Hammertime Day 7: Aversion Factoring

by radimentary

This is part 7 of 30 in the Hammertime Sequence. Click here for the intro.

As we move into the introspective segment of Hammertime, I want to frame our approach around the set of (unoriginal) ideas I laid out in The Solitaire Principle. The main idea was that a human being is best thought of as a medley of loosely-related, semi-independent agents across time, and also as governed by a panel of relatively antagonistic sub-personalities à la Inside Out.

An enormous amount of progress can therefore be made simply by articulating the viewpoints of one’s sub-personalities so as to build empathy and trust between them. This is the aim of the remainder of the first cycle.

Day 7: Aversion Factoring

Goal factoring is a CFAR technique with a lot of parts. The most resonant sub-skill for me was Aversion Factoring, so we’ll start there. I highly recommend Critch’s TedX talk on the subject, where I first learned this way of thinking.


Pick from your Bug List a habit you want to start but haven’t, or that you’ve been forcing yourself to do but remains a drag. What’s happening?

For concreteness, let’s say the habit is “blog every day.”

At some level, you want to blog. You have good ideas. Writing helps you think clearly. You’d reap the benefits of being pubicly wrong. If you blogged, other human beings might benefit. But if you really wanted to blog then why does it cost so much willpower every time? Why aren’t you leaping into it every day the way you leap into deep fried ice cream?

Aversion factoring is about noticing and removing the subconscious roadblocks keeping System 1 from wanting the same things System 2 wants.

1. Articulate Aversions

The first step to Aversion Factoring is to articulate the aversions that are holding you back. Begin by listing all the reasons you don’t like about doing the thing. Two things to keep in mind:

Be honest.

“I’m afraid my ideas aren’t original, my writing hasn’t improved since fifth grade, and I’m terrified of people on the internet.”

Being honest is difficult. However, there’s a second category of insidious aversions: trivial, repetitive annoyances that leave a bad taste surrounding the whole experience. See Beware Trivial Inconveniences. Finding such aversions requires attention to detail:

“I hate blogging because of the awful LaTeX support, because every time I want to include a picture I get anxious about copyright issues, and because I recently discovered a popular blogger friend has the exact same WordPress template so if I change mine I lose and if I keep it the same I feel like a copycat so I’d rather just block the thoughts out aggghhhh.”

The primary focus of today’s exercise is to find and debug the trivial inconveniences in our lives.

2. Decide Whether to Endorse the Aversion

For any given aversion, there are two ways to proceed. Endorse an aversion if it points to a real underlying problem that needs to be solved. In my blogging example, I might decide that I care about writing quality and targeted writing practice is long overdue.

If you don’t endorse the aversion, then it’s unnecessary and should be removed. A common class of such “bad” aversions is bucket errors about identity. When deciding to remove aversions, remember Chesterton’s Fence! Figure out why you have the aversion before you try to remove it. Almost any aversion can be removed by gradual exposure, so be careful (see Boiling the Crab).

3. Solve or Reduce Aversions

Once you’ve figured out what the aversions are, it’s time to solve them as much as possible, one by one. For endorsed aversions, the course of action is to modify or upgrade the habit itself to solve or sidestep the underlying problem. To solve my writing problem, I might decide to reread and act on Strunk and White or Nonfiction Writing Advice. (Huh. That’s a good idea.)

Meanwhile, un-endorsed aversions should be targeted with exposure therapy or CoZE. To apply exposure therapy, build a path of incremental steps towards the aversion, each of which feels individually safe. Take steps one at a time as gently as necessary. I gently amped up my blogging frequency over about a year to an audience of zero, then one, before I got over my fear of y’all internet people.

CoZE is the upgrade to exposure therapy in which you build in ejector seats: pre-commit to multiple points along the route where you can reflect on whether or not you endorse the aversion.

Aversion Factor Three Bugs

For today’s exercise, please pick THREE bugs from your Bug List related to habit-building. These can be habits you want to pick up, or habits you already have but want to upgrade.

For each bug, set a Yoda Timer for five minutes and Aversion Factor it:

  1. Walk through the habit and list out as many aversions as you can, paying particular attention to trivial inconveniences.
  2. Decide for each aversion whether or not to endorse it.
  3. Solve as many as you can in the remaining time.

Daily Challenge

I have a friend who stays in bed for hours in the morning because it’s too cold to make the voyage across his bedroom for clothes. Share a trivial inconvenience in your life that might have (or has had) dramatic consequences.