The Unreserved YES

(This post is much more stream-of-consciousness than many of my other posts. I’m working stuff out live.)

I was doing Focusing earlier today, and reflecting on a complex, challenging decision I’m starting to feel into. I found myself remembering a video I’d watched last night. I want to share it with you, so I’ve pulled out the snippet that’s really good. It’s literally 14 seconds, and you only really need the first 5. Click to watch:

Michael Franti and this girl Jocelin have just sung a song together, and he then asks her if she’d like to sing with him onstage. As she comprehends the proposal, her face lights up.

YES!” she says.

Not “yes.”

Not “yes?”

Not “…yes…”

YEAH! I LOVE STAGE!”

When I saw that video last night, I shared it and wrote:

Interview at start, and the song… eh ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ , kinda cute.

Her utter unreserved enthusiasm at the end, both on her face and in her voice, when he’s like “Do you want to come and sing on stage with us?”…

…glorious. I’m not exaggerating.

I’ve forgotten how to say YES like that. Or maybe it’s that my desires have become complex and conflicted and so it’s never totally clear what I want. Or maybe I’m not putting myself into situations where the right question will even get asked. Or maybe I’m afraid.

I want to say YES like that. » read the rest of this entry »

Towards being purpose-driven without fighting myself

Lots of more abstract writing in the works, but in the meantime, an update on my personal learning process: I’m currently working on shifting out of a meta-oscillation between being intensely purpose-driven but stressed & tense and being self-compassionate & internally aligned but aimless & disoriented.

Of course, an update on my personal learning process is still going to include some abstractions!

I sketched out a 2×2 to capture these dimensions. I’m not totally satisfied with the axes or the quadrants, but the overall structure feels clear and powerful, and I’ll refine it over time. I’m trying to get more comfortable putting out drafts of things:

The ideal state is the one in the top right, » read the rest of this entry »

How I Learned to Stop Hurrying and Fall In Love (with a project)

I’m flexing my blogging muscle again, for the first time in nearly 2 months. It feels a bit weird, and kinda nice. The break I took also feels both weird and nice.

There’s a trope or something about blogs where half of their posts are just the author apologizing for not posting more often. This isn’t going to be one of those—instead, my absence from this space is something that I want to reflect on, in a similar manner to my normal blog posts. How does it relate to my own growth? How does it relate to motivation? To metacognition?

This reflection ends up spanning 5 years and touching on a lot of what’s core to me (and what was core in the past). » read the rest of this entry »

Taking myself seriously

I realized recently that while I’m pretty consistently operating out of Growth Mindset, there’s another mindset shift that I’m often missing.

I was reading an insightful book called Influencer. One of the sections of the book describes a man with a love of chocolate, who wants to lose weight and tries to replace his chocolate-snacking habit with a carrot-snacking habit. I know the feel—chocolate is very compelling to me. From that book:

“Initially, failure signals the need for greater effort or persistence. Sometimes failure signals the need to change strategies or tactics. But failure should rarely signal that we’ll never be able to succeed and drive us to pray for serenity. For instance, you find yourself staring at a half-eaten ice cream cone in your hand. Should you conclude that you’re unable to stick with your eating plan so you might as well give up? Or should you conclude that since it’s hard to resist when you walk past the ice cream parlor on your way home from work, you should change your route? The first conclusion serves as discouraging brake on performance, whereas the second provides a corrective guide that helps refine your strategy.

The book describes the first response—concluding you can’t do it and giving up—as Fixed Mindset, and the second as Growth Mindset. They depict an overdramatic Fixed Mindset internal monologue:

“Henry wonders if he can overcome the genetic hand that he’s been dealt… has [no] self-discipline… surely he’s doomed… believes he hadn’t been born with ‘the right stuff.'” …etc.

I basically never have thoughts like that.

Which led me into the puzzle of why, if I’m consistently operating out of Growth Mindset, do I not consistently respond in that second way? That is, using each failure as a corrective guide, tweaking my path so I don’t encounter future temptations. » read the rest of this entry »

Delegating to future-you can be a suggestion, not a command

Imagine that you often forget to put the trash out on thursday night before the garbage truck comes on friday morning. Taking the trash out isn’t super fun, but you know, neither is never taking the trash out (eww) and it’s probably better to take it out thursday night than friday at noon.

So then imagine that it’s thursday night, and you’re on the phone with your friend from out of town, and they remind you that “hey, last time we talked, weren’t you lamenting that you always forget to take the trash out on Thursday?”

That would be a pretty helpful reminder, right? And you probably wouldn’t be mad at your friend. I deliberately made it be your out-of-town friend reminding you, not your housemate, because I wanted to have it be a person who obviously wasn’t responsible for doing it themselves.

Now.

