Lean on Your Beliefs

One thing that I’ve been trying out recently is trying to exaggeratedly follow my beliefs, and do what they would prescribe. If I’m right, then I’m doing what I think I should be doing. If I’m wrong, then I get to find out really quickly that I’m totally wrong, and in what specific way that I’m wrong.

How do you tell if something that you see is real or not?

What would convince you beyond doubt that the thing you see is not an illusion?

I’d say touching it would. Like, if I bump into a wall, it’s really probably there. Solidness seems to correspond to realness.

And if it’s see-through? Then how would you notice?

Well, you could grab it, and put something on top of it.

So how do you do the same with your beliefs? How do you see if they really do correspond to facts about the world?

Take an action which would only work if your beliefs are true. Set something up on top of them and see if they collapse or not. Take an action which would only work if your beliefs are true.

Lean on your beliefs.

Lean Hard

How do you tell if a beam is strong?

You put a lot of weight on it.

Similarly, a test is more powerful if it’s more exaggerated.

If you want to see if saying the word “because” increases compliance, you don’t just say because the way you normally would. How do you know that people aren’t just complying because you have really good reasons?

When researchers were investigating this, they had people go to a Kinko’s and ask if they could cut in line “because [they] have copies to make”. That’s the only reason that anyone would be in line for the copy machine in the fist place, conveyed no new information, and drastically increased compliance.

So the word “because” increases compliance.

Benefits of Exaggeration

I try to go a bit to the extreme when leaning on my beliefs, trying to act exaggeratedly in accordance with them when I’m testing. Entire conversations that are just reflections of the other person, days that I eat nothing but almonds.

There are a few benefits:

  • Larger effect sizes are easier to notice
  • Harder to rationalize away effects (“Well, maybe it was caused by…” or “I just didn’t do it enough”)
  • I tend to lean towards not acting on my beliefs at all, and anything to weaken that inaction is good
  • It’s funnier

Kerrygold is Awesome: A Case Study

For instance, when I first heard about bulletproof coffee I got excited. Yay! Paleo food that I can make with the ingredients that my parents already have in the house! (Nevermind the fact that I live a 10 minute walk from a grocery store…)

So I wake up the next day and, rather than my usual omelette, I grabbed half a stick of butter and put it in some coffee. After letting it melt a bit, I started drinking it.

“Yeah! Awesome! I’m starting to feel kind of bulletproof already!”

I got online and started chatting with a few of my friends about it. They said I was going to get heart disease. I mentioned that the recipe called for grass-fed butter, but that that couldn’t make that much of a difference.

I was totally wrong on that point. About an hour later I was starting to feel nauseous and disgusting. This sucked for a bit, but stopped me from suffering from ridiculous amounts of non-grass-fed butter, as I would have otherwise done.

I heard that Kerry Gold butter doesn’t make you feel terrible. I reluctantly tested it… and it all worked out fine. Now I casually eat Kerry Gold without particularly worrying about anything.


Write down a few straightforward beliefs that you have. Done?

Pick the one that you care about the most.

What does a universe in which this is true look like? False?

What specific thing can I do to test it now?

What totally would not be possible if this wasn’t true?

Do that thing.


About atucker

Provisional pronouncements and (hopefully) honest mistakes. I'd like to be differently wrong about things, and helpful to the world.
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