Moving to a new URL…

September 1, 2006

This blog is an experiment slash dare to myself in a couple different ways.

One, to see if there really is something to be discovered in the mashing up of technology, psychology, self-help, game theory, and silliness. I think there is.

Two, it was a test for myself to see if I could bootstrap the blog to gain some readers without publicizing it or linking to it from any of my other projects. Thanks to Gina from Lifehacker and Merlin Mann from 43 Folders, who have a very keen eye watching all corners of the internet and were kind enough to link to me a couple times, I did gain a significant number of readers.

Three, I was curious to see if this experiment could eventually be incorporated into my other projects at The Robot Co-op.

And so, today, which also happens to be the 2nd anniversary of the day we started our company, we’re launching a new blog called Mutual Improvement which will be very similar to this blog in spirit, but even more ambitious and wild. I’ll be continuing the series of cognitive biases and exercises for lost souls (and rewriting many of the existing ones as well) and many of the other ideas I’ve started up.

So, if anything from the last couple months has peaked your interest, please update your bookmarks, add this new RSS feed, read about our new inspiration, and enjoy.

Click Here:


Erik Benson


Ryan Carson has a great article over at A List Apart about working only four days a week. I've only worked four days a week for the last year and a half and think it is a significant contributor to my enjoyment of life. This is despite the fact that I love my job as well. Things are easier to love when you are at your best while doing them. Many parts of our corporate culture have become focused on productivity, and yet the tools for productivity aren't present. Instead of encouraging people to be productive, many corporate environments are time prisoners. You have to be there 40 hours, if not longer. If you're in one of these environments I encourage you to challenge the system and see if you can convince them that you will can be more productive while spending less time in the office by working a four day work week. Some excellent tips in the article mentioned above, as well as in the comments.


This is step one in Marc Allen's The Millionaire Course, a book which I'm currently reading for the first time due to reading some interesting interviews and book reviews on Steve Pavlina's blog.  Writing out your own personal ideal scene for the future (for the next 5 years or so) seems like great advice, and advice that I for one am surprised is so difficult.

Most people would assume that they've got some kind of concrete vision for their lives.  One might say things like "I want to have that job, be madly in love, move to a tropical island, and have a million bucks."  Or, "I want to have my own restaurant, and drive a fancy car, and have a mansion full of hot love slaves."  I think there are a few things that get confused with an "ideal scene" as described by Marc Allen.


A fantasy is something that you daydream about, but who your inner critic doesn't actually think is for you.  These are the things that come out when you ask people what they would want in life if they could have anything.  Ask yourself.  And then, as soon as you utter your greatest dream for life, wait for that second voice to pop up (it can never stay quiet).  It'll say something like "Yeah, all I need to do is win the lottery." or, "That would've been nice 10 years ago, before X."  A fantasy that you believe is impossible is a dangerous thing to have because it feels like you have an ideal scene for your life when really it's just a fake placeholder that you would never actually try to make manifest.

"Practical" Scenes

These are scenarios that your inner critic comes up with.  Rather than a tropical island and a world famous rock band, you come up with "get promoted to assistant to the assistant manager within the next two years."  Or, "retile the bathroom sometime in the next year or so."  Sure, you've got crazy unrealistic fantasy above, but what's more immediate and makes more sense is a baby step scene that takes the smallest possible step of self-improvement that still qualifies as not standing completely still.

So, if these things aren't ideal scenes, then what is?

The Ideal Ideal Scene

Think on a five year time period.  This is a useful trick that helps you avoid generating false fantasies and scenes that are too limiting or practical.  Five years is a period of time that's long enough to be able to imagine great change in yourself, but also a period of time where you can imagine yourself looking similar, having the same personality, and general keep you from trying to wait for time travel and flying cars in order to acheive your goal.  If you want big change to happen in five years, it might help to start working on it now.

Be as creative as you can be.  The biggest limit to our own lives is our imagination.  For example, take your fantasies and your practical scenes.  How many other people would give the exact same answer to those questions as you do.  Yes, everyone would like to win the lottery even though studies have been made that lottery winners are rarely happier after 5, 10, and 20 years than they were before… in fact, Timothy Wilson in Strangers To Ourselves gives some interesting evidence that lottery winners are less happy after winning than they were before.  Try coming up with an ideal scene that fits your personality more than it fits anyone else's.  Something custom-tailored to your passions, dreams, and view of the world.  Let it get as wild as you wish… the imagination likes to be stretched.

