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What are some interesting life hacks?
# Thinking- I spent a year forcing myself to write exclusively in e-prime, which is a variant of English in which you're not allowed to use any form of the verb 'to be,' so this sentence is forbidden (because I've used 'is' twice). I allowed myself to use to-be when quoting other people. And my rule was that my writing couldn't seem awkward. If readers could sense something clumsy in my prose, I was doing it wrong.This was very hard at first, but it gradually got easier, and more than any other thinking tool, it profoundly changed my mindset. It also improved my writing, making me better at choosing more descriptive verbs.There's a lot of philosophical literature about e-prime, but, briefly, it forces you to make a mental distinction between things that actually exist (physical traits, people performing actions) and invented human categorizations. "Fred is gay" is an example of the latter. Even if you examine him with a powerful electron microscope, you won't find any gay. What's actually true is that Fred feels attraction to men. Fred has sex with men. Fred calls himself "gay." Etc. E-Prime - Wikipedia- My goal in discussions about ideas is to be as clear-thinking as possible. Over the years, I've kept a journal of the biases, blunders, and conversational habits that muddle me up: Marcus's Rules Of Order For Himself.The there are two "hacks" here. One is to read through my list or rules and apply any that are helpful to you. The other is to make your own list--one aligned with your conversational goals.- I socialize ideas: I'm convince that all sorts of processes in my brain--processes crucial for learning--come online when I socialize. And that's true even though I'm a shy introvert on the autism spectrum. So I don't assume I understand something unless I've explained it--or talked it through--with someone else.If I can't do that, I will often write an email to a friend, explaining the idea. I won't actually send the email, but just going through the process of mentally explaining the idea to an actual person helps clarify it in my mind (often exposing the gaps in my understanding).Who I'm writing to seems to have an effect. It's different explaining things to a co-worker than to my mom. Both can be useful. If I have time, I explain the same idea to someone in the field and someone outside it.- Along the same lines, if I'm trying to learn a complex idea, I try to hear it from three different sources, e.g. a book, a blog, and a youtube video. Or even three different books. The key is that they must each be written by a different person. When my brain realizes that multiple people are telling me the same thing, it tags the information as "important."- Psychology books are never about "people." They're always about me. I am a human. I have a human brain. I am not an exception. If I read a book like "Thinking Fast and Slow" and say "Ah! That explains why everyone around me is so stupid," I'm doing it wrong. If I read about a cognitive bias, I'm reading about my cognitive bias.- I dispense with "they should..." and "why should I be the one who has to ...?" thinking. It's always a waste of my time. "They're the ones who should be cleaning up around here!" "Why should I be the one who talks to management?" The real question is am I the one who has to talk to management? If so, then I need to do it. If not, then I need to get someone else to do it. "Should" is just noise.The word "should" is useful in ethics and problem-solving, but I consider it a code smell. I try to examine all casual uses of it, to make sure they're coherent and practical.If, for instance, a long conversation centers on how people "should" respond to accusations of sexual harassment, I ask myself what we're actually talking about. Do we personally know anyone who has been accused? Are we in a position to advise him how to respond? If not, why are we discussing this using "should" language?I'm not saying it's a pointless discussion. But it may be worth clarifying what, exactly, we're talking about and examining the language we're using. Maybe there's a way we could be clearer, both in thought and expression. Are we displaying our ethical stances to each other? Are we trying to work out how we feel? Are we suggesting some sort of practical action, like boycotting a certain actor's films if he doesn't respond in the right way? What will be the result of us all agreeing on how he "should" respond?(This Spockish examination of words isn't always welcome in casual conversations. That's fine. It can be an internal thought process, just to help me clarify things for myself. I don't need to impose it on others.)- I never try to push through mental fatigue. When the fog descends, it's time to take a break, even if you "can't spare the time." You simply must. It seems counter-intuitive, but a break will help you get things done faster, because you will resume with a recharged brain, not one running at reduced capacity. I've learned to quit the moment I feel fog coming on.I say "quit," not "take a break," because the idea of a break implies a temporary pause, with the idea of resumption hovering on the horizon. I find it useful to mentally come to a complete halt and switch to doing something radically different. That fact that I'll resume in ten minutes is, for now, immaterial.