This blog post was brought to you by the generosity of AJATT's patrons!

If you would like to support the continuing production of AJATT content, please consider making a monthly donation through Patreon.

Right there ↑ . Go on. Click on it. Patrons get goodies like early access to content (days, weeks, months and even YEARS before everyone else), mutlimedia stuff and other goodies!

Max Out The Cause Card: The Omnipotence of Precursors

This entry is part 6 of 14 in the series Intermediate Angst

“If you’re going to spend most of your time experiencing rather than accomplishing, then perhaps it makes sense to focus on the quality of your daily experiences and not merely on the heights of your accomplishments. ” | Steve Pavlina

“The key to strategy… is not to choose a path to victory, but to choose so that all paths lead to a victory.” | Cavilo, The Vor Game

“…you can never climb in vain: either you will reach a point higher up today, or you will be training your powers so that you will be able to climb higher tomorrow.” | Friedrich Nietzsche

We’re often told to go after what we want.

But what if what we want is far away? What if it’s not within our control? What then? Are we just SOL? Do we just give up?



If you want to get what you want, stop trying to get what you want.


Stick with me for a bit.

If you desire certain effects, stop desiring them. If you love certain results, stop loving them. If you want to achieve something, some goal, some aspiration, then stop trying to achieve it.

Wanting to know Japanese, doesn’t get these ↓
into your head.

Wanting to get there doesn’t get you there. Trying to get there doesn’t get you there — it just gets you tired. Trying to reach just makes you pull muscles. Motion in the general direction of “there” by whatever means of locomotion is available…that’s all that gets you there. Motion causes a change of position.

If you want certain favorable effects, do not fall in love with those effects. Fall in love with their causes.

Now, there are good reasons for finding this logic suspect:

  • False Causes
    • In the past, through malice or ignorance, we have come to believe in false causes. No, eating your vegetables will not turn you into a fighter jet like Michael Jackson in Moonwalker. I speak from painful experience.
  • Means/Ends Confusion
    • It’s possible to get so wrapped up in means that the ends become confused or even forgotten. For more on such pathological obsession with process to the detriment of meaningful results, see “Japan, Employee Life In” for details 😛
  • Urban Living
    • Not growing stuff divorces us from opportunities to observe long-term causal chains in nature. This leads not just to an ignorance of such causal chains but to a thoroughgoing disbelief in their very existence. I wanted to use the word “thoroughgoing” at least once in my lifetime. And look at me now. All grown up.
  • Bad Science
    • Deterministic proclamations from fields like evolutionary psychology and genetics, fields where talk too often outpaces actual hard knowledge, lead us to self-fulfilling beliefs that things are more fixed than they actually are. It used to be old men with beards in the sky. Now it’s molecules in cells. Conjecture and BS remain conjecture and BS, regardless of whether they come dressed up in cassocks or labcoats. Or jeans. Or sweatpants.
  • Desire Works…Sometimes
    • Strong desire can often lead to massive action on causes. But it’s a bit of an unreliable vehicle. It’s too vague. Why bother with the hit-and-miss mind job of maximizing desire, when we can more directly and coolly play the cause card? Right? Right.

So you do need to think a bit to avoid certain pitfalls of the the cause-centered path…the path-centered path…the journey-centered journey. Fortunately for the intellectually lazy (yours truly included), you don’t need to think that hard. The common sense of the average toddler will do. It’s that unvarnished, unsocialized frankness that can say that the emperor is naked, caviar just tastes of salt, and only a fraction of classical music is actually any good. It’s your inner pipsqueak. Listen to that voice.

Back on topic. You can’t control too many effects. But, as it turns out, you don’t really need to. The trick is to control the causes. Grab a hold of those causes and never let go. Squeeze them. Milk them for all they’re worth. Max out the cause card.

You can’t control whether you’ll make any friends or not. But you can control the number of people you meet and how humane 😛 you are to them. That’s enough.

You can’t control whether or not you’ll win a Stanley Cup. 1 But you can control the number of hours you spend on the ice, messing around with puck, net and cones. That’s enough.

You can’t fully control when exactly you’ll become awesome at Japanese…not in an immediate, satisfying way. But you can control how much and how often you expose yourself to Japanese. That’s more than enough.

You can’t control the results, but you can control the things that produce the results. And that’s more than enough. You get to control the journey, where most of the time is spent anyway. That’s freaking awesome. Imagine if you couldn’t control the journey? Imagine if you could only control the fleeting arrival moment. You could go anywhere you wanted, but you couldn’t choose how to get there. That would suck.

Hold on a sec, though. Stop the irrational optimism train before it runs over that gaggle of schoolchildren: what if your life sucks so much that you can’t even control the causes? Easy. Give up.

…and run up the causal chain. If you can’t control the causes, control the causes of the causes. Max out the causes of the causes. Max out quaternary causes and reap their effects, which are tertiary causes. OK, now you have tertiary causes. Max them out and reap secondary causes. Max out secondaries and reap primaries. Now you’re at primaries. Max these out and you’re at your precious effect destination.

“All Japanese all the time”. AJATT is all about maxing out the cause card. It’s too stupid and straightforward to fail. It’s based on the childlike realization that Japanese people, the people who are the best at Japanese, also spend the most time in contact with Japanese. In fact, the average Japanese person spends as many hours in contact with Japanese as she does breathing air.

You can’t be born in Japan. You can’t have Japanese parents. You can’t control who your parents were. You can’t control how or where they raised you.

But none of that matters. That’s first quarter stuff. Don’t waste your time trying to control the first quarter from the second. Play the game now. Realize that you’re a member of the global elite. You have literacy, electricity and home comforts. I know you do, because you’re reading this.

