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 »
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 »
I wrote this addressed to a learning community of a few dozen people, based in Ontario, that evolved from the scene I used to be part of there before I left in late 2020. I’m about to visit for the first time in nearly 2 years, and I wanted to articulate how I’m understanding the purpose & nature of my visit. It’s also aimed to be a more general articulation of the kind of work I’m aiming to do over the coming years.
This writing is probably the densest, most complete distillation of my understandings that I’ve produced—so far! Each paragraph could easily be its own blog post, and some already are. My editing process also pruned 1700 words worth of tangents that were juicy but non-central to the point I’m seeking to make here, and there are many other tangents I didn’t even start down this week while writing this. Every answer births many new questions.
To “jam” is to improvise without extensive preparation or predefined arrangements.
“Convening” means coming together, and Ontario is of course that region near the Great Lakes.
As for the “meta-protocol”…
It seems to me that: consistent domain-general group flow is possible and achievable in our lifetimes. Such flow is ecstatic and also brilliant & wise. Getting to domain-general group flow momentarily is surprisingly straightforward given the right context-setting, but it seems to me that it usually involves a bit of compartmentalization and is thus unsustainable. It can be a beautiful and inspiring taste though. (By “domain-general” I mean group flow that isn’t just oriented towards a single goal (such as what a sports team has) but rather an experience of flow amongst the group members no matter what aspects of their lives or the world they turn their attention to.)
It seems to me that: profound non-naive trust is required for consistent domain-general group flow. This is partially self-trust and partially interpersonal trust.
It seems to me that: in order to achieve profound non-naive trust, people need to reconcile all relevant experiences of betrayal or interpersonal fuckery they’ve had in their life. This is a kind of relational due diligence, and it’s not optional. It’s literally the thing that non-naive trust is made out of. That is, in order for a group to trust each other deeply, they need to know that the members of that group aren’t going to betray each other in ways they’ve seen people betray each other before (or been betrayed before). Much of this is just on the level of trusting that we can interact with people without losing touch with what we know. So we either need to find a way to trust that the person in front of us won’t do something that has disturbed us before, or that we ourselves aren’t vulnerable to it like we were before, which involves building self-trust. It takes more than just time & experience to build trust—people need to feel on an embodied level why things go the way they’ve gone, and see a viable way for them to go differently.
It seems to me that: people attempt to do this naturally, whenever they’re relating, but understanding what’s going on and how to make it go smoothly can dramatically increase the chances of building trust rather than recapitulating dysfunctional dynamics by trying to escape them.» read the rest of this entry »
I am coming to the conclusion that everything I was trying to get myself to do is better approached by exploring how to allow myself to do it.
😤✋❌ how do I get myself to do the thing?
😎👉✅ how do I allow myself to do the thing?
It’s obvious, on reflection: if “I want to do the thing”, great! The motivation is there, for some part of me that has grabbed the mic and is calling itself “Malcolm”.
The issue is that some other part of me doesn’t want to do the thing, for whatever reason, or I’d simply be doing it. (To be clear, I’m not talking about skills, just about actions, that I’m physically or mentally capable of taking.)
So there’s a part of me, in other words, that isn’t allowing me to do the thing that I supposedly want to do (I say “supposedly” because the part claiming I want to is necessarily also partial).
…and that’s the part with the agency to enable the thing!
So the question is:» read the rest of this entry »
While queuing up the 100× vision post last week, I realized I hadn’t published another vision doc that I wrote awhile back and had been sharing with people, so I figured out would be good to get that out too. In contrast to the 100× vision, which is imagining the 2030s, this one is the adjacent-possible version of the vision—the one where if you squint at the current reality from the right angle, it’s already happening. I wrote this one originally in November 2020.
This is intended to evoke one possibility, not to fully capture what seems possible or likely.
In fact, it is highly likely that what happens will be different from what’s below.
Relatedly, and also central to this whole thing: if you notice while reading this that you feel attracted towards parts of it and averse to other elements (even if you can’t name quite what) then awesome!
Integrating everyone’s aversion or dislike or distrust or whatever is vital to steering towards the actual, non-goodharted vision. And of course your aversion might be such that it doesn’t make sense for you to participate in this (or not at this phase, or not my version of it). My aim is full fractal buy-in, without compromise.
