Laughter and Dominance: 5-year reflection on againstness training

It’s now been five years since I first attended a CFAR workshop. I wrote a 3-year retrospective 2 years ago. Today I want to reflect on one specific aspect of the workshop: the Againstness Training.

In addition to the 5 year mark, this is also timely because I just heard from the instructor, Val, that after lots of evolution in how it was taught, this class has finally been fully replaced, by one called Presence.

The Againstness Training was an activity designed to practice the skill of de-escalating your internal stress systems, in the face of something scary you’re attempting to do.

I had a friend record a video of my training exercise, which has proven to be a very fruitful decision, as I’ve been able to reflect on that video as part of getting more context for where I am now. Here’s the video. If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth watching! If you have, I recommend you nonetheless watch the first 2 minutes or so as context for what I’m going to say, below:

» 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 »

Introducing the Cast (of Malcolm Ocean)

Hi! I’m Interface. You may remember me from A ritual to upgrade my Face. I’m the part of Malcolm that navigates most social situations, and represents the bulk of his personality. I also like self-expression in the form of blog posts. You’ll meet the rest of the cast on the Malcolm show in a bit. Although most of the characters aren’t that visible from the outside, usually.

The rest of this intro will just be in first person as Malcolm.

Brief context—feel free to skip ahead—as a result of the sci-fi novel Crystal Society (it’s fantastic, go read it) the CFAR alumni list got talking about modeling one’s society of mind. One alum linked to a blog by someone named Mory Buxner, in which he plays a game where he has 8 different parts, each of whom gets a particular kind of score for the kind of thing that they do, and they take turns being in charge of what Mory is up to.

I shared this post on Facebook, which prompted Brienne Yudkowsky to try breaking down her different Drives to Action in this way. She did so by having a dialogue between the different parts, in which they try to map out who all of the parts are, by figuring out which parts were attracted towards different activities. Activities that she’d done while spending a week doing whatever she felt like doing. Her blog post.

And yesterday/today, what I felt like doing was following her lead and doing this myself. I didn’t spend a week doing whatever I felt like—this seems to not actually work very well for me. But I made a list, from intuition. Then I clustered it into groups (some of these will end up merged). Then I talked to myself a bunch and managed to create a decent list of motivations—including a part that had been kind of hidden until now!

Without further ado…

A list of activities I’ve felt drawn towards recently, organized into clusters.

Cluster A: read fiction, watch movies (and occasionally TV shows), look at art / illusions / trippy videos.

Cluster B: play Dominion, MtG, and other games… cuddle, make out, scroll my facebook newsfeed, watch music videos, wikipedia adventures, random research.

» read the rest of this entry »

A ritual to upgrade my Face

One of the easiest times to change your personality (to become less shy, for instance) is when you move somewhere new. Personalities are interfaces, so those who are familiar with you will have expectations of how to interface with you—some of which they may cherish; others may be frustrating.

But at any rate, the ways that they’ll interact with you will be designed to interface with the personality they know. Which means that it’ll tend to reinforce the older patterns in you, since those will be easiest and most comfortable. (There’s an additional element related to the logic of appropriateness, too)

I recently found myself wanting to upgrade my personality, without an obvious context change like moving.

And, since I had been talking with my friend Brent about chaos magick, ritual-work and my behaviour change desires, he suggested creating a ritual for myself.

I liked the idea: a ritual would…

  • help the less-verbal parts of my brain (hint: this is a large fraction) understand what I was trying to do,
  • give me space to practice the new mental motions
  • demonstrate to myself and others that I was serious about making this change.

As I said above, if you want to have dramatic change, there usually has to be a moment when it happens. Otherwise you’re going to tend to assume that » read the rest of this entry »

“What’s it like to be you?”

At burning man this year, I spent a day exploring that question, from the inside and from the outside.

“What’s it like to be you?” I asked someone sitting at the Tea House at my camp. They said something like, “It’s awesome. My life is really great. I have all of these really good friends…” and I said “Sure, sure, but what’s it like?”

I was trying to understand, I guess, what the texture of his qualia was like. (Qualia = “an unfamiliar term for something that could not be more familiar to each of us: the ways things seem to us”(wikipedia)) I was having this feeling that other people were just figures in my dream, or just characters in my story, and I think this was in part an attempt to break out of that.