- I mentally play beyond all reasonable boundaries: "One way we could solve the problem is to build a star ship..." This keeps my mind limber, playful, and open to off-the-wall ideas that might actually be useful. If I'm in change of a brainstorming session, I encourage this sort of nuttiness, and if I'm not hearing absurd ideas from people, I take it as a sign that the group is being too mentally conservative.- I ask "What is my one goal?" I ask myself that in a variety of situations, because it's easy to unconsciously have multiple goals, and they tend to conflict with each other or blunt each other's effectiveness.When I introspect, I usually discover that I have a practical/mechanical goal and a social goal, e.g. I want to get the application coded and I also want to impress my boss. The latter is messing up the former, because, knowing my boss likes things done fast is compelling me to rush. Which is the most important goal? To code things correctly or to get it done fast? I need to pick one. When I say I can do both, I am almost always wrong.If I can't pick one (and this conflict comes up all the time), it may be a sign that I need to make some life changes (talk to my boss, look for another job, etc).Part of this is about making a life decision to be the sort of person who works on one goal and sees it through. That will lead to certain negative consequences, but it will also open a lot of doors.Another example: I'm arguing with a Facebook friend about politics. What is my goal? To convince him of something? To learn from him? To show off my knowledge? To virtue signal? To vent my anger?Trying to serve all of these goals at once creates a tangle of incoherence and, generally, a lack of satisfaction.In arguments, goals can unconsciously shift very fast. (You can start off wanting to learn and then slip into wanting to win.) So I find it useful to continually step back and ask "What is my one goal?" It's okay for it to change, but if it has, that's worth knowing. What's interesting is when I realize "I don't really have a goal." That can radically shift my behavior. "Oh, good. I don't need to argue any more." I was just operating on autopilot.- I've learned to be skeptical about my memories and the feeling of knowing. I mean "skeptical" literally. I don't discount memories or confidence. I just assume they might be erroneous or irrational.Just because I remember something--even clearly or strongly remember it--that doesn't mean it's true. And just because I'm sure something is true, that also doesn't mean it's true. The only way I can be sure is to reason through it and/or collect evidence.A ramification of this is that in an argument, I am not allowed to say "No! You're wrong. I remember clearly what happened..." It's hard to give that up, but I find it useful to do so if my goal is honesty and clear-thinking.- After reading a lot of books about cognitive bias (like "Predictably Irrational") I started wondering how many mistakes I made each day. My focus was on any blunders more profound than a typo or mislaying my keys for ten seconds.So I started keeping what I call a "Mistake Diary." Whenever I blunder (inadvertently starts an argument, miscommunicate, create a non-syntactical bug in code, forget to turn the stove off, etc), I make a note of it.I was surprised to discover that I make dozens--sometimes hundreds--of mistakes every day. And I assume this is the tip of the iceberg. These are just the ones I notice, though keeping the journal has made me notice more than I used to.This might be a bad idea for someone with low self-esteem, but for me it's been really useful. I've uncovered all sorts of patterns in my thinking and have been able to correct for some biases and common errors. I never look at it with an eye of blaming or berating myself (I assume that if everyone kept such lists, they'd be as long as mine). It's a to-do for self-improvement.- I stole this from Penn Jillette: once each week, for one hour, I sit by myself with only a pen and a notebook and no distractions. No Internet! I also have no agenda. If I just sit there the whole hour, that's fine. (I don't even start with the notebook open. It's just on the table next to me.) If something occurs to me, I write it down. Whatever mentally happens, happens. It's extraordinary what bubbles up from the depths of my unconscious when I've given it permission to just be.