It's Good Friday, so it seems like a good time to feed your brain some introspective "meat" - since the literal animal is off limits today. You may even choose to sit cross-legged with a warm cup of hot yerba matte while I enlighten you (thanks to Pa Dukes, my steadfast source of enlightenment and reason). Together now, let's learn about Mental Heuristics:

A heuristic is a "rule-of-thumb", advice that helps an AI program or human think and act more efficiently by directing thinking in an useful direction.

Some of these heuristics are age-old wisdom, bordering on cliche, but most are actually helpful.

If you want something done, do it yourself

Obviously true, and doing it is usually very good for your self esteem. A surprising amount of work can be done this way, and experts are not always necessary. However, there is a risk of becoming overworked if you try to do everything yourself - we all need other people after all.

Never procrastinate anything you can do right now

Very powerful. There are many things that can be fixed or solved with a minimum of effort, but are often pushed aside as unimportant. Unfortunately they won't go away, and in time the feelings of guilt for not having done them will make you even less likely of fixing the problems.

When you have several things you could be doing and don't know which to do: Just do any one of them!

If you cannot decide between two or more possibilities, then there is a good chance that the differences don't matter. However, most people begin to hesitate in this kind of situation (Fredkin's paradox). If you are conscious of this, you can just choose one choice randomly or according to some standard method.

Always assume that you will succeed

If you don't expect to succeed in an endeavor, then you will not do your best and will not notice possible solutions, while if you feel that you will eventually succeed you will concentrate all your power at the problem. Of course, there is no point in attempting what you cannot do, a certain amount of self-knowledge is always needed.

If you can't find a solution, change the rules

Remember that there are no no-win scenarios.

If you cannot do anything about something, there is no point in worrying about it

Worrying is stressful, and in most situations doesn't accomplish anything - it just wastes energy. Instead of worrying about things, either do something about them or find ways around the problem. One useful idea is to write down your worries on slips of paper, and then put them away in a box. Regularly, once a week or so, you open the box and see what you can do about the worries that are still relevant.

Do not rely on conscious decisions for speed - Just Do It

The conscious mind is surprisingly slow, conscious choices and actions are delayed for a significant time (a reflex acts within some tens of milliseconds, an unconscious reaction to external stimuli circa 100 milliseconds and a conscious choice several seconds). The duty of the conscious mind is usually to inhibit rather than start action, and if you become too conscious of what you are doing in a tense situation you will hesitate or slow down.

It is a good idea to learn to rely on your non-conscious mind, since our conscious mind is slow and has very low bandwidth while the other systems in our brains have a tremendous capacity and actually do most of the real work anyway.

Don't try to explain away your actions for yourself

While we often do things we do not want to explain our real motivations for before other people (out of fear of embarrassment, anger or loss of image), it is a bad idea to try to convince oneself that the motivation was anything different from what it was. It will only reduce your self-knowledge with deliberate misinformation, and it is often valuable to understand what motivations you have (even if you dislike them or would never admit them in public).

Listen to your intuition, but do not believe it unconditionally

Intuitive or emotional thinking, analogies, "gut feelings" or "flashes of inspiration" can sometimes give fantastic new insights or show problems from a new direction. Unfortunately such thinking isn't always reliable, and quite often completely wrong! Such insights should never be accepted because you admire their beauty or they are intuitive, only because they fit with reality.

And now I'll add one of my own, realized just this last week:


Case in point: my hair is growing at a snail's pace, so I jumped on the prenatal vitamin train. Seemed like a good idea, it worked for hair growth and nail strengthening when I was pregnant, why should this be any different? In theory, great idea. In execution, a total disaster. What ensued was a week of multiplying facial issues, including but not limited to a total, complete, disastrous breakout of head turning proportions, when I went to a modeling call back with the face of a cosmetic chemical peel gone terribly wrong. (Think Samantha in Sex in the City, at Carrie's book signing party. Red, white, splotchy, looking like a red velvet cupcake exploded in my face.) Nevertheless, I'm content wearing hats through the remainder of spring, then summer and into fall as my hair continues to maybe think about growing, if it means my face won't make a casting agency (or small children) cringe. The prenatals, I've decided, are best left to the childbearing and lactating.

But really, and back to the point of my "heuristic" addition, summer's on its way and it's all too easy to get self-conscious and hide in a muumuu. Nay, I tell you! Get out there, exercise, eat healthy foods to feed your bones and your brain, read stories of inspiration and optimism, and love thyself! Stretch marks and all. (Oh wait, maybe that's just me...)

*Styx, signing off
(image courtesy of sabinepieper.com)

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