On FI, someone keeps asking how to feel that one is overreaching. Shouldn't there be an emotion to tell you what's going on?
No. Emotions are software, developed by our culture (mostly thousands of years ago). It's kind of like: every minute, or when something notable happens, that software runs through a checklist of 5000 things. If one is going on, it runs through another checklist with more detailed stuff for that issue. The results of the software analysis is presented in a short summary which we call an "emotion".
Our emotion software doesn't know about all situations or issues. It knows about a lot of stuff but not everything. There aren't emotions for everything. There's no reason it'd have to cover everything. It's not complete. Even if people had ten times as many emotions it still wouldn't be complete.
If there was an emotion for everything, emotions would be useless. A summary has to condense information. Emotions are focused on areas our culture considers important. They're selective. They prioritize. They help direct our attention to what matters. If there were emotions for everything, they wouldn't be a summary anymore, and they wouldn't be worth paying attention to. You'd have to have a second layer of software that screens the emotions for the ones you consider important and ignores the rest. If you want information about everything, use your eyes and ears, they are better at doing that type of thing (you won't see infrared but eyes are much less about summarizing than emotions are, they are more about giving you a reasonably complete picture of what's in front of you).
The whole concept of expecting an automatic response or indication of a situation, whether emotional or not, doesn't make sense. You have that for many things but not all things. Such responses have to come from somewhere, they don't just exist automatically in all cases.
With that out of the way, the best indication of overreaching is hardness. When something feels hard, maybe you're overreaching. Feeling confused or overwhelmed are other relevant indicators. These aren't about overreaching but they have some overlap. They're in the right ballpark.
The feeling of hardness indicates inefficiency.
People are confused about hardness partly because there are two types. Hardness-A is an evaluation of the issue in general. Hardness-B is the feeling, it's about a person's experience. Hence people do hard things and say "it was easy for me". Touch typing is fairly hard. It takes practice. It's a skill you have to develop. But it's easy for me. I do it without thinking. It doesn't require conscious attention. I used to experience it as being difficult, but I don't now.
The same is true of walking. There was a time in my life when I couldn't walk and I had to learn how. Most ways of using leg muscles do not result in walking, they result in falling. Only some specific actions succeed as walking and staying balanced. And people have tried to write software to make a robot walk around and they've found that's difficult.
Speaking English is hard. There are thousands of words to learn, each with a spelling and a pronunciation and at least one definition. There are grammar rules and exceptions. There are different forms of words with similar but different meanings, e.g. "hammer", "hammered", "hammering", "hammers", "hammer-like". But once you get used to English enough, it can feel easy, intuitive and second-nature.
It's the same with chess. The better you get at chess, the better you can autopilot it and play without trying very hard. Chess players have a skill level they can play at when trying hard, and a separate, lower skill level they can play at when taking it easy. The skill level for taking it easy isn't usually far behind – a top player can easily beat a good player. In other words, trying hard doesn't make a big difference. A top 1% player when trying his best is still a top 2% player when not trying very hard. Trying hard at chess does make a big difference when playing serious tournament games against players of similar skill, but it wouldn't make any difference against most opponents.
Trying hard is a big effort for small results. That's an inefficient use of effort. 10% of the effort lets a chess player achieve 90% of his maximum skill. Then trying ten times harder only adds a one ninth increase in skill. It makes sense to try hard in a competition where only the best player wins and everyone is trying their best, but it usually doesn't make sense to do that in life in general. And all this applies to many other examples besides chess.
Trying hard means you're not autopiloting. You're using conscious attention, which is a limited resource. You're using focus and mental energy and creativity and that kind of stuff. And, in general, people can do that for around 2 or 3 hours per day. They can do more in the short term but it leads to burnout if they keep it up over time. (For knowledge workers, the 8 hour work day is a myth. For chess players, they focus longer when competing, but they don't compete on most days.)
Trying hard means working at the edge of your abilities with less margin for error. It means more mistakes are made. It means you're trying to do things that you don't know an easy way to do. It means trying to do things you can't do habitually, can't do while multitasking, can't do while not at your best.
Most of our life is automated. Our minds are complicated and do tons of stuff. Our consciousness is like a factory manager who can go around and inspect any one workstation at a time and make changes, but the work in the factory always keeps going everywhere else. Hard stuff is stuff that only the manager can do, there's no workstation to do it. Doing hard stuff means the manager is busy and can't go around inspecting and improving the workstations in the factory, nor creating new ones. Some people don't notice the loss because their manager (conscious mind) is usually mostly idle anyway, rather than going around checking for problems. If you have a lazy manager who wasn't going to do much anyway, then keeping him busy doesn't appear to have much downside. It's still bad though: a busy manager isn't going to reform. Keeping the manager distracted from the ongoing, unsolved problems is not how to change things so that he becomes a better manager.
