Exploring & integrating my resistances to growing Complice

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…

Having more money is bad

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 »

Exploring non-coercive marketing for my intentionality app business

My backstory & situation

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.

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What are you knot-doing?

You know that thing where you spend a lot of time NOT doing something?

Like you can’t actively do anything else (spontaneously nor decisively) because you’re supposed to be doing the thing, but you’re also not doing the thing because of some conflict/resistance.

I’ve decided to call this knot-doing. (I have another post in the works called knot-listening). You can just pronounce the k if you want to distinguish it from “not doing” in the daoist sense. Or call the latter “non-doing” and be done with it.

Here are some examples of knot-doing:

  • You feel like you should be working on your grad thesis… pretty much always… so it’s hard to make time to go out and have fun, or to go to the gym… but you don’t actually spend more than a couple hours here and there actually working on it.
  • You’re sitting at your desk at work and you don’t feel like doing your assignment so you’re sorta scrolling through your email and you sorta wish you were working on a side project but you can’t actually work on a side project on company time.
  • It’s a nice day and you’d love to be outside, but you’d decided you’re going to spend the day doing your taxes… and you will… any minute now… after you clean the sink, because you know, it could really use cleaning… and come to think of it the shower is also kinda gungy…

You might be inclined to just call this “procrastination” but I think that knot-doing is a more specific phenomenon because it points at the lack of agency experienced while being in the state of not doing something—your agency is tied up in knots. A student may be procrastinating if they go to a party instead of working on their homework, but if they’re letting go and having fun at the party then it’s not knot-doing. I’m arguably procrastinating on fixing my phone’s mobile data after a recent OS upgrade, but I’m doing loads of other stuff in the meantime.

a figure with long hair sits at a desk, but the person is sort of made of strands and is tied in various knots
“knot-doing”, illustrated by Silvia as usual

Why does knot-doing occur?

Unresolved internal conflict, most fundamentally. You’re a bunch of control systems in a trenchcoat, and if part of you has an issue with your plan, it can easily veto it and prevent it from happening. Revealed preferences can be a misleading frame, but if you leave aside what you think you want for a moment and look at yourself as a large complex system, it’s clear to see that if the whole system truly decided to do anything in its capability, it would simply be doing it. I want to type these words, my hands move to type them. Effortless.

Sex can be a workout, physically, depending on the position, but until we actually become tired, we usually also experience it as effortless when we’re so in the flow that we just want to do it. Same with dancing. Being in a flow state, whether work or play, is basically the opposite of knot-doing.

I want to break down my above statement: “You’re a bunch of control systems in a trenchcoat”. First, what’s a control system? The simplest and most familiar example is a thermostat: you set a temperature, and if the temperature gets too low, it turns on the furnace to resolve that error, until the temperature measured by the thermostat reaches the reference level that you set for it.

But what prompts you to adjust the temperature setting? You probably walked over to the thermostat and changed it because you were yourself too hot or too cold. You have your own intrinsic reference level for temperature, which is like a thermostat in you. Except instead of just two states (furnace on, furnace off), your inner thermostat controls a dense network of other control systems which can locomote you to adjust the wall thermostat, open a window, put on a sweater, make a cup of tea, or any number of other strategies (habitual or creative) to get yourself to the right temperature.

Without explaining much more about this model (known as Perceptual Control Theory) I want to point out an important implication for internal conflict, by way of a metaphor: if your house has separate thermostats for an air conditioner and a furnace, and you set the AC to 18°C and the furnace to 22°C……. you’re going to create a conflict.

What actually happens in this scenario?

» read the rest of this entry »

How I run Online Workshops

(An alternative to “online courses”.)

Context: with a small team, I’ve been running online workshops a couple times a year (30 sessions total) since 2017, called the Goal-Crafting Intensive. It’s been a huge success, with many returning participants and lots of rave reviews and referrals. The GCI is about life-effectiveness (goal-setting, planning, execution, reflection) but the event format could be used for many other topics! I’m sharing this guide because I’d like to see other people make events like this for what they have to teach (and I’d like to attend sessions like this).

