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Saturday, April 24, 2010

Notes on personal experience points system

Gimme gimme by fofurasfelinas from flickr (CC-NC-ND)

Here's a very quick post. I tried to run a personal experience points system, with software described in this article. I tried something like this before, it was described here on lesswrong.

So, the notes:
  • As I'm writing this, I have level 6 IRL avatar (251 XP)
  • In general, it didn't work terribly well. This isn't in itself a bad thing. As Edison said after failing and failing repeatedly "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work", and then proceeded to steal Tesla's work.
Urgent vs important:
  • So one thing I learned doesn't work are big rewards for things I know I'm going to do at some point anyway. If I can get 25 points today - or play some video games today and I will get these 25 points in a few days anyway - this provides zero marginal benefit. It's just like people who always want to quit smoking next week.
  • With small recurring items like exercise - motivations due to these points sometimes managed to be just enough to push me in the right direction when I was undecided between doing that and doing something else.
  • I thought the system just doesn't work that well - but there was one exception. The "keep leechblock on whole day" item was a resounding success - at least at making me search new sites to waste time on but never mind that - somehow this urgency really works.
  • It seems faux urgency drives me more than actual importance. Unfortunately most important things in life are long term and not terribly urgent.
  • This is all because I am a one-marshmallower. I have no doubt that in the marshmallow experiment I would just eat that damn marshmallow right away - while children who waited would get another one, be more successful in life, and then get type 2 diabetes due to eating so many fucking marshmallows.
  • By the way, standard economics with its silly exponential discounting of time cannot explain this urgency - but it all makes a lot more sense if you use hyperbolic discounting. And life is definitely hyperbolicly discounted - if you doubt it ask the Egyptian pharaohs who prudently granted land to their temples so that it would maintain priests who would pray to the gods for them until end of time how is compound interest working for them. Exponential function is merely a mathematical artifact, nothing more.
User interface:
  • Scripts to record XP-able actions are not terribly annoying. This makes the most awesome keyboard in the world even more awesome. I'm wondering if it would be better to get it integrated with OmniFocus inbox, but annoyance is low enough for it to not be worth the effort.
  • XP bar is nowhere near flashy enough, and slowly filling up bar doesn't provide much motivation at all.
Economics and video games:
  • Video games solve this by giving level-dependent bonuses - unfortunately life is not like that, and I cannot think of any meaningful ways of granting myself a level bonus (also see the point about one-marshmallowing).
  • One way to think about would be compound xp interest - increase my XP level by some % every day to restore exponential discounting behaviour.
  • Another idea would be extra XP points for streaks of positive actions - like "3rd day with leechblock on" / "exercised 3 times in the week already" etc.
  • I would really like to find something less blunt than leechblock - the problem is that I actually need to access those websites every now and then for legitimate reasons - and I just want to make sure I don't fall into tvtropes trap (I accidentally clicked on this link and tvtroped myself dammit).
So I think I'll try another iteration based with far more urgency in it. Let's see how it works out.


pattee said...

Hi, you could try using StayFocusd for Google Chrome (not sure if they have an equivalent for the other broswers). I think it'd be similar to leechblock, but you can set times when you can access those forbidden sites (like, at 4AM, and you know you're not going to get anything done lol).

The idea of a personal XP system is interesting. Is what you did similar to what EpicWin (iPad/iPhone app) was trying to do? And did you develop a program for it complete with graphics and stuff? :D My bf and I are trying to come up with something at the moment, so this looks really cool.

taw said...

pattee: I have Temporary Site Blocker for Chrome installed, but it's pretty useless since it only blocks domains, so it cannot even block Google Reader (without blocking Google and Gmail as well). In any case I normally want something like "block everything for the next hour" or "unblock anytime, except you need to solve these 10 captchas", not anything based on wall clocks.

I don't use any XP system at the moment - it's fun for a few weeks, but it gets very distracting eventually. Maybe I'll try it again someday. I had a small Mac program, but it wasn't really anything I could publish, it was too specific to what I was doing.