I spent a few hours at the Tea House, talking with friends and strangers, trying to get glimpses into what the plots of their stories looked like, and sampling my own experiences as well. I ran into Brayden, one of my campmates, around the start of this, who told me that he was heading out. I ran into him again, hours later, just before I was heading out, and he said he was going to go sleep.

I spent a moment being present to the reality that he had had his own story happen in the space between those two tiny interactions, and that our plots had just intersected momentarily.

After I left camp, I found myself reflecting that the “What is it like to be you?” question, while pointed and interesting, wasn’t the only way to get clues about the texture of others’ experience. “How are you doing?” when asked with the right kind of tone, could actually generate some windows into the other person as well. Also, of course, off-hand remarks that people make, if you’re paying attention.

Part of my mission for that day was » read the rest of this entry »

Abstracting from Experience

Some things you don’t learn by being told (or telling yourself), you learn by organizing your experiences.

A few weeks ago I was talking with a friend, Ruby, over skype. Our conversation drifted to letters one might send to one’s past self, from say 1-2 years ago. Aside from the obvious tip-off’s about stock prices or romantic inclinations or lacks thereof, what would be useful to say? Ruby proposed sending his past self a list of books to read sooner. I though that was probably better than lots of other approaches (in part because it lets you send more information than you could possibly fit into a letter) but it seemed to me like there was a non-obvious challenge to doing that effectively, related to experience. There are some books that are broadly pretty mindblowing, but I’ve found that often when books really rock my world it’s because I’m particularly ripe for them at that moment. I think that trying to send a revelation to your past self, if you weren’t ready for it, might have a bit of an Archimedes’s Chronophone effect, where everything comes out sounding kind of obvious rather than insightful.

A second story: I was talking with some friends about Robert Kegan’s Constructive Developmental Theory. The structure of CDT is about shifting parts of your experience from being [thoughts you are subject to] to being [thoughts you can take as object, i.e. think about]. I’ve blogged about this here. Its content is a set of five specific subject-object stages in how people view themselves, ideas, and other people. Anyway, one of the people I was talking to has a 10-year-old daughter, and he was wondering if I had advice on how to help her go through the shifts faster. After noting that that wasn’t necessarily a good idea (I mean, it could be, but it might make her feel more distanced from her peers), I remarked that the process is complex and it’s not enough to just teach her certain things or to get her to do certain other things.

Because each subsequent shift in Kegan’s system represents not just new knowledge or understanding, but an entirely new kind of order applied to the level below. » read the rest of this entry »

Cycles of Breath and Feedback

Context: this was a very stream-of-consciousness post, tapping into something I had just learned when I wrote it, yesterday. I don’t necessarily think that what I suggest here makes sense for everyone. But it spoke something really valuable to me, and I suspect there will be others who deeply appreciate it as well.

Today, my friend Matt and I found ourselves in a particular head-space as well as an intense and exciting conversation where we were speeding up, and were continually needing to remind ourselves to take a breath. I found each breath so powerfully pleasant that it made for a really interesting feedback loop. Note that all uses of “breath(e)” here refer to the act of consciously, mindfully, taking a breath.

I’m going to invite you to do that now, as you read this.

Inhale.

Exhale.

The “take a breath” piece of feedback is part of a much larger energy-awareness thing I’ve been working with for a long time—it’s connected with againstness and so on as well. Essentially, I’ve been working to overcome an experience I’ve sometimes had of myself where I’ve gotten slightly caught up in my own thoughts and slightly worked up, while interacting with people, in ways that have felt disconnecting and unpleasant for them. And in general, when people have given me feedback about this, I’ve had largely positive reactions in response.

What I realized today though, was that it could be even more positive. Or perhaps we might say positive “sooner”.

This is a topic for another post, but I want to briefly present a model I’ve been using for awhile to capture the process of human interaction with the world.

  • sensation: the raw sensory signals that we receive, after just the bare minimum of processing from the visual cortex or whatever. We can access this, but most of us usually don’t, instead being much more aware of our…
  • perception: the basic categories we draw experiences into. What we notice. What we don’t. What relations or causal connections we understand into things at a low level. These form the basis for our…
  • interpretation: the more conscious act of making meaning from what we’re experiencing, and understanding it. Modelling it. This interpretation will generate some…
  • » read the rest of this entry »

Growing a Garden with a Broken Bodum

the corner of the room where the bodum fell. Framed by a wall on the left and a chest freezer on the right.

