.  The only difference is we’re older, and the older we get, the more we complicate things for ourselves.

You see, when we were young we saw the world through simple, hopeful eyes.  We knew what we wanted and we had no biases or concealed agendas.  We liked people who smiled.  We avoided people who frowned.  We ate when we were hungry, drank when we were thirsty, and slept when we were tired.

As we grew older our minds became gradually disillusioned by negative external influences.  At some point we began to hesitate and question our instincts.  When a new obstacle or growing pain arose, we stumbled and fell down.  This happened several times.  Eventually we decided we didn’t want to fall again, but rather than solving the problem that caused us to fall, we avoided it all together.

As a result, we ate comfort food and drank alcohol to numb our wounds and fill our voids.  We worked late nights on purpose to avoid unresolved conflicts at home.  We started holding grudges, playing mind games, and subtly deceiving others and ourselves to get ahead.  And when it didn’t work out, we lived above our means, bought things we didn’t need, and ate and drank some more just to make ourselves feel better again.

Over the course of time, we made our lives more and more difficult, and we started losing touch with who we really are and what we really need.

So let’s get back to the basics, shall we?  Let’s make things simple again.  It’s easy.  Here are 60 ways to do just that:

Life is not complex.  We are complex.  Life is simple,
and the simple thing is the right thing.
– Oscar Wilde

  1. Don’t try to read other people’s minds.  Don’t make other people try to read yours.  Communicate.
  2. Be polite, but don’t try to be friends with everyone around you.  Instead, spend time nurturing your relationships with the people who matter most to you.
  3. Your health is your life, keep up with it.  Get an annual physical check-up.
  4. Live below your means.  Don’t buy stuff you don’t need.  Always sleep on big purchases.  Create a budget and savings plan and stick to both of them.
  5. Get enough sleep every night.  An exhausted mind is rarely productive.
  6.  Get up 30 minutes earlier so you don’t have to rush around like a mad man.  That 30 minutes will help you avoid speeding tickets, tardiness, and other unnecessary headaches.
  7. Get off your high horse, talk it out, shake hands or hug, and move on.
  8. Don’t waste your time on jealously.  The only person you’re competing against is yourself.
  9. Surround yourself with people who fill your gaps.  Let them do the stuff they’re better at so you can do the stuff you’re better at.
  10. Organize your living space and working space.  Read David Allen’s book Getting Things Done for some practical organizational guidance.
  11. Get rid of stuff you don’t use.
  12. Ask someone if you aren’t sure.
  13. Spend a little time now learning a time-saving trick or shortcut that you can use over and over again in the future.
  14. Don’t try to please everyone.  Just do what you know is right.
  15. Don’t drink alcohol or consume recreational drugs when you’re mad or sad.  Take a jog instead.
  16. Be sure to pay your bills on time.
  17. Fill up your gas tank on the way home, not in the morning when you’re in a hurry.
  18. Use technology to automate tasks.
  19. Handle important two-minute tasks immediately.
  20. Relocate closer to your place of employment.
  21. Don’t steal.
  22. Always be honest with yourself and others.
  23. Say “I love you” to your loved ones as often as possible.
  24. Single-task.  Do one thing at a time and give it all you got.
  25. Finish one project before you start another.
  26. Be yourself.
  27. When traveling, pack light.  Don’t bring it unless you absolutely must.
  28. Clean up after yourself.  Don’t put it off until later.
  29. Learn to cook, and cook.
  30. Make a weekly (healthy) menu, and shop for only the items you need.
  31. Consider buying and cooking food in bulk.  If you make a large portion of something on Sunday, you can eat leftovers several times during the week without spending more time cooking.
  32. Stay out of other people’s drama.  And don’t needlessly create your own.
  33. Buy things with cash.
  34. Maintain your car, home, and other personal belongings you rely on.
  35. Smile often, even to complete strangers.
  36. If you hate doing it, stop it.
  37. Treat everyone with the same level of respect you would give to your grandfather and the same level of patience you would have with your baby brother.
  38. Apologize when you should.
  39. Write things down.
  40. Be curious.  Don’t be scared to learn something new.
  41. Explore new ideas and opportunities often.
  42. Don’t be shy.  Network with people.  Meet new people.
  43. Don’t worry too much about what other people think about you.
  44. Spend time with nice people who are smart, driven, and likeminded.
  45. Don’t text and drive.  Don’t drink and drive.
  46. Drink water when you’re thirsty.
  47. Don’t eat when you’re bored.  Eat when you’re hungry.
  48. Exercise every day.  Simply take a long, relaxing walk or commit 30 minutes to an at-home exercise program like theP90X workout.
  49. Let go of things you can’t change.  Concentrate on things you can.
  50. Find hard work you actually enjoy doing.
  51. Realize that the harder you work, the luckier you will become.
  52. Follow your heart.  Don’t waste your life fulfilling someone else’s dreams and desires.
  53. Set priorities for yourself and act accordingly.
  54. Take it slow and add up all your small victories.
  55. However good or bad a situation is now, it will change.  Accept this simple fact.
  56. Excel at what you do.  Otherwise you’ll just frustrate yourself.
  57. Mature, but don’t grow up too fast.
  58. Realize that you’re never quite as right as you think you are.
  59. Build something or do something that makes you proud.
  60. Make mistakes, learn from them, laugh about them, and move along.

Oh, and enjoy life’s simple pleasures.  They’re free and better than anything money can buy. 

Written by Marc Chernoff

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