Pain Is Not the Unit of Effort… Unless You Are Lost


I am a big fan of alkjash’s post Pain is not the unit of Effort. In it he provides a model of how people fall into measuring their effort in terms of their suffering, explains why that is a problem, and lists some heuristics to push back against it. When I first read it as is often the case with rationalist literature the ideas in it seemed obviously correct to me with the benefit of hindsight and I could identify many cases of falling into the trap it describes (most prominently targeting the perception of being busy studying instead of efficient learning). In fact just recently when reflecting on a Twitter post of mine about therapy I realized that I have for some time now been gravitating towards that mode of thinking despite finding value in rejecting it elsewhere, namely when writing code.


My diagnosis of why this occurred is that Magic poses a somewhat unique challenge for me in that I see no way to meaningfully improve at it. If I was trying to improve at specific decks or formats the path forward would be clear but the challenge I am posing myself is much closer to “How can I think better?” than anything else. Baseline reps are certainly relevant up to a point as evidenced by the correlation between number of games and global win rate in published MOCS competitor stats but run into steep diminishing returns even if there is a lot of variety in what you play. And the alternatives beyond that are relatively limited. VOD review, working with stronger players, coaching, and a focus on specific technical elements all offer some utility but have their own issues. Magic simply has fewer financial incentives, fewer eyes on it, and consequently fewer well developed resources than most other similarly competitive domains.

Looking at things in this way, biting the bullet on pain as a unit of effort does not seem entirely irrational to me. Even putting aside the benefits of investing into signaling that you care about a subject matter, if you cannot see the more efficient paths and unwilling to turn away from the destination what other option is there besides rolling up your sleeves and pushing forward? Maybe the next thousand games I play will help me see what I am doing wrong.