- Once a month or so, I grab a sample of my writing and circle anything that is an assumption--anything that's not reasoned through or based on evidence. This isn't with the goal of eliminating assumptions. It's just to notice them. Here's an example using text from above, with double-brackets used as circles:"I can imagine this being [[a psychologically bad idea for people with low self-esteem]], but for me [[it's been really useful]]. I've uncovered all sorts of patterns in my thinking and [[have been able to correct for some biases]] and common errors. I [[never]] look at it with an eye of blaming or berating myself (I assume that [[if everyone kept such lists, they'd be as long as mine]]). It's a to-do list for self-improvement."Some of that stuff may be reasoned or partially reasoned, but I'm liberal with my circles. If I suspect something might be just a hunch, I circle it. I'm often surprised by how many things I think of as established facts are surmises.- I assume all aesthetics are subjective. All. There's no point in my arguing that Book A as better than Book B. I may be grappling towards a meaningful idea (maybe the first book has been more influential than the second), but "better" is sloppy. Better to whom? Why is that person, group, or tradition the boss of everyone? Better for what purpose?- At least once a week, I take one of my ideas and try to examine all its foundations until I reach a bedrock of axioms. "It's wrong to kill. Why? Because killing harms people. Okay, but why is it wrong to harm people? ..." Eventually, I will reach "It just is!" "Because I say so!" or "I don't know."- I repeatedly ask myself "What is the context?" and I look for missing contexts."History matters!" Matters to whom? For what?"We need to try harder to get along?" Why? What's the goal? How will life be different if we do get along? What problems are being caused by us not getting along.I avoid pinning ideas on vague groups of people: "Everyone is watching 'Game of Thrones.'" Who is "everyone"? Not everyone on Earth. Who I am talking about? Most Americans? Most HBO subscribers?- My number-one question about all my ideologies and systems is "What are the negative side effects?" If I can't say what they are--or at least puzzle over what they might be--I'm not thinking clearly, and I'm in danger of dogmatism.For instance, if I'm a liberal, what are the pitfalls or downsides to liberalism? It doesn't count to say "Well, there are always bad apples--there are corrupt liberal politician and there are opportunists..." What are the downsides to liberalism when it's practiced as perfectly as possible? What problems does liberalism itself cause? It also doesn't count to say "Of course it's not perfect, but compared to the alternatives..." Obviously, since I'm a liberal, I think it's better than the alternatives, but what are the problems with my ideology?If I can't list any--or even think clearly about what they might be--I've probably fallen into dogmatic thinking. If I really think liberalism is perfect, that it will cause no serious problems, then I need to explain how it's possible to apply a relatively simple system to a complex world and only produce goodness, with no tradeoff.By the way, it also doesn't count to say "Well, I guess a few bigots will be out of luck and a bunch of rich white guys might lose some of their privileges." What are the real risks and downsides, not the sarcastic pseudo ones?- I avoid most discussions about ranking things. I find they have little utility. "Who are the five best filmmakers of all time?" "What is Shakespeare's best play?" "What is the worst programming language?" "Who is the most most overrated actor?" Almost any idea about a subject is more likely to be fruitful than ranking. Ranking tends to close mental doors. ("Good. He's overrated. That's settled!")And I have an absolute rule against saying "Yes, but the alternative is worse" if someone criticizes something I'm affiliated with. "The alternative is worse" can often be a good point. It may be the primary reason for my affiliation. That's fine. But I need to seriously grapple with the criticism, not just shrug it away.If I insist on saying "it's better than the alternative," I must use this template: [Long examination of the criticism...] followed by a full stop. Then, finally, "but it's better than the alternative."- Platonism (Idealism) is wrong and leads to a tremendous number of confused and bad ideas. So I continually pushing against it and reject it."I am only attracted to women, but I one time kissed another guy. Does that mean I'm gay"?No. What you are is a man who is only attracted to women but who one time kissed another guy. That's what actually exists.If we call you "gay," you will still be a man who is only attracted to women but who one time kissed another guy.And if we call you "straight" or bisexual, you will still be a man who is only attracted to women but who one time kissed another guy.There might be a meaningful question here, and maybe "am I gay?" is a shorthand for it, e.g. "Will my friends call me gay?" or "Is it likely I'll want to kiss more men in the future?" But it's useful to get that actual question as clear as possible.In short, there's a big difference between arrangements of matter and human-invented categories. Categories are very useful (and unavoidable), but it's worth mentally distinguishing them from things and behaviors.