This diagram (except for the part where one of the people is marked as me 😉) could apply to any network of people working on projects together, that exists around a closed membrane, but I want to elaborate a bit more specifically about what I have in mind.
The Collaborative self-energizing meta-team vision public articulation 2020-10-19 is describing the outermost regions of the above diagram, without any reference to the existence of the membranes. The open-network-ness is captured by this tweet:
This is a beacon—want to work with people doing whatever most deeply energizes you? Join us!…how? There’s no formal thing.
Joining = participating in this attitude.
The attitude is one of collaboration in the sense of working together, and in particular working together in ways that everybody involved is excited about and finds energizing and life-giving. Where people are motivated both by the work they’re doing as part of the collaboration, and by the overall vision. That’s not to say it’ll all be easy or pleasant or straightforward—working with people is challenging! And that’s where the other layers come in.
I’m now going to jump to the innermost, closed membrane, because the dotted-line teal group kind of exists as a natural liminal area between that and the wider group.» read the rest of this entry »
What’s the difference between positive & negative motivation?
I like to talk about these as towardsness & awayness motivation, since positive & negative mean near-opposite things in this exact context depending on whether you’re using emotional language (where “negative” means “bad”, ie “awayness”) or systems theory language (where “negative” means “balancing” ie “towardsness”). I have a footnote on why this is.
There’s a very core difference between these two types, both inherently to any feedback system and specifics to human psychology implementation.
Part of the issue is (and this is why I say positive vs negative motivation are different in all systems) you fundamentally can’t aim awayness based motivation. In 1-dimensional systems, this is almost sorta kinda fine because there’s no aiming to do (as long as you don’t go past the repulsor). But in 2D (below) you can already see that “away” is basically everywhere:
Whereas with towardsness, you can hone in on what you actually want. As the number of dimensions gets large (and it’s huge for most interesting things like communication or creative problem-solving) the relative usefulness of awayness feedback gets tiny.
Imagine trying to steer someone to stop in one exact spot. You can place a ❤ beacon they’ll move towards, or an X beacon they’ll move away from. (Reverse for pirates I guess.)
In a hallway, you can kinda trap them in the middle of two Xs, or just put the ❤ in the exact spot.» read the rest of this entry »
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 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.
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 »
This is a sequel case study to Internal Trust Dancing case study: scheduling & cancelling dates. This was my second session with this client, and here we look something a bit deeper, less concrete, and more meta-conflicted. A lot of the moves are the same, but there were a few moments where something else was needed.
M: So I’m interested in knowing as part of part of going into this… what does the moment look like, when you tip over into the despair space? Like, what happens just before that happens? And you can share whatever’s arising, even if it doesn’t feel like an answer to that question.
C: I can feel exactly where it starts… it’s when I think about doing something that I want to do, like, think about a goal, a work goal or personal goal. And it’s almost like, it loses value, you know? But I’m trying to move back to that moment… There’s some kind of aversion, like, “No, no, go back. Don’t do that.” And it’s not fear, it’s almost…
M: Wondering if this feels related to the thing you said earlier around feeling like “not allowed to do that, shouldn’t do that”
C: Yes, definitely. Wow, yeah! This sense that you’re not allowed to take that step. When I say “step”, I mean “everything”. Like you’re not allowed to move to that location… go to that other place. It feels really physical, like, there’s a gap. Like “No, no, don’t do that. You shouldn’t go there, you’re not allowed to go there.”
M: What kind of “not allowed” is it, in the physical metaphor?
C: It feels more like a gap, like something that I cannot jump, you know?
M: So even more physical, like, not allowed by the laws of physics.
C: [laughs] yeah.
M: …but we usually don’t frame it that way, like “I’m not allowed to levitate”… so, there’s something kinda funny there.
M: Huh, maybe it might occur more like that to a little kid though, it’s like… if I’m a little kid, “I wanna levitate! I saw a guy do it in the anime I watched! Mommy how do I levitate?” and she says it with the same tone that she says “Sorry, you can’t have a fourth cookie.” And you don’t realize that the “can’t” is a different kind of “can’t”.
C: [laughs] huh, yeah.
