Hammertime Day 3: TAPs

by radimentary

This is part 3 of 30 in the Hammertime Sequence. Click here for the intro.

A running theme of Hammertime, especially for the next two days, is intentionality, or deliberateness. Instrumental rationality is designed to inject intentionality into all aspects of your life. Here’s how the 10 techniques fit into the intentionality puzzle:

  1. Noticing and having more intentions (Bug Hunt, CoZE, TAPs).
  2. Resolving internal conflict about what you intend to do (Goal Factoring, Focusing, Internal Double Crux).
  3. Learning how to convert intention to action (Yoda Timers, TAPs, Planning).
  4. Injecting intentions into System 1 so you can do what you intend even when you’re not paying attention (TAPs, Design, Mantras).
  5. Injecting intentions into reality so that reality pushes you towards, and not away from your goals (Design).

Trigger-Action Plans (TAPs) are the if-then statements of the brain. Installing a single TAP properly will convert a single intention into repeated action.

Day 3: TAPs

Recommended background reading: Making intentions concrete – Trigger-Action Planning.

1. TAPs 101

TAPs are micro-habits. Here’s the basic setup:

  1. Pick a bug. Again, skip bugs you’re conflicted about.
  2. Identify a trigger. An ideal trigger is concrete and sensory, like “water hitting my face in the shower,” or “when I press the elevator button.”
  3. Decide on an action you want to happen after the trigger. Pick the minimum conceivable action that counts as progress towards solving the bug. Thus, “look at the stairwell” is better than “go up the stairs,” and “sit up in bed” is better than “force myself out of bed.”
  4. Rehearse the causal link. Go to the trigger and act out the TAP ten times. If the trigger is not currently available, visualize it. Focus on noticing and remembering sensory data that will help you notice the trigger.
  5. Check the TAP in a week. Write down the TAP when you intend to do it, and check back in a week to see if its installed. TAPs can require a lot of tweaking.

TAPs take a couple days to install successfully. Today, we will practice installing two TAPs.

2. The Sapience Spell

Many bugs in life can be solved by merely paying attention to them. The most important TAP to install is a meta-TAP, or Sapience Spell, that wakes you up periodically into Kernel Mode and reminds you to pay attention.

Here’s how to learn the Sapience Spell:

Finding the right trigger is of utmost importance. Treat this step with the gravity that a wizard puts into picking his wand or familiar.

The trigger should be concrete and constant in your life. Ideally, an item on your person at all times of sentimental value: a ring, a watch, a tattoo, a mole or birthmark on your hand, a specific gesture you make regularly. If not, it can be an attractive picture or bauble on your desk. Take your time to pick one that feels meaningful.

Once you’ve picked the trigger, it’s time to pick the action. The action should be a mental move in the category of pay attention, but personalized: breathereflect on my goals, be present in the moment, collect myself.

Now, set yourself a Yoda Timer for 5 minutes and practice the Sapience Spell with the five steps above. Walk around as if doing your daily thing, notice your trigger, and rehearse the action. Do that ten times. Visualize yourself in different situations where a Sapience Spell would help. Let your mind wander a bit and then snap yourself back with the Sapience Spell.

For my own Sapience Spell, I picked a mole on the inside of my right thumb that I’ve had since childhood. After staring at it for some time and injecting feelings of attentiveness and intentionality, I find that notice where it is in physical space even without looking at it. I hope it proves a constant and comforting note in the future.

3. One Concrete TAP

If you have any kind of habit or routine, you’re doing TAPs already. Today we will build one concrete micro-habit with TAPs.

Pick the easiest bug on your Bug List that might be solved by some kind of regular action. For example, I picked “forgetting things when I leave home.”

Set a Yoda Timer for five minutes to design and install a TAP to solve that bug using the checklist in TAPs 101 above.


  1. It’s best to pick natural, concrete TAPs that you notice already. For example, I pay a great deal of attention to boundaries and thresholds. The trigger I picked is “stepping across the threshold of my apartment.” Another example too good not to mention: I frequent a restaurant on campus called The Axe & Palm. Every time I go I reflect on all the TAPs I’m currently installing.
  2. Be realistic and pick baby steps for actions. Difficult habits should be built out of multiple TAPs. If your TAP is “After brushing my teeth, go running,” make it “After brushing my teeth, take a walk” or “After brushing my teeth, go outside” or even “After brushing my teeth, look at the front door.”
  3. Keep rehearsing/practicing the TAP until five minutes are up. Yoda Timers quickly remind you just how quickly you give up.

Keep building one TAP a day over the course of Hammertime. If you’re lost for ideas, try extending solidified TAPs into longer sequences of actions, one step at a time. Soon you’ll have complete routines for specific situations. We’ll check in again on TAP progress on Day 13.

Daily Challenge

If you don’t mind, share your Sapience Spell.