It didn’t occur to me to take the picture until after I cleaned up the broken glass.

This post isn’t about gardens or bodums. It’s about thinking and mindset.

Last July (~15 months ago) I had an interaction in my house’s laundry room, where I moved something on a shelf, which knocked off a bodum (aka french coffee press) which fell to the ground and shattered. I mentioned this to Jean (the likely purchaser/user of the bodum) that it had broken. But… the shelf was in a corner, with a chest freezer making it even more secluded, so the broken glass wasn’t a threat to anyone. So I decided I’d clean it up later.

Of course, as we know, later never comes.

So when it came time in August to leave for a four-month internship at Twitter in San Francisco, it still wasn’t done. I swore to Jean “I need to finish packing, but I’ll do it tomorrow morning before I go.” Not too surprisingly, I was packing basically all night. So morning came and I was running around and she said to me in my stress and frenzy, “Don’t worry; I’ll clean it up.” I was hugely relieved because I had felt an obligation to clean it.

Interlude: Malcolm in San Francisco / Berkeley, then home for Christmas

When I returned to the house in January of this year, I went downstairs to do laundry, and glanced in the corner. Lo and behold, a broken bodum remained. “Huh,” I thought.
» read the rest of this entry »

Two Ways to Make Your Language More Conducive to Growth Mindset

Growth mindset is a thing. You can read lots more about it elsewhere, including Mindset by Carol Dweck, which has a 4.5 star rating with >500 reviews. I’m not here to explain in-depth what it is or why it matters. Enough people have done that. I’m here to show you how to do it—applied growth mindset. Importantly, this will include examples of fixed mindset that you can practice reframing to be more growthy.

But in case you’re unfamiliar, let’s start with one-sentence definitions, adapted from Dweck:

In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities are simply fixed traits, and use their performance to document those traits.
In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed, and improved upon, which creates a love of learning and a resilience.

But it’s one thing to know how to answer all of Test Your Mindset questions so that you get “Growth” as a result. It’s another to actually operate out of growth mindset consistently.

Spirally, self-reinforcing mindsets

First I want to note that both growth mindset and fixed mindset have the delightful property of being self-reinforcing. People who have growth mindset will tend to improve, which will reinforce the idea that ability is learnable. People who have fixed mindset will tend to stagnate, which will reinforce the idea that they’re stuck with whatever ability level they currently have.

This is exciting, because it means that to some extent, you can get out of this just by deciding to have the other mindset, in part by recognizing that all of the evidence you currently have is determined by the mindset you have and is thus untrustworthy as evidence of “how things actually, fundamentally work”. That there’s an explanation for the-experiences-that-come-with-fixed-mindset that makes sense in growth mindset too. So you can reinterpret everything and switch mindsets.

And, it takes practice to actually operate from a growth mindset, rather than just conceptually understanding that it’s a good idea to do so. In my experience, a lot of this practice can happen on the level of reframing verbal expression, where you can shift your language from fixed to growth mindset. This in turn will shift your thoughts. That’s what this post is about. The practice of thinking growthily. » read the rest of this entry »

Not with a bang, but with a yawn.

This post is a lightly-edited transcript of part of the recording of the Monday evening gathering of culture-nudgers. I’m sharing it because a lot of people are curious about the workings of the intentional community that I’m involved with, and I think this exploration of my own thought patterns provides an excellent window into our context. I also think that it can stand on its own as a powerful example of mental control… being able to step back and look at my thoughts as they arise. In some ways, this is Mindfulness Field Training 3. Read one and two.

Things you may need/want to know, for context:

  • There were about 7 of us at this meeting and we’d been there for 2 hours at this point.
  • A few of the others had just been talking about noticing how they’re relating to the garden, since the person who has often tended it is moving out soon.
  • We don’t have any rules that say anyone has to do the dishes, ever. In fact, we encourage people to only do dishes when they feel attracted to doing so.
  • I’m serious about the previous point. It’s not passive aggressive, and while the system isn’t totally perfect, it’s more functional than any other system I’ve ever seen (and I’ve lived in a lot of houses). And, it’s more complex than this.

The transcript

Malcolm, with a grin: I’m noticing a lot of shit come up around this.

Jean: Cool! As you would say—cool!

Heather: I like…that you can smile about that.

Jean: Ohhh, he’s been practicing! » 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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