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Last active Dec 14, 2018

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What would you like to do?

Am I spending my neuroplasticity wisely?

I’ve been setting up structured journal entries recently - quick morning notes, weekly and quarterly retrospectives, etc. As part of this I’ve been curating a list of questions to help self-assess how I’m doing at any given time.

Some of these questions are simple bio-maintenance checklist entries: how’s my diet? Am I getting enough sleep? Are my cholesterol and triglyceride levels normal? Have I been getting enough vitamin D? Have I been doing resistance exercise recently? Cardio?

Then come some less concrete questions: have I been keeping myself intellectually engaged? Have I been engaging in some regular form of artistic creation? When’s the last time I did something nontrivial just for the fun of it? Aside from work stuff, when’s the last time I finished a project? Speaking of work, how are things there? Attempts to answer that question could fill multiple blog posts, so for now I’m going to focus on a specific angle pointed out by twitter user @ChaosPrime.

any of your neuroplasticity you use up learning a particular company's platform and practices instead of general principles is straight up depreciation on your brain that you're just absorbing the way an Uber driver absorbs depreciation on their car

have a great day

We only have so much neuroplasticity available to us. It might be helpful to think of that neuroplasticity as being like the pool of skill points used to upgrade one’s character in a role playing game. These skill points can be spent on acquiring concrete, object-level expertise - for example, the JIRA project management suite workflow your current employer uses. They can also be used to internalize more abstract, meta-level principle not tied to a specific context - for example, some extremely generalizable concept from category theory.

I’m not going to argue that either is necessarily better. In a perfect world, learning that JIRA workflow will help you understand universally applicable project management skills and make you more effective across the board. That bit of category theory you learn might be applicable across a wide variety of programming problems and you might refer back to it over your entire career as a programmer. On the other hand, if you’re not so lucky, you might find yourself having to spend neuroplasticity points learning the details of convoluted processes that don’t really need to exist, or painstakingly poring over papers to understand some category-theoretic construct that doesn’t provide any actual utility (not that you shouldn’t do so for fun, if that’s something you enjoy). In both success cases, the thing you spend your neuroplasticity points on will continue to be useful throughout your life. In the failure cases, the thing you spend them on has only limited and context-specific applicability. Ideally, the skills and mental models you use your neuroplasticity to learn will continue to pay dividends throughout your life.

So what does spending neuroplasticity points well look like? Great question. Still working on an answer myself. As it stands this is mainly about becoming more mindful of how I’m using my neuroplasticity so I can identify situations where I’m pretty clearly wasting it and stop doing so.

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