Checklist for Noticing Sphexishness

Yesterday I wrote how noticing when your behaviours are failing to make progress on your goals is a fundamental skill or rationality. How do you detect when failure to make progress achieve goals is occurring? That’s a difficult, open problem. Still, the following is a list of possible cues to detect sphexishness. A shout out to the LessWrong Copenhagen group who helped me compile it.

This list isn’t supposed to be revolutionary, but to serve as useful checklist in periodic strategy reviews. I’ll test this and will report if it was at all useful. In future post I hope to explore my thoughts on “Checklist Rationality” – the use of well designed lists in productivity, introspection, decision-making, and truth-seeking.

The Checklist

  • Look for areas where you aren’t making progress towards desired goals.
  • Look for areas in your life where you feel frustrated, but haven’t yet examined.
  • Examine recent failures, is there a meta-failure common to them all?
  • Review anything which consumes large amounts of your resources for potential savings.
  • Review areas in which you notice other people are outperforming you.
  • Look for things you consider fixed or immutable about yourself or your behaviour.
  • Catch instances of learned helplessness, whereby you expect that fail at self-improvement attempts.
  • Examine sources of intense feelings: anxiety, fear, or aversion.
  • Catch times when your revise your goals to be less ambitious in order to avoid registering a failure.
  • Catch behaviours which are short-term pleasurable, but long-term detrimental to goal achievement.

Additions greatly appreciated!

2 thoughts on “Checklist for Noticing Sphexishness

  1. I think one way to potentially improve at noticing areas that could use more attention is to skim over old journal entries if you have them, and see if you remark on any problems that you had at the time, that you still have. If that’s the case, then basically anything you’ve done in the meantime hasn’t worked. Unless you fixed the problem for several years *then* regressed.


    • Excellent, excellent idea. I have scheduled reviews to read over my journals. I guess you might read over the last month frequently, and then larger spans of time (six months, a year) in larger reviews.

      Another option is to have a list of “solved problems” which you can revisit and see if they’re still solved. What’s more – you could have a list of unsolved problems and see if you’re making progress on them! (I have this, except it’s a separate document for each area (productivity, energy levels, social ability, etc.) and each one has “Open Problems”, “Ideas”, “Resources” and a journal where I mark things tried, results, and other notes.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s