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[note from Matt: I strongly prefer the established name "Premortem" to the CFAR jargon Murphyjitsu] [note from Vaniver: check out Anna's tweet on this]


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Plans often fail; sometimes the reasons were foreseeable.

Murphy’s Law states “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” Even worse, people are notoriously bad at applying Murphy’s Law when making plans and predictions—in a classic experiment, 37 psychology students were asked to estimate how long it would take them to finish their senior theses “if everything went as poorly as it possibly could,” and they still underestimated the time it would take, as a group (the average prediction was 48.6 days, and the average actual completion time was 55.5 days).


However, where straightforward introspection fails, a deliberate use of inner sim can provide a valuable “second opinion.” Below are the steps for Murphyjitsu, a process for bulletproofing your strategies and plans.

  1. Select a goal. A habit you want to install, or a plan you’d like to execute, or a project you want to complete.
  2. Outline your plan. Be sure to list next actions, concrete steps, and specific deadlines or benchmarks. It’s important that you can actually visualize yourself moving through your plan, rather than having something vague like work out more.
  3. Surprise-o-meter. It’s been months, and you’ve made little or no progress! Where are you, on the scale from yeah, that sounds right to I literally don’t understand what happened ? If you’re completely shocked—good job, your inner sim endorses your plan! If you’re not, though, go to Step 4.
  4. Pre-hindsight. Try to construct a plausible narrative for what kept you from succeeding. Remember to look at both internal and external factors.3
  5. Bulletproofing. What actions can you take to prevent these hypothetical failure modes? Visualize taking those preemptive actions and then ask your inner sim “What comes next?” Have you successfully defused the danger?
  6. Iterate steps 3-5. That’s right—it’s not over yet! Even with your new failsafes, your plan still failed. Are you shocked? If so, victory! If not—keep going.


Run an inner simulation in which you carry out your intended plan; imagine a specific future scene, and imagine that the plan has failed; notice whether you are surprised. If not, improve your plan and repeat.

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