M: I’m going to offer what’s called a sentence stem. Basically, it’ll be like the first half of a sentence and you can just try saying it a few times and sort of see what comes out as the second half. So: “if I try to jump this gap…”» read the rest of this entry »
“Having is evidence of wanting.”— Carolyn Elliott (eg here)
This is true, and useful, on net, but can easily encourage an Over-reified Revealed Preferences frame, in that it doesn’t account for the emergent results of conflict! …which is what’s underneath most behavior, particularly confusing behavior. By ORP I mean, assuming that you or others want exactly what’s happening, for some specific reason, as opposed to it being the attractor basin they found themselves in given various pressures in multiple directions.
When my partner Sarah & I walk, I sometimes end up about a foot ahead. We were reading some shadow shit into this (power dynamics!? respect!?) until we realized that I just have a faster default pace, & my system would only slow down once the error of me being ahead reached about 1′; she had a similar threshold for speeding up.
Hence me being one foot ahead was a stable point, what Perceptual Control Theory (PCT) calls a “virtual reference level” formed by two control systems in a tug of war (the tug of war being about walking speed, not position). The speed we were walking was also at a virtual reference level that was a compromise between our two set-points.
Neither control system wants the current situation, but neither has unilateral access to a move that would improve things in terms of what they do want. The gap was erroneous to both of us, but in order to close it, I would have to slow down or she would have to speed up, and neither of us had decided we would do that and shifted our overall mood towards walking to be compatible with the other.
So yes, the fact that part of you wants some shit that is socially unacceptable and/or bizarre from the perspective of your conscious desires, doesn’t mean that want is any more true or real than what the other parts of you want, and the want may not even really be direct.
Your shadow stuff may be “deeper” in the sense of “more buried” but that doesn’t make it “more profound” or whatever. All the things you consciously want also matter!» read the rest of this entry »
A long-time reader of my blog reached out to me after reading Internal Trust Dancing case study: EA & relaxation and asked if I’d do a session, and I said sure! I’m mostly not taking new coaching clients at the moment, but I want to refine and share this technique so I have some small availability for one-off sessions on this. Let me know if you’re also interested!
This case study, shared with permission of course, is a bit longer, since it’s a transcript of an hour’s conversation. I’ve removed a couple tangents but almost all of it is important and it could be misleading to leave out almost any of the lines, so instead this is just a 6000 word post. Read it if you want! It gets juicier about halfway through, for what it’s worth. I do also have more commentary which I can share with folks who are interested.
I’ve annotated the transcript in the same style as the Therapeutic Reconsolidation Process case studies in Unlocking the Emotional Brain, with 7 steps (ABC123V), while trying to not get too shoehorn-y about it. Doing this annotation helped me get clear on what I was actually doing—the level I’m working on wasn’t actually obvious to me until I wrote it out. The steps, for reference, are:
And of course M is me and C is my coaching client.
As discussed in the previous case study, in order to have conversations internally, it’s necessary for the parts to see that they’re parts. Here they each get the chance to speak to their perspective briefly. We don’t go too deeply or intensely into either part’s viewpoint, because we want them both in the room together, and they may not trust each other enough to go deeper. This
C: So there’s one specific problem I want to look at… I ended a relationship 6-8 months ago. And we’re still friends, that’s okay there. A couple months ago I decided to start dating again, so I’ve been scheduling dates, etc. But then, when I get to the point of meeting someone, I don’t want to. And I end up cancelling. This has happened 6 times in the last 2 months. And then I have a date coming up this Saturday but I’ll probably cancel it on Friday.
[This conversation was on Wednesday—there’s an email at the end of this post with an update. This simple articulation of an oscillation from compartmentalization is essentially Step A: symptom identification. This was a conveniently precise and concrete oscillation. However, note that we’re going to focus on the compartmentalization itself, not on the content of the conflict. So for what follows, Step B: retrieval of symptom-necessitating emotional schema, we’re not asking “why is it necessary to cancel the date?” we’re asking “why can’t these two perspectives talk to each other?” The fact that his parts are stuck in a tug of war rather than co-creatively finding a solution to this conflict is the symptom. This is, in general, the focus of internal trust-dancing.]» 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.