WOC 2: Some usecases for carefree long-term journaling

The previous week I talked about a tool I made, WOC (https://windofchange.me), which enables long-term journaling at scale.

  • By “long-term” I mean “it’s okay if you forget about something for two months and then get back to it”.

  • By “at scale” I mean “dozens to hundreds of different habits / self-improvement ideas / grievances / projects at once”.

Today I will talk about two therapy-ish usecases I’ve found for it and how well they worked over the past half a year.

In future posts I might talk about more goal-oriented topics, e.g. “get better at chess” or “organize a web development course for Ukrainian refugees” or “learn Norwegian”. Even futurer posts will likewise address something as well.

Usecase: keeping track of preferences. Rating: not bad

Scott Alexander wrote a post recently, Men Will Literally Have Completely Different Mental Processes Instead Of Going To Therapy. It gives a few examples of people missing out on some “basic” things like “you’re allowed to have food preferences” or “you can solve your problems”:

I find myself coming back to this tweet [by QC]:

my first rationality workshop taught me that it’s possible for me to think about and solve my problems. idk if this sounds really basic or what but it was a totally new idea to me at the time (fresh out of college) and an important foundation for everything else later

Qiaochu is a smart person with various impressive academic accomplishments, all of which are . . . apparently compatible with being the person who would write this. And I hear weird stuff like this all the time. An equally accomplished friend told me at one point that “I was fifteen when it occurred to me for the first time that I had a personality”. I’ve previously written about a friend who was in their late teens/early twenties before they realized they could have food preferences.

About two years ago I had realized that I hated when people do whatever they want instead of what is right / what is the best / etc, and correspondingly I didn’t let myself do that either.

After a few attempts at various kinds of therapies, intermezzoed with giving up, I just started writing down whatever preferences I had in a WOC card here. Most of it is public, but not all. This card is 5.5 months old now.

The mere process of writing things down has led to a bunch of changes in behavior that I’m happy about. Here are some:

  • I stopped arguing with people, while previously I was {doing it a lot, thought of myself as an always-happy-to-argue person, and invariably ended up restless and annoyed for several hours after each argument}

  • I started focusing on “what is enjoyable for me in chess” rather than trying to make/memorize optimal moves. Playing chess became much easier because I can just ask myself “what do I dislike about this position?”.

  • I stopped feeling obligated to give people honest negative feedback.

  • I realized I’m unhappy-by-default, which made me start doing more things that make me happy.

So, this card gets a rating “not bad” because it’s, like, not bad.

Usecase: mood self-regulation. Rating: also not bad

This one is private, but it looks roughly like this:

  • yesterday: Felt pissed because of X. Went on a walk.
  • today: Felt pissed because of Y. Went to a fancy restaurant.

Very often I notice that my mood is bad and don’t do anything. Somewhat often I actually do something, but just don’t bother journaling. Overall there are 27 entries over the last 3.5 months.

The thing I internalized from this card is “if I feel bad, I can at least go on a walk or to a restaurant; and also this works better than either vaping or watching sitcoms in bed”. The actual outcome is that I stopped vaping and started going to restaurants. I estimate that it has saved me from a bad mood maybe.. 15-20 times over the past few months.

As a side note, I suppose this kind of thing can be beemound (although I still haven’t finished the WOC+Beeminder integration); I’d assume that the sweet spot for beeminding “how many times I do X” is when I progress past “I have to convince myself to do X” and arrive at “it sometimes occurs to me to do X but I need a bit of a push”. WOC can be used for the convincing part, and Beeminder can be used for the reminding part at a later stage.