Summary/Table of Contents

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Complice: Beyond Getting Things Done

Some years ago, I invented a new productivity system, called Complice. Complice is a productivity app, and it’s also a productivity philosophy, or even an entire paradigm.

What is Complice?

Complice is a new approach to goal achievement, in the form of both a philosophy and a software system. Its aim is to create consistent, coherent, processes, for people to realize their goals, in two senses:

  • realize what their goals are
  • make their goals a reality

Virtually all to-do list software on the internet, whether it knows it or not, is based on the workflow and philosophy called GTD (David Allen’s “Getting Things Done”). Complice is different. It wasn’t created as a critique of GTD, but it’s easiest to describe it by contrasting it with this implicit default so many people are used to.

First, a one-sentence primer on the basic workflow in Complice:

  1. Clarify your goals: what matters to you on the timescale of months/years?
  2. Set intentions for today: how can your day be in service of your big-picture vision?
  3. Take action: work on what feels meaningful, whether the intentions you set or other emergent opportunities or challenges.
  4. Review, reflect, reorient: did you do what you set out to do? Is it actually moving the needle? Go to 2.

There’s a lot more to it, but this is the basic structure. Perhaps less obvious is what’s not part of the workflow. We’ll talk about some of that below, but that’s still all on the level of behavior though—the focus of this post is the paradigmatic differences of Complice, compared to GTD-based systems. These are:

  • choosing & doing, over organizing
  • goals as fundamental, rather than tasks
  • aliveness, instead of exhaustiveness
  • proactive, rather than reactive

Keep reading and we’ll explore each of them…

» read the rest of this entry »

“Systems vs Goals” is silly. Have both!

I don’t often pick fights, but when I do, I pick them on Twitter, apparently.

The Law of Viral Inaccuracy says that the most popular version of a meme is likely to be optimized for shareability, not accuracy to reality nor the intent of the original person saying it. On Twitter, this takes the form of people parroting short phrases as if everybody knows what words mean. One of the phrases I felt a need to critique is Dilbert creator Scott Adams’ “systems, not goals”.

This blog post is adapted from a tweetstorm I wrote.

The term “pre-success failure” from Scott Adams’ book is a gem. His related idea that you should have systems and not have goals is absurd. (have both!) Scott cites Olympic athletes as examples. 🤨

Take 3 guesses what goal an Olympic athlete has… 🥇🥈🥉

Systems don’t work without goals.

You need a goal in mind in order to choose or design what system to follow, and it’s literally impossible to evaluate whether a system is effective without something to compare it with. Implicitly, that’s a goal. (Scott Adams uses a somewhat narrower definition, but of course people just seeing his tiny quote don’t know that!)

We know certain Olympic athletes had good systems because they got the medals. They designed those systems to optimize for their athletic performance.

Lots of other Olympic athletes also had training systems, but their systems didn’t work as well—as measured by their goals.

I’m part of a team that runs a goal-setting workshop each year called the Goal-Crafting Intensive (where part of the craft is setting up systems) and the definition of goal that we use in that context is:

» read the rest of this entry »

Make an appointment with your saner self

Most people have had the experience of being able to articulate advice that they themselves do not follow, even though it applies to their situation as well. Usually this implies that there’s some sort of internal conflict present—a competing commitment that gets in the way of doing the thing that the person might consider reasonable. I have written much on transcending and untangling internal conflict (see these posts) and I will write much more.

But transcending internal conflict can be a lengthy, complex, and non-monotonic process, and in the meantime you’re still sitting around with a bunch of great advice you’re not taking. A bunch of untapped potential.

There’s a really straightforward technique that can help with this:

make an appointment with your saner self.

Put an event on your calendar, and treat it with the respect you’d give any other appointment. Which is to say: show up. Or, if for some reason it turns out you can’t, then reschedule for the nearest appropriate time.

Then, when the time comes, take your own advice. You can do this literally—consider what advice you’d give a friend in your situation, then do that—or you can just do the obvious thing. You can do this with specific object-level situations, eg “I need to get around to submitting that application” or with more abstract things like “I really should take more time to reflect on my life.”