Imagine that instead of your friend reminding you, the reminder comes from past-you. You had set up a little calendar event or something that goes “ping!” on thursday evenings. I think that the way a lot of people feel about these reminders from past-selves is that they’re commands: “HEY YOU. TAKE OUT THE GARBAGE, NOW.” » 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:

» read the rest of this entry »

Why giving humans bug reports is easier than giving feature suggestions

I spent this past weekend at a case study competition called UW Apprentice, which was unique among events I’ve attended in two ways. One is that the cases were fresh from real startups that came in and explained the challenge they were experiencing, and who were all set to act on the best advice. The other was that you gave and received feedback with each of your teammates after each cases, and so you could review it all immediately. In theory, this could let you update your behaviour for the next case to be a more valuable team member, although I think in practice the schedule was too rushed for much reflection to occur.

Anyway, I noticed something interesting while filling out the “needs improvement” section at one point. The team member I was giving feedback to didn’t have any obvious shortcomings, and I found myself at a bit of a loss for what to say. Obviously they weren’t perfect, but they were totally generally “good” across the board. I wrote something general that was related to my sense of why we hadn’t won that round.

Today, I thought of this again when I was doing the final edits on a peer letter of recommendation for a fellowship program my friend was applying to. I had written last week in the draft: “It’s hard for me to think of a really good suggestion for an area of improvement for Tessa—” …today I added “—I’ve noticed it’s much easier to recommend bugfixes than features, for people.”

In this blog post, I figured I’d reflect a bit more on…

  • what the difference is
  • why feature suggestions are harder
  • some strategies for feature suggestions

It might be kind of rough, and I might find future!me disagreeing with current!me about this pretty soon, in which case I may edit it.

Before that: what am I not talking about?

Is it just the difference between negative and positive feedback? Nope. Negative feedback has the structure of “that thing you did—don’t do that [as often]”, while positive feedback has the structure of “that thing you did—keep doing it [and maybe do it more]”. The bug report / feature suggestion thing is more subtle.
» read the rest of this entry »

Structures of accountability

In my 2013 review, I wrote:

What broke me out of [my despondent unmotivated funk mid-summer-2013] was when I realized that sometimes even things I really enjoyed doing, like blogging, I wouldn’t bother to do if I didn’t kind of force myself to do it. Turns out motivation is complex.

I have once again found myself blogging right now because if I don’t, I owe beeminder money. I feel frustrated—I have only an hour or so left at this point and while I have many posts in progress and many others that I want to write, none of them will be ready in an hour. So instead here’s a brief rant on accountability.

The E-Myth on org structures

I’m listening to a fantastic audiobook right now called The E-Myth, E being short for Entrepreneurial. It’s all about how to do a small business as an entrepreneur, rather than a technician. There are some other insights from this book that I’m excited to blog about, but those are on the longer-than-an-hour list.

One of the chapters I was listening to today was talking about the importance of accountability when setting up a business. The author describes two brothers who start a business together. In one version of the story, they take turns doing everything and it’s great for awhile but then it breaks down because nobody is responsible for anything. In the other version, the two of them sit down at the beginning of their business development process and lay out a basic yet fairly extensive organizational structure, including a COO, VP of Marketing, salespeople and accountants. They write a description for each position.

Then, they assign an employee to each of those roles and have that employee sign off on their position contract. Of course, the only options available are themselves. So they each have multiple roles, and report to each other and themselves. But the key is that now they’re accountable for several distinct outcomes. Then, the process from there is to systematize the lower-level roles and hire someone into them, promoting themselves as they go along.

I think this is really cool and makes a lot of sense.

One bit I thought was strange though was a remark the author made, which was “all organizations are hierarchical”. I actually blurted out “pfft, what?” when he said that.

» read the rest of this entry »

Creating contexts for desire cultivation

1

Nate Soares just published the first article to The Mind’s UI, a group blog that I’ve set up with him and Brienne Yudkowsky. It’s called Enjoying the feeling of agency, and in it Nate said that one thing that helps with that enjoyment is

Context and framing: it’s much easier to draw satisfaction from a clean room if your mother didn’t make you clean it.

I wanted to elaborate on that, drawing on very recent (even ongoing) experiences of being home for the holidays.

I’ve spent the last year living in an intentional learning community (let’s call it LRC) that has a number of interesting features. One of these, as I’ve described before, is that nobody ever has to do the dishes. We have some agreements about how we want to keep the kitchen space and the cooking utensils available for use; even here, nobody ever yells or guilt trips people for not following them. At our best, we approach the act of giving that kind of feedback with openness and curiosity. Sometimes it produces experiences of frustration which are processed in a different way.

But the point is, for the most part, we all get to navigate the kitchen based on our own desires and needs, and our abilities to discern what makes sense. This is really relaxing. But that’s not the only reason we do it.

2

When I got back to Nova Scotia to see my family a couple weeks ago, I was amused to experience surprise when I saw a bunch of dirty dishes in the sink. I had become very accustomed to the fact that part of our dishing system in the LRC house where I live is that we stack dirty dishes next to the sink rather than in them, which makes for much better flow in various ways. I looked at the pile of dishes in the sink and figured that it would look a lot nicer if they were washed or put in the dishwasher. So I did that.

» read the rest of this entry »

A portrait of Malcolm Ocean

I'm Malcolm Ocean.

I'm trying to figure out how humans work so I can help make humanity work. More about me.

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