The Hacker Mind - A.L.T.E.R. #4 - Endure

Easy to confound A.L.T.E.R. for one of these 5-step-something acronym for a self helpy series. Unfortunately, though an acronym, and a 5 step process, it won't help you in anything. This is a careful observation of the development, maintenance and improvement of a hacker mind. A.L.T.E.R. = Amplify, Link, Transform, Endure and Rise.


This post reflects exactly what it's about: Automation. I've turned blog writing into a repeatable automatic process. Thanks to the way I collect dots based on my readings, meetings and travels, dot connection is done beforehand. So the following is a post connecting ideas from several fronts. My only added value is the connection in itself.

Let no youth have any anxiety about the upshot of his education, whatever the line of it may be. If he keeps faithfully busy each hour of the working-day, he may safely leave the final result to itself. He can with perfect certainty count on waking up some fine morning, to find himself one of the competent ones of his generation, in whatever pursuit he may have singled out. Silently, between all the details of his business, the power of judging in all that class of matter will have built itself up within him as a possession that will never pass away. Young people should know this truth in advance. The ignorance of it has probably engendered more discouragement and faint-heartedness in youths embarking on arduous careers than all other causes put together

 This point was made by William James regarding habits. And habits, obviously are the end result of automation. William James goes on to write:

The great thing, then, in all education, is to make our nervous system our ally instead of our enemy. It is to fund and capitalise our acquisitions, and live at ease upon the interest of the fund. For this we must make automatic and habitual, as early as possible, as many useful actions as we can, and guard against the growing into ways that are likely to be disadvantageous to us, as we should guard against the plague. The more of the details of our daily life we can hand over to the effortless custody of automatism, the more our higher powers of mind will be set free for their own proper work. There is no more miserable human being than one in whom nothing is habitual but indecision, and for whom the lighting of every cigar, the drinking of every cup, the time of rising and going to bed every day, and the beginning of every bit of work, are subjects of express volitional deliberation.

Automation is the goal of the hacking mind. This is what "showing up" means in a writer's world. Creating a habitual routine and sticking to it. It means being there over and over and automating the process beyond inspiration to make sure writing comes out so that, as Amelia E Bates writes, rather than hit the iron when it's hot, hit the iron until it's hot.


Daniel Kahneman's TED talk left me thinking for a long time. Besides the fact that the only example he could find was colonoscopy trials, he affirms that the most vivid experience is the one where the colonoscopy drilling occurs in bouts. For some reason I connected to the most effective form of workout which is HIIT (High Intensity Intermittent Training) which, coincidentally, occurs in bouts of high intensity: In HIIT, it's not about how long you keep your heart rate up but rather how many times you get it up. Same with hitting (successfully) on a girl where achievement is more about how many times you get her to laugh effectively rather than how long you keep her laughing / smiling. Bouts, bouts, bouts ... In other terms: Repetition.


 According to Kahneman, scattering these events is very important as it allows for better remembrance : experiencing self vs. remembering self. And if this sounds quite quintessential to who we are as a species, it's because it is. There's an evolutionary importance, or even imperative, for repetition. Illustrating that precise point, David Byrne writes in "How Music Works":

The adaptive aspect of creativity isn't limited to musicians and composers (or artists in any other media). It extends into the natural world as well. David Attenborough and others have claimed that birdcalls have evolved to fit the environment. In dense jungle foliage, a constant, repetitive, and brief signal with a narrow frequency works best – the repetition is like an error-correcting device. If the intended recipient didn't get the first transmission, an identical one will follow.
Birds that live on the forest floor evolved lower-pitched calls, so they don't bounce or become distorted by the ground as higher-pitched sounds might. Water birds have calls that, unsurprisingly, cut through the ambient sounds of water, and birds that live in the plains and grasslands, like the Savannah Sparrow, have buzzing calls that can traverse long distances […]
So musical evolution and adaptation is an interspecies phenomenon. And presumably, as some claim, birds enjoy singing, even though they, like us, change their tunes over time. The joy of making music will find a way, regardless of the context and the form that emerges to best fit it.


Repetition is efficient as shown in Automation > Habits. But for repetition to be useful without drifting into unconscious re-iteration, for it to stay an "error-correcting device" , one last ingredient needs to be added. Massimo Pigliucci frames it elegantly:

In phase two, such conscious attention to the basics of the task is no longer needed, and the individual performs quasi-automatically and with reasonable proficiency. Then comes the difficult part. Most people get stuck in phase two: they can do whatever it is they set out to do decently, but stop short of the level of accomplishment that provides the self-gratification that makes one’s outlook significantly more positive or purchases the external validation that results in raises and promotions. Phase three often remains elusive because while the initial improvement was aided by switching control from conscious thought to intuition—as the task became automatic and faster—further improvement requires mindful attention to the areas where mistakes are still being made and intense focus to correct them. Referred to as 'deliberate practice,' this phase is quite distinct from mindless or playful practice.


Feedback is the way these bouts can be kept under check. Interestingly, feedback itself can be turned into a habit. That is when the 5th stage of A.L.T.E.R., beyond the simple 'Endure' in time comes in. That is when one encounters 'Rise'.