Or perhaps you’ve got a technique that you know really helps you, whenever you do it, but you never seem to do it. “If I actually used the CFAR techniques, my life would be way better,” said almost every CFAR alumnus ever. Well, make an appointment with your saner self (the one who does the techniques) and then show up and do them.

Ways this can fail (and some suggestions)

Make sure you’re clear on what the appointment is. It’s okay to leave it open-ended when you make the appointment, but once the appointment starts, don’t take more than 5 minutes to figure out how you’re going to spend it. Or decide “I’m going to spend it prioritizing”. The key is not to let the time slip by while you wonder what the best way to spend it would be. Which of course you probably know on some level. The point of this technique is to tap into what you already know about how you can have a better life.

If you don’t have enough self-trust to show up for an appointment if there isn’t someone else who’ll be left stood-up, then make an appointment with someone else. Feel free to arrange this in the comments below. I’ve done this with strangers and also old friends I hadn’t talked to in years (which was cool!). I recommend just trying a half-hour skype call, with a minute or two of “Hi, this is what I’m going to work on,” then a 25-minute focused work period (aka “pomodoro”) then a minute or two of “Here’s how it went.” Then if both of you want, you can continue for more pomodoros, but you’re not committing up front to doing it for hours.

Even better, you can make a calendar where people can schedule such calls with you, using Calendly or youcanbook.me, share it with your friends, and then little sanity blocks will just automatically appear on your calendar. I did this for awhile and it was great. Each time a call occurred, I just asked “oh, what’s some thing I’ve been putting off?” and I would get started on it.

If you don’t have enough self-trust to show up for an appointment if there isn’t someone else who’ll be left stood-up, but you can’t/won’t schedule with someone else, then you could also try making a self-trust bet on this. Make sure to set a reminder so the thing doesn’t just slip by forgotten.

If you don’t have a calendar or any other system that you can rely on at all… get one? Assuming you have a smartphone, you can get it to bug you at a time. You then just need to (a) pick a time that you’re likely to be interruptible, and (b) when the timer goes off, actually shift into doing whatever it was you set out to do.

Let’s go meta: maybe you already knew about this sort of technique. Maybe you’ve done it before, or maybe you’ve suggested it to other people. Do you use it as much as you imagine would be optimal? If not, apply it to itself! Make an appointment right now with your saner self, and use the time to try to set up a regular event, or a youcanbook.me like I described above.

If the thing feels burdensome, then… this may not be the technique for you. You want to find a way of thinking about it so that you feel excited to spend time with (i.e. as) your saner self. If you can’t find a way to feel excited or at least engaged about it, then it’s not worth yelling at yourself about it. That defeats the point. Go read my post on self-referential motivation instead, and see if that helps.

Conceptual scaffolds and logistical scaffolds

For New Year’s last year, my business partner Benjamin and I ran an event called the Goal-Crafting Intensive. It was a five-hour online workshop on setting your goals for the year. Ostensibly, the main value of the workshop was the instruction: presentations I made about goal-setting & planning, a 23-page handbook, and chat-based coaching. Certainly, few people would have paid money for such an event if all three of those aspects had been absent.

And yet… I have a suspicion that the main value of the event was the fact that each participant carved out five hours from their schedule and then actually spent it focused on setting goals for the year.

Which is to say, if I imagine two people…

  • Allie buys the presentation videos and the handbook plus the ability to get some chat-based coaching.
  • Barry buys a ticket to “Open Goal Setting Afternoon” which is just a 5-hour solo-work context of some sort.

Who would have a more goal-directed year?

My money is on Barry.

Why? Our goal-setting content is actually quite good, but Allie would probably never actually open the handbook at all, let alone watch the videos. And even if she did, she would be likely to read it partway and then say, “Hmm yeah I really should do these exercises” …but still not actually do them.

Whereas Barry, who only has his own advice to take, is at least taking the time to do the best he knows how to do.

