Over in the Discussion section of Less Wrong, nyan_sandwich posts about using Beeminder to track negative, rather than positive, behavior. Specifically, using the Seven Mortal Sins as a template, tracking how many days per week are free of each sin.
However, this sentence sticks out a little:
I’m too much of a cheapskate to have trouble with material excess (Greed), and haven’t been burned by Pride yet, so I wouldn’t know what to avoid. Maybe I’ll figure these out soon.
I’m going to leave aside the irony of, of all the sins to brag about being free of, picking pride, and instead write a little about what I think Pride actually is.
Pride is what makes you defend and argue for your opinions long after the evidence has turned against you. Pride is what makes you reluctant to give up on sunk costs. Pride is why you keep doing the same thing, even when it obviously doesn’t work. Because you have an image of yourself in your mind, with all your current opinions and behaviors, and the belief that this person is good, effective, and virtuous – or at least you are attached enough to the idea that you are exactly this person, that it is unbearable to think that something this person is doing might be wrong, wrong, wrong. Pride is why you can’t keep your identity small.
The process of becoming more rational is in large part the process of disassembling your pride, and replacing it with the willingness to dance with the evidence.
Pride is behind failures in instrumental rationality as well. Pride is why it took me forever to stop beating myself up for not being punctual in the mornings, or not getting to sleep early enough, or not finishing the personal projects I start, and start troubleshooting, and notice when a plan that ought to work (because all it requires is that I be good and virtuous and self-disciplined) doesn’t, and try something else instead. Pride is why it was so hard for me to give myself small goals that I would actually do (e.g. write 500 words most days, good or bad), instead of big goals that sounded worth doing (e.g. write a novel).
Exercises for pretending you have been cured of your pride – since pretension is the path toward virtue:
1) Admit that the overdue letter or phone call is overdue, and give yourself permission to become the sort of person who is late sometimes (which you already are), and write or call anyway. If you’re writing, do it right now. Don’t worry if the words aren’t quite right – or if you don’t know how to apologize for the lateness of the letter – better crappy and late than never.
2) Give yourself permission to just plain not like something you’ve been working really hard on and telling everyone you love. Even though that means admitting failure. Past failures are okay! Just don’t compound them! I don’t know whether you hate your job, or a relationship, or a hobby – but until you give yourself permission to hate it (which you might already do), you’ll never find out whether you really love it or not.
3) Throw or give away those old magazines or books you’re never going to read, or the stuff you’re never going to use, or the broken stuff you were going to repair but never got around to. Maybe you’ll never have the time, and that’s okay! You made a mistake and bought too much, and held onto it. Just don’t compound that mistake by holding onto your stuff – and the illusion that you will use all of it – any longer.