Let’s take some time and discuss the matter of conscious, self-willed, and performed change, in the context of optimizing decision criteria.


You’ve read before the question that optimizing asks:

“What are the highest qualitative possibilities for this output, given the resources available and the specific criteria being applied? Is this the best we can do?”

Everything holds that we have said before, but there are additional — features you need to be aware of with regards to optimizing.

In particular, it relates to how you evaluate the specifics of your outputs before pronouncing a piece work “done”.

It has to do with what is known as “the second test” in the ‘T.O.T.E. model” of behavior that may be used as a base-line for goal planning.

It is a high level description of what MUST be present in sufficient detail, in order to have a functioning system of goal seeking.

It is a study in itself, but for our purposes, it is relevant to how we test, check, assess, evaluate and otherwise close the books on whether a piece of work we believe to be finished MATCHES our intent (and how specifically it does that), and whether this “output” we have created (output being the tangibles and realities we have transformed) is ready to be moved on to the next step in our process.

“The second test” is the moment just before we pronounce “This is it”. It’s about HOW we evaluate.

As a brief overview (or reminder) of the T.O.T.E. – within an intentional system, in order for your brain to get that something needs to happen, you only need two things.

#1. You notice that what you want or need is different from what you have.

This discovery of want or need is the result of a previous process – something catches your attention, a sensation or thought comes up from inside, you consider possibilities, etc.

This prompts the consideration of what will fulfill the want or need. If it is something you want and seek fulfillment of often; you brain already has loads of details about options, processes AND the unconscious requisite doings already habituated – all the resources are pre-arranged… which is very nice for you.

But when the want or need is not within the realm of immediate fulfillment, or has many steps and processes required in order to fulfill it, a lot of detailed criteria about the desired end-state has be created and brought together, again, in order for your brain to begin processing on what processes will need to be carried out, and what resources will need to be acquired.

The criteria have to be detailed enough for the brain to be able to tell when the job is done.

And this often requires thinking, and research and work because many desirable end-states have sequences of process, requiring time and effort, and that time and effort needs to be fit in with the OTHER desirable end-states we are seeking.

#2 You notice where you are in relation to what you want.

With those two components we can begin to describe just about any goal seeking behavior with a few small additions. Look:

where you are now
what you want

The T.O.T.E. model is very simple.

First T – stands for “TEST” and the test answers the question “Am I there yet?”, “Did I achieve what I set out to?”

So, to use a British friend’s example… let’s say you’re thirsty and you want a cup of tea.

We’ll change the words above for the desired end-state to “I want to enjoy a mug of tea”, and the words for your present state to “sitting in my armchair”:

sitting in my armchair
I want to enjoy a mug of tea

Ask: “is my present state, the desired-end state?” – and that is the first test in the T.O.T.E. model. There’s another T for test later on but something else comes first…

What is the answer to the first test in this tea-seeking, want or need fulfillment system?

The answer is “No, in my present state I am not enjoying my desired end-state”

The ‘O’ in the T.O.T.E. model stands for OPERATE and it means “do something, or a sequence of something’s in order to change the present state”

sitting in my armchair
Do Something!
I want to enjoy a mug of tea

The Operate stage requires something – what?

  • to Mindmap your desired end-state and then imagine yourself drinking your lovely cup of tea until this forces the Universe to manifest it for you, as if by magic?
  • *”There’s no else at home except the dog… and she makes a TERRIBLE cup of tea. What to do? What to do? What to do?”

The Operate stage requires that your brain sorts for Resources in relation to the specified end-state (and the hard rule is “insufficiently detailed end-state means ‘no-go’ from the brain” – it won’t sort on nothing or next to nothing, but it will try. This creates problems which we’ll discuss on another occasion).

Either you already possess the necessary Knowledge and skill resources from previous experiences, and that you recognize that you have an opportunity to do something about it, and thus fulfill the Motivating desired end-state – as is the case the here – and you then automatically perform the actions and achieve the goal …


… you must intentionally and conscientiously assess the goal for what it will require, and this becomes the first operation in doing something to make the present state INTO the desired end state.