Write it down.  Draw a picture.  Even if you can see everything perfectly in your mind for the ideal scene, write it down and keep it somewhere safe so that you can come back and read it in the future.  This ideal scene should eventually become the dominant vision for your life.  Stronger and more familiar than your doubts about it, more obvious as an eventual reality than as a forgotten daydream.  Do everything you can to make this ideal scene feel real, tangible, and certain.  Add to it over time, draw more pictures, fill in the details, and think about it often.  Marc Allen claims that as soon as this ideal scene is burned into your consciousness, you can begin making concrete steps towards it.  For now, just make the scene and see what comes out.

Some questions from the book to ask yourself that might help flesh out the ideal scene:

  1. What kind of work and career do you have?
  2. What is a typical day for you?
  3. What are you doing to contribute to a better world?
  4. Where do you live?
  5. What are your most intimate relationships like?
  6. What is your family life like?
  7. How would someone close to you describe you?

“In a healthy and happy way, I am becoming a millionaire.”
“In its own perfect timing, I am becoming a millionaire.”
“For the greatest good of all, I am becoming a millionaire.”

(inspired by combining advice in this interview with Marc Allen with this post on remembering your dreams)

Replace “becoming a millionaire” with anything that you’d like. Other possibilities include “becoming famous”, “becoming ridiculously powerful”, “becoming one with the universe”, “becoming the CEO of my own business”, and “becoming the funniest person alive”. Feel free to improvise, but once you choose one, stick with it for a while.

The key to this is to create a vision for yourself in the future. Once you convince your subconscious that this is going to happen, it will put its resources towards pointing out opportunities that lead in this direction. The subconscious has to filter through about 40 million sensory inputs per second and only passes about 10,000 of them to your subconscious. By activating this possibility in your subconscious, it will remember to pass on information it might otherwise have filtered out, and you'll begin noticing things that you hadn't noticed before. This change usually happens, according to Steve Pavlina, with 24 and 48 hours of starting the mantra.

Every day, say your mantra 20 times out loud when you wake up and then 20 times to yourself. Say it out loud 20 times and to yourself 20 times right before you go to bed. Say it every time you walk through a doorway, start eating, or finish eating. Put the mantra in weird corners of your life that you want to expose or change. By having a vision for what you want to become, and training your subconscious into taking on that vision, you will begin to see opportunities open up towards that road. Be ready for them and take any small step that you see. Be thankful for even the smallest step in that direction, and slowly the steps will become more solid, steady, and obvious.

The end for me is to reach a state of self-sustaining radical mutual-improvement with the people around me. I want to fill a hole that I see in the world–a space that exists between life hacking, personal development, and the things you want to do with your life, where using technology and psychology and common sense and existing well-known practices in society and religion to improve yourself and others really works in an deliberate way that is benefitial to all and not reliant on hype or marketing. Gandhi and Benjamin Franklin both described their philosophy on life as mutual-improvement, where you never have to engage in win-lose scenarios, and adversity is not something that you avoid, but instead accept as a challenge that will act as a catalyst in you and everyone else's benefit.

To be more specific, in the short term this means:

1) Starting a life-coaching business or possibly non-profit organization (I haven't decided yet) that is inspired from existing organizations like Toastmasters, Alcoholics Anonymous, investment clubs, Juntos, book clubs, Vipassana meditation retreats, Landmark Forum, Mormonism, pickup artists (it's actually sort of interesting), and of course the new field life coaching itself. Some small details include an inexpensive membership, weekly or bi-weekly meetings, an emphasis on interviews and problem-solving, and occassional "What's your best idea?" conferences.

2) Opening a bar/art gallery in Seattle with a friend. It will be small, able to be run by one person on Sundays-Thursdays and two people on Friday and Saturday night. Very limited food options, only open from 5pm-2am, and integrated with the life-coaching business so that members can hold meetings there.

3) Writing a book/manifesto to help build these other things off of. I've found that I cannot keep all of the ideas involved in this project in my head at once. Memory needs to be improved or supplemented in order to better manage these ideas. I think my options are to either become more concise in my articulation of the ideas, or develop a memorization trick in the form of a book.

4) Contribute to the conversation of life hacking and self-improvement, and converse with some of my role-models that are currently writing about this on the internet.