- I work to make a mental distinction between observations and explanations (or theory and law, as they say in Science). The cookies are missing is an observation. My wife ate them is an explanation. Observations are usually more trustworthy than explanations.# Relationships- My wife (of 24 years) and I keep separate bank accounts. Years ago, I made a throwaway comment about this on Quora and was flabbergasted when it started a firestorm. People accused me of not really being committed to the marriage, having one foot out the door, not trusting my wife, etc. Which is funny to me, because we have the happiest marriage I know of. If anything, we're too co-dependent. We're one of those disgusting joined-at-the-hip couples.I would never suggest that what works for my marriage will work for everyone else's marriage. It's just something worth considering, especially people--like me--who are neurotic about money.If my wife spent "our" money on a $300 dress, I would freak out. But she doesn't. She spends her money on it--or on whatever she wants. And I spent my money on whatever I want. In over two decades, we have yet to have a single fight about money, which seems to be a source of tension in lots of our friends' marriages.We have some simple setups for shared expenses, e.g. she deposits half of our mortgage payment in my account and then I write the actual check to the lien holder. She pays certain utility bills. I pay others.- Whenever possible, I follow the "one-thing" rule. Each email I send (or instruction I give) is about just one thing. I don't write "The meeting is at five today, and please remember to bring your ideas for the holiday party..." because people will come to the meeting and forget the party ideas.Or they'll remember the ideas but forget when the meeting starts. I can rant and rave about people's poor reading skills, but the outcome will be the same.One-thing isn't always possible, but I've found it's possible more-often than not. If there really are two things, I often send two emails, with a delay between them. I let people mentally commit to a five-o'clock meeting. Then, later, I ask them to bring their holiday ideas to it.- In any debate, argument, or discussion of ideas, my first goal should be to fully understand what the other person is saying. I need to repeat it to him, in my own words, and make sure he agrees that my version of it fully expresses his views. I'm not allowed to argue with him until we are in perfect agreement about what he's saying. And if all that happens in the discussion is that we get his ideas clear, it was a discussion worth having- I avoid debates. Rigorous discussions are ideal, and I love them, but the goal must be to figure out the truth. Debates are about winning. And while that can help to some extent zero in on the truth, inevitably, after a while, it comes into conflict with that goal and one wants to win (or avoid losing) at all costs. I’m skeptical that anyone can avoid that goal, once a conversation is framed as a debate.- I don’t apply shortcuts to people. I need to start over with each one. If someone says he's against abortion, I am not allowed to assume he's also immigration unless he says so (though I can ask).If I can't stop myself from "typing" the other person, I should back out of the conversation, because I won't be able to participate in good faith.# Writing- I read everything I write out loud before posting it or publishing it. By doing this, I will countless errors and instantly find places where my writing doesn't flow like natural speech.If I'm somewhere where I can't read out loud (e.g. a quiet office), I read while moving my lips. Just going through that process activates the "out loud" parts of my brain, and I get most of the same benefits.This has become so habitual with me, not reading out loud feels like not putting a period on the end of a sentence. I do it with everything I write, even shopping lists.- There's no such thing as writer's block. I can always write. If I'm out of ideas, I can write about what I ate for lunch yesterday. Which I actually do. Rather than stare at a blank page, I'll write "Salad, and a sandwich," and then I'll start to describe my day. I'll keep doing this--writing about anything, no matter how mundane, until the ideas come or my time is up. Either way, at least I've kept on writing.- When I need to take a break from writing, I leave a sentence unfinished. It's much easier to resume by finishing the sentence than by having to start cold with a new- As I write, I keep an idea bullet list at the bottom of the page, pushing the list down and down as I write more above it. I find this to be the easiest way to record ideas that hit me as I'm writing. I don't have to change documents. I just jot down the idea below where I'm writing and then continue writing.- If I can't think of a word, I just write XXX and keep on writing. Later, I can search for XXX and replace all the instances of it, using a thesaurus if necessary. I'll also do this for multi-word ideas: "She was shorter than XXX, so I had look down to meet her eyes."