In general in life, you need to figure out easy, repeatable, low-error ways to do things, then automate them (add them as workstations in your mental factory that can keep producing even when the manager isn't there). Adding more of those is how you get a lot done in life. Having your manager do any work himself is a huge loss of productivity. Your manager can do the work of, like, three workstations. Maybe even ten. He's really good at stuff compared to the automated processes (which you can think of like robots or low skilled workers). But in the long run, having your manager do the work of even a hundred workstations is a terrible deal. It makes way more sense for him to help set up thousands or millions of workstations. Much more will get done if he doesn't do it. (Also, remember, if the manager works more than three hours a day, that's overtime and he starts getting tired.)
Stuff feels hard when your manager has to do it instead of a workstation doing it. You don't know how to do it using only the sorts of cheap, plentiful mental resources that form automatic workstations.
People are confused because having their manager do something is a common step in workstation setup. First you figure out how to do something using conscious attention and maximum focus. If you can do it at all, that's a good step one. Then you figure out how to do it more easily and reliably. Then you get good at it to the point it's easy and automatic/intuitive/second-nature.
But doing something for the purpose of learning and setting up an automatic workstation, and doing it to get it done, are different things. The goal matters to how its done. Like, is the manager taking notes on how he does it so that he can then hand off the job to an unskilled worker later? Is he looking for what could be automated, as he goes along? Is he trying to figure out how to break down the task into small, simple parts that could be handled by dumb workers or robots? Doing those things helps work towards a day when the manager can stop being involved and delegate everything – which means he can move on to new projects.
On the other hand, sometimes people think they will only do something once, so they don't worry about any of that stuff, they just try to get it done and even getting the manager to do it a second time would be hard (they have no notes, they don't even know exactly what they did, they just fiddled with stuff until it worked and they lost track of some of their actions).
And sometimes people think automating something is too hard, so they won't bother. Right now, the easiest thing to do is get it done without worrying about the future. Figuring out how to automate stuff is extra work. Then they do the same thing again the next day, and the next, and they keep wasting manager effort and never get a workstation created. (This is more common with things that come up sporadically, e.g. every few weeks, but sometimes people do it with daily tasks.) Or sometimes people partially automate a task, e.g. typing, but they never fully automate it, it's always a bit of work and a bit distracting.
People talk about inspiration and perspiration. But it should be inspiration and automation. Instead of working hard, figure out how the great new idea can be done easily and repeatedly.
A big obstacle to automation is errors. Every time something goes wrong, the low skill workers or robots at the workstation can't do much troubleshooting. They aren't very creative. They'll go through a checklist of troubleshooting steps if their manager told them to (that's highly recommended!). If that doesn't work, then either the manager has to come along and fix things (like if a machine is broken), or else they can throw out that work product and start over (if only half of the things the workstation produces actually work, it can still produce stuff, although there better be some quality control steps to actually find the broken ones and get rid of them).
Automating requires figuring out how to do stuff in a highly reliable way with a low error rate. You have to figure out not just a method to accomplish a task, but an easy, reliable method that doesn't have many ways to fail. If every step is easy, and that are steps to check for problems and standard ways to fix them, then it can work pretty well and the manager doesn't have to be called in very often to clean up a mess. That's good if your goal is to get millions of workstations running, with just one manager, so that you can get a lot done in life. And yes millions is realistic.
Your brain is a computer. It's a more powerful computer than my iMac. My iMac can do around four billion CPU cycles per second, and each cycle can get several small tasks done. If the average workstation involves a million small tasks to complete one work product, and I have a million workstations, then they might all be able to average a work product completion every 10 seconds, while all running simultaneously. That's the ballpark of how powerful the brain is. And it's better to have a billion workstations and turn some on and off – some are general purpose, but most are only used when doing a specific kind of activity, e.g. a workstation that is only used when playing or thinking about chess. (Figuring out more general purpose workstations helps keep things manageable – it means you need fewer total workstations and you can get stuff done with fewer running at once. Thinking in a more principled way can mean a hundred million workstations, with a million on at a time, instead of a hundred billion workstations with ten million on at a time.)