Tortoise Skills

This page documents my attempt to train habits of thought systematically over the course of 2015.

I was inspired by Malcolm's Habit-A-Week Project. It was the first demonstration I'd seen of self-directed, systematic, long-term habit cultivation.

Rationality is largely a collection of habits of thought that take place at or below the five-second level. Since building habits of any kind takes consistent practice, a complete art of rationality must include a template for long-term habit cultivation.

I intend my project as a test of one such template.

Here are my rules

  1. Aim: In the words of Dogen, "practice the way as though saving your head from fire". I will endeavor for every habit I train to be the one I most desperately need at that time.
  2. Persistence: I will not give up on a new habit until I've tried for a whole week, unless I think it's actively harmful.
  3. Agility: If I've been working on the same habit for a month, I must start a new one. [Experimentation suggests I should relax this rule.]

The Installation Procedure

  1. Be able to generate concrete examples of successes and failures to apply the skill.
  2. If a skill requires multiple habits, train them serially, and repeat step 1 for each individual habit.
  3. Clearly define at least one high-quality trigger for the proposed action before beginning to train that habit.
  4. Seek opportunities to practice.
  5. Train triggers before actions.
  6. Test a variety of actions if required.
  7. Maintain an offline training routine.


  • ✔growing the roses of success
  • ✔fluidity
  • not ignoring mistakes
  • the art of relevance
  • the void
  • asking for examples
  • belief/anticipation divergence
  • trying when I might fail
  • anti-resonance for anxiety/doubt
  • being concrete
  • doing the uncomfortable thing for practice when my brain's being silly
  • don't live in the should universe
  • stop wanting to "have been" right
  • ✔notice and respond to defensiveness
  • bothering to have a model in the first place
  • lightness of patterns of thought, action, emotion; nonattachment to my latest idea
  • ✔empathy
  • not ignoring emotions that have something to say when their insistence is in the way of whatever I'm trying to do
  • identifying bad local optima
  • ✔how to think when multiple verbal streams are happening

Installed So Far

  1. Growing the Roses Of Success (<-- this is a link to the main post)

    Habit: Growing the Roses Of Success
    Duration: 7 Days
    Success: 7/10
    Trigger: The very beginning of a trapped, sinking sensation in my stomach and chest associated with having failed.
    Action: ???Magic unconscious hypnosis repair???
    Result: Upon encountering the beginning of a slight sinking sensation associated with a failure, I no longer get dragged into counterproductive emotions. Instead, I feel nonchalant interest in what went wrong, an impulse to weigh whether it's worth trying to repair completely, and a motivation to make any cheap repairs that are available immediately.

  2. Fluidity

    Habit: Fluidity
    Duration:35 Days
    Success: 5/10
    Trigger:A clinging-grasping sensation plus fear of a rending-jarring sensation associated with anticipation of interruption, or a clinging-grasping-rending-jarring sensation all at once associated with interruptions or violations of plans.
    Action: Run my simulation past the desire/reality comparison to answer the question, "How should I respond to this?", then perform a small relinquishment-like flowing motion to make that response more natural than continuing as though the interruption didn't exist. Result: I no longer experience anxiety about anticipated interruptions or plan violations, or if I do they're very mild and brief. I also experience very little discomfort from actual interruptions and plan violations. When I'm very tired and stressed, I still have anti-fluidity reactions, which are about half as frequent and about half as intense as before. I think I'm 70% of the way to mastering this habit.

  3. Empathy

    Habit: Empathy
    Duration:2 Months
    Success: 9/10
    Trigger:Curiosity directed at another person
    Action: Pushing the curiosity through their external presentation to penetrate their internal experience Result: I enjoy socializing with people I like. (!!!)

  4. Verbal Processing

    Habit: Verbal Processing
    Duration:1 Week
    Success: 2/10
    Trigger:Distress or loss of concentration when hearing more than one verbal stream at once, or when reading while people are talking nearby or music with lyrics is playing
    Action: Reflective attention (didn't get any farther than that) Result: I’m much more likely to invite conversation partners away from larger groups, and to immediately put in earbuds playing rain when trying to read or write while hearing music with lyrics. (Previously I’d waste time and attention attempting to focus despite distraction.)

  5. Defensiveness

    Habit: Staying Sane While Defensive
    Duration:2 Months (This one took some time to get a handle on.)
    Success: 7/10
    Trigger:A feeling of being drawn into my solar plexus and closing a shield around myself for protection from attacks during interactions with other people
    Action: Empathy Result: I’m not sure I’ve reduced the frequency with which I get defensive very much, which is my long-term goal with this. But the feeling doesn’t get the chance to do nearly as much damage.

In Progress