# General life- I solve low-hanging annoyances as quickly as possible, and I give myself permission to spend money on them. For instance, I constantly lose pens. It's really irritating to not have something to write with and to have to spend time searching for a something to write with. So once every couple of months, I buy a bunch of cheap pens. Problem solved.I don't berate myself for being wasteful. I just buy pens, so there are always some close at hand.If a faucet is dripping--and the sound is driving me crazy--I drop what I'm doing and spend five-minutes fixing it. Etc. If there's something simple and cheap I can do to give myself a small boost in happiness or efficiency, I make it my highest priority.- Most of what I do should be in service of something. This is the best hack I know of for taking ego out of the equation. When I write, I try to serve the reader, the idea, or even the English language. When I code, I try to serve the end-user, the development team, the company, or the code base. I can serve anything except me.If I'm writing to impress you with my intelligence or originality, my writing will inevitably be boring. Of course, I don't start out thinking "My goal is to impress," but ego creeps in. "I can't write that. It's too unoriginal." Or "I can't write that. People will think I'm stupid."When I find myself having these thoughts, I ask myself "What will best serve the writing?" If the writing is best served by being unoriginal, then I need to be unoriginal.I am always on the look out for what people, institution, ritual, craft, discipline or principle I can serve. If I get hung-up or confused while working on a project, I ask "Who or what am I serving?"If the answer is me, that might be fine and legitimate, but then it's probably something I should wrap up as fast as possible, so that I can more on to serving something more interesting and important than I am. This is even useful with household chores. See if you can morph "I need to get washing-the-dishes over with" (which is about ego--it's about pushing through a task that bores you) to "I need to make these dishes look good."- There's no such thing as an existential crisis. That's not literally true, but I find it useful to explore every nuts-and-bolts alternative before assuming I'm depressed because "life is meaningless" or "God is dead."Do I have a fulfilling sex life? Do I have strong friendships? Am I in good physical and mental health? Am I stimulated (challenged without being over-stimulated)? Am I financially stable? Am I socially well-connected and respected? Do I enjoy my job? Do I feel physically safe? Etc.I don't need to answer "Yes" to all of these questions--it would be amazing if I could--but I need to examine each of them before concluding that my angst is because "The Universe is expanding."That line comes from "Annie Hall." When I was a kid, and I watched that movie, I used to think "Yeah! That's how I feel, too!" As an adult, re-watching it, I realized that the kid saying it was living in poverty and his parents were fighting all the time. That was his problem. "The Universe is expanding" was an avoidance tactic.- "I'm doomed" is an excuse. Until I was nearly 30, I was "the nerd who couldn't get a girlfriend." At my wits end, I went to therapy and asked for help dealing with the "fact" that I was going to be single forever. My therapist refused to help me in that way. She refused to agree that it was fact and told me I was making excuses.I was enraged. Did she think I liked being lonely? It wasn't an excuse! It was me having the courage to face an extremely painful fact! Why would I use something painful be an excuse?Well, I did. It was painful, but it let me off the hook. If I'm fated to be alone, then it's not my fault, there's nothing I can do about it, and that gives me a platform from which I can make decisions. Since it's my fate, I just need to learn how to live life as a happy single person...My therapist's point wasn't that I would definitely find a girlfriend. It was that I didn't know. I couldn't know. I couldn't see into the future, unless I created a self-fulfilling prophesy, which is what I was trying to so.My issue--which is so many people's issue--was fear of uncertainty. What if I wasted my life trying and trying and hoping to get a girlfriend and it never happened? It's easier to just believe that it will never happen. (Before coming to this pessimistic conclusion, I believed it one day would happen. Then I vacillated between the optimistic and pessimistic beliefs. Both were less scary than "I don't know what will happen.")What I've learned from this is a form of honesty. I no longer say things like "I can never learn to play the piano. I'm hopeless at it." I either stick with it no matter how long I keep failing. Or I quit, and, when I do, I say "I don't feel like doing this any more, so I'm choosing to quit." By taking responsibility, I gain a sense of agency and control over my life.By the way, a year after I quit making excuses and started working on those aspects of myself that were keeping me single, I met the woman I've been married to for 24 years.