Retrospective: Quantified Self Assessment

Quantified Self Assessment was the second Guild of the Rose course. Taught by Consul Alex Hedtke, the course was an evolution of the Alpha's Character Sheet and helped users discover bugs in their life. Topics addressed included:

  1. Design; a framework for thinking about issues in one's life as caused by changeable environmental factors
  2. Hamming Questions; a technique for identifying the biggest problems in one's life
  3. True Names; or 'naming' the person you want to be, so that it becomes more salient in your thoughts and can better serve as inspiration
  4. Murphyjitsu; a process used to create resilient plans

At its core, Quantified Self Assessment focuses on introspection and goal planning. It's meant to help elicit members visions for their future selves, and help them take concrete steps towards realizing that vision. We didn't expect to solve everyone's problems, but to help members develop a list of features to aspire to and identify the most important ones.

Both the Alpha and Beta versions of the course have roots in Hammertime, a sequence of articles building upon CFAR's self-improvement workshops. Our end goal is for every Guildmember to have a Character Sheet that summarizes their strengths and weaknesses. These profiles will then serve as a semi-objective metric for the Guild's success as a whole and on the individual level.

Successes

Quantified Self Assessment was generally considered helpful, and many users reported that the course replaced vague anxiety with clear directions for growth. We also avoided the classic debugging pitfalls and maintained a reasonable level of engagement.

Debugging Sessions

The process of 'debugging' has gotten some well-deserved bad press in recent times.

I sat in many meetings in which my progress as a “self-debugger” was analyzed or diagnosed, pictographs of my mental structure put on a whiteboard. What were my bottlenecks? Was I just not trying hard enough, did I need to be pushed out of the nest? Did I just need support in fixing that one psych issue? Or were there ten, and this wasn’t going to work out?

-- Zoe Curzi, My Experience with Leverage Research

There was certainly a power dynamic of "who can debug who"; to be a more advanced psychologist is to be offering therapy to others, being able to point out when they're being "defensive", when one wouldn't accept the same from them.

-- Jessica Taylor, My Experiences at and Around MIRI and CFAR

The dynamic as described in Zoe and Jessica's posts is toxic and limiting. Our version of debugging was designed to avoid these pitfalls and allow members to flourish on their own terms. Debugging as practiced in Quantified Self Assessment and the Guild is:

  • Voluntary. Members have the final authority on what is considered a bug in their life. It is not our place to say what kind of person one should be, nor are we attempting to mold everyone into a single type of person.
  • Open and optional. Debugging sessions are not mandatory. They're hosted in a public Discord channel and all Guild members are explicitly invited. We don't record attendance for these, but the vast majority of the Guild never attended a debugging session.
  • Not power asymmetric. While Alex leads the debugging sessions, his role is "facilitator" not "psychological authority". Peer advice is frequently suggested and accepted.

While only time can tell whether our form of debugging is healthy or toxic, there have been no signs of users feeling pressured or coerced. We take the health of our members quite seriously -- a Guild is made out of people, after all. Burning those people out is wasteful, stupid, and violates our core values.

Engagement

The Alpha version of this course (The Character Sheet) was widely considered to be a 'brutal' and 'grueling' exercise. Several Council members reported bouncing off the Alpha course or taking months to complete each section. It featured:

  • Backstory, a lengthy writing section that delved into the user's (often traumatic or otherwise painful) past
  • Big Five, a personality test with over a hundred questions
  • Heaven and Hell, a series of open-ended questions asking users to visualize their own personal heaven and hell

In other words, the Alpha course asked too much, too fast. Quantified Self Assessment was an attempt to rectify this. We replaced every aspect of the original. Gone were the lengthy writing exercises and personality tests. In their place, we had two sessions on discovering bugs, a streamlined Heaven and Hell exercise, and some Murphyjitsu at the end.

While we didn't record attendance metrics, engagement was much higher with this version of the course, and we consider it a success in that area.

Mistakes

Redundancy

The biggest mistake was having two sessions devoted to bug-hunting. Each session focused on a different kind of bug, but the exercises for each were quite short. Moreover, there was significant overlap between the tasks -- the second session even explicitly told users to revisit the first.

No examples

We should have provided an example of a completed bug list. Without this to guide members, people did the listing in a wide variety of ways. Many of these weren't conducive to later exercises, which assumed that users would do the bug listing in a spreadsheet.

No Strengths or Skills

Multiple people complained that the Beta course had no way to measure one's pre-existing strengths or skills. In retrospect, this was also issue with the Alpha. Strengths are just as valuable as weaknesses. They represent tools that can be leveraged for self-improvement, and allow one to find other Guildmembers with complementary abilities.

The Future of Quantified Self Assessment

Moving forward, Quantified Self Assessment will not be its own course, but instead will be woven into our plans for Guild rank advancement. When people join the Guild, they will perform an assessment that includes elements from the first couple classes. This assessment will also include measuring a person’s strengths as well as weaknesses in four main areas: motivation, social, learning, and resources.

These area were created by analyzing a list of crowdsourced bugs from the Beta course. We hypothesize that improving these areas will resolve the vast majority of problems people face. Our plan is to launch an MVP of the new system (dubbed the Path System) by the end of Summer 2022 (edit: see the Practitioner's Path).

Additionally, we plan to make the following concrete changes:

  • Re-introduce the Big Five personality test
  • Include a way for users to record strengths and resources as well as bugs
  • Provide pre-made templates to guide users in creating their Character Sheet

Wrap-up

Overall, Quantified Self Assessment was a valuable course. We were able to avoid the dangers of debugging and improve course engagement. Additionally, the course's material will form the backbone of the Guild's upcoming Path System.

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