And that’s what counts. That’s why even though the Goal-Crafting Intensive is 5 hours long, only about 10-15 minutes of each hour is presentations. Then I mute my microphone, to give each participant the rest of the hour to focus on whatever seems most important to them—which could be the technique I just described, or it could be something totally different!

We’re running the Goal-Crafting Intensive again this year. So if you think your 2018 could be improved by taking 5 hours to set some goals and design some systems, then come join us on Dec 30, Jan 1, or Jan 7, and we’ll give you both good advice and time to take it.

Click this image to learn more about the 2018 goal-crafting intensive:

Get somewhere next year. "Most people overestimate what they can do in a day, and underestimate what they can do in a year."

Transcending Blame while Hopping Mountains Together

Another personal learning update, this time flavored around Complice and collaboration. I wasn’t expecting this when I set out to write the post, but what’s below ended up being very much a thematic continuation on the previous learning update post (which got a lot of positive response) so if you’re digging this post you may want to jump over to that one. It’s not a prerequisite though, so you’re also free to just keep reading.

I started out working on Complice nearly four years ago, in part because I didn’t want to have to get a job and work for someone else when I graduated from university. But I’ve since learned that there’s an extent to which it wasn’t just working for people but merely working with people long-term that I found aversive. One of my growth areas over the course of the past year or so has been developing a way-of-being in working relationships that is enjoyable and effective.

I wrote last week about changing my relationship to internal conflict, which involved defusing some propensity for being self-critical. Structurally connected with that is getting better at not experiencing or expressing blame towards others either. In last week’s post I talked about how I knew I was yelling at myself but had somehow totally dissociated from the fact that that meant that I was being yelled at.

» read the rest of this entry »

Just Do A Thing (that nobody’s expecting you to do)

This post was co-written with my friend Duncan Sabien, a very prolific doer of things. He had the idea of writing the article in a sort of panel-style, so we could each share our personal experiences on the subject.

Malcolm: At the CFAR alumni reunion this August, my friend Alton remarked: “You’re really self-directed and goal-oriented.  How do we make more people like you?”

It didn’t take me long to come up with an answer:

“I think we need to get people to go and do things that nobody’s expecting them to do.”

Duncan: When I was maybe nine years old, I had a pretty respectable LEGO collection dropped into my lap all at once.  I remember that there was one small spaceship (about 75 or 80 pieces) that I brought along to summer camp, with predictable results.

I found myself trying to piece the thing back together again, and succeeded after a long and frustrating hour.  Then, to be absolutely sure, I took it completely apart and reassembled it from scratch.  I did this maybe forty or fifty times over the next few weeks, for reasons which I can’t quite put my finger on, and got to where I could practically put the thing together in the dark.

These days, I have an enormous LEGO collection, made up entirely of my own designs.  My advice to pretty much everyone:

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Causal Explanations vs Normative Explanations

If somebody asks you why, there are often two markedly different kinds of explanations you could give.

Their differences are psychological & social in addition to being semantic.

Two kinds of Why

“everything is the way it is because it got that way”
— D’Arcy Thompson

I run a software company, and sometimes users will email me asking, “Why is feature X like this? It should be like that.”

My response, which I don’t necessarily write out: if you want to know “why feature X is like this”, well… I could tell you the long history of how Complice mutated its way to being what it is today, which would contain a causal explanation for why the feature is the way it is.

…however, if you’re looking for not a causal explanation, but rather a normative explanation, or justification of “why it makes sense for feature X to be like this”, then I don’t really have one. I basically agree with you. All I have to offer is that it would be work to change it. And that I probably will at some point but it hasn’t been a priority yet.

We might say that causal explanations explain “why [proposition] is true” whereas normative explanations explain “why [[proposition] is true] is ‘reasonable,’ or ‘acceptable.'”

I think we want to be a little wary of the second kind of explanatory process. » read the rest of this entry »

A portrait of Malcolm Ocean

I'm Malcolm Ocean.

I'm developing scalable solutions to coordination between parts of people as well as between people. More about me.

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