- "On the morning of your hanging, put on a your best suit." I'm not sure who said it, but it's great advice. When life shits all over me, I can very quickly feel powerless. That's an illusion. If my wife leaves me, I lose my job, and I become homeless, that's will be terrible. But I don't have to compound the terribleness my modeling myself as a trapped animal. Whenever I feel trapped, I must look for my latitudes of control, no matter how small they are, even if it's just "I can choose to sleep on this park bench or that one." Always look for latitudes of control.- Aesthetic experiences are 100% hedonistic and 100% mine. And that's what's great about them. I need to do everything I can to preserve my aesthetic selfishness. If I want to be selfless, I should do it in other ways: help a coworker, volunteer at a soup kitchen, babysit for friends...And if I need to read a book for work, then that's what I need to do. But if I'm reading it for pleasure, then I get to be as selfish with it as I want. If I get bored, I can quit reading it. I am no longer in school. There's no test. I have nothing to prove to anyone. I don't owe the author anything. And it's silly to mix aesthetic pleasures with things like reputation. ("I should be reading something more intellectual" "People will think I'm stupid...")I avoid anything that mixes aesthetic pleasure and self-improvement. "I feel a little guilty reading this fantasy novel, but at least it has a good message." There's no need to feel guilty. Aesthetics is a playground. It's sex, not school. All good art is porn. Color porn, plot porn, character porn, porn porn. Homework isn't porn. Art should never be a spoon full of sugar to help the medicine go down. It should just be a spoon full of sugar. And medicine doesn't justify the sugar. Sugar justifies the sugar.- When I read something, look at a painting, watching a movie, eat a new dish ... my first question should be "What is my reaction?" "Confused" is a reaction. It's just as much a reaction as angry, joyful, or thoughtful. So is "I don't know what to think," and "I feel nothing." If you are confused, you're confused. If you fell nothing, you feel nothing.All sorts of other things rush in fast ("What should I be feeling?" "Is my feeling appropriate?" "Am I smart enough to get this?"), so it's worth noting one's honest, initial reaction before it vanishes. This is a skill you can become better at over time.When I'm at a museum, I either avoid reading the cards next to the paintings or only read them after first looking at the art. I also avoid blurbs on the backs of books. I want to be hit with things, have reactions to them, and fully feel those reactions.Post childhood, it's sadly easy to lose touch with one's reactions, which is unfortunate, because our reactions are some of our biggest assets. Mine are unique to me. Yours are unique to you. "What should I be feeling?" is unique to no one.- Experiences are almost always better than things. Given a choice between a trip to Africa and an expensive collectable, I should choose Africa. In five years--if not five months--the collectable will be gathering dust. In 20 years, I'll still be remembering the Africa trip.- I quit non-essential habits that bore me. For instance, sometimes I get into this cycle where I keep surfing the web out of inertia. I'm no longer having fun. I'm just visiting the same sites over and over, or endlessly scrolling down Facebook, bored to death but hoping to come across something--anything--diverting.I've made an absolute rule that when this happens, I need to switch to a different activity. It can be anything: doodling, reading, tossing a ball around, playing with my cats, cleaning the kitchen, watching TV. Life is too short to be stuck in a boredom rut.I never tell myself things like "Stop spending so much time on social media." I can spend time anywhere, as long as it feels exciting or interesting. What I'm forbidden to do is just spin my wheels.- I continually work to optimize my life so that I can fully and honestly express myself. So often, I have to hide parts of who I am: at work, around certain people who are easily offended, and so on. That's just part of being a grownup.But it's also inhibiting and unhealthy. So I make it my business to befriend non-judgmental people (in person or online) around whom I can be myself without pretense and without walking on eggshells. This isn't always easy, but it's my #1 concern in life. If I have to be constrained a lot of my time, I need regular doses of freedom.- I ignore or rethink sunk costs. If I wasted $100 on a gadget that I regret buying (but can't return), I try not to think of myself as someone who wasted $100. Wasted was in the past, and the past doesn't exist.I am someone with however much money I have today--even if that's none. It's important to learn from mistakes, but one must balance that with forward momentum. My reality is whatever is in existence right now. Money that's no longer in my bank account can be factored out of my present reality. I only need to concern myself with the money in my account.The same is true of relationships, jobs, and so on. I am not a guy who got fired. "Got fired" doesn't exist. I'm a guy who currently is looking for work. I am not a guy who got dumped. "Got dumped" doesn't exit. I am a guy who is lonely and single.