Treat things as slot machines more often

I. I. I. I. I.

A while ago I saw a great Facebook post on extroversion. No, not even a post. A note, by Romeo Stevens. (I really need a place optimized for writing note-length things—Brick doesn't cut it yet.)

The note is here: In case it goes down, I replicate it here:

I didn't have social anxiety. It was that I had never had the opportunity to learn how to create value for others in typical social situations. This then compounded on itself since, in paying attention to my own experience, I wasn't paying attention to the feedback I was getting from others about what sorts of interactions they liked. E.g. looking at people's faces more. It was helpful for me to realize that for extroverts, socializing was more like a slot machine. If this pull didn't hit just go try again.

This means that introversion and extroversion are somewhat self fulfilling prophecies, as most personality factors are. Introverts are more neurotic, so they hang on to negative emotions longer. They worry about others hanging on to negative emotions longer too. If introverts hang out with other introverts this is somewhat justified. Extroverts often forget about a negative social experience as soon a they are off to the next one. So the slot machine (stateless) model is justified the more they are hanging out with other extroverts.

Extroverts are subject to stronger mimesis and thus do better in healthier cultures, so it makes sense that they pay attention more and agitate more for good cultural norms (from their perspective). Introverts outperform in unhealthy cultures via insulating themselves from that.

This is all complicated by the fact that none of this stuff is binary, but it still helps me orient myself.

Wow. Socializing as a slot machine. Failures not meaning anything at all, just "eh, this one didn't work out". This is not the way I live. I don't know myself—or at least I feel I don't know myself—so I treat every social interaction as a test. For instance:

  • If somebody tells me I'm a bad programmer, I know now that I'm a bad programmer. People who said that I'm a good programmer, before, were either polite or didn't know shit.
  • If I move to a new city and can't make friends, it means I have become inherently unfriendly in the last ten years, somehow. Used to be friendly, apparently, since I did make friends before—but something got broken.

There is a host of usual counter-arguments here, all empirically weak—because I've heard many of them, and they didn't fix anything. So we're not going to go into counter-arguments.


Instead of a counter-argument, Romeo's note proposes a different thing—an example of good form.

"in good form" meaning you can do the "right" behavior (or mental behavior) painlessly, robustly, and sustainably; you don't burn out, or spend down another resource, in order to get there. and you don't stop doing the "right" behavior if conditions worsen. — Sarah Constantin

Treating social interactions as slot machines is not the whole good form, but it is a part of it. Specifically, when you feel bad about every failure,

  • you are disincentivized from looking closely at your failures (it is painful),
  • you are disincentivized from asking for feedback (it is painful),
  • you are disincentivized from practicing more (it is painful).

The reason I say "treating social interactions as slot machines is not the whole good form" is that it is possible to just stop feeling bad and still a) not look closely at your failures, b) not ask for feedback, c) not practice.

Which you worry might happen even more if you stop feeling bad, and so you don't let yourself stop feeling bad.

This worry is reasonable. Why wouldn't it be? If anyone tells you "oh, remove a source of motivation and everything will of course get better", spit in their face. It's not an "of course" by any means.

(This said, "remove a source of stress and everything will get better" is more reasonable. Oh man, this is tough. Can something be both good and bad at the same time? Impossible.)

Anyway, the point is: you are not going to get advice here. I don't believe in advice anymore. I believe in showing people what the good form is and letting them figure out how to arrive there. So here is the good form:

  • You practice things you want to get better at.
  • You look closely at your failures.
  • You ask for feedback.
  • You do not feel bad about your failures and you want to get better.
  • [I just figured out the fifth bullet point, which is going to be at the end of the post.]

Note that this isn't something to beat into yourself. "I do not feel bad about my failures!". Yes you do.

Instead, this is something to check your current state against, and something to move in the direction of. When you start thinking "I want to get better at X", purposefully think more about it than you would have otherwise. When you start thinking "I feel bad", attempt to stop yourself from ruminating. When you notice that you can ask for feedback without being scared, do it.

Protip: keep track of it.

My Trello-ish board where I record states I want to reach. Whenever I do something that matches a card, I add it as a comment to the card.


The funny thing is that just letting yourself treat [something] as a slot machine can be enough to get better at it. That is—when you stop worrying, you will start observing. Just because you are naturally curious, and for no other reason.

This is explored in The Inner Game of Tennis, available on LibGen. I recommend reading it for real-world examples of "improvement on its own":

He was quiet for a full half-minute, trying to remember what I had told him. Finally he said, “I can’t remember your telling me anything! You were just there watching, and you got me watching myself closer than I ever had before. Instead of seeing what was wrong with my backhand, I just started observing, and improvement seemed to happen on its own. I’m not sure why, but I certainly learned a lot in a short period of time.” He had learned, but had he been “taught”? This question fascinated me.


Alright. What else can I tell you?

There is a good form. The good form is: you don't feel bad, you treat things as slot machines, and you observe. Okay.

Perhaps the next question is: what else can you treat as slot machines?

  • Writing posts. This goes against the model I had in mind for a long time, where a blog had to be something like a codex, each post covering one post fully or adding something valuable to an existing post, never simply restating things. This is totally contrary to the idea of slot machines, where you should try again if you failed to explain something on the first/second/third try.
  • Startups. An idea failed but you still like it? Alright, make another attempt.
  • Making friends. Oh no, it's the same thing as socializing! Or is it? Am I repeating myself or not? Am I repeating myself or not? Doesn't matter.

V. V. V. V. V.

I was writing about all this, and I just figured out something else. The fifth quality of the good form. It is:

  • Don't be afraid to try the same thing several times.

This must go together with "observe your attempts". If you don't observe your attempts, you will try the same thing several times and become very dispirited, dejected, and despondent. I will write about this more in a separate post.

Okay, that's enough for now. See you.