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Five Second Version

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Life happens quickly; habits often need to fire within five seconds for them to impact much of behavior.

“Using a CFAR technique” often doesn’t mean taking out pen and paper and spending minutes or hours going through all of the steps. Instead, it involves five seconds of thought, on the fly, when a relevant situation arises.


Goal factoring: You notice that you’re feeling tension between two possible outings over the weekend. You quickly identify the best thing about each, and see whether one can incorporate the other. Aversion factoring: You keep feeling bad about never getting around to reading dense nonfiction books. You consider whether System 1 may be right here; perhaps it really isn’t worth the trouble to read them? TAPs: You’re two minutes late for a meeting, and think about what trigger could cause you to leave five minutes earlier in the future. Systemization: You feel a vague annoyance as you’re sorting through your pantry, looking for the chips, and you decide to move the bag of rice all the way to the back, where you can still reach it over smaller, more frequently used items. Note that these five-second versions often only use a fragment of the technique (such as checking whether an aversion is well-calibrated), rather than thoroughly applying every step.

Some advantages of using five-second versions:

You can use them more often, at the moment when they’re relevant, without having to “boot up” an effortful, time-consuming mode of thinking (many CFAR instructors use these something like twenty times per day).

You can integrate them fluidly with your thinking, rather than having to interrupt your flow and remember what thoughts or activities to return to.

You can practice them many, many times.

You can develop multiple variations, including your own independent inventions.

Most importantly of all: if a larger, more effortful version of a technique is something you simply will not do, then a five-second version you will do is infinitely better than nothing.


Create your own shorthand variations of techniques and seek out patterns that can fit into your regular behavior.