You can cast aside the false causes (first quarter excuses) and pick up the real cause card. You can spend all your available (“free”) time in contact with Japanese. You can Japanize anything and any moment and any place that can be Japanized. You can max out the Japanese fluency cause card. You can rip these remaining three quarters a new one.

Because there are always three quarters available 😛 .

In a cause-effect universe, precursors are just about omnipotent. And guess what? In all likelihood, you already control more precursors than you need to to reach your destination

So, now, giving up on something far too early, which is when most people give up, becomes not a question of “lacking moral fiber”, but one of poor arithmetic. You’re pronouncing your own death from dehydration when you have unfettered access to a fridgeful of water two feet away. It’s just unnecessarily premature. You can always give up later. You have all of the time you’ll be dead, practically all of eternity, in which to give up.

Before you worry about what you can’t do, do everything, and I mean everything, that you can do. Before you worry about the resources and abilities you don’t have, first exhaust the resources and options that are immediately at your disposal. You haven’t “paid your dues” 2 as it were, until your cause card — time, energy and productive thought invested in practice, in things that cause desired effects — is maxed out.

Series Navigation<< Grinding: Focus On What You CAN DoIntermediate Goals, Mini-Dreams >>


  1. You don’t try to win Stanley Cups as such…I mean, if you want the stupid cup so much, you can just break into the NHL back office or wherever and steal it. Or…I dunno…have a local handyman make you a replica. Bottom line: it’s an oversized cup named after some English geezer called Stanley. Really, who gives a crap?

    You don’t try to win Stanley Cups. You just go to practice more and learn to skate and puck-handle better. You eat well. You exercise. You play. And maybe you put the puck over the line more times than other groups of people, and then they let you touch the shiny object. The point is, you were having fun playing hockey. You focused on cause.

  2. I. Hate. This. Phrase

  17 comments for “Max Out The Cause Card: The Omnipotence of Precursors

  1. Leonardo Boiko
    April 22, 2011 at 03:03

    I can’t believe I can get the gist of that passage 😀

    hey guys listen to this man, it works!

  2. David
    April 22, 2011 at 04:21

    The idea of controlling your actions and desires, rather than results, sounds like Stoicism at its finest.

    Let me introduce you to my good buddy エピクテトス。

  3. April 22, 2011 at 06:38

    Yup, people freak out too much about things that are out of their control, when if they’d simply A) Calm down and focus, and B) Focus on those things they can control, then they’d increase their effectiveness several fold.

    I’m not sure, but I’m pretty sure that above passage can be completely expressed with the phrase “Do the best you can with what you’ve got.” or something like that, right? Something along those lines?


  4. 魔法少女☆かなたん
    April 22, 2011 at 21:41

    “You could go anywhere you wanted, but you couldn’t choose how to get there. That would suck.”

    I remember that! It was called mum’s car.

  5. ライトニング
    April 22, 2011 at 22:56

    Just a quick question-

    If an O group syllable (しょ、こ、ぼ) comes right before an を should it sound obvious?

    Such as-
    くうしょ を うめろ
    when i say it it sounds like kuushyo-o. The を doesn’t sound obvious, but is this normal?

    • michael
      April 23, 2011 at 18:39

      its normal. just pronounce it the way you read it, and try to catch examples of how a native speaker pronounces ‘O’ vowels just before the ‘o’ particle. yes its somewhat ambiguous when spoken at natural speed, but context should be sufficient to clue you in on the meaning of the sentence as a whole.

      there are similar ambiguities in the sounds of english and every language all the time, that we all have learned to take for granted and that a lot of times we dont even realize exist.

  6. Rout
    April 23, 2011 at 03:44

    I wonder if somebody could help me with this one…
    Basically, I’m at around 750 kanji in Heisig’s book, and it took me like 2 months to get here. I aim for learning 15 kanji each day, and I’m wondering how I could ensure that I would actually learn those 15 kanji every day instead of skipping every other day because I don’t feel like adding new stories.

    • ライトニング
      April 23, 2011 at 05:17

      Learn more, get done sooner, complain less.

    • 魔法少女☆かなたん
      April 23, 2011 at 12:53

      I didn’t actually do Heisig because his book was boring. That may be part of your problem, but I don’t have advice for that.

      But you could also learn 1 kanji every hour instead 15 every day. Just try it and let us all know how it works out.

      • ライトニング
        April 23, 2011 at 13:37

        Then he’ll learn less and be stuck with the bad experience for longer.

        I recommend to just try your hardest and learn as many as you can every day until you are finished. (it’s what i did)

        I pushed through 50 a day for the last 700 kanji

    • ahndoruuu
      April 23, 2011 at 13:06

      Yeah dude honestly Heisig’s book was boring as heck for me. I don’t like coming up with stories. I got to about 120 using the Heisig way and then I couldn’t force myself to keep going. Granted, those 120 kanji stuck EXTREMELY well, and now I use Lazy Kanji and they don’t stick nearly as well but I actually have fun doing Lazy Kanji so I accept the retention trade-off 🙂

      • Rout
        April 23, 2011 at 22:50

        I was thinking about trying out the lazy kanji method, but I’m just wondering how to switch, considering I’ve already done over 750 kanji the “normal” Heisig method. Getting through those kanji again would take a while…

        I think one per hour is perhaps too little, but I decided to try out something similar, and I’m adding one story every 15 minutes, gonna see how that works out.

        • ライトニング
          April 24, 2011 at 03:34

          How much time do you have a day for kanji?

          • Rout
            April 25, 2011 at 00:46

            Uh, it depends, since I usually don’t do anything after school, it could 1-2 hours or more, but I usually don’t spend as much time on it, because I just don’t feel like it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *