Or more straightforwardly:
“how to give feedback to somebody about something that you’re noticing going on for them, where you suspect that if you try to acknowledge it they’ll get defensive/evasive & deny it”
One of the core principles of my Non-Naive Trust Dance framework is that it’s impossible to codify loving communication—that any attempt to do so, taken too seriously, will end up getting weaponized.
Having said that, maybe if we don’t take ourselves too seriously, it would be helpful to have a template for a particularly difficult kind of conversation: broaching the subject about something you’re noticing, where you expect that by default what will happen is that you won’t even be able to get acknowledgement that the something exists. This can be crazy-making. I often call it “blindspot feedback” although for most people that phrase carries connotations that usually make people extra defensive rather than more able to orient and listen carefully.
To see more about how I think about this, you can read this twitter thread:
But I want the template to stand alone, so I’m not going to give much more preamble before offering it to you. The intent is that this template will help people bridge that very first tricky step of even managing to acknowledge that one person is seeing something that the other person might not be seeing, and having that be okay.
I’m calling this alpha-testing not beta-testing because while I know the principles underlying this template are sound, and I’ve tested the moves in my own tough conversations and while facilitating for others… as of this initial publication the template itself has been used zero times, so I don’t want to pretend that it itself is well-honed.
So I’d like to collect lots of perspectives, of what people think of the template just from looking at it, and of how conversations go when you try to use the template for them.
Without further ado, here’s a link to the template.
I’d love if you gave me your thoughts while you read it. To do that, make a copy, name it “Yourname’s copy of Template” then highlight sections and leave comments on them, then give comment access to me (use my gmail if you have it, or malcolm @ this domain). That would be very helpful. Even just little things like “ohhhh, cool” or “I don’t get why you’d say this” or “would it work to rephrase this like X, or would that be missing something important?”
To try it out, make a copy, then fill it out, and do what you want with it. Then, if you’d like to help me iterate on it or would otherwise like your experience of using it seen by me, fill out this form and let me know how it worked for you (or didn’t).
I’m back in the bay area for the first time in awhile
this has involved seeing some folks that I haven’t seen in a long time (4-6 years)
in a few cases, these were people that I was quite close to years ago (more like 7-8 years)
well, when I say close, I don’t necessarily mean emotionally close. but we had conversations, worked on projects together, and talked about important things
important things like the end of the world
important things like what we were supposed to do about the end of the world, and how to think about the end of the world, and how we were supposed to feel very scared and very determined to do something about it
and there were two people who, in order to be honest in encountering them again, I had to acknowledge that we had some reconciliation to do. it was scary but utterly necessary to say. any change of heart unacknowledged produces subtle weirdness. distrust unacknowledged makes it harder to get shared reality
as I wrote in 2021: Catching my Breath, I’ve done a bunch of healing over the past years about ways in which I was applying a kind of pressure on myself that made it hard to rest. physiologically I had a sense that there was something not right, something I needed to fix, something not okay about the world.
and I feel like my internal pressure has largely eased off. not that there isn’t more to untangle—I’m sure there is—but overall it feels quite integrated
thus in encountering these old acquaintances, I didn’t have a sense of needing something from them, for my own wholeness. but I needed to have a conversation about it in order to for the two of us to have wholeness, and by extension, for the larger community we’re part of to have wholeness.
I’ve been practicing confronting people, to acknowledge past boundaries crossed, even when there’s nothing to be done about it at this point. It’s really profound, just to have my anger heard and received—to have the loop closed. something laid to rest. I did a bit of that with my parents last fall.
in the first case, you arrive midafternoon, and you see me in the co-what-now corner and come over to talk. you start to just dive in with me about something interesting and timely and quite personal, and I’m finding myself needing to just slow down and acknowledge the tension from years past. you seem disappointed locally by the interruption, but overall appreciative that I’m naming it, and unsurprised to hear that it’s there. we agree to talk about it later. you ask if it’s okay that I don’t trust you, observing that in some sense it seems it might not be, and I say I’ll ponder that. I muse to myself that maybe there’s something in you that feels not okay with it, that is splitting and afraid of being tarred as plain bad.» read the rest of this entry »
note to self: art is choosing what to breathe life into
art is choosing what to breathe life into
this? not this. not this. this?
sometimes I get stuck because I have more urges than I know how to handle
“I want to write”
“no I want to take a shower”
“but before I take a shower I want to work out”
“but I’m still partway through writing”
“wait but I’m kinda hungry”
“wait no but I don’t want to eat if I’m about to work out”
…and on. and on.
so many urges. so many things to take care of. I can’t do all of them, not all at once. I can maybe take care of all of them eventually… but by then there will be more.
I can probably take care of what needs taking care of eventually, on some level of abstraction, somewhere up in my perceptual control hierarchy
even thinking a thought is sort of an urge
you’re tryna take care of something
these urges are helpful
while it may be challenging when they’re all tugging in different directions
…these urges are all really helpful
honestly, they’re kinda… made of helpfulness» read the rest of this entry »
“Partswork” (usually “parts work” but it’s on its way to being one word like “cupboard”) is sort of a catch-all term for therapeutic or introspection approaches that involve orienting to yourself as having different parts, that have different desires, wants, needs, beliefs, experiences, perspectives, etc.
Speaking in terms of “part of me” is very common. I would be surprised to find a reader of this post who has never used a phrase like “part of me wants to go out tonight, but part of me wants to stay in” or “part of me distrusts him” or “part of me really just wants to finish this right now” or “part of me wants to do nothing but eat chocolate all day” or “part of me thinks nobody will ever love me”.
And this was the origin of Internal Family Systems therapy, the most famous form of partswork. When Dick Schwartz was working with his clients, he noticed them saying phrases like that, and started developing a theory of these “parts”. The term “parts” came from the common language of his clients. He then developed a powerful taxonomy of different types of parts (exiles & protectors (subtypes: managers & firefighters)) which relate in particular ways and have specific types of relationships with each other. In IFS sessions, it’s common for the parts to be given names (perhaps by asking the part what to call it) and to have fairly stable identities across different sessions over weeks or months.
People have different models of what’s going on there, and whether these parts truly “exist” or whether they’re just a useful interface or metaphor for relating with oneself. I don’t have a particular take on that—in fact, I’m not even entirely certain that those two views refer to a different world (Don Hoffman posits that all perception is interface). The parts obviously aren’t discrete in the way car parts are; they’re much more organic and intertwingled.
What I do have a take on is that you don’t need to reify or name parts in order to do partswork. You can—for big issues this can be really helpful. The IFS model is good and seems to track for a lot of people.
But it can also add unnecessary overhead, and make it hard to notice that the same principles of internal conflict apply on other scales as well.
This is particularly salient to me since my introduction to the importance of inner conflict wasn’t IFS, it was Perceptual Control Theory, whose parts are very tiny and in some ways ephemeral.» read the rest of this entry »
Ahh, year themes. For 2022, I chose the theme Deepening, figuring it would be a good fit with me settling down in BC, doing more deep work now that I finally had a proper office set-up for the first time in a year, deepening my relationship with my partner Sarah after years of difficulty there, and deepening into friendship & collaboration with my old friend Eric (the three of us had just started living together with the aim of creating an intentional culture node).
Instead, my marriage with Sarah ended and I ended up spending almost the entire year travelling.
And yet, much like 2020 when “Free to Dance” ended up not being much about physical dancing (which got locked down for covid) but instead being a beautiful description of my experience of moving out of the community I’d lived in for 7.5 years in order to be free to explore my Non-Naive Trust Dance framework (which itself is very much about fundamental freedom)…
…my 2022 was indeed very much one of deepening. Just… not in the ways I expected.
In early 2022, heading towards my 30th birthday in March, I found myself thinking about how many people find that birthday scary—I’m not in my 20s anymore! Oh no! I’m old! I’m supposed to have my shit together, and I don’t!—and yet I found myself feeling very ready to turn 30. I was settling down into a place for the long haul, I had solid relationships I intended to build on for the rest of my life, I was starting to think about kids, I knew what my work was (both my livelihood from Complice, and my life’s work with the Non-Naive Trust Dance) and I was ready to not be a “young adult”.
January and February went roughly as I expected. I connected more deeply with the friends I was making on Vancouver Island. I did some deep reading, such as Geoffrey West’s book Scale (top book reco from 2022 for sure). I wrote 21k words on a doc called How We Get There, describing a pathway to collaborative culture which I had first envisioned the same day I had the NNTD insight back in 2020. It was a bit too high-context to publish, but I shared it with some friends and I might edit it into an ebook at some point.
I went to a really cool weekend event on Salt Spring Island called Deep Play Immersion, which was a dozen folks exploring mashups of Improv Theatre, Internal Family Systems, and Circling, by a fascinating guy named Aaron Finbloom. It was there that I discovered that apparently some young part of me thinks that when people (including me) aren’t talking, they in some sense don’t exist. This might explain why I love talking and find silence difficult.
In the meantime, since I love talking, I started making videos and posting them to youtube! Almost entirely single-take no-edit videos, ranging from 3 to 20 minutes long. This seems to be a really easy way to get more of my ideas out there, especially ones that don’t feel refined enough to make into a blog post. These videos feel a bit more ephemeral somehow. I’m at 54 videos out of an initial target of 100. I lost some momentum in the 2nd half of the year but I’m stoked to pick it up again and I’m sure over the coming years I’ll post hundreds of videos. It’s a cool medium.
In early March, I went to Vibecamp in Austin, TX. It was my first trip after the pandemic, and I was stoked to meet friends new and old, and to explore doing things like singing and dancing that we can’t do on the internet.
This is where the year took a turn in a totally different direction.» read the rest of this entry »
Another sequel to “Mindset choice” is a confusion. Here’s the first, which I wrote a year ago and published earlier this week: Mindset choice 2: expanding awareness.
I started exploring the implications of a simple question: what is within my power to choose?
This is something that we have to learn as infants and toddlers and kids—oh, I can choose to clench my fist… but I can’t choose to clench yours. Ooh… I can choose to look at something, but I can’t choose to make you look at something. Ah! I can choose to point at the thing, and maybe you’ll look, but I can’t directly steer your gaze or attention. In some sense, this is precisely where the boundary of self and other is located! And it’s also connected to how when we’re wielding a tool that works for us and it fades into the background, it becomes part of ourselves.
I can’t directly control you, although I might be able to invite or persuade or coerce you. And while I can’t quite control you, I can be trying to control you. Or I can be allowing you to be you and honoring the obvious-once-you-look-at-it reality that my choice ends at the edges of me. Society has historically involved a lot of the former, at great cost but also with meaningful results: lots of civilization was built by someone telling someone else what to do, on some level.
Then I considered that same structure, but applied internally to my own mind, and I realized that I have different parts that have different wills, and these parts also can’t control each other. They each have their own choice-making faculty, in this sense. To be clear, this line of thinking doesn’t require reifying these parts as persistent named entities as one might in IFS (Internal Family Systems). That’s an option, and might be helpful, but most fundamentally we’re just talking about some sort of subsystem that in a given moment is doing some perceiving, some wanting, some steering, etc.
And if those subsystems want something that’s compatible, I simply do it—no choice required.
But if one subsystem wants one thing and one wants another, and on a given level both aren’t possible—suppose part of me wants to keep writing and another part wants to go eat dinner—then neither system can simply enact its will since the other will oppose it. If one urge is particularly strong, eg because of a deadline or the smell of pizza in the oven, then that urge might overpower the other—it seems there are systems that track the size of urges as part of prioritizing and preventing such inner gridlock. Anyway, at that point, if the overpowered part releases and allows the first thing to happen, I’ll have full energy to do whatever it is I’ve found myself doing; if not, then I’ll experience friction and distraction—thoughts of food while trying to write, or thoughts of my blog post while eating. Or some more subtle indigestion of the mind and/or body.
What choice do each of these parts have, while in a conflict?» read the rest of this entry »
Another piece I wrote a year ago that I want to publish as a kind of snapshot rather than try to get it perfect. My ideas here keep evolving and any version that I come up with seems simultaneously confused and clarifying.
A sequel to “Mindset choice” is a confusion.
My Non-Naive Trust Dance framework and its clarity that mindset choice is confused was a huge source of relief for me, because I’d been feeling pressured to somehow make a choice that I couldn’t make, and which on some level I knew I couldn’t make.
However, I have also experienced a perspective from which it seemed to be true that in some sense your mindset is certainly a thing that only you can choose, and in another sense perhaps even the only thing you can choose. So how does that integrate with “mindset choice” being a confusion?
Here’s some thinking out loud on the topic. I’m aware of some limitations—this feels like it’s sort of dancing around the puzzle, not getting right to the heart of it.
One piece of the choice puzzle is: via expanding awareness.
This framing of expanding attention (awareness) as including both doing and not-doing is really interesting. One of the core skills of Alexander Technique is that of inhibition, the constructive noticing and not responding to stimuli. You may notice that you have the urge to yell at your boss, but you don’t.
But this is an active process, one that is continually renewing itself. You are aware of what you are doing in response to your boss (having a conversation) and what you’re not doing in your response to your boss (yelling). Through the skill of inhibition, your awareness includes both of these processes at once.
The expanded awareness is what allows this to happen. If your awareness were collapsed down to the yell response, you wouldn’t have any choice but to yell. By expanding out you are able to monitor a wider field of processes and choose the one you want.— my friend Michael Ashcroft‘s newsletter. Emphasis mine in the last paragraph
And elsewhere:» read the rest of this entry »
The following is a piece I wrote a year ago. A few months back I started editing it for publication and it started evolving and inverting and changing so dramatically that I found myself just wanting to publish the original as a snapshot of where my thinking was at about a year ago when I first drafted this. I realized today that attempts to write canonical pieces are daunting because there’s a feeling of having to answer all questions for all time, and that instead I want to just focus on sharing multiple perspectives on things, which can be remixed and refined later and more in public. So, with some minor edits but no deep rethinking, here’s one take on what coercion is. And you might see more pieces here soon that I let go of trying to perfect first.
Coercion = “the exploitation of the scarcity of another, to force the other to behave in a way that you want”
The word “behave” is very important in the above definition. Shooting someone and taking their wallet isn’t coercion, as bad as it is. Neither is picking their pocket when they’re not paying attention. But threatening someone at gunpoint and telling them to hand over their wallet (or stand still while you take it) is coercion. This matches commonly accepted understandings of the word, as far as I know.
A major inspiration for this piece is Perceptual Control Theory, a cybernetic model of cognition and action, which talks about behavior as the control of perception. I’m also mostly going to talk about interpersonal coercion here—self-coercion is similar but subtler.
If someone has a scarcity of food, you can coerce them by feeding them conditional on them doing what you want. This is usually called slavery. One important thing to note is that it requires you physically prevent them from feeding themselves any other way! Which in practice usually also involves the threat of violence if they attempt to flee and find a better arrangement.
In general, a strategy built on the use of coercion means preferring that the coerced agent continue to be generally in a state of scarcity, because otherwise you would be unable to continue to control them! (Because they could just get their need met some other way and therefore wouldn’t have to do what you say!)» read the rest of this entry »
For its whole existence, I’ve been vaguely wanting my business to grow. For a while, it did, but for the most part, it hasn’t. I wrote last post about how I have increasing amounts of motivation to grow it, but motivation towards something isn’t enough to make it happen. You also need to not have other motivations away from it.
My understanding of how motivation & cognition works is that any inner resistance is a sign of something going unaccounted for in making the plan. Sometimes it’s just a feeling of wishing it were easier or simpler, that needs to be honored & welcomed in order for it to release… other times the resistance is carrying meaningful wisdom about myself or the world, and integrating it is necessary to have an adequate plan.
In either case, if the resistance isn’t welcomed, it’s like driving with the handbrake on: constant source of friction which means more energy is required for a worse result.
Months ago, I did a 5 sessions of being coached by friends of mine as part of Coherence Coaching training we were all doing. Mostly fellow Goal-Crafting Intensive coaches. My main target of change with this coaching was to untangle my resistance to growing Complice. I think it loosened a lot of it up but I still have work to do to really integrate it.
In this post, I’m going to share some of the elements I noticed, as part of that integration as well as working with the garage door up and sharing my process of becoming skilled at non-coercive marketing. Coercion is quite relevant to some (but not all!) of the resistance I’ve found so far.
I’m going to do my best to be more in a think-out-loud, summarize-for-my-own-purposes mode here, rather than a mode of presenting it to you. Roughly in chronological order by session, which happens to mostly start by looking at money and end by looking at marketing…
This isn’t one I have very strongly, but it did arise a little bit. There was a sense of I don’t want to have too much money because then people will want my money. (Interestingly, time doesn’t work like this since it’s not so fungible in most cases!) But overall I like being generous and I expect that if I suddenly had a bunch of people trying to get me to contribute to their things, I’d do a good job of figuring out how to manage that. And frankly probably lots of people I know have likely assumed that I have more money than I do and I haven’t received the slightest pressure related to that (although a couple people over the years asking if I’d angel invest, which is the kind of message I’d like to get from friends anyway!)» read the rest of this entry »
About 10 years ago, I set a goal to not have to get a job when I graduated from university 3 years later. My rough plan was to start a small software business that made me enough money to live on so I could do whatever I wanted. It took me another year to actually start working on that goal, but I achieved it!
I built Complice, an intentionality app that helps people set goals and work towards them each day even when what they need to do each day is very different. It’s based around the idea that regular inquiry into what you’re doing towards long-term goals makes a big difference in your ability to steer towards the futures you want.
After I hit ramen profitability, I grew the business a bit more, but it hit a plateau. While I never really decided to stop growing it, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the growth stopped right around the threshold of wealth that I was used to as a kid growing up: definitely enough money for basic things and healthy food, but not like… extra. More concretely, about $50k in subscription revenue, with very little required work—the famous four-hour work week.
It’s hard to express how awesome this has been. I get to do weird illegible things like prototype a new cultural platform for humanity, without convincing anyone else that they’re worthwhile. I like to say that for something fairly highly rated, passive income is still underrated—at least for me. Some people feel the need to have external structure in their life in the form of a job, but not me. I like waking up every day and broadly doing what I feel like doing, or what seems to need doing based on my own personal assessment.» read the rest of this entry »
I'm Malcolm Ocean.
I'm developing scalable solutions to coordination between parts of people as well as between people. More about me.