The majority of the work we do to improve our lives and craft a better success system comes into this category.

The second ‘T’ in the T.O.T.E. model stands for TEST – this is the second test, and it tests whether what we did in the operate stage accomplished the fulfillment of desired end-state.

The final ‘E’ in the T.O.T.E. model stands for EXIT – which means that if the answer to the second test is ‘yes’ you exit or go on to some other goal or activity.

But if the answer is ‘no’, it means you have to either repeat (do more) of what you were doing before, or do something(s) different.

In our simple example, even the act of making a cup of tea requires a second test to make sure that the result has been achieved and the quality is either sufficient, or as perfect as it is possible to get.

Many a cup of tea is poured down the drain because the milk has gone sour (not sufficient); while I have witnessed a great tea aficionado take 20 minutes to optimize the selection of tea, china, water temperature and each fine detail so that we would enjoy “the perfect cup of tea”.

While I would have been happy sufficing with a chipped mug of “workman’s tea”… my hostess would not even consider that an option.

sitting in my armchair

  1. get out of chair
  2. walk to kitchen
  3. fill kettle with water
  4. etc.
I want to enjoy a mug of tea

If the answer to the second test here is “Is this mug of tea ready to drink?”, “yes”; then the tea goes down the hatch (that’s the EXIT); and if the answer is “no”, then something else has to happen.

We won’t be going any further into the T.O.T.E. model but we are going on to concentrate on the second test.

You see it’s at the second test that quality control or higher order development of a system is either carried forward or left behind.

Our tendencies typically determine whether we seek to match or exceed the criteria we previously set, or whether we say “close enough for government work” and move on to exit to the next thing.

Who would have thought that our future could pivot on such a small matter?

The second test – the one that says “Done! Finished. Onwards…” – is where we need to focus first to make sure that when we get serious about the habits we are hacking, we don’t throw away the possibility for greater refinement, elegance, speed, and precision that only comes through building big, strong optimizing muscles.

You see, if you are a habitual sufficer, you set the trend for perpetual under-performance.

Perhaps you don’t like the feeling of not hitting the target you set squarely in the bull’s-eye; perhaps you feel it’s “too much pressure” (we’ll have something to say and do about this in the upcoming post on ‘baseline and gradient’) – whatever the reason, this point has to be addressed and you must make your peace with it.

Even if perfection is not achievable (and… to be frank, we have NEVER talked about being perfect.

Pursuing perfection can be a hindrance as well as a motivator for some); your ability to gauge and change the basis for determining the second test is one of the keys to building a better success system, and also necessary to making subtle but pervasive use of a few future episodes.

Best to take care of it now.

  1. Pick a project that you are working on.
  2. Take this week’s goals for that project, and check again to ensure that your desired end states for output are crystal clear.
  3. Consider your work plan and look to optimize your use of your resources this week so that when you reflect back on the week on your planning day, that you 100% meet or exceed the criteria you have set.
  4. Do everything in your power to meet or exceed those criteria for the second tests – accomplishment PLUS quality.

Note: you must consider carefully these goals you are committing to for this week. If you have concerns about meeting the criteria, SET THE BAR LOWER.

If, on reflecting back on the week and you optimized on the criteria successfully but you felt it was EASY; you must investigate what led you to feel the need to lower the bar.

If you fail to meet the optimized criteria; evaluate what led you to assume that you could achieve them.

This is about tracking down those persistent little unconscious parts of the system and NAIL THEM WHERE THEY LIVE.

We don’t need to psychoanalyze or go subconscious cave diving to find out ‘why’. We only need to catch the little buggers in action, making your life less than it could be, and just changing the process on ’em.

With practice this becomes effortless and even enjoyable. Leave your narrative and your ‘feelings about’ at the door. This is work for hackers!

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