- I take vacations from melodramatic thinking. The world is so complicated, we caricature it in order to create actionable mental models. And the most common (and potent) caricature is melodrama--which is also the most popular from of storytelling and always has been. Its reinforced over and over. Virtually every TV show, novel, and anecdote we see, read, and hear is a melodrama.It can be helpful to think of yourself as the good guy (or even the bad guy: "It's all my fault"), the victim, and so on, but this is also an addictive form of thinking that can lead to depression, confusion, and a dishonest relationship with the world. It's unavoidable, so you don't need to worry that you'll lose your capacity for it. But there's value in setting it aside for a while.Start by asking "Where's the melodrama?" and you'll probably find it. Look for signs that you're thinking in terms of good guys, bad guys, victims, saviors, and endings.My boss is the bad guy. Trump is the bad guy. My friend Joe is the victim and I need to save him. The story will end happily when Trump gets impeached. The story will become a tragedy when I get fired...I try to remember that melodrama is a template that I'm laying on top of reality. What happens when I remove it? Joe isn't a victim. He's a guy who has cancer.I can often shake off the story by thinking outside of its temporal boundaries. "The story doesn't end the day Trump gets impeached. That's just Chapter One. What happens after that?" It's also useful to think historically, which is another way of saying "What happened before that?"- Fear of death, for a secular person, is a result (at least in part) of bad ideas.Death is not nothingness, because nothingness sounds like a thing. Death isn't a thing. It's not a noun. You can't be dead, because there's no "you" to be anything after your brain stops functioning.Death is not not (spoiler alert) like the end of the "Sopranos" where everything turns black. It's not blackness or "floating in a void." The problem is, English makes it really hard to talk about: nothingness still seems like something, like a huge empty space. And when this "empty void" concept creeps into one's thinking, it can lead to a huge amount of anxiety.Whenever I find myself lapsing into "death will be like nothingness" thoughts, I remind myself that it won't "be" like anything. The concept of "be" only makes sense for conscious minds, and, after death, there will be no consciousness.Can a dead person be pissed off about the weather? No. Can a dead person be sick with a cold? No. Dead people can't be anything. And, in fact, there can't be such a thing a a dead "person." Our language is full these subtle mistakes."I will be dead" is incoherent, because there won't be an "I." It also doesn't make sense to say "I hope I'm not forgotten." What's happening is we're thinking about how shitty it feels--when we're alive--to be discounted or ignored. We're worried that death might be like us getting passed over for a promotion. But that requires an "us." No one can forget "us" after we die, because, after we die, there will be no "us" to be forgotten.You can approach the concept by imagining how it feels to be potential fictional character that no author has ever thought of. Is that non-existent fictional character sad because he doesn't exist? Or think of a person who won't be born for a thousand years. Or a rock. What's it like to be a rock? It's like nothing. The words "be" and "like" don't even apply.Eternity is also false. It won't be like anything "for eternity," because time can only be experienced by conscious minds. It won't be like something for eternity, a thousand years, or even a second.If you can't stop yourself from thinking of death as a thing--as an experience--consider that all the usual metaphors (blackness, a void, nothingness) are arbitrary. Say to yourself "It will be horrible spend eternity a sea of orange, purple, paisley!" That makes just as much (or just as little) sense. (Why is nothingness black?) Or say "It will be horrible to spend eternity in a rectangular area with the exact dimensions of Macy's." That's no more arbitrary than "an endless void." Both imply space, and there won't be any space, so why preference the endless void.If you're scared of dying, it's worth running these thought experiments over and over. It's also worth holding on to the "experience" of a total blackout, if you ever have one. They're different from being asleep. When you wake up, you have some sense of time having elapsed while you were sleeping. Maybe that's because you wake up slowly, flirting for a while between unconsciousness and consciousness; maybe it's because you dream, so there's mental activity going on.A few years ago, I had major dental surgery. I was lying in the dentist chair, waiting for anesthesia to take effect. And then in my bed at home. The time in between was simply gone. It didn't exist. That's what death will be "like." That time in-between.