The Ladder Of Inference and Its Revealing Secrets

This Week’s BIG Idea

To much of the annoyance of their parents, four years old ask “why” over and over again. This isn’t their fault, after all, that’s how they make sense of the confusing and chaotic world around them. While asking yourself questions doesn’t seem like the way to move forward, this is exactly what paves the way ahead. So for every activity I engage in, I ask myself why repeatedly to get to the core answer. This is what Jay Shetty calls The Why Ladder in his best-selling book Think Like a Monk, though some people also call it The Ladder of Inference.  This is what the practice looks like:

  • Why do I play video games? I play video games because I used to do it when I was younger. 
  • Why did you play games when you were younger? Because I used to get bored a lot.
  • Why did you get bored a lot? Because I didn’t socialize much.
  • Why didn’t I socialize much? Because I was scared of people.
  • Why were you scared about most people? Because I lacked confidence.
  • Why did I lack confidence? I distrusted most people and thought they were judging me.
  • Why did you distrust people? Because their opinions mattered to me.

As part of The Ladder of Inference, you could literally ask and answer questions ad infinitum. Ideally, you want to ask yourself “why” as many times as possible so that you get to the root problem and can brainstorm ideas to solve it. As you can see, this seemingly inoffensive exercise is eye-opening and reveals a lot about yourself. In other words, it can be incredibly uncomfortable, but the answers can help you identify your own blind spots.

So let’s look at the example above. While there’s nothing wrong with playing games, I was using them to escape reality. If I can redefine my relationship with games from “They’re going to be an excuse to escape people and avoid working on my lack of confidence” to “I’m going to play games to socialize with others”, the activity is exactly the same, but in the latter example, it becomes a healthy activity rather than a toxic one. Of course, this is one example of many and you can use The Ladder of Inference on any subject.

What I’m Working on

Apart from using The Ladder of Inference to work on some problems, I’ve experimented with an app called OneSec. OneSec lets you choose an app on your phone and when you try to open it, you have to wait for a few seconds. I’ve used several focus apps over the years on both my computer and phone. I’ve tried apps and extensions that track my time, Pomodoros, and straight-up blockers, but none of them stay installed on my devices for long.

Since I’m trying to be more intentional with how I use my time, I decided to block my biggest time wasters on both my phone and my computer and that seems to be Google Chrome. By adding friction to the process of using Chrome, I can use it less and dedicate that time to reading and writing more, working on the website, journaling, or doing something more productive. Let’s see if this time, I can sustain this experiment over time.

What I’m Listening to

I’ve been listening to a bunch of podcasts this week. As usual, I’m making my way through Deep Dive but also listened to an episode of a gaming podcast called The Sunday Scroll, as well as an episode of Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend. I dabbled in some entertainment podcasts, but I didn’t have much fun with them. I realize that podcasts are one of my favorite resources for learning new things, so I find that most podcasts in the “entertainment” category are boring or shallow.

What I’m Reading

  • Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker: I’ve been hearing great things about this book for years, but I finally took the time to actually read it. Sometimes I read a book and I get the sense that it’s the definitive book on that topic. For example, when I read Mark Manson’s Models, that book felt so thorough that I didn’t see the point in reading any other books about dating. Similarly, Why We Sleep feels like the definitive book about sleep. I’m enjoying it a lot so far and you can expect a summary of Why We Sleep soon.
  • The Stand by Stephen King: I used to be a Stephen King fan when I was younger, but I’d never read The Stand. This is a beast of a book with over one thousand pages. I intend to complement this read with the miniseries that came out a couple of years ago, but I want to finish the book first which should take a couple of months at least.

What I’m Watching

Although I don’t play games these days, I do love watching documentaries about them from time to time. In fact, my YouTube Watch Later list has a bunch of gaming documentaries. One of my favorite channels is NoClip which offers amazing documentaries and has no ads. I absolutely love everything about the channel to the point that I watch everything they produce even if the documentary in question focuses on a game I couldn’t care less about. In fact, I just watched their documentary on The Last of Us, a game I never played but heard great things about.

This Week’s Quote

“What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Mary Oliver

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