ideas on a spectrum

In applicable advice, I talk about taking advice carefully, and only when you know why it works, to apply it in purposefully.  There is a specific type of behaviour that can be changed, adapted, challenged and improved.  Some examples include:

  • speaking lots –> speaking little
  • spending lots –> spending little
  • putting your needs first –> putting other’s needs first
  • fully indulging yourself –> fully restraining yourself
  • being forgiving of everyone –> holding a grudge forever
  • never having fun –> only ever having fun

I could make more examples but what’s more important is they all kinda look like this:

Somewhere along the spectrum is where you are right now, somewhere along the spectrum is the ideal spot, balanced between never having fun and only having fun.

When someone says, “I think you should stand up for yourself more”. They are likely saying that your current behaviour on the spectrum of possibility would be best if shifted to somewhere more towards the other end of the spectrum.  It can be hard to know where you are, and what they mean when they say stand up for yourself more.  But that’s the whole point of the problem of ideas on a spectrum.

I think we should try it.

Take a spectrum.  For example how often you eat food.  On one end we have, “I am eating all the time, a real grazer, lots of nibbling, it’s not even distracting” on the other end we have, “I sometimes forget to eat, food just isn’t salient.  I eat whenever other people eat but it’s no big deal and I can skip several meals in a row without noticing”.  Before you say these things are not on a spectrum, don’t bother arguing with me and just make your own spectrum for something that you do care about.

on a scale of 1-10 (or 1-100).  Where do you fall on your spectrum?

Now pick 5 people you know.  Try to place them on the spectrum too.  Think about who does the thing similar to you, and think about who does it better.  (beware that what works for someone else might work for reasons that don’t apply to you, but it’s still a good piece of the puzzle to have).

What if the spectrum was; maximum time spent exercising -> minimum time spent exercising.  Where up one end is, would take an uber to travel a block and up the other end is, stops exercising to eat and sleep and not much else.


Maybe not all spectrums are useful.  And a broad enough spectrum is unhelpful for working with.  So how about for exercise – on a spectrum of “exercises twice a day for 30mins” to “exercises once a fortnight for 30mins”.  Now plot yourself on that spectrum.  Then plot which way you want to move.  Plot 5 of your friends.

I want to emphasise that we are here analysing the current status independent of solutions to the problem.  Let’s face it, if it were easy to exercise more you would already have done it, chances are that (from the immunity to change process) you are experiencing some competing commitments.  Life wants you to both exercise AND sleep in.  Which is hard when you also want to get to work on time.

Independent of what has gotten in the way before, don’t look at strategies for solving the problem right now, only consider where do you want to be on the spectrum and where you are moving from.

So a guy is telling you to be more selfish.  If your map looks like this you might freak out and not listen:

And the reality should hold that if your map of where you think you are is correct you should indeed be less selfish, not more!  Right.  So if his map looks something like this:

It’s not really a disagreement about the virtues of selfishness and selflessness any more.  It can be reasonably true that if you were too selfless in fact you waht to be moving in the direction of being selfish (or giving your own desires higher priority). At the same time as being true that if you were too selfish you want to try to be less selfish.

The question is then – Where are you really on that spectrum, where do other people think you are?  And where do you want to be?  There might be a subjective better place to be on that spectrum but it starts with recognising that there is a spectrum.  Where you stand, Where you want to go, How exactly you do that…  Those are all independent questions.

Each question can be answered with evidence.  Each piece of evidence can be interpreted.  Each bayesian update can be made on each contributing piece of evidence.  We can usefully consider the positions from a place of balance, and maybe greater objectivity for our own situation.

Meta: this took 1.5hrs to write.  I suck at concentrating and it feels good to write out something I have intended to write out for a long time.

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